One of the first presents I ever bought my husband was a copy of Shelter. This book provided finger-pointing visuals for daydreams of freedom, space and fantastical houses. As a child I was mesmerised by a programme where a family lived in subterranean house, with a lawn for a roof: they were invisible to the passing eye, but warm, content and cosy. Aged 7, my Christmas gift first edition Gnomes book from a Dutch dwelling uncle, by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, with it’s detailed cataloguing of a life long-lived (gnomes lives for a casual 500 years), fed into this theme.
Books you have as a child form so much of our imagination: their visual patterns taking shape in our open minds. This patchwork of Hobbit houses, gnome dwellings and off-grid living, weaved an eco counter-point to London living.
While pregnant, I watched Grand Designs on repeat: the Sussex woodsman’s cottage built entirely from sustainable resources, such as straw bales and locally cut wood, is so utterly charming, that I couldn’t help but be seduced by Ben Laws’ self-built beauty.
Cut to this week and my husband’s imagination (albeit the man whose carpentry is somewhat ‘lop-sided’, bless) has been re-sparked with ideas to build a house in the countryside and I realise that these daydreams still hold their currency of charm. As the government are moving to open up the greenbelt to building, though the thought of this does worry me, after sunny days in Kent and Hertfordshire this week, I feel the magic of this dream still.