Lynda Hallinan creates a new home office filled with her favourite things, all safely out of the reach of her small children.
creates a child-free chill out zone
Julie Andrews can keep her soggy roses and kitten’s whiskers. You won’t catch me hollering from the hilltops about my prized possessions, for warbling about their wondrousness feels like tempting fate.
My favourite things – from pottery jugs painted with pheasants to crystal comports and china teacups – are imprudently fragile, and if motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that it pays not to get too attached to anything breakable. Since having children, it’s not The Sound of Music but the sound of stuff smashing – followed immediately by, “Oops, sorry Mum” – that accompanies my most cherished belongings.
“Oops, sorry Mum,” said my five-year-old son Lucas as he tripped over a pile of books at my bedroom door, triggering a domino cascade that culminated in Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life plunging down the stairs to shatter the hand-blown glass bell jar I’d bought at London’s Chelsea Flower Show a decade earlier.
“Oops, sorry Mum,” said my four-year-old son Lachie as he tripped through the front door holding a parcel from the postie, turning a pair of mail-order French platters into tectonic plates before I’d even got my hands on the package.
It’s probably just as well that my ancestors were too poor to afford posh porcelain. My maternal grandmother Clarice was many things – a farmer’s wife, English graduate, pianist and Women’s Institute-certified sponge cake champion – but an astute collector of fine china she was not. Or perhaps my aunts and uncles were as butterfingered as my boys, for when Grandma died, her Queen Anne sweet pea tea trios were divvied up among her daughters but no one else took much interest in the rest of her mismatched crockery. Mum inherited a few bits and bobs – a lid-less Royal Albert tureen, two hand-painted leaf-patterned Myott plates and several crazed serving bowls – but these were only dragged out of the sideboard when all our townie relatives came to the farm for Christmas and we ran out of plates.
Since then, most of Grandma Clarice’s kitchenalia has migrated to my house. I bottle my fruit in her old Agee jars, purée tomatoes with her tarnished mouli and scrape my roasting dish clean with her nickelplated gravy spoon. And when I feel like an antipasto platter, I serve olives, grilled artichokes and stuffed jalapenos in her chintzy Royal Winton Grimwades relish dish.
I have a fetish for vintage crockery, but this year, in a bid to declutter my tiny kitchen, I decided the time was right for a clear-out. As I boxed up some loot for the local Hospice shop, Mum staged a timely intervention. “Don’t give that away,” she said, snatching back a fluted cream plate with bluebirds on it. “That belonged to your grandmother.”
Until then, I thought my inventory system was foolproof. I had written “Clarice” on the bottom of Grandma’s plates in black permanent marker pen but, after they’d been through the dishwasher a few times, the ink had faded. (Readers who pride themselves on their careful custodianship of family heirlooms will no doubt be having conniptions by now, but I’m of the opinion that old stuff was made to be used.)
Why is it that, as we age, the things that are worth the least become most treasured? At our Tairua bach, for example, we
My stationery is neatly sorted, there are fresh flowers from my garden… and there’s a lock on the door to keep out the kids.”
argue over card games around the same Formica table my grandparents argued at. Sitting around it evokes rich memories, yet I saw the same model of table at the Thames Salvation Army shop for the pauper’s price of $25.
I couldn’t give a toss when my grandfather Albert fixed his fences or drenched his stock, but nonetheless I treasure his dull daily farm diaries, and every year I plant my potatoes on the same spring day – September 1 – as he did. And should anyone care what the weather was like at Piha between 1944 and 1964, they can always consult the yellowed visitors’ book from my husband’s grandfather’s bach. Grandpa Fred was a stickler for small details, like the 36 possums he counted on the drive out one day, or the fact that the weather was fine for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on June 2, 1953.
I work from home and, for the past five years, our family memorabilia has mingled with the rest of my paperwork on an IKEA desk in one corner of our bedroom. It’s not particularly practical, especially when my husband’s trying to sleep, so this month I decided to turn the tackroom in our old stable block into a workspace instead.
My home office project began with the purchase of an inexpensive ethernet switch and a Wi-Fi extender, to ensure I could still check my emails from the sanctity of the stables. To counter deadline stress, I opted for a neutral colour scheme, with Resene Half Bison Hide paint, a feature wall of Broadwick St wallpaper from the Little Greene London Collection and a subtle sage and cream facelift for my old mid-century couch. (As my Christmas gift last year, Mum covered its cushions in Thibaut Tidewater Sweet Grass upholstery fabric.)
My new office doubles as a refuge for my most precious things. Above the desk hangs Sally Tagg’s Cameo, a print of pressed native clematis flowers (her wedding gift to us), while the first artwork I ever bought – a botanical etching by London-based New Zealand artist Bryan Poole – adorns the wall above the couch. Grandma’s crockery is slotted safely into an upcycled plate rack on the wall and my stationery is neatly sorted in old baking tins. There are fresh flowers from my garden, my books now sit on shelves instead of our stairs and, best of all, there’s a lock on the door to keep the kids out.
Except, as the ploughman poet Robbie Burns once said in his famous Scottish burr, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men go oft awry.” The milk paint had barely dried on my plate rack when Lachie saw fit to break something that made us all wince: his leg. And that is why I am typing this, not in blessed solitude, but next to a small boy with a fractured fibula encased in plaster, watching Peppa Peg videos on his iPad as he threatens to drip melted ice-cream on my lovely new upholstery.
So much for the anticipated adults’ only area.