Oast Houses, Orangeries, Ha-Ha's, Bubble and Squeak

A horse in a field of buttercups in the Cotswolds
Image via Wikipedia

For someone who lives in a 60-year-old red-brick apartment building in a New York suburb, I spend a lot of time reading about — aka swooning for — the rough walls and whitewashed wood and wide plank floors and 500-year-old cottages featured in British shelter magazines. I can practically smell the old stone and the hear the horses whinnying from the paddock. Few things slow my pulse as effectively as sipping from a bone china mug filled with steaming Earl Grey tea, and leafing through $8 worth of fantasies.

Partly it’s my British heritage, with an aunt and uncle, cousins and dear friends living in England, a country I lived in for three years as a little girl. Partly it’s missing the British-isms I took for granted in conversation growing up in Canada — bubble and squeak (food) or a dog’s breakfast (not food, a mess) or tea towel (dishcloth). Canadians use British spelling and say “zed” for “zee”, so reading British magazines (Canadian ones are almost impossible to find here) offers a taste of familiar comfort. One columnist in Country Homes & Interiors describes a day spent “pottering with mum” — which, translated, means hanging out with Mom. British recipes call for caster sugar or courgettes or piccalilli, all words I find oddly soothing.

It’s a quick, lovely escape.  British interiors use softer colors, weathered even further by the accumulated wear and tear of large, hairy dogs and kids — an outdoorsy, active family life is central. British colors and scale, the light, the sizes and shapes of the homes are all quite different from those in the U.S. or Canada, a refreshing change from what I see here every day. I studied interior design, planning to leave journalism, and have long been passionate about visual beauty and the thoughtful, considered use of materials and space. I like things that are weathered, worn, elegantly chosen, whether a flower in a vase or the placement of a chair. If it’s got patina and provenance, I’m there.

I love learning things like what an oast house is — with its distinctive conical roofs — a place for roasting hops. In my next life, poppets, I’m ordering an orangerie — and a ha-ha.

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