09.13.99 IN STYLE


The following article by Trudie Styler appeared in the September 1999 issue of In Style magazine. The piece comes from 'The Lake House Cookbook'...

In 1991 our family moved to a small village in Wiltshire, England, only the sixth family in 450 years to have lived at Lake House. How we came here is, with hindsight, a simple story - considering the financial and emotional investment it was to involve - but it took the next six years to transform the house and its original 60 acres of land into the place it is today.

We were looking for a house in the country that we could use for weekend breaks, a place where our growing brood could spread out a bit and get back to nature. Lake House was the first house we were shown - in fact, that I was shown, as Sting was touring in the U.S. at the time. Its spirit was warm and welcoming, its history positive and life-affirming. It had survived the English Civil War and two major fires; King Alfonso XIII of Spain had once stayed there; and during the Second World War, it had been used as a convalescent home, its ornamental gardens plowed up to grow much needed food.

Anyone who has ever bought a place knows that you effectively make your decision, perhaps subconsciously, within the first few moments of seeing it. Despite the seriousness of the commitment - or perhaps because of it - your heart almost always speaks louder than your head. You might really want a garden and a big kitchen, but once you've seen that skylight in the hall and the stained glass window in the living room, you're hooked. After all, you tell yourself, there is a park nearby, and you don't really cook much anyway.

Lake House was bigger than we had planned and it needed a lot of work, but there were two things about it that really attracted me. The hook was the majestic 300-year-old copper beech tree dominating the back lawn - you couldn't put a price on it. Also, only two miles away stood Stonehenge - ancient, mysterious, silently beckoning. Ley lines are said to pass through the land. Every year crop circles appear nearby as if by magic - or, if you're a nonbeliever, by elaborate hoax. On that clear, cold, late-autumn day when I first saw Lake House, I was captivated by the romance of it all.

The problem was that offers were closing that same day, and Sting had not seen the property yet. Photographs didn't do it justice, and the size and beauty of Lake House meant we were no longer thinking in terms of a weekend retreat but were contemplating a major upheaval from city to country living. I must have been very persuasive when I spoke to Sting that day, or maybe he could sense my certainty. But with a tremendous leap of faith he agreed, and our lives were changed forever.

A few months later, the sale was completed and the children and I made the big. break, even though Sting was still away on tour. Our first night was an adventure in itself. The previous owners seemed to have lived in just two rooms, so the house felt less than cozy and we were all freezing. My son Jake and I slept where King Alfonso had once slept which we now call the King's Room, partly out of respect for history and partly because it is an irresistible name-drop! I woke up in the middle of that night totally disoriented and managed to fall out of bed and smash my face on the bedside table. I fumbled my way to the bathroom in shock to find my face covered in blood, my front tooth shattered. By this time I was beginning to doubt my sanity in bringing my family to this place in a freezing February. At that dangerous low point, it didn't seem so romantic.

The children, however, rose to the challenge. I'm not sure if they thought I was completely mad or if it really was a great adventure for them, but their excitement and sense of freedom quickly became apparent. My belief that we had done the right thing was soon restored. Thirty five builders more or less moved in with us, becoming so much a part of the extended family during the five years they spent here that when they finally left it seemed quite empty. There were times, though, when Sting and I despaired of ever having the place to ourselves - you were never quite sure who you would bump into on your way to the bathroom in the morning. The results of the marathon makeover, however, have made it all worthwhile.

One of the most striking successes has been the kitchen. We found the original kitchen and butler's pantry in the basement, boarded up and abandoned. We gutted the area to make a practical U-shaped space comprising a working kitchen with plenty of work surfaces and larder space. This leads through to a dining table running along the casement windows facing the back lawn, and then to a TV area with sofas and a cozy fireplace. It is the heart of the house. People congregate there before mealtimes, in anticipation of chef Joe Sponzo's delicious creations.

Outside, the changes have also been extensive. The driveway is Sting a now cobbled rather than tarmac, the stables have been rebuilt and the cottages converted into a recording studio. The upper River Avon runs through the land, with a stepped pathway leading down to a Palladian-style bridge. With memories of the municipal parks of my childhood, their too-neat borders with small, tidy flowers and their "keep off the grass" mentality, I was inspired by the generous scale and vibrant colours of Monet's garden at Giverny. After many squabbles with the gardener, my desire for wide flower borders on either side of this path prevailed; they're now planted with 5,000 tulips, peonies, roses, clematis and tissue poppies. The effect is large-scale, wild and dazzlingly colourful.

But the most exciting prospect was growing our own food on a large scale. We moved to Lake House at a time when we could no longer take for granted that the food we bought in shops would be nutritious and safe to eat. I decided I would only be satisfied if I knew exactly what we were putting on our plates - and the best way to do this was to produce the food ourselves. With the help of two organic gardeners, we started by growing leafy green vegetables, potatoes, apples and pears. We also kept a couple of milking cows, some hens and goats. The farm has expanded enormously since then: We now also have pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and trout. We grow tomatoes, melons, peppers, chillies and eggplants, and produce our own cheese and honey. Between what we all like and what grows well, we have achieved a good variety without abandoning our organic principles.

From the day we moved in, Lake House has hosted a constant stream of visitors, to the point where it often feels as if we are running a small hotel: first the builders, then Sting's band and crew plus video crews, family and friends. Lake House has also hosted two family weddings, our children's christenings and several birthday celebrations. The house comes into its own on these occasions.

Sting and I feel very lucky to have found our own little corner of England. On summer evenings we can often be found sitting outside on the front step, just as we did as children. The doorstep might be a bit more grand, but basically we are the same. It is as if we have finally found our real home.

© In Style magazine
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