Alex Healy-Hutchinson is one of those women that it would be so easy to resent; she's beautiful, determined and has exquisite taste - sadly its impossible to do so as she is fantastically friendly and funny. I first met her on a drunken night in Dublin; she made me buttered toast and there it was - love at first sight.
Later on, when we had both graduated University, I remember her talking about this crackpot idea of starting a restaurant based on grains, I thought 'How lovely to have a hobby'. Only a few years later there we were standing in Neals Yard outside 26 Grains, seeing Al serve queue of people out the door. With one cookbook done & a second restaurant opened (Stoney Street), there is no stopping this woman and who would want to. I asked her on the off chance if she would be so kind as to take the Knock-Knock batten on and she kindly accepted.
From left, 26 Grains in Neals Yard, Stoney Streets Beautiful Interiors, Alex's Cookbook - 26 Grains.
It's a daunting project moving into your first home with zero furniture or any idea of what your style and inspiration might be. I started the way that many do, Pinterest boards, endless screenshots and several magazines. I didn't know what colours went with what, or how even to begin to build a lighting plan. I've learnt so much in the building and decorating my house. Although there still feels like there so much left to do. However, when I started, I knew one thing, and that was I wanted the house to feel warm. I'm a warm person; I love being at home. I'm hugely affected by natural light & the lighting in a room. So wherever I could, I tried to bring in natural light. We put in large windows in the kitchen and Velux windows in all the corridors, so there isn't a room without natural light. And for the darker places in the house, I put in 5amp plugs with lamps in all the corners.
Then I started to furnish. I began with what I knew best, the kitchen. I drew out the plans for the joiner on a piece of paper with rough measurements and set about finding the furniture to fill it. The dining table is one of my favourite pieces, and I bought it well before anything else in the house. When you grow up in a large family, the kitchen table is where you congregate. It was the meeting place at the beginning and end of each day. I knew I wanted plenty of space to fill the chairs to invite a steady stream of guests at any time of day. I found the table through Vintage Boathouse in Brighton. They were selling similar farmhouse tables, but they didn't have anything quite the right size or style that I was looking for, 'Leave it with us', they said, and after a short trip to France, they found our table. After spending a year in Copenhagen, I'd fallen in love with the simple wooden setting of their dining table.
I knew the style of chairs I wanted after seeing them in some of my favourite restaurants Leila's and Rochelle Canteen. Simple, unassuming, but beautiful chairs. I took to eBay, and after finding every version of Ercol chairs selling at crazy prices, I thought I'd change tact. On a freezing November morning, I made my way to Kempton Antiques and found a set of x4 there. On my drive home I passed a second-hand furniture shop and they x2 more sitting out the front. I couldn't believe my luck. I was also then hooked on going to antique markets like Kempton/Ardingly and Lewes from then on.
My favourite spot in the house has to be the window seat in the kitchen. I wanted to make a space that allowed for people to relax and catch up while the other person is cooking or to sometimes lie down and read a book and enjoy the light of the room. It's been frequented pre and post dinners and regularly with a book or cookbook on the weekends.
There are so many parts of the house that we've done at different stages, but I guess what I've enjoyed growing is our art collection. I'm incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic photographer for a sister (Victoria Healy-Hutchinson) and brilliant painter as a mother-in-law (Lynne Hacking). I also have several pieces from pieces have from Tat and Partnership Editions (founder Georgia Spray).
One of my favourite pieces that I've collected has been the french globe lamp. It's so delicate, and I rewired it to a 5amp dimming plug, and I can't tell you the joy it brings me. It glows so brilliantly or can soothe you after a long day.
Our next project is in the garden. I started by planting whatever I could get my hands on - fuchsia, lavender, sage, and now it's about finding out what works in different areas of the garden. I'm excited to see what we can get done come next spring.