Buying my first home at the age of 33 should have felt amazing. Perhaps especially because it was in London – a place where so many young people are totally priced out of the property market.
I felt ice-cold when I was handed the keys, though. I’d been renting for years, first with friends and then with my wife, but very soon after she died, our life insurer paid out and three months later I owned a house. Just like that. People often use the adjective ‘bittersweet’ to sum up this kind of thing, but for me it just all felt sour.
It doesn’t matter how nice a property is when you first view it – when the previous occupants move out, it looks devoid of life and every mark on the once lived-in home stands out in what is now just a building. The emptiness of this house was particularly accentuated by the situation, though. Everyone who walked through the door could feel an acute sense of absence. This place was nothing more than a soulless shell. None its memories were ours. It screamed not of ‘moving in’ but of ‘moving on’.
In that respect, I suppose the house reflected my state of mind. Bought without too much procrastination, my only concern was being able to afford a place that my son and I could grow into. Property prices were increasing so rapidly in the area, with every month that I let pass I knew I would be able to afford less. And this place needed to work not for a father with a son of just two years of age (as we were at the time), but one with a son who would grow older and need more space. I suppose I could get round to making it a home another time.
That time came late last year. I didn’t exactly live like a hermit crab, rattling round in an ill-fitting shell, for all those years in between, but I never really managed to make the place feel like mine. I think I’d made it something of a shrine to our old lives, desperate to keep my wife’s presence in my son’s life through her style and belongings. I knew her, though; she would have made the whole place over every few years. And that’s what I decided to do – to start again. I wanted the place to feel more like a father and son created it together and less like they simply lived as guests in an absent person’s space. It wouldn’t be deliberately masculine, but it would feel bold and fairly resistant to a growing boy and his friends.
I started with colour. I’m colour blind and so I’ve spent much of my life nervous about these sort of decisions. That was until I read that Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of the visually sublime movie Drive, is also blessed with the same colour deficiency. I say ‘blessed’ because of the impact it has had on his films. He attributes his visual style to the fact that wouldn’t be able to see his shots if he didn’t compose them in such high contrast. And this, at least for someone who probably sees things like he does, is what makes his work so beautiful to watch. Perhaps, then, we should be called ‘contrast conscious’ instead of ‘colour blind’.
My house wasn’t going to be shy. If I saw fear on other people’s faces at my initial colour choices, then I was reassured that I had probably got them right.
I think the best way to work with colour blindness is to understand a few colours and tones and stick with them. I wanted the whole house to both contrast and flow. I achieved this by selecting one colour – a very dark grey – for nearly all the woodwork, including doors, architraves, skirting boards, stairs, spindles and bannisters. This brought harmony to the house but also allowed for other contrasting colours to be used on the walls in the all the rooms. The colour continuation meant that I could paint the inside of the rooms almost any colour I wanted, and none would really jar. I chose blue-grey, steel, white and plaster, as well as green-blue, pale blue, blue-black and intense denim blue.
As someone that doesn’t sleep incredibly well, bringing calm to bedrooms is key. This means no televisions or clocks, for one. It also presents an opportunity to create a really strong look, which sounds bold but actually feels incredibly peaceful. My new bedroom – an entirely new room built as part of a loft conversion – is painted in just one colour, flowing seamlessly across the walls, woodwork and ceiling, which makes the space feel bigger and more serene. Once I put my son to bed at night, I tend to just go and sit on the bed and indulge in the tranquility.
I also got the chance to do something of teenage goths’ dreams: I painted a room (almost) black. For most people, this will sound hideous, but as someone who can be unsure how colours might eventually look, I knew I could picture this perfectly and that it would look exactly as it did in my head. My new en suite is the smallest room in the house but it’s my favourite by a mile.
Yet despite looking forward, there are still touches of where we came from peppered all around the house. Pictures on the walls, art we chose together, photographs, memories, trinkets and reminders that someone who can no longer be here can still be a part of our daily lives. I love being able to tell my son stories about all the things we shared together as a family. Like how the E on the picture below made up the word LOVE at our wedding. Or how petrified he was of the rabbit on the shelf when he was a baby. Or even how scared his mum was of telling me how much the lamp underneath it cost. I still don’t know to this day. It’s nice though, isn’t it?