The jeweller is happy at home with his extremely talented family and pleased that the television still works
At Home With… Theo Fennell
What’s the story behind your home?
We have rented our house in the country for over 20 years from some dear friends. It was a builders’ finish when we took it so we painted, carpeted, furnished and decorated from scratch. I say we but my wife Louise made most of the important decisions, except for the two most important which are the size of the television and the pictures. She is a genius when it comes to making any room look wonderful. We had a lot of very, shall I say, eclectic furniture and bric-a-brac; a lot of pictures and books and some other things that are not clearly definable. It is a very beautiful and eccentric house in the most perfect setting among some of our best friends so it wasn’t a hard choice.
What was your inspiration when it came to designing it?
Louise has not only done up our own houses and flats over the years but has all but done up other people’s – offering scene-stealing advice. It is one of her many talents that she gives away for the love of it. It is hard to describe but Coco [Theo’s 31-year-old fashion designer daughter] has inherited her genius for decoration; our other daughter Emerald [Theo’s oldest daughter, 34, actor and writer] tends to be a book, picture and expensive nonsense person like me, though we all have the magpie gene.
Do you have any interior brands that you love and always go back to?
We came into an awful lot of linen and knives and forks, china, rugs and things – mostly pretty tatty but interesting – so it has been mainly curtains and cushions from many places that we’ve added. Louise has a wonderful company that she uses in the back of beyond who love her and make chairs and sofas that are beautiful and comfortable. She chooses the cloth for these and curtains and often buys this and other strange knick-knacks from Lot’s Road Auctions. We use OKA a lot and Ralph Lauren if we’ve had a good week on the Lotto. Rose Uniacke has the most beautiful and unexpected things in her shop also.
What’s your favourite room in your house and why?
I often go, in my strange little mind, to the chair I always sit in with my back to the French windows, facing the television in the drawing room. It is full of books, photographs, pictures and records and things that no one quite knows the use of or where they came from but don’t dare throw away. It is a place of great calm and safety.
What can you see from your drawing room?
From the French windows I can see the garden and the stone table that Louise gave me for our 25th anniversary many years ago that has some of Hammerstein’s words from Carousel engraved around it. It is always filled with animal and bird life, mainly vermin but attractive vermin. If it is the right time of year there is a very occasional flower but we keep meaning to do something about that.
What’s your signature dish – can you share the recipe with us?
Now that is embarrassing as I haven’t cooked (or been asked to cook) for years. However, my Spaghetti a la Vongole was my signature dish the time I did it.
Share your top five books with us if you were to start a book club:
- The Jeeves Omnibus by P.G.Wodehouse. There is no greater user of the English language or funnier writer than P.G.Wodehouse and it would be hard to spend any time with anyone who didn’t love his books. Many haven’t but I beseech you to. The writer to cheer you up under any circumstances.
- Breath by Tim Winton. A wonderful coming of age book by Australia’s finest writer. Gripping and moving in equal measure.
- The New Confessions by William Boyd. A masterpiece of a book by a master and a wonderfully original imagining of the packed life of the fictional, but compellingly real John James Todd.
- Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I will get rude emails from a few Philistine friends for this but I am very fond of good poetry and this is the very best; if his plays weren’t enough, these are the greatest sonnets in our language and a joy for ever, to mix poets.
- Chronicles by Bob Dylan. One of my musical and literary heroes and worthy winner of The Nobel Prize. This account of his own life reads like a saga written in prose poetry. It is fascinating for his own ideas and his version of his own life but also in the language he uses to sustain his own myth.
Share your must-see TV and movie list:
Succession series 1 and 2; Killing Eve series 1 and, especially 2; Spiral (or Engrenages en Francais – more puerile emails); First Dates – all of them. Gogglebox, and I have recently gone through the whole of The World at War narrated by Olivier and made at a time when all the protagonists who hadn’t died in the war were still alive to tell the tale.
If you’re working from home at the moment, how have you designed your space and any tips for other home workers?
I am working from my study at my desk which is perfect for writing at and drawing at and has a door I can shut and music I can play. I have made no changes other than to realise just how much more productive I am at these things from home.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I normally groan. I bore my wife for a bit with a morning gripe and then I get up and make a cup of tea. Nothing is possible without tea. I shout at the television for a bit, bathe and get dressed. Pretty exciting stuff.
And how do you love to spend your evenings at home?
To spend an evening with my family, as we are now doing every evening, having an early supper and then watching television or a film together is perfect for me. It is not always so Utopian as choosing a film between six people is not always easy and the choice is overwhelming but, when it works, it is wonderful to share that sort of evening. We used to have a lot of sing-songs after family suppers but I think we’ve all grown up a bit, except for me.
If you were to throw a party at home, what are the key ingredients to make it go with a swing?
The right people are the only ingredient. The food and drink can be awful but copious but the right mix of people and it can’t fail. It is nice to add extras like good food and booze and, crucially, good or live music from the guests but I cannot put it stronger than do not have dull friends and, if you do, don’t ask them to parties.
What gadget could you not live without in your home?
Television, without which I would wander the lanes like a lost soul but also my iPod which I have pretty much got the hang of.
How do you keep fit at home?
I walk a lot and do some stretching and I have recently discovered that you lose weight if you eat less. I also imagine some very long runs and winning gold in the 400 metre hurdles.
If you have a garden, what are you doing in it at the moment?
We have recently built a folly out of an old brick greenhouse with a few Gothic additions from a garden centre so it does look as if it fell down centuries ago. Fools ask you questions like ‘but what is it for?’. They miss the point, it is pointless and, may I say, much more expensive than we first thought it might be. We are also trying to grow vegetables in a long abandoned kitchen garden and have high hopes of a carrot next year.
Whose home would you like to be a fly on the wall in?
Monica Bellucci for shameful reasons, but the head of The World Health Organisation to see how the virus really started.
What could you really do with now you’re spending more time at home? What’s missing?
Contact with friends, restaurants, my weekly round of golf, sport on the television and freedom. Otherwise I am working hard and having a chance to write and be with my family so I am incredibly lucky.
What makes a house a home?
A family and inanimate old friends like pictures, familiar things and books. It should be a safe and happy place and the walls should absorb that and give it back.