“We moved a year ago to Sturry, a small village just outside Canterbury after spending ten years living by the sea in three- or four-floor Victorian and Georgian houses. I was getting fed up of losing my voice, as I spent so much time shouting up at my kids, and there was a lot of disconnection. So this house is smaller. One of the bonuses is that it’s so much easier to keep clean and tidy; when I came here from India, I was like ‘Oh my goodness, what are you talking about? I have to clean this house on my own?’ Because over there, even the poorest families will have a maid. So now we live near woods rather than the sea, which has worked out perfectly as my four-year-old is more of a tree person. And it feels as if we’ve started a new chapter in our lives, that we’re making progress.
Planning the garden
Here, we have a huge garden. When we moved in it was concreted, but we’ve taken all that away and are creating a garden that is going to feed us. We asked some interiors and architecture students to help us design it; so the plan is to have lots of raised beds for vegetables, fruit trees and wild sections to attract animals. A pond, and space for rescue hens. My children and I are vegan, so we won’t be eating the eggs, but we’ll give them a home. We also have two rescue dogs, staffies, who will be running around the garden, so it needs to be tough enough to stand up to that.
“I love my palm. It’s competing with my four-year-old to see who grows fastest”
For me, the way a house feels is more important than the way it looks. I would describe my style as cosy and welcoming. I have a log burner, the house has lots of earthy tones, and I love my indoor plants; they keep the place natural looking and clean the air. I’m planning on buying a lot more plants in the coming years; I’m particularly fond of the ones that trail and hang, and I love my palm. It’s competing with my four-year-old to see who grows fastest. I’d like it to touch the ceiling; my mother-in-law has one that tall. My husband’s family are all artists, so we are surrounded by paintings they’ve done; one of my favourites is by his grandfather. I’ve got lots of Indian tapestries on the walls; I try to bring my heritage into the home.
One of my favourite things in my house is our breakfast bar. It’s basically a huge slab of tree trunk. A friend of ours owns some woods, and after a storm felled one of his trees invited everyone to take a slab. We took a slice off, drove home with it on our car roof, took off the plastic top to our kitchen island and put it on top. It still has the rough edges and hasn’t been shaped. It’s hundreds of years old, it has history, I want it to look like a tree!
I bought the parquet floor on eBay a couple of houses ago, but had never got around to laying it. But now we’ve laid it. It didn’t quite fit, so we’ve cut railway sleepers to finish the edges of the room; I love the way they have different shades and colours. I also bought our curtains on eBay; with four children running around all day, you can’t be precious about things; if something breaks, if something tears, it’s not life-altering, it’s OK. Although the kids know that my plants are precious to me and not to be damaged!
We clean together, do chores together. When you do those kind of jobs as a family, and put your soul into it, the children are a little more careful about how they treat things. Everything is functional, everything is accessible, but we’ve put it all together with love. I save money where I can; we got a professional to lay our floor tiles, but I did the grouting, and we give teenagers pocket money to help us out and do the heavy lifting!
Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve always had an open-plan kitchen. It’s our social area, and really important to us. It means that when we have guests, they hang around for a long time! We can have unschooling friends round and feel as if we can do exactly what we want. I can be talking to them and starting to cook dinner. It doesn’t hinder the conversation. People tend to come over, put their feet up on the sofa and stay there.
However, we all have our own rooms that we can use when we need solitude. We also have a spare room that functions as a library, as a toy room, and sometimes, if I want to sleep separately, a bedroom for me. I grew up in a tiny flat with my family in Mumbai, and we would give up our rooms for guests and sleep on the floor in the living room, so fluid space feels natural to me. I like it. If we feel like sleeping on a sofa, we do it!”
Follow Sushmita on Instagram at @wildberriesandfables