Pink Fire Pointer A Fondness for Green

A Fondness for Green

"We think we deserve some good luck.  Yet I daresay we're the happiest couple in England.
-- Virginia Woolf, after purchasing Monk's House in 1919.

I have always wanted to visit Virginia Woolf's home Monk's House, and now I feel as if I have.  Have you seen the June issue of "The World of Interiors"?  If you enjoy seeing the houses in which writers lived, you will love this article on Monk's House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's cottage in Sussex, England.  I love seeing the places where writers lived and worked, the environments where all that creativity took place.  We can wonder, for example, which room Virginia Woolf was in when she came up with the idea for a new novel? Was she warming herself in front of the fire when she suddenly saw the main character in her mind?   How did the morning sunlight coming through the kitchen window, together with a soothing cup of tea inspire the ideas that lead to a story?  Was she daydreaming in the garden when the perfect solution for how to end a book came to her? These kinds of musings are especially relevant in the case of Virginia Woolf, since houses and their interiors have such a strong presence in her books.  As the writer of the article points out, the Woolfs adored Monk's House and lavished great time and attention on making it the very best it could be.   It was almost like the child they never had.

The house dates from the late 17th century and was lived in by millers and carpenters until Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought it at auction in 1919.  Virginia told her friends that it was an ancient Monk's house with niches for holy water, but this was an instance of her famous verbal embroidery (though there were niches on either side of the chimney); monks never actually lived there.  It is a charming brick and weather-board cottage with a large garden in the Sussex village of Rodmell.   As Virginia's books began to make money, the Woolfs were able to add amenities to the house. At one end of the house there is an extension built in 1929 that was possible because of the money Virginia earned from her novel "Orlando."  They added a studio for Virginia in the garden.  The garden was Leonard's pride and joy; he created and cared for this beautiful retreat where they spent many happy hours.

The view of the house from Leonard's Italian garden

Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century found their way to Monk's house, including T.S. Eliot, Maynard Keynes, E.M Forster, Lytton Strachey, and Roger Fry.  Eliot told the story of the slope in the bathroom floor that made the bath water sit higher on the right.  The artists Vanessa Bell (Virginia's sister) and Duncan Grant hand-painted most of the furniture and decorative objects in the house. It is a house bursting with the personalities of the two people who lived there and, as with so many great houses, it allows us to understand them better.  "Places explain people," as David Garnett once said.

This issue of "The World of Interiors" takes us on a tour of the inside of the house and gives us a glimpse into the domestic life of Virginia Woolf.  It is a beautiful article with great photos, written by Caroline Zoob who is the last tenant-curator of Monk's House.   She tells us that Virginia "felt an irrational pain and sense of failure when her painter sister Vanessa Bell ridiculed her fondness for green."  But even though she was often influenced by her sister's artistic pronouncements, Virginia went ahead and included her favorite color in almost every room of the house.  

The sitting room at Monk's House, featuring Virginia's favorite green

The canvas-work seat of the chair in front of the writing desk in the sitting room, made by Duncan Grant's mother

The dining room with its green enamelled stove
The chairs were designed by Duncan Grant and the yellow seat backs were worked by Mrs. Grant

Virginia's sunny ground floor bedroom, surrounded by the garden.  Vanessa Bell painted the fireplace surround, signing it "VW from VB 1930."   She featured a lighthouse at the top of the tile work.

My favorite detail?  It has to be Virginia's Shakespeare collection which she bound in colorful papers.  In 1936, she wrote to E.M. Forster that she was "rebinding all my Shakespeares - 29 volumes - in coloured paper," labelling the spines herself.

 Lady Ottoline Morrell gave Virginia the Chinese silk shawl which is draped on this chair in her bedroom.  Virginia would write here using a board which would sit upon the chair's arms.  

Virginia's Shakespeare collection rebound by her "in coloured paper" -- it almost looks marbleized.
How beautiful!

Virginia Woolf's fondness for green is just one of her personal preferences that we can see in the way she decorated her home.  Pick up this issue of "World of Interiors" to see all the gorgeous photos of her charming Bloomsbury retreat and to read the fascinating article. (Photos by Caroline Arber and text by Caroline Zoob)   Notice how personalized everything is --  her hand or that of her sister Vanessa is responsible for almost everything.  Her approach to decorating this country cottage reveals a time and a sensibility when most things were hand decorated and this approach to making a home was the welcome relief she needed from writing her books.  Her friends enjoyed being at Monk's House and many of them wrote about it:  

"I loved the untidy, warm, informal nature of the house with books and magazines littered about the rooms, logs piled up by the fireplaces, painted furniture and low tables of tiles designed by the Bloomsbury artists, and writing done in sunny, flower-filled , messy studios.  A smell of wood smoke and ripe apples lingered about it, mixed with the fainter under-perfume of old bindings and old paper."
-- John Lehmann

It sounds like a wonderful environment for inspiration.  And now I can picture Virginia sitting in that chair in her bedroom with Ottoline's scarf wrapped around her shoulders writing one of her books.  With Shakespeare nearby to guide her, she was in a great space to unleash her creativity.