Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Home: Alain de Botton, philosopher and writer (by Tessa Williams-Akoto, The Independent)

Note to the Caption: 'There are hundreds of books around, everything from Proust to the complete collection of Freud - every library should have one.'

Storage space, white walls and Freud are all vital for soothing the mind, says Alain de Botton. Take a look inside the philosopher's home

Interview by Tessa Williams-Akoto
Published: 23 August 2006

The philosopher Alain de Botton, 36, lives in west London with his wife Charlotte and 22-month-old son Samuel. He wrote his first book, Essays on Love, aged 24. His last television series, The Perfect Home for Channel 4, was an adaptation of his book The Architecture of Happiness.

I knew that I wanted to live in this street - as much as anything else, the houses are not huge, but they have very high ceilings. So one day, I put leaflets through every single door, asking whether anyone would sell. I waited a few weeks and it worked - someone responded.

It was a wreck when we first got it - the man who owned it, who had been going through a divorce, had just left it completely without doing anything to it for about 30 years, so it looked terrible. The walls were cracked and buckling, the floorboards were rotten, there were damp and leak stains all over, the roof was missing tiles, the plumbing was ancient and the wiring needed an overhaul. But looking beyond all that, we could see that it was a great Victorian building - it's from the 1890s - set over four storeys.

Both my wife and I have studies here, and we have two other bedrooms and our son's room. We also have two identical bathrooms, which are in the same position in the house, one on top of the other beside the stairway. My office is on the top floor, and I have views over London from there.

It took a long time to renovate; during these two years we stayed at a rented flat near Elephant and Castle. It is very different from where I grew up - which was a modernist house in the suburbs of Zurich.

The house is painted white throughout, apart from the sitting room downstairs which is a pale green colour called celadon. The most important thing for me was making it a calmer interior than I have within myself. There is so much going on in life it is very important to create an interior that is peaceful to live in.

The one main luxury that I have here is that I have built in a lot of storage. Cupboards and bookshelves make a big difference. That is why I have managed to create a very sleek minimalist look. However, I think I am now verging on the maximalist. But it is very difficult with a child to keep things looking minimalist.

My favourite room is the sitting room, which has now become a play room, but it is still a very relaxing place. There are hundreds of books around, always something to pick up and read. Everything from Proust to the complete collection of Freud - every library should have one, you never know when you might need to look up something, a neurosis, a fear or an obsession, just in case you have a problem.

The downstairs is quite open plan. The dining room is between the kitchen, which overlooks a patio, and the sitting room. We have a large oak table which was given to us as a wedding present and a set of dining chairs from Habitat.

Books are my one indulgence. I usually have about 10 on the go at the same time - right now I'm reading Andrew Solomon, Geoff Dyer, Virginia Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Roland Barthes, Paola Antonelli, Stendhal and Philip Roth. I don't know if you could take that lot to the beach.

I must have over 2,000 books, I buy more every week, sometimes one or two, sometimes 20. I don't watch much television, we have a very small simple black Panasonic TV. But I do like going to the cinema, one of my favourite films is Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders.

My wife and I have similar taste in art, we like things that are modern realist. As soon as you come through the door, there is a painting by Chris Kenny of little bits of pages of books stuck on to pins on the wall. I have another of his pieces, and upstairs a photograph of a school, by an Israeli photographer who went round taking pictures of schools in Britain in the 1950s.

Ideally I'd like to knock this house down and build something more contemporary. I like this area a lot. It is great for children and very central.

The one interiors look I really don't like is Russian new oil billionaire style. It doesn't really ring bells with me, or the leopard skin and gold tap look. I could go on and on, but one other style I don't like very much is the traditional English Chintz look.

A lot of our furniture comes from Habitat. I do think it is worth getting furniture that someone has thought about. Ikea can have some good things too, but it's all about knowing what to choose.

It is a bit like going to TopShop and mixing and matching with couture. If you have one key designer piece, it tends to look better amongst some other things that are different.

If I were to live anywhere else I would choose Amsterdam. It is a very liveable city and everyone speaks English. London doesn't really work like cities should. It is far too spread out, it is too big. It has become rather like Los Angeles, it doesn't have that tight city feel which is what makes cities attractive. People tend to stick to themselves too much as it is too vast, and I think it is quite ugly as well in parts - especially places like Shepherd's Bush.

Architecturally, so much has gone wrong in London. I'm more of a fan of the European city model, where things are more tightly packed together. Places such as Paris, Berlin and Barcelona are a lot more appealing - both visually and physically.

No comments: