Oeda O’Hara’s cottage appeared on its Wealden village green just in time to see the end of the Boer War, although one has the feeling that this happy event attracted its interest as little as many other world milestones over the last 130 years. Once two cottages and now one, it has quietly kept to itself, watched village life go by and survived to tell its tale.
As I leaf through grainy pictures of its early life with Oeda, she points out the aproned Victorian matrons standing, hands proudly on substantial hips at its front doors. “I love its history,” she says. “I love the fact that these families once lived here, sat here in this room, warmed themselves by this fireside.”
Just what these two matrons might make of the house today should they suddenly find themselves standing beside us in Oeda’s dining room is anyone’s guess – for this cottage has embarked on the latest chapter of its story with a family whose life and loves must be so far from those of its earlier owners as to come from another planet.
Oeda is not a lady given to compromise and neither are her husband and two daughters and two sons. There is nothing even in the most distant corner of this house dictated by convention. Nothing echoing the worthy pages of the home supplements or the glossy interiors magazines. Nothing that smacks of the slightest compromise. Outside the building is mellow Victoriana. Inside, it is pure O’Hara with the lead firmly taken by Oeda herself. “I’m sorry,” she warns, “I love colour. I don’t care what goes with what or what clashes with what. I just love colour.”
She is, of course, being far too modest. At Chez Oeda colour certainly rules but it is her natural eye that has allowed her to handle strong bright colours with confidence and style and that has resulted in a home that is exciting, fun and reflects the varied lives and considerable talents of her creative family.
The dining room where we sit is a strong lilac and everywhere there are witnesses to the family’s artistic commitments. Dutch-born Oeda met her husband Michael when he was busking in Amsterdam and music has been a bonding focus of the family ever since. The whole family are musical and one of her sons, Nils (21), is now a professional musician. An upright piano, a drum set belonging to their younger son, Finlay (15), and a huge and elegant white double base bear witness to individual preferences.
The centrepiece is a vast 10-seat refectory table and bright blue painted chairs. “Meals usually end up with somebody starting to play something and everyone else joining in,” says Oeda.
But music isn’t the only talent among her children. Daughters Jasmin (22) and Amber (19) are artistic and on the walls are some lovely examples of their work including two self-portraits. Lurking next to the piano is also a superb Banksy-influenced piece on wood by Nils. “It’s great – I never have to buy paintings because my family provides everything we need,” she says.
Also on show is evidence of one side of Oeda’s professional life – two old table lamps given new life with colourful patchwork shades. Her business, Recycledelight, provides not only unique finished lights but works to commission to provide shades that will complement customers’ existing décor. Each light also has a name. On the dining table is Nottingham and on the large pine chest of drawers sits Goldie. One has the distinct feeling that each night when all are abed, they get into lively discussion with the two tall Dutch candlesticks that at present stand aloof on the windowsill.
The flipside to Oeda’s professional life is working as a life coach using the Neuro Linguistic Programming technique, which she felt helped her to such an extent that she was motivated to become a NLP counsellor.
“I believe it can help people with a wide range of problems, large and small, and I’m particularly interested in working with teenagers,” she says.
So on into the kitchen which is pink. It is, in fact, very pink. It is the pinkest kitchen I have ever seen. And where it is not pink, it is sporting a bold blue Dutch wallpaper with big pink roses (Birds in Paradise by Pip Studio). On one of the walls is a lovely and delicate white-painted, little shelving unit in which stand her cherished collection of milk and cream jugs.
The drawing room is restrained by Oeda’s standards with pale pink ceiling and walls, exposed timbers and oriental carpeting. In the centre is a warm pine chest and next to it, like a Disney debutante, slinks Yolanda, a pink standard lamp. On the walls are paintings by her daughters and local artist Kim Langford.
Oeda points out a striking armchair in silver and pink fabric which she rescued from a second-hand shop and beautifully reupholstered. “I hate waste and society wastes so much,” she says. “So many things – like my lamps – can so easily be given a new lease of life.” Possibly but only if, like Oeda, one can see their potential and have the talent to realise it.
Climbing the stairs one is faced with another self-portrait by Jasmin in which she is dressed as a nun. A curious choice of identity perhaps for a young painter – until one catches a glimpse of the black stocking top. Beneath is a chest and chest of drawers – both rescues cleverly distressed by their new owner – and two more of her patchwork lamps.
Oeda’s bedroom is a combination of gentle lilac and Laura Ashley paper. Pride of place goes to a stunning white-painted wooden armchair upholstered in striking mauve and black. The leather-strapping bed is from And So to Bed and on the walls are more pictures by her daughters and a nude by Kim Langford.
The bathroom is a triumph with a bright, light floral blind and striking red walls, the latter the perfect backdrop for the two Martina Shapiro nudes. But are they Shapiro? Again the value of an artistic family comes to the fore. “I had been looking at Shapiro’s work but couldn’t possibly afford one of her paintings – so Jasmin and Amber painted me one each in her style and they’re absolutely perfect.”
On the top floor with opposing red and blue walls is daughter Amber and son Finlay’s bedroom with its leopard-skin bed covers, great shocking pink and blue chests of drawers, a pink and white standard lamp and a wonderful dining chair that Oeda has painted pink and upholstered in a pale green and pink rose fabric. Also sharing the attic floor is Jasmin’s bedroom with its snakeskin wallpaper that extends even to the wardrobe.
This home may have been able to let most of the cataclysmic events of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries pass it by but one it hasn’t been able to ignore is Oeda O’Hara – and one can’t help feeling that the experience has left it utterly – but quietly – delighted.
One wall of the vibrant pink kitchen is papered with ‘Birds in Paradise’ by Pip Studio
Oeda’s natural eye for combining strong bright colours with confidence and style has resulted in a home that is exciting, fun and reflects the varied lives and considerable talents of her creative family
The spacious dining room is painted a strong lilac and everywhere there are witnesses to the family’s artistic and musical commitments
Eldest daughter Jasmin has clearly inherited her mother’s passion for mixing pattern and colour: her room is a riot of snakeskin, gold and paisley
On the top floor with opposing red and blue walls is daughter Amber and son Finlay’s bedroom
The shared bedroom features leopard-skin bed covers, a great shocking pink and blue chests of drawers, pink and white standard lamp and a wonderful dining chair that Oeda has painted pink and upholstered in a pale green and pink rose fabric
A self-portrait by Jasmin hangs on the landing
Oeda’s bedroom is a combination of gentle lilac and Laura Ashley paper. The metal leather-strapping bed is from And So to Bed
In one corner of Oeda’s bedroom, a wooden armchair is upholstered in striking mauve and black. On the walls are more pictures by her daughters and a nude by Kim Langford
- And So To Bed www.andsotobed.co.uk Tunbridge Wells 01892515099
- Kim Langford www.redleafgallery.com
- Pip Studio www.pipstudio.com
- words: John Graham-Hart
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Lucy Fleming
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