Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Agatha Christie At Home by Hilary Macaskill

We can't get enough of Agatha Christie right now, and today Lorraine Masonheimer reviews Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill. 

Home:  A place where something flourishes.  For most of us, our earliest memories of home are childhood experiences where we played, did our homework, grew into ourselves and became part of the community.  As a child, Agatha excelled at make-believe.  She wrote and acted out dramas connecting creativity, story-making and coming up with ideas with home.

Greenway on the River Dart was Agatha’s dream home, one she considered “the loveliest house in the world”.  Ashfield in Torquay, the home where she grew up, was sold in 1938 to buy Greenway.  She spent her summers there until she died in 1976 and it was considered the family’s holiday home.  
Agatha’s interest in homemaking began at a young age with a favorite pastime making houses by draping towels over tables and emerging on all fours.  She graduated to designing the interior of a beloved two-story doll house.  She often made her own furniture and installed the fabrics and colors of her choice and carefully selected just the right cutlery and glassware.  

Over her lifetime, Agatha loved to buy homes, alter and decorate them and sell them for a profit.  At one point, she owned eight homes around London.  Home in its many forms was central in Agatha’s life.  

The book Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill is a peak into the person that was Agatha.  Greenway was the home where she introduced herself to the community as Mrs. Mallowan, the wife of Max her second husband.  It was a home known for its hospitality, house parties, cricket and piano playing.  The lovely book has over 100 photographs of Greenway and the life lived within its grounds.

She was good at arithmetic, managing household staff and accounts, cleaning, shopping and throwing warm, festive parties.  She loved apples, Devonshire cream by the cupful and had a fondness for sweets especially rice pudding, apple pie, scones and figs.  Days were filled with swimming in the river, picnics, playing cricket with her grandson, planning her garden, taking her produce to market and walking.

The highlight of the day was the 2 ½ hour nightly meal.  It began with drinks in the library.  Twenty minutes before dinner, a gong sounded and dinner began.  The meal ended with the ring of a bell where everyone gathered in the lounge with coffee.  Agatha, an accomplished musician, would often play the piano.

She rarely wrote while residing at Greenway and chose instead to host reading parties with family and friends.  Her grandson, Mathew Prichard recalls Nima nestled in a deep chair with a light directly above her, strange butterfly shaped eyeglasses pushed slightly forward, reading from her most recently published book.  She would suddenly stop and ask everyone to guess the identity of the murderer.  “Max once put his foot in it by guessing the murderer in And Then There Were None…that put Agatha out somewhat.”  

Agatha treated her staff with immense respect for their profession.  She also saw them as family.  She insisted on making mayonnaise and carving the meat despite having a chef nearby.  The staff described her as a quiet, friendly, shy and gentle lady who happened to be good at thinking up murder.

When it came to interior design, Agatha held her ground and stood firm with her architects when altering space and decorating Greenway.  She determined space plans, color schemes, patterns and wallpapered and painted many of the rooms herself.  A favorite color scheme throughout the house was pale mauve and white with soft greens interspersed.  Agatha’s homes were often described as warm and kindly with chintz-clad furniture, marble effigies, grandfather clocks and expansive grounds.

Greenway is positioned beautifully on the bend of the River Dart.  Agatha was always designing and reworking the expansive gardens that meandered down the hill to the river.  Benches located throughout the grounds are designed with metal legs that form the letters AC for Agatha Christie and the arms form the letter G for Greenway.  While sitting on a bench, she asked the grounds man to plant daffodils to give her more to look at when relaxing in a favored spot.  One day she realized they faced away from her to the south and the sunshine so she had them removed.  Many of the plants come from the world over reflecting Agatha’s life of travel and adventure.

Her attention to detail inside and out is the epitome of good design—it reflects Agatha and her family.  But as much as we define our home, our home also defines us and Agatha is very much present throughout Greenway today.  Her furnishings, collectibles and every book she wrote in every language are as they were when Agatha lived there.  Her bedroom and her grandson’s bed are closely held to the heart and not available for public viewing. Greenway is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.  Agatha Christie built her life, her stories and her beloved home to celebrate life, adventure and family.  It is her home where something still flourishes.

No comments:

Post a Comment