Emma Samms: Home is where the heart is

The Smith family's Cotswold idyll

The Smith family's Cotswold idyll - Credit: Archant

‘When my lifelong friend walked through the my door, would she realise that I’d copied her family’s house?’

Most of us can point to a number of things that have influenced us over the years. Our love of the countryside could be inspired by happy family holidays, our favourite style of décor could be inspired by a dear friend’s house and our favourite foods are often linked to happy childhood memories.

Perhaps unusually, my inspiration for all of the above, and more, is one family. Last week I had the opportunity to reveal the full extent of this influence to one of them when she came to stay with her husband.

A little back story first. This family, whom I shall call the ‘Smiths’ to save them the embarrassment of deification, lived in an old rectory in a small Cotswold hamlet. My mother had known them before she was married and was the same age as the eldest of their eight children. Their youngest, my dear friend Rachel, is the same age as me.

Mr Smith, the senior partner at a law firm, would bake bread early in the morning before he went to work. He was wonderfully old fashioned and would insist that all ladies and girls wear long skirts for dinner every evening which he would preside over from the top of a long table. He’d cut into one of his home-baked loaves of bread with a twinkle in his eye and then proceed to throw a slice to anyone who wanted one. We all did, of course.

Mrs Smith was a delight, welcoming my family as if another four children in the house was no big deal at all. She never rested. Even after dinner when she sat by the fire embroidering a chair cover or knitting a pair of wellie socks.

There was no television in the house, which seemed exactly right. Best of all, nothing changed. For all the years I went there, there would be a chocolate cake and a ginger cake in the cupboard to the right of the Aga. When one was finished, another would appear.

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My family visited the Smiths at least once a year. Various members of the family taught me how to swim and how to ride a horse and a bicycle. They grew their own vegetables in a quintessential walled garden and kept geese on a small pond below that. A cherry tree by the back door provided enough cherry stones over the years to be sewn into small linen bags, kept in the bottom oven of the Aga and used as bed-warmers. There was a large swing hanging from a tall tree, placed strategically to swing you high over a sloping lawn and sometimes, after a summer Sunday lunch, Mr Smith could be persuaded to roll the entire way down the lawn. Are you beginning to understand why this idyll would have such an influence on me?

Probably not surprisingly, the Smith’s youngest son was my first love and was truly the perfect first boyfriend. Their youngest daughter has been one of my closest friends my entire life and even when I was living in America we kept in close contact by regularly writing letters to each other.

So last week, just before Lulu, one of the Smith daughters came to stay with her husband, I had a moment of panic. When she walked through the door of my house for the first time, would she see the similarities to her family home as a compliment? Would she think that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or would she just find it a bit odd?

Thankfully, the Victorian tiled floor in my hallway evoked a delighted squeal of recognition from Lulu. “It’s just like our house!” she beamed. And throughout her stay, I couldn’t help but show her the rocking horse, almost identical to the one in their playroom, the Aga, (with cherry stone sack equivalents) the wooden clothes dryer, the blue and white china, the back stairs, etcetera, etcetera...

Ultimately, I don’t think Lulu minded that large parts of my house are reminiscent of hers. Hopefully she recognised that she and her family played a large part in my most cherished childhood memories and that my paying homage to them is a sign of gratitude.

Or, she thought I was a bit weird and I’ll never see or hear from her again.

Follow Emma Samms on Twitter @EmmaSamms1 and Instagram @emma.samms