But the two of you had very different design sensibilities. At the time Catherine was working at Colefax and Fowler, Britain’s bastion of chintz.
John: Her flat was a complete Colefax interior. So you spent the whole time falling over things–stools, ottomans, poofs, and sofas. I don’t like sofas. They are so unmanageable spatially.
How did you bridge your taste divide?
Catherine: I just gave in. He won.
How did you end up at Home Farm?
John: I didn’t want to have a place in the country. I didn’t think we needed one. I like London so much. But Catherine thought it would be nice to get a tiny cottage somewhere which we could escape to on the weekends. She made the mistake of showing me photos of this dilapidated, very big property. It has a 17th-century farmhouse, 18th-century barns and other buildings, a medieval pond with carp in it, an orchard for cider. It is on an escarpment looking down on a beautiful valley.
It is a listed Grade II building, so there were lots of restrictions. We kept all the beautiful bits—what was left. It’s much more complicated renovating existing buildings. It took us four years. So many decisions. In the end we have 28 rooms here. There would have been a lot more, but I made the bedrooms spacious, and we have three kitchens. It’s a series of farm buildings, strung out. If you want to live in any part of it, you need a kitchen nearby.
Was the renovation stressful?
Catherine: We’re still married. Which is like a miracle. It was quite intense. Our biggest arguments were about sockets—electrical outlets. John doesn’t like to see them, so we don’t have very many and they are all very well concealed.
John: They are so ugly
Catherine: But we’ve forgotten the stress of it.
But John, you did make some concessions to Catherine?
John: Having curtains and sofas…things I wouldn’t normally do…it was a price worth paying.
Your relationship with food?
Catherine: When we met, John had one idea about food, that it should only be one color—white. He likes whitefish and white asparagus and panna cotta. And he likes the plate to be very clean. He doesn’t like a big mess on the plate.
We both grew up in large families in which mealtimes were sacrosanct. Both of our mothers were good, natural cooks. Martha [Stewart] asked John’s mother for her recipe for Yorkshire pudding. My mother’s cooking was a very big influence on me. It was home cooking—comfort food. Things like fish pies, roast chicken, and soups. I love soups, in winter and summer.
John doesn’t cook. He’s more of a director. He gives ideas of what to cook and creates the spaces in which we cook and eat. He also designs the majority of the cookware and tableware. It’s all part of the ceremony of eating. He controls every element of it, but it’s not about him actually doing the cooking.