Kate Humble has a thing about closing doors, something she inherited from her mum while growing up in rural Berkshire. “We had a Victorian house and there wasn’t much in the way of insulation, so it was incredibly cold,” says the Autumnwatch presenter, 54. “We couldn’t afford to keep the heating on often. Both my parents are from Yorkshire and always said ‘just put another jumper on’. “We had an open fire and would go to bed wearing jumpers and socks, often waking up to ice on the inside of the windows. So my mum was obsessive about closing doors to keep the heat in.” But doing so saved the family’s life when Kate was a child.
“I was eight and my brother Charlie was five or six. Having been out, dad was taking our babysitter home and mum had come upstairs to turn the electric blanket on. She closed the door, as always, and came back downstairs.
“A short while later she heard a sound. At first she thought it was the cat mucking around. But when she opened the bedroom door to investigate, all she could see was flames. She immediately shut the door, grabbed me and my brother from bed, the cat too, and ran from the house.”
Her mum left them at a neighbour’s house and called the fire brigade.
“They told us to come in, built us a camp in their sitting room, and handed out hot chocolate. For us children it felt like the most tremendous adventure. Less so for my poor parents, for them it was horrendous.”
Kate will never forget the smell of soot the following morning.
“The firemen had broken the bedroom window and the charred mattress lay on the ground below. I’ll never forget that smell of soot.
Even now when someone pours water on a bonfire, it takes me back to then.”
The experience was jarring for Kate and her family, as home is meant to be a place of safety, sanctuary and security, she says.
If you have you it can mental “We all imagine having a place of safety and security that is yours is a given, a basic human right,” she says.
“It should be – but it’s not. Finding a place of safety and security, having it, and knowing that it’s not going to be taken away from you – that’s a real privilege.” It’s not possessions that make a home, but people and memories, says Kate, author of new book Where The Hearth Is.
“I was fascinated by the question of what a home is. For me, it’s a place where you feel you can be entirely, unquestionably yourself. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, look like, do or think,” says Kate.
“If you want to eat peanut butter out of the jar you can. If you want to walk around in your pants you can. Be it a building or a van, what elevates something from simply being somewhere with a bed in it to somewhere you have a longing for?”
Kate says for her home is where her four-legged friends are. She and husband Ludo, a producer and director, live on a working farm just outside Monmouth in the Wye Valley. It’s the focus of Channel 5 show Escape to the Farm, and they share it with two dogs – Teg, a retired Welsh sheepdog, and Mouse, a small rescue mongrel.
“Then there’s Daliah, an Oxford sandy and black sow, plus two of the piglets she gave birth to this year, Blossom and Patch,” says Kate. “Plus 12 hens, a ridiculous cockerel, six ducks, two feral cats and occasional visiting sheep and goats from the farm.”
As we head towards winter, Kate says she’s happiest when outside, whatever the weather.
“If you don’t have a place where you feel safe, where you can properly switch off and relax, that is enormously detrimental to your mental health.
“I think one of the great mistakes we make as humans is to make ourselves separate from the natural world when in fact we are just another species that lives on Earth,” she says.
“What I love about where I live is that I feel part of nature – from the big skies to the birds. That’s home to me.”
HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY HOME
Colour brings joy
Having colour is really important. You walk into those stark designer houses and you feel really uncomfortable. In my home colour comes from pictures on walls, books on shelves and flowers – I pick ours from the garden, find wildflowers, or even stick a handful of leaves in a jar. Don’t think about trends, just have what you love. I have a yellow sofa with a hedgehog print as it makes me smile, although my husband thinks I’m madEverything should have a purpose: I can’t do clutter, it makes me panic. I’m not minimalist in any way – my office is full of books, plants, pictures, things I’ve collected, a dog bed, all sorts of daft things – but it’s not cluttered. I know where everything is and there is a sense of order. I can’t bear extraneous stuff and rubbish – things that don’t have a purpose.
Everything should have a purpose
I can’t do clutter, it makes me panic. I’m not minimalist in any way – my office is full of books, plants, pictures, things I’ve collected, a dog bed, all sorts of daft things – but it’s not cluttered. I know where everything is and there is a sense of order. I can’t bear extraneous stuff and rubbish – things that don’t have a purpose.
Let the air in
Scent has to be natural to me. I don’t have diffusers, scented candles or plug-ins – that’s just not my bag. To me there’s no lovelier smell than fresh air, so we always have windows open all year round. I love the smell of wood burning on the fire, and I even quite like the smell of wet dog, which is good as it’s a fairly pervasive smell in our house.
We’re a sociable species, but creating a space where you can be private and truly unwind – be it one little bit of garden or a corner of a room – is really important. Your home should be a place of ultimate relaxation, where you don’t have to be on show.
But welcome guests in
I have a phobia of parties, and I don’t particularly like going out. But what I do love is having people over to sit around the kitchen table, share food and chat. That for me is the perfect gathering. Your house can provide a sense of sanctuary and community for those you love too.