A friend of mine once spent some time at a monastery in southern France where the monks lived in silence. They were allowed to speak when it was their turn to welcome passing travellers – and when it was their turn, they couldn’t stop talking. By the end of his stay Gérard was desperate for some peace and quiet.
I was reminded of this story at La Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris last weekend. It’s free to get in and was virtually deserted, so the receptionist had very little to do. She checked we had the right leaflets, fretted over some audio guides, described in detail where the toilets were and talked us through every item for sale in the tiny shop.
Needless to say what I was most interested in was the sign saying ‘Thés dans le jardin’, but the receptionist didn’t have anything to say about that. There were no teas in the garden – they don’t start until early summer. This was a shame because the newly renovated Winter Garden, attached to the house, would have been the perfect setting in which to nibble cake, sip tea and shelter from the cold. I can’t imagine a ‘refreshments in summer only’ rule going down very well with in England – a historic house without a tearoom is like a ship without a sail.
But I digress. I’ve always loved the idea of a winter garden, or a conservatory, or a room like Andie McDowell’s in Green Card – a place to go for light, warmth and greenery when it’s cold outside. I love the design of this one, with its sloping roof and green paint – it manages to look classic yet contemporary. I wouldn’t have a grotto in mine, though, and I’d pack it with a hell of a lot more plants.