x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Mother really does know best

Design insider My mother has never been "on trend" and she's quite proud of the fact.

Conservation, class and design: mother really does know best.
Conservation, class and design: mother really does know best.

My mother has never been "on trend" and she's quite proud of the fact. Her life is based on solid values and principles (namely hard work, honesty and helping others) and her approach to ­interior design reflects the titles of the magazines to which she subscribes: Country Living, Homes and Antiques and Good Housekeeping. For more than 20 years this has meant a reliance on classic chintz, a comfortable sofa, well-chosen artwork and more than a few family heirloom furniture items. Minimal is not a word she knows; her rooms are filled with books and family photographs and in every nook or cranny there is a pot-plant or flowers - picked from the ­garden.

I grew up with a ­vocabulary which included the words Sanderson, Laura Ashley, Parker Knoll, Colefax and Fowler and learnt, by osmosis mainly, the value of durable looks over short term "fads". It's set me in good stead when I go shopping, whether it is for the home or for my wardrobe. My mother, you see, is a great believer in a good white shirt, a well-cut suit, a pair of proper shoes and a leather handbag and while she could have made a fortune from this, Trinny and Susannah have beat her to it.

I also realised that my mother has been "green" since the moment I was born. Literally. As a former nurse, she insisted I wear Harrington Square terry towelling nappies rather than Pampers and while my neighbours were opening tins of Heinz baby food, my mother was into purées - I had a concoction of vegetable mashes at which even Heston Blumenthal would marvel. On both counts she reduced my carbon footprint as well as the housekeeping expenses. If you get nappy savvy, for example, it is estimated you will save Dh3000 per child as well as reduce the landfill sites. Which brings me to my main point: while I have often been at odds with her, mother really does know best.

When I recently returned home for a short holiday, I realised that all the things that the eco-warriors are peddling, my mother has done first. And I'm sure she's not the only one. Look back to your grandmother's generation and you'll find that the "good old days" were exactly that. As accidental ecologists, Britain's Blitz generation set up a series of rules, to which we are being urged to return.

Take cleaning for example. The reliance on "elbow grease" and lemon juice to fight germs is well documented and the ever present one part white wine vinegar mixed with four parts water makes a phenomenal household cleaner for brass, glass or enamel. Likewise my mother is never without bicarbonate of soda which is great for lifting stains and odours from carpets. These are both cheaper and safer alternatives to the cleaning product market, which continues to boom despite using potentially harmful chemicals and encouraging wasteful packaging.

Then there's "market day". My grandmother went to the shops with a variety of baskets, some of which we still have. These were the Anya Hindmarch "I am not a plastic bag" of their day, and if you haven't already got a jute bag in your tote collection, it's time to get one. While it drives me mad sometimes, my mother has a routine in her week, but it too makes ecological sense. By making Monday "wash day" you'll wash clothes less often and fully load the washing machine for every cycle. If you have a garden or balcony, using a washing line instead of an energy intensive tumble dryer will further reduce CO2 emissions.

Similarly, by doing what my mother calls her "main shop" once a week, she reduces the natural waste in energy, time and money. The main family meal once per week - Sunday roast in the UK - is not only a social occasion but also an opportunity to cook for the week ahead - turning left over vegetables into bubble and squeak and adding vegetable peelings to the compost. While these are common sense to many, they're pearls of wisdom to others. And especially in the design arena, my mother is a genius. She's recently redecorated two rooms and while she has not quite afforded the Farrow and Ball eco paint, she has put into practice her newly learnt upholstery skills and recovered an old suite and ­several chairs using linen union material saved from a former house. While I was desperate to treat her to something new and while she was desperate to make do and mend, the finished look is excellent. Mother-inspired eco-chic could well be a whole new trend on the horizon.