my happy home

As part of our interview series, My Happy Home, we sit down with Frances Tophill to find out how she decorates her rented space — and why she once painted her family bathroom black.

Gardening guru Frances is a British horticulturist, author and television presenter, best known for Love Your Garden and Gardeners’ World. Most recently, Frances announced she will be releasing her newest book, The Modern Gardener, aimed at helping people to encourage wildlife, reduce their carbon footprint, and make their outdoor and indoor space more useful in all areas.

What makes you happiest at home?

FT: Like many people my age, I’m desperately trying to find my own home and struggling. It’s a tough market to be in! I’ve been lodging with friends for a year now, so I only have my own bedroom but I love it. I love just being creative in my space. In my room I always have books, a sewing machine and my piano. They are things that are massively important for me to have in my home space. The way I escape is by reading a book or being creative in some way, usually making something ill-fitting out of fabric!

I also love cooking. I was raised on chicken nuggets and shop-bought pies, so I never imagined I would be into cooking. I think it’s part of gardening because you are growing your own produce. There is nothing I love more than a whole day with nothing to do but to cook a feast — usually a vegetable curry. For me, cooking, pickling and preserving is a really mindful process.

What is the best home bargain you’ve ever snapped up?

FT: There is a place called Petticoat Lane Emporium in Ramsgate, Kent, which I love. It’s like a charity shop in a warehouse. Some of it’s junk, but you just have to go and pick your way through.

When I was doing up my allotment shed back in Kent, I wanted to deck it out with some cheap stuff so that I could go and sit there with a tea when it was raining. After hunting around Petticoat Lane Emporium, I found this brown checked chair for £10. It was my little allotment shed chair and it’s so comfy! It’s kind of retro cool but it’s also ugly. I used to keep it in my van, so that when I was filming I could just go and sit on the chair in my van. Brown checked monstrosity.

frances tophill's chair

Frances Tophill

Tell us about your favourite memory at home

FT: I’m quite a home bird, so I have many. I’m staying with lots of friends at the moment, so whilst I don’t have my own home, I do have a van. That’s kind of my home. It’s not even a campervan, but I’ve got spare clothes inside, food, my tools, and a little gas cooker so I can make myself a cup of tea. There’s also blankets and throws in case I need to sleep. Plus, my dog is usually in there and now he thinks it’s his home too.

It’s really important for me to have a space that feels like home, even when I’m so far away from actual home when I’m filming. Katie Rushworth, my co-presenter on Love Your Garden, often joins me to sit in my van for a tea – she’s the only one who is allowed in my van.

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I’ve also got so many memories of growing up. I have two sisters and we would play together, taking all of my mum’s houseplants to make one big set in the living room. We would then do ballet shows and charge my parents to watch, even though none of us could do any ballet. We’d spend whole weekends making plays, magic shows or building huge assault courses in the garden. Home for me is that memory of growing up with my sisters.

What is the best decorating advice you have ever received?

    FT: I have made so many decorating mistakes! My mum is brilliant because when I was younger she would let us do what we wanted, which is really quite brave and unusual for a parent. I remember when I was about nine, I first painted my bedroom green with a huge mural of a sun on the wall. They were all different tester pots of yellow and orange, and it looked awful. When I was older, I later painted the room blue, and then a few years later I painted it red, white and black.

    When I was a child I also painted our family bathroom black, which my mum was really unsure about it. She ended up loving it! My decoration style has always been a little bit questionable, but the best decorating advice I have ever received, especially after so many mistakes, is to sand it, wash it, and give your wall three coats. Your can change your whole mood just with a bit of colour. Just be more brave.

    frances tophill with adam frost on gardeners' world

    Frances with Adam Frost on Gardeners’ World


    Where do you shop for the best homewares?

    FT: Charity shops are where I tend to go for the best homewares. If I’m feeling like I really want to treat myself then I’ll head to TOAST – I love their homewares. I used to go to Anthropologie when I lived in Edinburgh, but I never bought anything there.

    I also try to make as much as I can myself. I love pottery and I’ve sometimes thought about having a career change and pursuing pottery, but I shy away from it because if I made my hobby into a job it probably would be less fun. I have hundreds of mugs and flower pots that I have made myself.

    I also love to quilt. It’s a skill that my mum taught me when I was younger. I’ve made them for different points in my life, for example I have a black quilt that I made after a break-up. I remember making a quilt of a corn field after filming Love Your Garden because I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I’d had this huge life change and then I was back at my mum’s house. It’s those sorts of things that I really love – rather than buying things, I make them. I get to look back at my life journey and remember items that tell a story. The break-up quilt just sits in a box but I occasionally get it out!

    If you could have a snoop around anyone’s house, whose would it be and why?

      FT: I’ve always wanted to have a look inside those tiny crooked cottages with small little doors. In terms of a person, someone like Vivienne Westwood. I don’t know what you would find in her home. It might just be full of chaos, but I’d be intrigued to see how she lives.

      What would a perfect night at home look like?

      FT: A nice meal, a bottle of wine and spending time with good friends, chatting and laughing. If I’m on my own, then it would be curling up with a good boxset or with a book.

      from spungold productions love your cottage garden specialtuesday 24th august 2021 on itv pictured francis tophillin this colour packed love your garden special   alan introduces us to britain’s favourite garden style – the cottage garden featuring visits to some of the nation’s most picture perfect plots, alan shares the secrets of creating this pretty garden style and even reveals for the first time his own tribute to the classic style – an eye popping mixed border that he has painstakingly created in his own garden to show how the style can be created from scratch   the love your garden team of david domoney, katie rushworth, frances tophill and danny clarke take on the plots of two hardworking nurses for long serving district nurse pat hastings in redditch – a plant free backyard is turned into a flower filled traditional cottage garden with all the trimmings in stoke – the team create a more modern take on the cottage garden style to suit dedicated young paediatric ae nurse grace finney the results in both gardens are jaw droppingc spungoldfor further information please contact peter graymob 07831460662   petergrayitvcomthis photograph is c itv and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme love your cottage garden special or itv once made available by the itv picture desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission date and no reproduction fee will be charged any subsequent usage may incur a fee this photograph must not be syndicated to any other publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of itv picture desk full terms and conditions are available on the website wwwitvpicturescom

      Frances on Love Your Garden. Catch up on episodes on ITV Player

      What is your most treasured possession at home? Why is it so special?

      FT: My piano is my most treasured possession. My grandparents won it in a raffle in the 1950s. It’s a Broadwood piano. My grandad was a really good pianist and my dad also learnt the piano, so when we were children we all had to learn too. I was the one who took to it more than my sisters, so my dad said the piano would be mine. It’s a pain because I always have to take it with me! However, I can’t possibly ever get rid of it. I don’t play it as much as I should, but it’s part of the family.

      What does your outdoor space mean to you?

        FT: That’s a big question. My outdoor space means ‘me’. It’s where I can just be myself. I can just sit and relax, be busy or think about the things that are bothering me. That’s what it means to me.

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        Which room do you spend most of your time in? How did you decorate this space?

        FT: I just have my bedroom, so it’s both a bedroom and an office. I probably spend most of my time in there or in the kitchen. When I was moving down here I treated myself to a rug from this man who sells Moroccan rugs in Folkestone – and that’s what I used to decorate my room. It’s the most bright acid colours I’ve ever seen — bright red, yellow, blue and green. It’s handwoven and I paid £200 for it. It’s really bright, so I decided to paint the rest of the room white. The rug has basically dictated the scheme of the room.

        frances tophill rug

        Frances Tophill

        What would top your list for the worst decor trend?

          FT: Grey! I always dismiss houses to rent or buy if they have grey everywhere. When grey is done well it can be absolutely beautiful, such as a soft grey in a small dose. I often see houses now — and I know because I’m looking at houses online a lot – but they all have grey walls, grey carpets, grey tiles, grey furniture. It’s so depressing! It feels so cold and unwelcoming. Give me Artex over grey any day — or black bathrooms!

          If you could design your dream home, what things would you want to include?

            FT: Definitely a wood-burner. I would love a cottage with a garden, but my dream has always been to have a room full of books and old furniture. The walls would either be a dusty blue or a rich green to create a cosy feel. It would be a place you can go to curl up and read or to just sit at the desk. That’s my dream.

            Frances Tophill will be at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, which runs from 5th — 8th May 2022 at the Three Counties Showground.

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