Sometimes you walk into someone's home and you have an instant emotional reaction - sometimes in a bad way and sometimes in a good way. This story, my first 'house' story, falls into the 'good' emotional reaction category. It's that sweet, and rather rare experience where you instantly feel at ease and happy to be there. You look around and you gasp because you love everything that you see. The compliments ooze out of your mouth and all you want to do is feel all the textures and aged patinas under your fingers. It's that beautiful coming together of warmth, materials, creativity and the unexpected combinations of furniture placements, light fittings, and art.
This delicious experience isn't a common occurrence, but when you're lucky enough to be in a space like this, you'll know about it. The most memorable emotional 'house' reaction I've experienced so far was in Hungary, at my sisters' place. Leonora or Nóri as we like to call her had never lived in Hungary before, but we - as in all three sisters, Piroska, or Piros being the third sister - have always had strong ties to our Hungarian roots. So one day, Nóri decided she wanted to try living in Hungary, and off she went. By then Piros had already made the move, and just like that, both of my sisters left Melbourne and started their new lives in Hungary.
Nóri always had a dream though. She wanted to live in an old peasant house, or parasztház. These houses are dotted all over Hungary and the earlier ones date as far back as the mid-1800's. These countryside and village dwellings had humble beginnings, in their most basic form they consisted of three rooms and always in a rectangular configuration - where one room followed on from the next. They sometimes had reed-thatched roofs, some were built from timber, some from clay or stone, and the well-to-do and nobility used bricks once these became available.
These once basic homes that consisted of a front room which we might describe as a bedroom and living room, a kitchen and a storeroom or kamra, are now highly sought after and many have undergone renovations and extensions, while others have been revered for their cultural and architectural significance. Another feature that was common in some areas was a fourth room, which was, in fact, the stable - an important addition to many households. Porches usually extended the length of the house and the two-story ones that are common in villages like Hollókö had their wine cellars in the lower levels.
Nóri's parasztház is a single-story one. It has the typical rectangular floor plan with the shorter end facing the street and the longer end facing the yard. The front room was traditionally the living room, which she uses as her office and classroom (she is an English teacher), it has a pair of windows which are like the eyes of the home, deep window sills, a feature I absolutely adore and it's dotted with a charming mix of furniture. The next room is her entrance space, which is super practical and spacious, a must in cold climates where snow, slush, winter coats and muddy shoes are part of everyday life. It's a welcoming space with a reclaimed armchair to sit on while you're tying your laces, there's an old wardrobe for extra winter stuff, the walls are whitewashed and textural and the solid timber doorframes add a rustic homey feel.
From here you enter the kitchen. And wow, what a kitchen it is! It's the sort of space you just want to linger in forever, and it truly is the heart of her home, in every sense. Whatever I consume there, maybe a pogácsa, which is a savoury scone laced with crispy crunchy porky bits, slices of Hungarian salami, a glass or two of pálinka, which a clear spirit distilled from stone fruit, or just a cup of coffee brewed in her well-used stove top coffee pot, somehow, everything tastes better. There is a lovely square raw timber table surrounded by a mix of chairs, some are actually chunky wooden bedside tables that she uses as seating - brilliant! Again, there are those deep window sills that are the perfect spot for a bowl of ripe tomatoes and potted plants in summer and bowls of oranges and candles in winter.
Her sink is a freestanding stainless steel number from Ikea and it looks perfect next to her retro red enamel stove and oven. In her home, you will not find anything matchy-matchy, or anything predictable or boring. She has a real knack for combining different styles and an expert eye for spotting unique bits and pieces. But the overwhelming feeling is that it's welcoming, creative, warm and earthy. No pretentions, no contrived design elements, no magazine copycatting, and definitely no high-end designer stuff. And it all comes together in perfect harmony.
From the kitchen, you enter a hallway from which you access the spacious bathroom. Again, a rustic timber cupboard is paired with open shelving, little baskets for extra storage and a beautiful gilded mirror over the sink. The final space, formerly the stable, was absorbed into the house during renovations. It had a dirt floor and walls. This is now the living room with a large open mezzanine space on top, which houses the two bedrooms. Nóri has since added a fireplace for extra warmth and ambience. The sofa was a hand-me-down, it's beautiful form suggests it's a 1920's piece and it's covered in a subtle but hardy brocade material.
But as I write this, it dawns on me that her previous homes; the tiny house she built on a hill with the most spectacular view, the rental in the village, and the stunning apartment in the heart of Budapest all felt this way too. So perhaps it isn't so much about the house, but rather, what a person brings to it and what they do with it. It's her much-envied style and taste that brought all of these places alive. It takes courage and creativity but also confidence, to bring furniture and other household items together in a new way. And to repurpose furniture, rescue pieces that are destined for the tip and sometimes to just make do with what you have. Nóri is definitely a pro at this.
And as we farewell her beautiful parasztház and village life, I'm confident that she will imbue the same cosy and warm atmosphere into her next home too.