I’m not going to bore you with why this blog has sat untouched for nigh on two months. Let me share instead what feels like a very precious secret, just under 20 minutes from here.
Today we headed to Ditchling to do a tiny bit of the Artists Open Houses – we had a rare morning together, just my older son and I, and it was such a remarkable day we decided to go to The Handmade House. (Essentials about this are at the bottom of the post).
This is a very ‘Sussex’ house behind a slightly hidden turning (look for the sign) on the left just as you come into the village from the direction of Lewes. It is owned by Ralph Levy, a furniture designer and ceramicist originally from New Zealand, who now lives here and works as a freelance 3D designer for Designer’s Guild.
Ralph has decorated the interior of the house out of things he’s made (hence the name). It has an enchanting Charleston feel about it, with its iron bedposts, painted floorboards and rich-but-muted coloured walls.
The garden is wild and abundant, and to one side has a tidy veg patch that Ralph pillages to offer pop-up pizza evenings in the garden, as well as private suppers and breakfasts to go with the bed he offers in a little hut in the woods (more on that later).
We went in support of Beth Partridge, a painter friend of mine who has collaborated with The Handmade House for a series of really special ceramics. These are exhibiting along with work by Sophie Abbott (ceramics) and Becky Blair (paintings and ceramics).
I don’t mind telling you that my boys really do not like going to open house stuff – we barely do any of the ones in Lewes each year. They find it boring and hate constantly being told not to touch things that are beautiful and therefore beg for it.
But we went to The Handmade House for Beth’s daughter’s birthday in December – a brilliantly low-key and eye-opening experience (more on that below!). So we know that its charming garden and little woods are wonderful for children.
Currently, the garden has little tables in it, and the window of the kitchen is held ajar so it can act as a café. The house is where the ceramics are, and if you trail through the woods, across tiny handmade bridges, past piles of emerald moss-covered stones and weird and wonderful sculptures, you come to the hut. Here there are more paintings, plus some bold, stitched fabric animals.
Ralph built this from scratch and it’s wee. It has stained glass windows, a fairy-lit porch and even its own American-style postbox. It is very bewitching, and has that quality of something you want to rub your eyes at when you look at it, because you just can’t believe it’s really there. This is where the birthday party tea was that we went to – candlelit and cosy, and for just six children.
But this is also a hut you can spend a romantic night in – Ralph moves a brass double bed in here – for just £58 per night including breakfast. There’s no loo, hence the price. (You just use the loo and shower in the main house in the evening/morning, and make do at night as you would when camping). But what a way to spend time together.
My son and a friend we bumped into were immediately lost in their own world, exploring ditches, gathering sticks, spotting a very furry caterpillar.
(You’ll know if you follow the Little Lewes Facebook page, that I have been all over the couple of articles doing the rounds online right now – one at the Guardian – about wild play, and how ridiculously regulated and lacking in independence our children’s outdoor lives are. This is a spot for letting them go off into a tiny wood alone without any worry!).
Ralph told me some people with children arrived at 11am last Saturday and didn’t leave until 4pm, and I can see why. I hated dragging my big one away after just two hours.
Artists Open Houses continues in Ditchling tomorrow and through next weekend (the 24th, 25th and 26th – Bank Holiday Monday). On fine Sundays, such as I’m sure tomorrow will be, Ralph is doing pizza in the oven.
I’m keen to tell you about the children’s parties they do there, but I’ll do that briefly here and then post some pictures at a later date. I’m also planning to do one for my son in October, so perhaps I’ll wait until then.
But if you have a summer (or autumn or winter) party coming up, consider this: a couple of hours of pottery in a real potter’s studio (at the wheel and everything – I literally couldn’t believe the way my big boy focused for this length of time. I think they become slightly hypnotised by the process), followed by a tea (an upcoming one is having a ‘sausage sizzle‘, Ralph tells me, out in front of the hut in the woods) and then a treasure hunt.
For one party, Ralph told me he did pizzas for the nine children who came and encouraged parents coming to pick them up to arrive earlier to have their own pizza and a glass or two of wine. Really quite civilised!
Drive: 18 minutes
Address: Beards Place Farm, 98 Lewes Road, Ditchling, BN6 8TZ
Tel no.: 01273 845 355