home / interviews
The Sunday Times (UK)
November 10, 2002
Interiors: Music box
The weather may be unfriendly, but Tori Amos has turned her Cornish farmhouse into a haven for family and friends. By Lucas Hollweg
Outside, the Cornish sky is cloud-torn. Tori Amos lifts her
green eyes to the window. 'Sometimes it rains every day for
three weeks. And you know,' she says, with unexpected
irony, 'I don't need any encouragement to write songs that
make people want to throw themselves off bridges.'
Despite the weather, Cornwall is the place Amos now calls
home. 'The people here have taken me in like a stray dog,'
says the flame-haired singer, who grew up in North Carolina,
the daughter of a Methodist minister and a part-Cherokee
mother. 'They treat me as one of their own.' Which is good for
Amos, who earnt herself a reputation as something of a
loony-toon when she announced her passionate belief in
fairies. She has other houses in Ireland and Florida, but this
simple stone-built farmhouse has become both the hub of her
working life (the barn opposite the house hides a high-tech
studio) and the only real fixed point in a tornado existence of
recording and touring.
Her latest album, Scarlet's Walk, charts a Kerouacesque
journey across America, post 9/11, seen through the eyes of a
fictitious woman. It's a personal and often traumatic travelogue,
but one that reflects the history, hopes and tragedies of an
entire nation. At times, the singer's voice seems to catch on a
jagged edge of emotion.
And yet, sitting at the dining table with a plate of chilli con
carne, she comes across more as an earth mother than a
tortured soul. Both her marriage to the British recording
engineer Mark Hawley (she calls him 'husband' without the
normal pronoun 'my': 'It's not about possession') and their
two-year-old daughter, Tash, seem to be sources of genuine
happiness and fulfilment, and the musicians and technicians
who people the house when an album is being recorded are
welcomed as part of the family.
'Sometimes it can feel like a stationary tour bus,' says Amos.
'The dining room is where we gather. Mealtimes are sacred.
The dining table becomes a lighthouse for an hour. It's like the
Native American tradition of sitting around a fire.'
The house itself is cosy and welcoming, with an intimate
'smoking room' - all oxblood walls, leather chairs and soft
fabrics in berry colours - and bedrooms with raised beds that
look like giant cots. In the front sitting room there is a huge
television screen in place of a fireplace, and the cool blue
walls are tempered by sofas upholstered in chunky,
sand-coloured elephant cord.
'I was drawn to the idea of an old cottage with modern
flavour,' says Amos, who worked on the decoration with her
friend Audrey Carden, of the interior design firm Carden
Cunietti. 'It was important to me that the house wasn't too
heavy or formal. I don't want to feel like I'm at the Albert Hall.'
Even more important, however, was the lighting. 'I don't know
what I'd do without these lamps,' says Amos, pointing to the
Fortuny lights that hang throughout the house. 'They're
essential when it's pouring down with rain and the coffee
machine is going and I just sit in here with my books. At heart, I
think I'm a librarian. A librarian with Sergio Rossi shoes.'
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos