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The Sunday Times (UK)
November 10, 2002

Style section

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.'


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