home / interviews


In Style (US)
May 2005



Tori Amos

Sweet Harmony

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos takes us on a magical mystery tour of her cozy home tucked keep in the English countryside - a place that's every bit as lyrical as her music.

by Polly Williams

Coils of cayenne-red hair whip across Tori Amos's face. "The gales here are fierce, dramatic - like theater pieces," she says, her voice almost lost in the Cornish wind. "Mother Nature steers this ship." Amos throws an oversize anorak over jeans and a sweater and squelches determinedly in gum boots across the muddy back garden to join her husband, Mark Hawley, a sound engineer with surfer hair who's wearing beach shorts despite the weather. He slips an arm around her shoulders, and they gaze at a rain-lashed building site, the latest redevelopment project on their rural property. Amos grins broadly. "Isn't it cool?" she says.

Bought in 1997, a year before they married, Amos and Hawley's farmhouse is in Cornwall, England's southernmost county. It's remote (four hours from London, an hour from a train station, 10 miles from the sea) - not the most likely place to find an American singer-songwriter who has sold 14 million albums worldwide. "Some people are called to Cornwall," says Amos, 41, flashing her moon-child eyes. "I wasn't. But I fell in love with someone who was, and it has worked its magic on me."

Despite owning a beach house in Florida, the couple consider this to be headquarters, where they spend about nine months of the year. Their 4-year-old daughter, Natashya Lorien - named after Lothlorien, home of the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy - attends a local school. The five-bedroom main house, set amid three emerald-green acres, looks modest from the outside. As Amos says, "It's a typical Cornish cottage, built small to keep the heat in." (Think exposed beams, stone walls, Old World charm.) "But I had to bring it into modern times - half L.A., half Cornwall," she adds.

So nothing is quite as it seems. The farmhouse - with some parts dating back to the 1700s - thrums with 21st century technology and an office with a hotline to L.A. What used to be a barn now houses a high-tech recording studio, designed by Hawley. Amos's latest album, The Beekeeper, was recorded here. The aforementioned building site is an emerging guest complex that, when finished, will include six bedrooms, a gym, a sauna and an eight-person Jacuzzi. It's where musicians and those renting the studio will stay. The couple are also building a mini-amphitheater and a piano room for Amos's nine-foot Bosendorfer piano.

Still, there's no pool, no gold discs, none of the rock star flash one might expect. The main house is very much in keeping with its simple surroundings. "We've shifted things around, but I've tried to retain as much as possible," says Amos, now cozy in the warmth of her country kitchen. "We also have a place in County Cork, Ireland. I learned a lot about doing up a historical house." So the sofas in the lounge may be by B&B Italia and the club table in the "snug room"designed by filmmaker David Lynch, but the house was built by local tradesmen using local materials. The floorboards are reclaimed wood from nearby Plymouth docks; the tiles come from a slate quarry 20 miles away. "It had to be indestructible," says Amos, "because of the number of people - musicians, chefs, nannies - who trudge through here. There are often 10 people at this round table," she says, laughing. "It gets more used than King Arthur's."

To furnish the main house Amos worked alongside her friend Audrey Carden, from interior designers Carden Cunietti, based in Notting Hill, London. They've gone for quirky touches, such as 18th-century Cornish maps and Venetian silk lanterns, mixed with sleek furniture. The color palette is white, turquoise, mint and claret. "After that, I reined myself in," says Amos. "I wanted it to be streamlined, for the spaces to flow into one another."

The environment she has created works for her. "I can focus on my art here," says Amos. Or she can hike, play with Natashya on the trampoline in the garden, or just hang out, as she's been doing this morning, putting the finishing touches to Chinese New Year's decorations in the dining room. "We focus on the seasons here. There's always something to celebrate. Valentine's Day, Easter..." But you wont find Amos making Chinese duck rolls - or Cornish meat pies for that matter. The wild lady of the piano has yet to be transformed into a rustic housewife. "Are you kidding?" she says, laughing. "I can make, well, a salad. We have a cook."

It's a domestic idyll she won't leave unless she has to. "I've done all the late-night stuff, but that was a different kind of life," she says. "The problem now is getting me out once I'm tucked in." And, no, she doesn't get cabin fever. "I drive to the coast to clear my head," she says. But whether she's home or not, if she is working there's often no real escape. "In the thick of a project I can't get away," she says. "It haunts me until it's finished."

Born in North Carolina, the daughter of a Methodist minister, Amos made her name with her eclectic, girl-with-a-piano sound on the 1992 album Little Earthquakes. Eight albums later she's achieving iconic status as a kind of Sylvia Plath of rock, high priestess of the sonic confessional. Besides God and post-9/11 America, she has written bravely about her rape by a fan and the miscarriages she suffered before her daughter's birth. In 1994 she co-founded RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, a 24-hour hotline in the United States. A few months ago, her older brother, Michael, was killed in a car crash. Amos reveals more of her life in her new autobiography, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece. Does she ever feel too exposed? "You can be truthful without feeling betrayed," she says, "I don't expose what I don't want to."

Cornwall allows her to "live anonymously." And there's a certain poetic logic behind Amos's making it her home: Her songs play with a whimsical romanticism that suits a land soaked in mysticism. "The Cornish have that stuff imprinted in them," she says. "Ask for directions and they may say, 'Turn left, past the fairy ring.' But they don't shake crystals at you." More important, this place allows Amos to bring up Natashya in an environment where she's "more aware of the realities of nature. Tash knows that the grocery store is dependent on what grows in a field. There's an invisible cord between the people and the land, as the American Indians have, " she says.

Amos's Cherokee heritage through her maternal grandparents is a big influence, even here, far from the U.S. Amos concedes that at times she misses her home country. "Especially the casual familiarity, the attitude of 'If it's not right, let's fix it.' On this side of the Atlantic you run up against reasons why you can't do it. But sometimes discernment is a good thing. That's why it's good to have two points of view." The climate is another sticking point. "I miss the warmth of Florida," she says. "We had an exotic garden...before the hurricane."

Amos's mind makes lyrical leaps, just like her songs: The loss of her garden leads to thoughts about the loss of her brother. "He walks with me every day," she says, winding a strand of hair around her finger. "It's easy to get defeated when you've been knocked down. You have to find a place where you feel rejuvenated." And that means this hub of creativity and family, the two as interdependent as bricks and mortar, in magical Cornwall - Amos's "very healing place."

THE HOME

A favorite vintage throw atop a B&B Italia ottoman offers a homey touch in the lounge.
THE HOME

To maximize space in the guest bedroom, a carpenter built a raised bed with storage underneath.
THE HOME

The "snug room" features an antiquated mirror that Amos loves, "mostly because you can't see yourself very well in it," she says.
THE STUDIO

Amos's custom-built recording studio was designed by her husband, Mark, a sound engineer.
THE STUDIO

American Indian artifacts are a reminder of the singer's Cherokee roots.
THE STUDIO

The studio is state of the art. "I don't feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere," Amos says, "because the technology is advanced."



Photos from Tori's home in Cornwall that were not used in the magazine...

(check out fotobank.com for more rare Tori Amos photos)














t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos
www.yessaid.com