Bibliophiles, cooks and architecture enthusiasts pay anything from £100 to £1,000 for a second-hand copy of Living & Eating, by Yorkshire-born architectural designer and high priest of minimalism John Pawson and the food writer Annie Bell. The 2001 book, which has been out of print for years, is now a collectable classic that combines her recipes with his perfect, pared-back home in London.
Now, with no dog-eared pages and no splodges, is a new and equally sublime book, by John and his wife Catherine, an interior designer, has been released – Home Farm Cooking. Published by Phaidon, it runs with the original Living & Eating concept and features 100 of Catherine’s favourite recipes, along with photographs of the couple’s second home, Home Farm, a former farmstead close to the Cotswolds that John has turned into another architectural triumph.
There is and always has been a clear division of labour between husband and wife. John said: “We have been together for 32 years and early on we worked out a strategy where she leaves the architecture to me and I involve her in the choices while being free to experiment. She is the cook and the deal is that I do the washing up afterwards,” he says. He enjoys the delicious diversity on offer at mealtimes after growing up with a Yorkshire diet of meat and two veg every day of the week except Friday, when the family had fish delivered fresh from Grimsby.
There is a nod to his roots in God’s Own County in the book with forced rhubarb starring, along with his late mother’s recipe for Yorkshire puddings. The “puds” are so good that American lifestyle guru Martha Stewart once asked him for the recipe. John’s tastes and his lifestyle altered dramatically after leaving Yorkshire at the age of 25.
The son of a mill owner, he grew up in Halifax, went to Malsis Prep School, near Keighley, then Eton, before returning to join the family business. He walked out of his “old life” after his attempts to “art direct” a minimalist wedding caused conflict with his fiancée. She called it off and on the day he was to have been married, he stepped out onto the Tarmac at Tokyo airport.
A cheap air ticket had come his way at a party and Japan appealed because he was interested in Zen Buddhism. After a short spell in a Buddhist monastery, he spent four years in Japan teaching English at the University of Nagoya, before moving to Tokyo, where he met architect Shiro Kuramata who taught him the beauty of simplicity.
The experience inspired him to sign up for classes at the Architectural Association, in London, and while being hailed as one of the world’s most famous minimalist architects, he never formally qualified as one.
Instead, his studies, love for the subject and his innate ability propelled him to the top of the profession after he set up his own practice in 1981 because “no-one would employ me without qualifications”.
He now has a CBE for services to design and architecture and commissions include many private homes – the Sackler Crossing at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Novy Dyur in the Czech Republic, and the interiors of the Design Museum, where the galleries are arranged around a minimal oak and marble-lined atrium.
His love of a pared-back interior can also be traced to his childhood. He says: “My parents were Methodists, the mill architecture was very simple, there was a treeless landscape. They must all have had an effect.”
As each of his four sisters left home, his parents knocked down walls to make John’s small bedroom bigger. “I came to appreciate space. Rather than expanding my stuff to fill it, I just lay back and enjoyed it. There are so many benefits, too. Emptiness offers serenity.”
Home Farm is certainly serene, though it required patience as it took 10 years to organise the design, get planning permission and construct due to the scale and complexity of the project.
What was a Grade II-listed farmhouse, barn and stables is one dwelling but is effectively three homes in one, each with its own kitchen. One of John’s great pleasures is to open all the connecting doors and gaze down from one end of the property to the other.
“It was great in lockdown when our two sons stayed here for nine months. There wasn’t one argument. Having their own space and their own kitchen helped, though we came together for dinner every evening.”
He designed the largest dinner table himself and it was handcrafted. It has earned its place, as has every other piece of furniture in the house. Topped with stainless steel, it is in the triple height barn and can seat 20 on Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs.
Softening in his old age (he is 72), John has surprised himself by having curtains for the first time, though they are “undyed boiled wool ones, like a monk’s habit”. What he can’t ever contemplate is making Home Farm his main residence. The “Pawson house” in Notting Hill remains his main home and is close to the office.
“I like it here in the country but I’m not as productive work wise. I am too relaxed and the views are wonderful but distracting.”
*Home Farm Cooking by Catherine and John Pawson is published by Phaidon, £35, www.phaidon.com. John Pawson’s mum’s Yorkshire pudding recipe is in the book and also on the Phaidon website. Catherine Pawson developed the book’s 100 seasonally-driven recipes. They include many of her family’s favourite dishes, along with others inspired by her favourite chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Carole Bamford, Sally Clarke, Skye Gyngell, Prue Leith and Claire Ptak.
All the food is beautifully presented with some of the tableware designed by John Pawson, who aimed to make the food the star of the show.
All pictures by Gilbert McCarragher