The sign leading to Ashley English’s home should read Wonderland, perhaps even with a stern warning to Enter at Your Own Risk. It’s mesmerizing, this one. After only a few paragraphs and lush photos, I’d mostly convinced myself that we need more grocery gardens, wine-berry bushes, a secret room decorated as a cave, and a yome. (It is the yome, I think, that will hook Ben Blair into the idea!) Enjoy meeting Ashley, friends, and enjoy the moments of “Honey? Let’s move to the forest!” cravings this tour will surely evoke.
Q: Tell us about the family who calls this wonderland home.
A: I share this home with my husband, Glenn, and our 20 month old son, Huxley Wild. There are also two dogs (Fly and Dexter), four cats (Kali, Cleo, Jonah, and Blueberry), nine hens and one rooster, and about 50,000 honeybees in two beehives.
Glenn and I both work from home. We collaborate on everything. He does some freelance art consulting and various projects, but mostly we just sort of tag-team watching Huxley (he’s been with us exclusively since his birth) with juggling working on blogging, freelance writing, cooking (for both work-related projects and our own needs), gardening, property and house upkeep, and all of the assorted and sundry stuff of life!
Q: How did this home become yours?
A: My husband owned the home when I met him. Although he’d been in it for a few years, it was seriously a bachelor’s pad as he’d never really fully moved into it, decorated it, and made it his own. So we did that together!
We live a mile down a dirt road, in an 11-acre forested cove. There’s a massive nature preserve on one side that’s hundreds of acres in size, and undeveloped mountainside property all around us. It’s incredibly secluded, about 20 minutes west of Asheville, N.C., but close enough that, when we want the amenities of the city, we’re just a short jaunt away.
Glenn had already had some remodeling done when I came on board. He’d had a soaking garden tub put into the master bathroom, along with a shower and terra cotta sink and cabinetry. He’d also had a massive built-in floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinets and drawers put into the master bedroom. The house, a Craftsman bungalow from the 1930s, also has original bead-board walls throughout, which I just adore for the texture they impart.
Upstairs, Glenn remodeled the guest bathroom, putting in a new shower and bathroom fixtures. In what he hoped to one day be his child’s room (he was already planning for a family in his single days!), he had a wall of built-in open cabinets installed, as well a tiny room added into a portion of the attic that would serve as a hidden room. That room is what we now call “the cave” up in Huxley’s room.
Glenn painted the interior walls, floor, and ceiling with a sponge technique that mimics rocks and minerals. He put glow-in-the-dark stars, comets, planets and moons on the ceiling of the cave and filled it with furry rugs, blankets that are grey (to mimic the color of rocks), fur-covered pillows, and lots of teddy bears and owls to make it cave-like.
Huxley is absolutely wild about his cave, as are all of his buddies who come over to visit. It’s a pretty magical place that I hope will grow with him as he ages. For now, he plays in it with stuffed animals, but I can see it being a pretty stellar place to read, take a nap, or just hang out with his thoughts and imagination.
Q: Your home seems decorated with usefulness and daily enjoyment at the front of your mind. There are the skillets hanging on the wall, books and music everywhere, and lots of comfortable places to sit. What’s your decorating philosophy?
A: Glenn and I are both avid cooks, so we want things right on hand, where they can be grabbed and used at a moment’s notice. But we also both like decorating with bits of whimsy, quirkiness, and unexpectedness. People say they completely lose track of time when they visit us! They say it’s so comfortable and colorful and intriguing that things slow down, that they settle in, and forget to rush. One friend said our house felt like one giant hug!
We’re also really into earth tones and natural tones and textures. There’s a great deal of wood and metal and glass and ceramic in our furniture, textiles, and decor. My husband has an MFA from a fine Ivy League university (he jokes his diploma would make a nice placemat!), with a concentration in color theory. He’s a ninja with color selection, evoking a mood and a feeling so well in each room. Our kitchen walls are painted a pumpkin/sienna, the dining room walls a merlot, the living room walls a dark chocolate, the master bedroom walls a mustard, the master bath walls a deep sage, Huxley’s room walls are moss and his ceiling is mushroom, and the guest room is a light sage.
When people visit us, we want them to feel like they’ve found a retreat, a respite, a refuge. We want to feel that way ourselves, too, so there are lots of places to sit and chat, blankets and pillows everywhere, glasses and mugs in the kitchen that are easy to access for beverages, and many similar touches that say “Hey, you’re welcome here. Sit and stay a spell.”
In decorating, that’s what matters the most to me: the humanity. I never want to live in a space that doesn’t speak to the comfort, usefulness, and life of the beings who dwell within it.
Q: How has your style changed since the arrival of your son?
A: Our style hasn’t really changed at all. What’s changed is our approach to safety! We use a wood stove for heating the home during colder weather, and so a railing around it to protect Huxley was essential!
Same thing with the wooden fixture Glenn built on our stairs, which he calls a stair screen. There was a railing when he moved in, but he didn’t like it and took it down. For years, we lived with a stair case that had no guard rail, which was fine for adults. When Huxley was learning to crawl, and then walk, though, we realized the open stair case we loved was risky business for our little guy.
Q: I view your home and its surroundings as a wonderland! The gardens, the toadstools in your son’s room, the nooks and crannies throughout your house, and all the growth are just magical. What do you see when you look at your home? What do you guests and family seem to love about it?
A: Thank you so much for saying that! Yes, that’s exactly how we view it. We love the idea of unexpected discoveries and sensory stimulation, all couched in a natural aesthetic.
I don’t look to decorating trends when I bring objects into our home, I look to the setting around us, and the things that speak to me and stimulate me for inspiration. Homes are reflections of their owners, and we want a space that feels inviting but that offers a bit of levity and humor, too. I think folks get that when they visit us.
Q: What are your other favorite spaces in (and out) of your home?
A: We all are totally smitten with Huxley’s cave! I also love our big tub. It’s amazing to soak in it when it’s snowing outside, watching the flakes fall down through the window.
The wood stove in the kitchen is great to be around, too, on a cold winter’s day. The kitchen gets so cozy when the stove is going and we’re cooking and baking in there, while Huxley plays with his own two wooden kitchens.
Our large oak dining room table is where I do all of my writing and all of our entertaining during colder weather. I love it. It has two sleeves that extend its length, so we’ve actually squeezed 14 guests around it! It’s a wonderful anchor for gatherings.
Also, Glenn just built the pergola and the deck out in the garden, which I absolutely adore. It’s so nice to be out there, enjoying the forest with a beer or hot mug of coffee.
The big tent is actually a yome, which is a domed yurt. Friends of ours, both art teachers living in Atlanta, bought it and put it down in the field below our house. They wanted a place to enjoy during the summer months, holidays, and long weekends with their two year old daughter. When they’re back in Atlanta, we can use the yome for house guests, teaching classes (I’ve taught both home canning and backyard chickens classes out there in the past), and as a writer’s retreat.
Q: Tell us about the gardens! What do you grow? And why?
A: Oh, goodness. The garden.
We grow seasonal gardens, beginning in the spring. Those crops get consumed and then rotated to a summer and then autumn planting. Right now, I just picked, shelled, and froze all of the peas, as well as unearthed a massive amount of potatoes. In their spaces, I put in 13 pumpkins of about eight different varieties. We also have about six to seven varieties of lettuce that are nearing the end of their growing cycle. Beets, carrots, cabbage, fennel, two kinds of spinach, and dill are still hanging in there. We have a permanent patch of sorrel growing. For summer crops, we’ve got a variety of hot and sweet peppers, winter squashes, watermelon, celery, chard, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and 38 tomato plants are all just starting to get ready to harvest.
There are also scads of different culinary and medicinal herbs here, both in the garden and up closer to the house. For fruits, we have a wine-berry patch (these are wild berries, sort of like a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry), strawberries, rhubarb, blueberry bushes, and fig, apple, peach, pear, and cherry trees.
We grow a large garden because we like variety. We also live a bit outside of town, and it’s wonderful to have what we need on hand instead of running into town to pick it up. We grow way more than we can consume fresh so that we can preserve crops for later use, through home canning, freezing, culturing, and cellaring. We also do it simply because we love to! When I’m out there, watering the garden, or putting in seeds or starts, or weeding, or digging things up, or harvesting crops, I feel so content. My purpose and goals are so specific when I’m working the soil, and I feel fully present. As for Huxley, he just loves to get dirty!
Q: What are the top three things your home requires to be a home? What can’t you live without?
A: Comfortable spaces (whether that’s a worn-in couch or armchair, or a soft, plush blanket), a gathering table to sit and dine at (so that we can reflect on the food, the ones that grew it, and the ones that prepared it), and a bath tub. And lots and lots of laughter and cuddles. Everything else is gravy.
Q: What do you hope the way you’re living teaches your son? What do you hope his best memories will be of his childhood home?
A: We’re very much into experiential learning, feeling that memory retention and true knowledge (as opposed to rote memorization) come by doing. In this setting, Huxley is really free to explore without worry. Not that we let him just wander where he pleases at so young an age (that will come later when he explores the forest around the house with our dogs!).
We just let him kind of do his thing out here, whether that’s getting crazy filthy stomping through mud puddles, or going to visit the chicken coop with me, or checking out frogs, bugs, and worms. We decorated his room with an exploratorium theme in mind, feeling that it’ll encourage and foster curiosity and creativity.
When he reflects back on his childhood, I want him to remember playing out in the garden and in his sandbox, cooking together at the stove, having pillow fights in his cave, and cuddling together. We’re emotionally demonstrative people and, in the final analysis, I want Huxley to remember that he was always, always loved, and that that love was shown to him in so very many ways.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: I wish I had known how amazing being a parent would be. Not that I would have tried to have children any sooner; I’m glad I waited until I found the person that would be the ideal partner on this parenting journey with me. But that maybe I wouldn’t have worried so much about parenting the right way as much as I used to. Everyone finds their groove, their way, with their children. The profound love I feel for our son surpasses anything else I have known. It’s neither romantic, or familial, or platonic love. It’s baby love, as I call it, and it is so much fun.
Thank you Ashley! You’ve inspired me today with your anything-but-ordinary life. For sure, it probably takes a lot of hard work to keep those grounds of yours fruitful, but you’ve made it sound like it’s so worth it! I want to grow something.
Friends, Ashley is so right when she says “In decorating, that’s what matters the most to me: the humanity. I never want to live in a space that doesn’t speak to the comfort, usefulness, and life of the beings who dwell within it.” Sometimes, decor gets in the way of a life’s design, don’t you think? Do you ever feel like you’re filling up your home with completely unnecessary objects? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you edit your belongings!
All of the beautiful photographs were shot by Rene Treece Roberts.