Ann Edwards opens the door of her East Grinstead late Victorian villa with something of a flourish. As she asks about my journey here, her face is animated and kindly enquiring and I get the distinct feeling that she is gently making an initial 'diagnosis' as she greets me. Ann owns and runs The Therapy Shed, and on her website and brochure, Ann's philosophy is summarised in just three words: Rest, Relax, Rejuvenate. Ann says her aim is to tailor her treatments to each individual client in order to help people to unravel the stresses and strains of modern life and release their ability to revitalise themselves. So, knowing that it is her business to root out people's 'issues', I am slightly on my guard. But sensing this, Ann quickly reassures me that she is 'off-duty' and is very happy to answer, rather than ask the questions. We are soon seated at the kitchen table with big French café au lait cups of steaming coffee. Wicker chairs surround the wooden table that is covered with a linen cloth printed with illustrations of kitchen garden vegetables. "My sister got it for me from H&M Home online. It's just right for a kitchen or garden table" says Ann. "And I like simple garden flowers in here like tulips and sweet Williams" she says, pointing to the large zinc jug in the centre of the table. To either side of the jug, small candles sit in upturned zinc madeleine moulds and combined with the iron candle chandelier above our heads this gives the breakfast area a Shaker-like feel.
Overall, the kitchen has been kept quite simple, with Marmoleum floor and a striped red and ecru rug from OKA. There is a large wooden clock with bold Roman numerals that was bought from Maison in Tunbridge Wells above the wide black cooking range. And either side of the cooker, there are the original Victorian cupboards set into the alcoves. "We painted the other kitchen units to update them and for ages I left the Victorian cupboards in their original scrubbed pine, but my friend persuaded me to paint them too and it has really drawn the room together." Explains Ann. "It's almost gun metal grey and is called Charleston Grey from Farrow & Ball. I buy a lot of paints from them as my friend Sue Cook runs the shop in Tunbridge Wells. We used to work together years ago, and she always gives me good advice on colours. I do a lot of cooking, I really love it, so the kitchen has to be a pleasant environment. My friend Mary Gwynn and I are always talking about food and how important it is. We do yoga together and we both feel that if you eat bad stuff, you feel bad too." "We've been here for 30 years" she continues, "but we've never really done any structural work to the house apart from doing up the therapy shed at the end of the garden. Lots of people in these houses extend their kitchens and use the space outside to make a bigger, squarer room, but I like having the courtyard area so I can watch the birds coming and going and of course, my clients can come through the side gate and walk through the garden to the treatment room or wait for their appointment in the conservatory. It's important that they step through the green gate from the busy street into the peace of the garden and it sort of marks the beginning of their treatment because they can leave their cares on the other side of the gate."
"It's funny really, the house seems quite different now that I work from home. As well as being a therapist, I still still work as a management consultant, something I've done for many years. I've worked with business leaders in London and all over the world to make help them make a difference in, and to, their organisations. During this time, I was hardly here, but seven or eight years ago, I decided that I wanted to train as a Reiki healer. I went to night school and trained as a holistic therapist. I must say that my colleagues in the business world were rather surprised at first. I've always been very much a 'head' sort of person rather than 'heart' but actually I can only describe my change of direction as a kind of 'calling'. I had trained as a yoga teacher in my late 20s but gave up when everyone went mad about aerobics. I have since retrained in yoga and now I hold classes for both men and women - but separately, I find that men are much less self-conscious if they're not having to do the positions in front of women." "I set up my practice in the town in East Grinstead at first but then opened up the studio here and I've got much stronger links with the community. I still run leadership and management courses for business people, but now it is all linked to the therapies too, because life is so stressful these days, it's all about giving people the tools to manage the pressure and make their working life more sustainable. My philosophy is really to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I'm always interested in new things and about ten years ago I had one of the first LaStone massages in the UK at Forest Mere Health Farm. I thought it was amazing and sometime later I went to Hawaii where the belief in the power of stones and the energy that they contain from the Earth is very powerful. It made me realise that it could be a very useful therapy here, so when I came home I trained with LaStone so that I could offer it to my clients alongside the other treatments. I do quite a lot of work in palliative care, particularly with women who have had breast cancer and I find that the hot and cold stones are really helpful to them. You use the warm black basalt stones to soothe, to gently work with the muscles and then you treat with the cold white marble stones. It's especially effective with lumpy scar tissue after surgery, and for many of these women, it's just good for them to have something pleasant done to their bodies after so much physical and mental trauma." We move into the conservatory, where Zanzibar (also called Torrie by the couple's son, Jack, after a female wrestler!) the British blue cat reclines in her "summer residence". She opens startlingly amber eyes that are set wide apart in her broad, rather inscrutable face and lazily stretches her paws in front of her. Scented pelargoniums line one windowledge and candle lanterns hang from the beams. There are a couple of Lloyd loom chairs and a dainty French enamel washstand, bought at the Wealden Times Midsummer Fair, so that clients can wash their hands while they wait for their appointment. Stepping onto the decking outside, the sunshine is dazzling for a moment. The garden faces south and is divided into three sections, cleverly adding interest to what is essentially quite a long and narrow plot.
The first area with the decking features lots of potted plants and a large wooden table and chairs with a parasol - all important in this south-facing and very sheltered town garden. "I used a Ronseal treatment on the decking timbers and it's remained a really good pale colour without turning orange," says Ann. It's also important that it shouldn't be slippery with clients walking across it in all seasons and weathers, so I'm glad to say that it's given it some grip too." A low brick wall and steps with box balls on either side signal the start of the next section. A well-kept lawn is edged with beds full of blousy pink paeonies, roses, lavender and oriental poppies. Under a cherry tree there are more old-fashioned roses and spicy garden pinks. At the end of the lawn, a Gothic style metal bench sits in front of a hedge of blue hydrangea and rhododendrons where a gap in the vegetation guides the visitor through to the last area of the garden, the potager where Ann grows potatoes, runner, French and broad beans, Pak Choi and peppery mizuna as well as kale, beetroot and lettuce. "These wild strawberries are everywhere too" says Ann "and the marigolds have self-seeded all over the place." There are artichokes, rhubarb and herbs dotted about too and a Paul's Scarlet rose holds its gently drooping clusters of blooms in elegant arches above the edible plants. "That was my grandmother's favourite rose, so I had to have it in my garden. The flower form is so pretty, it's a truly old fashioned style." Ahead of us at the very end of the garden is Ann's Therapy Shed. Formerly a carpenter's workshop, the facade is now covered by a mature wisteria. Inside, it is painted a gentle white and from the beams crossing its high ceiling hang two silver-coloured Moroccan metal lanterns.
There is a colourful kilim on the floor. "That's from Hoopers in Tunbridge Wells" says Ann. "I have cotton kilims in here in the summer and woollen dhurries in the colder months. The wooden floor is used for yoga but the whole room is beautifully warm when we use the wood-burning stove. When the light fades in the afternoon I light the tea lights along the windowledge and the Moroccan lanterns send beautiful patterns of light around the room. If I use the therapy table then I put the carved screen in front of the window for privacy. I found it at Lombok and again, it just filters the light from outside beautifully. It was the Moroccan lanterns that set the tone for the room. I saw them in Tree Frog in East Grinstead and when I hung them here, everything just sort of followed on." On a table there are two autoclaves for heating the massage stones. "I use all 54 every time but of course, you don't put hot stones directly onto the skin. They are all different shapes and sizes to suit different parts of the body. I burn white sage from Arizona too. Garden sage is too smoky, but this scents the air and 'clears' it of the last person's energies and illnesses." "The pictures on the wall are by John Scarland and I liked them because they remind me of stone circles, which seemed appropriate. I also have a kettle here so that we can have green tea. I get Oolong and some rarer ones sent from China, via Italy. They're quite difficult to source, but an important part of the relaxation process. I hold the men's classes here on Wednesdays and I also teach at Charlton Park Golf & Country Club. Far more men are becoming interested in things like yoga now, so my numbers are really expanding. Some of my clients are very dedicated too.
When we had all that heavy snow, one lady drove all the way from Hampshire. We cleared a path through the garden and inside here, the light was amazingly soft because the snow covered everything, even the windows in the roof. It was really quite magical." Returning to the house, we pause first in the dining room, which in contrast to the white serenity of the treatment room is almost vibrating with colour. The walls are painted a warm terracotta with a Jocasta Innes copper wash over the top, giving them a kind of iridescent sheen. A Murano glass chandelier is hung with coloured glass fruit-like droplets and on the mantelpiece, there is a collection of amber glass candlesticks. A framed print of Lord Leighton's Flaming June occupies the fireplace and on the wall above the dining table there are several more pre-Raphaelite prints including Hylas and the Waternymphs by JS Waterhouse. The scrubbed pine table supports a collection of blue glass and is surrounded by original Thonet bentwood chairs. "I love the pre-Raphaelites and the almost luminous colours that they use, so this room is full of the things I like." The drawing room is a much quieter, calmer space, decorated in Oval Room Blue by Farrow & Ball, with the woodwork picked out in a soft cream paint rather than white. "This room faces north, so the blue works really well," says Ann. "The blinds are silk linen from John Lewis and I was tempted to change them for the Sanderson dandelion clocks that I've used on some of the cushions, but actually, I think it's better to stick with the more neutral, plain blue."
Two jacquard covered cream sofas face each other across a pair of Chinese lacquered chests from Tree Frog that double as a coffee table and hold more items of Murano glass lovingly collected by Ann's grandparents on their travels. There are side tables and a bookcase made of bamboo and the table lamps sport Chinoiserie style silk shades. "I used to work at Liberty and so I bought a lot of furniture and things like the Chinese tea cups and the framed Japanese fans from there." Next to the fans there are more paintings by John Scarland, and another by Ann's husband David. "He keeps saying that he must do more painting, but he sings too, and does gigs locally, so it's difficult to find the time." Upstairs, there is another striking light hanging from the ceiling. A Casa Pupo three armed chandelier, its azure, almost turquoise glass makes a strong contrast with the toffee coloured walls. The guest room seems rather different in style to the rest of the house, but it is known as Ann's mother's room, so the lilac toile wallpaper and white embroidered bedlinen makes a fittingly relaxing environment. At present, it is also a convalescent home for some of Ann's orchids. "These ones need a bit of tlc, so they're in here where it's nice and light and I give them these 'drip feed' things from Homebase. They're fantastic. You just put them upside down in the soil and they slowly deliver all the nutrients that the plant needs to come into flower again."