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My Favorite Thing To Do When Not Writing

Cheryl “Diamond” Bolen

 My favorite thing to do when not writing has always been to tour homes. It started when I was very young and loved to look at model homes staged in new tracts.

Then I started paying to see homes. In the 1990s I loved to go to “Street of Dreams.” Each of these new custom-made houses was by a different builder and/or architect and each was furnished by a different innovative interior designer. These were million-dollar houses–which was a lot more in the 90s than it is today. Many of these overlooked lush golf courses and some had hidden rooms behind a swinging bookcase. Others had towering closets where clothing on the upper rungs was moved by a contraption like in commercial dry cleaners. I like to see how the rich live.

MallardTesterBed

The Prudent Mallard bed.

I also started touring historic old mansions. I went to Natchez, Mississippi, which boasts over 600 buildings that withstood the Civil War. Over several days, we toured almost every historical home in Natchez and stayed in one of them. Of course they were all furnished in furniture that would have been in the houses in the early 1800s. I learned about Prudent Mallard, a prominent New Orleans cabinetmaker at the time these homes were built. (Cabinetmakers were what they called furniture makers back then.) To have in intact Mallard bedroom set with either a full or half-tester bed is extremely prized.

Two trips were devoted to touring old plantation homes which line the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Above the state capital of Baton Rouge, we spent one trip viewing the plantations in the parishes of East Felicianas and West Felicianas.

On our tour of plantations south of Baton Rouge, along River Road, I found my favorite plantation, Nottoway. I have revisited it many times and have had the pleasure of staying in this house which is billed as the largest plantation home in the South, with 63 rooms. At night my husband and I sat on the veranda among moss-hung trees, sipping sherry, and listening to the cicadas and the vessels powering down the Mississippi in front of us. I could imagine what it must have been like a hundred and fifty years earlier. The only difference between then and now is that now there’s an earthen levee along the river which obstructs the view.

Then I started travelling to England. It was Nirvana on steroids for me. I’ve been obsessed with touring every historical house and townhouse I can over the 30 years we’ve been going to England. In London I’ve toured houses once lived in by Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Johnson, John Keats, the Earls of Spencer, and the Duke of Wellington.

Chatsworth

Chatsworth

We’ve taken three trips expressly to view the huge country estates of the nobility. On these, we stay in London and take a train trip each day (using our BritRail pass) to a different stately home. We’ve seen far too many to mention here, but I do have favorite ones. A favorite memory is of a sunny, warm day we spent at the Duke of Marlborough’s truly palatial Blenheim Palace. We had lunch in the garden with a glass of wine. We also adored the day we spent at the Earl of Carlisle’s’ Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Such a magnificent place, built by the same untrained architect who built Blenheim. Its Temple of the Four Winds, overlooking the river and the family’s majestic domed mausoleum, is a magical experience, especially for those of us who’ve viewed the Brideshead Revisited miniseries.

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Cheryl & hubby at Harwood House.

Another of our favorite English estates (or as they call them, country homes) is the home of the Dukes of Devonshire, Chatsworth House, nestled in the Peak District Hills on the banks of the River Derwent. What a memorable site it was approaching this 300-plus room “home” by footpath and seeing its broad lawn dotted by lazy sheep.

We also loved Harewood House in Yorkshire. This fabulous collaboration with architect Robert Adam and the Georgian era’s top cabinetmaker, Thomas Chippendale, is marvelous. One of our favorite memories is of our afternoon tea on the terrace, looking out over a landscape unchanged in centuries.

Agatha Christie's home.

Agatha Christie’s home.

We went to great pains to see Agatha Christie’s home in Devon perched on a hill overlooking the River Dart where it flows into the English Channel. It’s a truly magical place. We went down the wooded property to her boat house where her novel Dead Man’s Folly is set. We saw the three-story boat house during low tide and high tide, when the first level is under water.

Seeing historical British townhouses is another lure for me. I’ve had the pleasure of touring Fairfax House in York, Adam’s Georgian House in Edinburgh, and Number One Royal Crescent in Bath.

In my town, Houston, twice a year my best friend and I get some together time by touring two of the city’s older neighborhoods, Eastwood and the Heights. Eastwood’s bungalows began being built in 1918, and the Heights’ oldest homes date to the Victorian period. Can you tell I love old houses?

It makes me smile when readers tell me they appreciate my descriptions of the houses in my books.

Cheryl’s new release is the novella A Birmingham Family Christmas, a Brazen Brides story.

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A Birmingham Family Christmas

A BIRMINGHAM FAMILY CHRISTMAS

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