Journeys of the heart: Emma Harrison’s Sussex home
After reaching the end of a quiet country lane, at the top of a hill that crosses what was once Lewes racecourse, we arrive at this colourful family home. It belongs to Brian Harrison, co-founder and CEO of Swoon, and his wife Emma, a former primary school teacher, who’s currently studying interior design. The couple live here with their two children, Milo, 11, and Sena, 8, and a labradoodle called Kiko. On this particular October morning, the only one home is Emma. She ushers us in for a coffee and a look around.
Two things are immediately obvious, the first of which is the incredible view. The family swapped London life for the South Downs seven years ago and now look out onto rolling green fields that stretch as far as the eye can see (we admit to being a tiny bit envious). The second is that, by the front door, the family’s suitcases are all packed up and ready for a half-term trip away later in the day. As we settle down to chat with Emma around the big kitchen island – the heart of the open-plan living space – we realise pretty quickly that this family’s fun-filled past adventures are reflected in every corner of their characterful home.
So we couldn’t help but notice the suitcases. Where are you going on holiday?
We’re off to Morocco to spend a few days in Marrakech, the desert and the Atlas Mountains. We like to move around when we go away otherwise we get bored after a few days.
Have you always loved to travel?
I went to India when I was 18 and that’s when I started travelling. I met Brian 22 years ago backpacking in Mexico. He was travelling the world, I was travelling around South America and we kept meeting up along the way. Since then, we’ve always travelled, both together and with the kids.
Tell us about your best trips…
I loved Venezuela: it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. You can get a Cessna plane over to Canaima National Park and from there, a boat to Angel Falls. The water looks pink and it’s like something out of Planet of the Apes. I lost my camera film though, which also happened in Sumatra in Indonesia. Brian took lots of pictures of me with an orang-utan and we lost that film somewhere too.
That’s such a shame, but it sounds like a great excuse to go back.
I would like to go back and take the kids. It’s so funny because people think you can’t travel with children, but when Milo was younger we took him everywhere. We used to put a mosquito net on his pushchair and off we went. Going away is such an amazing luxury and it’s so important for the kids to see different cultures. It really opens up their minds. It also puts your own life in perspective.
We hear you! There’s nothing like getting away. Where else is on your bucket list?
We both loved Nepal and now the kids are getting a bit older that’s definitely on the list. We’d like to go to Peru next year and apparently it’s a good place to go over the summer holidays. We’re very last minute with our trips so we’re trying to be a bit more organised. Brian spreadsheets everything and he has one that lists when it’s the right time of year to visit which places.
Glancing around your home, there are lots of mementos, especially from India and Mexico. Have you been back to either country since?
I often go with Brian to visit Swoon suppliers in India, and it’s where I proposed to him. We got married last year in East Sussex and had a bit of an Indian-themed wedding with traditional garlands and flags. And I had a Mexican-themed hen do in Brighton where everyone made pom poms.
Wow, that sounds like fun, and pretty crafty. You mentioned that when you were a primary school teacher you ran the art club. Do you do much crafting?
I’m always making things. Even when I was at university, my room in halls was brimming with wall hangings, fabrics and papier-mâché mirrors. I used a trunk as a bedside table that I decorated with decoupage and it’s now in Milo’s room. For the wedding, I decided to make concrete pots for each table. I got a bit obsessed: I grew succulents in my friend’s greenhouse and made 60 pots.
How else do you spend your downtime?
We recently bought a blow-up kayak so we’ve been doing a bit of kayaking on the meanders of the River Ouse, and I’ve taken up yoga as my back has got worse as I’ve got older. Also, in the last few months my friends and I have started a book club called The Wormies. I had to give everyone a stern talking to though as they weren’t reading the books – just rocking up and drinking wine! Everyone seems to be on track now and we’re reading Tin Man by Sarah Winman.
Wine and books are always a winning combination. What about food, do you like to cook?
Brian and I are both really into cooking. I like Lebanese and Israeli food – we have all the Ottolenghi books and had Ottolenghi food at our wedding – and I’ve got into Vietnamese recently too. I eat meat now but I was a vegetarian at 14 (I had massive meat cravings when I was pregnant with Milo). About four months ago, Sena said that she wanted to be a vegetarian. It’s been brilliant because we’ve all been eating more fish and less meat. I feel much healthier for it.
Do you eat out much locally?
We’ll add them to our list! How did you find yourselves living near Lewes in the first place?
One of Brian’s work mates had cycled through Lewes and quite liked it so we thought it seemed like a good place to start. We came down and went camping, went into town and that was that. I grew up near Folkestone in Kent so I wanted to be close to the sea. And there’s so much green: the walking here is amazing.
Can you see yourself ever living anywhere else?
I don’t like the whole ‘forever home’ malarkey and Brian is always looking. He has always wanted an orchard so he can make chutneys. I always say he’s got to get out in the garden first, as I’m the one who does all the gardening. I’d like to do a ‘Grand Designs’ sustainable house build. That’s the dream, but you’ve got to find the right bit of land. Plus, I’m used to being up high now, and to the amazing views that come with it.
After persuading Emma to walk us down to the end of the garden to say hello to the neighbour’s horses, we reluctantly tear ourselves away from the green vistas so that she can pick up her children and head off on holiday. Now, if only we could find a way to squeeze ourselves into one those suitcases…
Words & interview by Emma Love