With grateful thanks to Emily Miles, the author of this text.
Gertrude Stein, drypoint, carborundum and chine-colléé
Yellow Sky, drypoint and carborundum, size 19.5" x 19.5"
Kate Boxer, photographed by Elena Heatherwick, at her Sussex farm
Backy, drypoint and carborundum, size 63 x 70cm
Fig, drypoint and carborundum, size 46 x 63cm
In the dialled-up, high-contrast sunshine of a perfect midsummer’s day, Kate Boxer emerges from her kaleidoscopic cottage garden, enthusing, apologising and welcoming us in a tumble of words. Kitted out in a dark navy boiler-suit, she thrums with energy – her hands directing her conversation as she leads us into the cool and dark of the farm’s kitchen.
Her Sussex home is idyllic. This is no artfully constructed slice of shabby-chic rural England; it is blissful, natural, bucolic and bohemian. A time-worn, wood-smoke- and oil-scented farmhouse, jumbled and patched through centuries of habitation; acres of land – tall, rhythmic grasses, hotly fragrant herb beds, pigs, chickens and heady views of the surrounding hills.
As Kate dives in and out of buildings and pathways, her enthusiasm for the life that surrounds her is evident. Her Kunekune pigs, Bob, Belinda and Barbara, welcome her like a true old friend, delighting in being scratched and crooned over. Her chickens, too, fuss about her as she hustles them out of a beautifully constructed coop. Only the donkeys – Jeremy and Joanie – remain surly-looking, possibly immune to her charm.
Kate was born and raised in the Sussex hills, but left her childhood home behind for university in Edinburgh and family life in London. It was only when, a decade ago, the farm was left to her by an aunt she found herself drawn back. Considering how woven into the framework of the place she seems, it is hard to picture her anywhere else or to imagine her “other life” in south London, where her husband Charlie runs his Stockwell deli and her two sons, Jackson and Frank, forge their livelihoods.
“Jackson loves cooking here,” she explains as we walk past a fire-pit in the garden. Her eldest son is the chef behind Brunswick House and the newly opened St Leonards; he cut his culinary teeth here and, from the open-air fire to the rediscovered bread oven deep within the farmhouse walls, there’s a clear line to be drawn between his time at the farm and his instinct for flame and earth. Frank, meanwhile, is the man behind Peckham’s brilliant carpark-rooftop bar – a joyful place, with simple things perfectly executed, and surely one of the postcode’s most unlikely success stories.
A love of food, of drink – and of “being together around the table” – clearly draws this family together; Kate speaks with warmth and pride about her boys and their place in this foodie dynasty (“we are so lucky, and we so enjoy what they do,” she says). “Charlie’s mother [Arabella Boxer] was an incredible and renowned food writer; her books were – and still are – really amazing, so good and so ahead of their time.” Kate darts around her little kitchen, brewing intense, dark coffee. “My mother was a really good country cook,” she explains. “All chaos and mess, like me.”