The house I grew up in - Lianne La Havas

Interviewed by Kieran Yates

I grew up living in Balham in a really lovely house. It was on Carmine Road. I lived with my grandad, grandma and great grandma. Sometimes relatives would stay over from Jamaica, so I ended up growing up around a lot of Jamaicans. The house was Victorian and my grandad didn't really like to do much with it, so it was quite rough around the edges. I never used to like it as a kid, because when you're young you just like new stuff, don't you? But then i grew up and realised it was a brilliant house, I'd definitely snap it up now! 

I recently went to Jamaica and realised that the way our house was decorated was very typical of Jamaicans in the countryside. It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug. There were loads of doilies too, loads of doilies. I've actually really grown to love the way they do stuff. It's all coming back to me now. 


'It was full of fake flowers, runners and carpet everywhere, and a coffee table that had to be on top of a rug'


I shared a bedroom with my grandparents. My grandparents would use the kitchen downstairs. The house would smell of red pea soup cooking, kidney beans, fried plantain and salt fish. The bedroom was quite big but it was still a shared space. I was very messy when I was younger, so I guess my identity was just all over the floor. I used to have a chest of drawers that opened out with a mirror inside, and I stuffed all my make-up in this one drawer; it used to get really filthy but it was mine. Those were happy times. When I got to my teens I think stuff just suddenly seemed really hard.

Communicating with my grandad was difficult because he didn't understand me. I wasn't allowed to have friends round. My grandad wasn't really cool with it, unless they stayed in the front garden with me. The next house we moved to was in Streatham, where I finally had my own room. I was obsessed with Eminem for a long time, and I had a poster of him and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all over my wall. I found new music there; I saw my mum quite frequently and discovered Mary J Blige and Jill Scott through her. I nicked her CDs often and fell in love with all these exciting new sounds. 

Going to Jamaica made me realise why I am like I am. You notice the styles within the homes. They're very colourful there, so no one really wears black. It's a big thing to stand out. It's the reason I like colour so much now. It's funny when you get older and make those connections. The Jamaican house I stayed in belonged to a distant cousin who we called 'auntie', and the place was filled with Tupperware and place mats you can only get in England, which makes her cool to her neighbours. It's expensive to get cosmetics over there, so she really appreciates when I fill my suitcases up with soap for her. I brought back a big old wall hanging of a Jamaican map, to put on the wall of my house. It's my injection of colour. I guess I'm constantly managing the hybrid identity. I think my grandparents would like my current house, but they'd want a sofa that was a bit higher off the ground; they always complain about the things being too low. 

Prince came to the house I live in now. I was confident that he'd like the decor. He said it looked like me, which was a big compliment because that's always the ultimate aim, isn't it ? I did spend a long time staring at it all hoping that it was right. He had a crew of guys that came in and made the place look like him. There was a purple lighting guy, loads of Prince plectrums and a smoke machine which just covered the ground in smoke and it was amazing. I remember thinking that he wouldn't have been allowed over when I was younger. 

The contrast of growing up with my grandparents in Balham to having Prince in my living room is pretty surreal. It got me thinking about stage shows reflecting who you are. I saw Bon Iver perform once where he had the stage set up as a living room, and I remember thinking that the one item from my home that I'd bring onstage is probably my Anglepoise lamp. There's just something about them, Isn't there? But if my great-grandmother was in the crowd then maybe a doily. Just to remind me of home. 

Kieran Yates is a journalist and aurthor writing for The Guardian and Observer.