Home Sweet Home

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For those of you who have been following me since I started blogging almost a decade ago now, you’ll know I don’t tend to stay put for very long. Over the last ten years I’ve lived in eight different flats and houses, in four different towns/cities and in two different countries. Since leaving university, amongst other places, I’ve shared a ramshackle house in suburban London with five girls, lived in a tiny tenement apartment in Spanish Harlem, gone back to live with my mum in a cottage in the countryside, and rented a flat built of glass in trendy East London. All of these have been temporary, and none of them have truly been home. I always do my best to make a home wherever I go, no matter how grubby the carpets or how scarred the yellowing walls, but pretty cushions, colourful rugs and propped up pictures can only go so far to disguise cheap, ugly furniture and the general air of bland soullessness that pervades most rented properties. Pockmarked magnolia walls, poorly fitted vinyl floors, mouldy tiles and wonky cupboards had become my norm for so long that I had accepted that I would probably have to spend my life making do wherever I lived; covering up the worst of my landlord’s taste with throws and cushions and rugs, finding corners to squirrel away my books, and keeping a drawer full of special things that would take pride of place in my ‘one day’ house, when I was finally able to have somewhere of my own.

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Working as a teacher and paying London rent for the best part of a decade didn’t give me an enormous amount of hope that I’d be ever be able to buy anywhere though, as despite a fairly healthy savings account, the prices of homes kept spiralling ever out of my reach. I had just decided that it was getting to be time to up sticks and move North, to Leeds or Manchester or York, where I’d be able to buy somewhere on a teacher’s salary quite comfortably, when I received an unexpected inheritance that changed my life overnight. I am not the sort of person to whom anything exciting or unusual ever really happens, so to suddenly be in a position to be able to buy my own home in central London was truly overwhelming. A world of possibility opened up to me. Where should I live? Hampstead or Highgate, near the wild swathes of open heath that feel like the countryside and whose cobbled maze of lanes lined with Georgian and Victorian ivy massed cottages offer spectacular views over the city spread below? Trendy East London, in a warehouse conversion with exposed brick and steel and huge stretches of wall to fill with bookshelves? Down by the river in Greenwich, where I could smell the sea and go for long walks in the park where time begins? Or a fancy mansion flat in Chelsea, where I could have magnolia filled window boxes and buy myself a tiny dog to walk while I went shopping along the King’s Road?

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In the end, the choice was far easier than I expected. I love to walk everywhere, I love to be in the middle of things but to have a night that isn’t disturbed by wailing sirens and drunk people, and I love to be surrounded by beautiful, historical architecture. The only part of London that really satisfied all of this was Bloomsbury, and yet the prices there were a little too eye watering for my liking. However, within a five minute walk of Bloomsbury is a little pocket of Georgian squares and hidden gated gardens, an oasis of quiet, village-like streets that it seems absurd still exist amidst the bustle that surrounds them. You can walk into the City in half an hour, to Bloomsbury in a few minutes, and be taken up to the fresh air of Hampstead and Highgate on the bus in little more than ten minutes. In January, I saw two flats online that were on my favourite street. One was in a small block of flats built to replace a bombed Georgian terrace. The other was the top two floors of a Georgian terrace. They were exactly the same size inside, but one was six figures cheaper than the other. Madness, one would think, but apparently, this is the price one pays for period features. Intrigued, and expecting to love the Georgian terrace far more than the mid century flat, I arranged to view both. To my surprise, I fell instantly and irrevocably in love with the more modern flat, and put an offer in on the spot. It had only ever been lived in by one family, was in a rather terrible state and needed everything doing to it, but I felt just such a tremendous sense of joy the moment I stepped in the door that I knew it had to be mine.

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Fast forward ten months; after having stripped everything away, moved some rooms around, widened doorways, rewired, replumbed, refloored and redecorated, I finally have the home I dreamed of, in a neighbourhood that feels like it was built just for me. I can walk to work in the morning, and pass the homes of famous writers and artists who once haunted these streets as I do so. I can count Persephone Books as one of my local shops. I have lovely neighbours who have already been round for a drink. My friends can come over easily after work because I am central for everyone rather than being miles away from where most of them live. And most importantly, I now have somewhere to call my own, somewhere that can’t be taken away from me on the whim of a landlord, and where I can sit on a sofa that I chose, sleep in a bed that I chose, and put whatever I bloody well like on the walls! I am so very happy here. It is a haven of peace and tranquility to return to after a busy day in the classroom, and I am overjoyed to be surrounded by my beloved books and pictures and objects that have been collected over years but largely left in boxes as I have never had the room – or often the permission – to put them everywhere. To know that I can stay here for as long as I like – forever, if I so choose – has made such an enormous difference to me. I had never realised how unsettled I always felt; how much of my life felt like it was built on shifting sand. Not knowing where you will live from one year to the next has that effect on you, I suppose. I am learning, for the first time, what it feels like to be able to stand still and rest a while, and I have to say, I rather like it.

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I hope you enjoy the pictorial tour; I’ve been here a month now and there are still plenty of things to find a place for, but I’m getting there!

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97 comments

  1. It looks absolutely stunning – well done for turning it into such a gorgeous home. And it sounds like you are not far from my workplace, so I hope we can meet up some day. I love Bloomsbury, it would be my favourite place to live in London as well.

    1. Thank you so much! I certainly didn’t do any of the manual work, but I’ll take credit for the decorating decisions! I would love to meet up – if we’re neighbours, it would be silly not to!

  2. Oh, Rachel, it’s beautiful! I hope you live a very happy life there in such cosy, charming and bookish surroundings xx

  3. What a wonderful essay on the joys of finally owning one’s own home. It looks beautiful and I wish you many contented years there.

  4. It is gorgeous! Congratulations. I hope you’ll be very happy there in such a gorgeous part of London (whenever I’m in London overnight I like to stay at the Penn Club just off Russell Square and love the area)

  5. Congratulations Rachel, it all looks gorgeous. I too would have picked Bloomsbury over any other part of London. Enjoy!

  6. I agree. You have done an excellent job. I love your use of yellow. From a New Zealander who always stays in wonderful Bloomsbury when in London.

  7. Wow, I am absolutely delighted for you … it looks fabulous! Congratulations and thanks for sharing these photos. I have been following your journey since you lived in NY and it is so nice to see you settled.

  8. Oh I love it – cosy yet so spacious and bright! Loving your choice of colour, and being able to walk to work takes so much of the stress out of living in London. Your first proper home is really special. I remember my first one – my social life took a dive because I didn’t want to leave. Congratulations.

  9. Oh my, how beautiful! I have been following your journey for quite a while now and was thrilled to see that you finally found HOME. You have GREAT taste and everything looks impeccable. Of course it shouldn’t surprise anyone that someone with such discerning taste in books would also have discening taste in a home, neighborhood, and furnishings. So very happy for you! I would love for you to keep us abreast any changes or projects you are planning however smal even if it’s just moving a couch. ❤️🏡🔑📚

    1. Thank you so much Nadege! You are very kind!! I will indeed – I have quite a few more bits and pieces to sort out so I will certainly add more photos when they get finished!

  10. what a lovely place to know is yours now. Enjoy it and thank you for sharing it with us.

    Enjoy your first Christmas and make lots of memories. >

  11. This post made me teary-eyed. I am so pleased for you. My husband and I bought our first home two years ago after renting for two decades (mostly from “slumlords”) and I’ve never been happier. My husband had to go away for a year and work in a war zone to earn enough money for the downpayment. We bought the best we could afford in one of the best neighborhoods in our area. And by best, I mean small and narrow. But it’s ours and we are so happy. I have my own room that I call my study and all of my books are in there with my writing desk and a window that overlooks my tree-filled patio. So I think I got teary-eyed for you because I understand. Congratulations and enjoy your wonderful life in your wonderful home!

    1. Jane, how lovely – you have so touched me with your words. I feel that we both understand exactly how the other feels and I am delighted for you that you finally have your home too and a space of your own to write and feel at peace. Totally worth the pain of getting there. Thank you so much for taking the time to tell your story and I wish you so much joy in your home too!

  12. What a lovely, warm home! Thanks for the tour and for sharing your joy and excitement. I am at the other end of life from you, somewhat recently widowed, and sold 2 homes (one vacation place) and moved to midtown Toronto into a long term rental with a gorgeous view and wonderful walking. It’s perfect for me now and just as exciting to make it my own. Please post more photos when you figure out where to put the rest of your possessions- it’s always wonderful to see someone else’s creativity– and so many shelves of books. Well done!

    1. Thanks very much Josee! I am so sorry for your recent loss, though I’m glad you have found a new home that works for you at the stage of life you’re in. I will certainly post more photos as I get the rest of the place done!

  13. Hi Rachel. What a beautiful home you’ve created, you’ve waited so long and it is an absolute triumph! I love your use of colour, the flat looks stunning! Love the Emily Sutton! Enjoy all the times you have there, east , west, home’s best! Jenny

    1. Thanks so much Jenny – I really appreciate that! Yes, I designed the kitchen around the Emily Sutton – it brightens up the experience of doing the washing up!!

  14. So pleased for you! And thank you for all the brilliant posts which I enjoy very much. Now when I read them I will imagine you sitting on the sofa, or tinkling the piano keys. I adore your bed cover and the way you have put different colours together. I wish you many happy times in your new home.

    1. Thank you so much Barbara! I am so happy you enjoy my posts – thank you for reading! I really appreciate your comments – and I’m delighted that you can imagine me pottering around at home while reading in future! 🙂

  15. Everything looks so beautiful, Rachel, and it’s wonderful to read about how much you love this space already. I have to admit, when I heard you’d bought in Central London I wondered how on earth you’d managed that on a teacher’s salary. How wonderful to have had such a life-changing inheritance. I think for most people that’s the kind of inheritance we would love to leave – one that truly makes a difference in a loved one’s life and brings them a sense of joy and security. Enjoy your new home and your new and very wonderful neighbourhood!

    1. Thanks very much Claire – I really appreciate that! Yes – I’d certainly never have managed on my own. And it’s a lovely inheritance because it’s an early one – the person in question is still very much alive but wanted me to benefit from the money now, so we are enjoying my happiness here together! Next time you come to London – you will have to come and stay! x

  16. Rachel, I couldn’t be happier for you!! This is a beautiful, wonderful, perfect home!! I love every room, all the furniture, and the colors. But most of all I love it that you have a home that is yours, and that you love.

  17. Congratulations on buying your place and furnishing it so beautifully! I’ve only rented too since the age of 18 (and rented in London, where the landlords are the worst). I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of owning a place, unless of course I become a successful writer!

    1. Thanks so much! Well I hope that you will have the success you’re looking for and can have your own place too – I thought it would never happen to me, so you never know!

  18. So happy for you, Rachel! Bloomsbury is the place, all right. I have been staying there on every single one of my annual trips to London for the last forty years. My bolt hole is a tiny b&b room in Cartwright Gardens, no amenities, but I have always found it perfect, because – Bloomsbury. I’d love to say hello to you next time! The inheritance story is truly fairy tale like, I read this with my mouth open in a thrilled gasp! On a day when the fortunes of other friends are dizzyingly varied…one in hospice, another’s book is mentioned as a Spectator best book of the year, and others are all over the map. Life’s so arbitrary, but I love your home and your story.

    1. Thanks so much, Diana! Life is arbitrary indeed – I am so sorry to hear about your friend in the hospice. I’m glad Bloomsbury is your home from home in London – next time you’re here, I would LOVE to meet!

  19. I am so happy for you. How exciting to have an unexpected inheritance to enable you to follow your dream…it is the stuff of fairy tales. I hope it didn’t entail a lot of sadness. Love the colourful decoration. Wishing you happiness in your new home.

    1. Thanks so much, Rowena! No, not at all – it was an early inheritance and the person who gave me the money is loving seeing me so happy in my home, so it’s a joy for both of us!

  20. I’m in love with that wallpaper above the arch. The whole place looks so inviting. All the best to you in YOUR new home

    1. Thank you! Goodness me, no – I had people in. I can just about hang up a picture! It was a mammoth project indeed and ended up taking far longer than expected but the stress was worth it in the end!

  21. Congratulations! It sounds like a Persephone story! Your home is just beautiful, thanks for sharing the photos with us. I’m particularly in love with your flowered wallpaper, your beautifully tiled kitchen, and your bookshelves, of course!

    1. Thanks very much! Yes I do feel a bit like a Persephone heroine! I’m glad you love the wallpaper – I wasn’t sure it would work but I absolutely adore it!

  22. Mazal tov!!! This is just wonderful – and I’m hugely envious of your living room with all the books and the piano – it looks delightful! Having rented most of my life, and lost two ‘own homes’ to relationship breakups, I know exactly how it feels to land somewhere that’s your own…we’re just not there quite yet!! Enjoy!!

  23. I am also an annual visitor to Bloomsbury (from Tasmania and we always stay at the Tavistock) and I know what joy it must be to feel that area is now your home turf, and, yes, the flat is looking beautiful. I make my annual pilgrimage to Persephone’s while we are there and then we generally eat at the cafe next door. Thank you for the”photo shoot”!

  24. I thought inheritances like your only happened in fiction! I’m so happy for you. It’s been years since I’ve been in London, but I know the Bloomsbury area. What a lovely place for you to have landed. Best wishes in your new home!

  25. Congratulations, you lucky woman. How beautiful you’ve made the flat, stylish but homey. So many things I love about it, but especially the botanical wallpaper and the kitchen tile. And the unexpected inheritance that made it possible, so like a heroine in a novel!

  26. Oh, dear Rachel, as a long time reader and admirer of yours, I am filled with joy for you! Congratulations and well done. I enjoyed your tour and went back and peeked into your rooms again. Best wishes, happiness, and enjoyment in your home. Penny

  27. A dream come true, Rachel! Your new home is so cheery and I absolutely love the painting above your bookcase. I’ll bring cake if you make a pot of tea the next time I’m in Bloomsbury!

  28. I’m so very happy for you, Rachel! How many of us have dreamed of unexpected inheritances – but it’s a dream come true for you.

    You’ve done a lovely job decorating, and it’s just wonderful that you’re so happy and content there. Well done!

  29. Such a lovely place and how comforting to have a permanent home. Thank you for sharing the photos.

    So pleased to hear of your well deserved good fortune.

  30. Absolutely lovely, but, being French, I’ve always wondered how you, Brits, could live without a proper dining-room. I remember meals taken in the sitting-room with a tray on my lap…I was 20, so I didn’t mind, I even thought it was fun at the time, but three decades later I would find that rather uncivilized 🙂

    1. Thank you, Izzy! Ha, yes, I know – working in a French school I completely appreciate the cultural differences between our eating habits! I personally love eating on my lap!!

  31. Blimey, that must have been quite some inheritance! BUT you also have wonderful taste and having myself lived in precarious and unsatisfactory conditions for some years I know how blissful it is finally to have a home and reunite your possessions and I wish you every happiness in your lovely new home:)

  32. The yellow is very cheerful. Looks like a lovely place.
    Very much in the spirit of William Morris’ maxim; “Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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