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.
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?
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.
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.
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!