Friday, January 30, 2009


I bought my London flat in 1999 – a three bedroom ex-council place in a very lovely part of North London, just by Hampstead Heath, at a time when such a thing was a (just about) affordable project on a starter salary. (I'd never have done it tho if I hadn't been prodded by my little sister who knows about finance.)

Over the time I lived there, I gradually re-did most of the rooms. I designed my dream kitchen (thank you Ikea & Habitat) – a seven foot metal edged counter top for plating up, huge deep drawers under all the counters for my equipment, more power points than were strictly necessary, steel shelving with my collection of glass along one wall, a slate grey (faux) Dalsouple floor and an extendable dining table that could seat 14 in a pinch.

My bedroom had fitted cupboards with glass handles from the Night market in Bangkok, with special shelving for my handbags and shoes, and the bathroom was all shiny & new. There were bookshelves everywhere, even over the door lintels, and one wall of the pale grey painted, south-facing living room had black self patterned wallpaper. There was a 1950’s walnut cocktail cabinet with lacquered legs in one corner, and huge cream sofas in the middle of the room. There was even a proper linen cupboard in the hallway, which I filled with piles of crisp, starched bed linen, napkins and blankets for the winter.

I loved my flat, & spent way too much money I didn't have on making it look beautiful. It's on a quiet, grassed estate, which belies its looks (I've never felt safer living there), with wonderful neighbours who kept an eye on things for me when I was travelling. Inside was a haven of secure calm. My friends called it the Tardis (From Doctor Who: it means tiny on the outside, huge inside). It’s now rented out to three Chinese architecture students.

Preparing it for rental was brutal. My little sister & I worked to empty it in five days; I’m a terrible squirrel & hadn’t realised just how much stuff I had accumulated in eight years. She had to continue disposing after I went back to America, about which I still feel awful. I had to strip the black wallpaper, paint everywhere white, Freecycle the contents of the kitchen, and get rid of my bedroom furniture, from my beautiful Victorian bedstead to the chandelier on the ceiling: apparently the Chinese believe antique furniture is a bad thing.

When I last did a landlord check, there was a neat pile of shoes at the front door, the living room was an architect’s office, with drawing boards and Auto-Cad stations around the walls & the kitchen looked bare. In a way, it’s easier than if it looked like my home. And in this market I’m glad I have tenants who can cover my mortgage. I don’t make anything from renting it out but at least I still have a toe in the property market somewhere.

Going from proud homeowner to impoverished sub-letter does make renting here in NYC something of a trial. When I was earning shiny pounds in 2007’s boom, they stretched forever in Manhattan and I could live pretty much where I liked, but now the pound has crashed and the American dollars I earned last year do not go very far. At All. As it is, I basically have to live in a room in someone else’s apartment, with all my possessions therein. I can be fiendishly untidy, and that’s difficult when you are sub-letting in someone else’s space. Books become a luxury, as there is nowhere to keep them, and even an ironing board becomes an optional extra when there is no cupboard for one.

And now I’m moving again. This is not something about which I am wreathed in smiles. But, for the space I currently inhabit I could pay less elsewhere and, given the state of the media market in Manhattan, (Condé Nast’s Domino folded this week), I think retrenching is sensible. But oh it’s making me depressed. Not least because I love super-intelligent, literate & French LK, my current roommate. I was so lucky to find him and can’t imagine any other roommate will be as interesting and as fun to live with. Gah.

PS If anyone is interested, LK needs a sub-letter for my lovely sunny furnished room in his apt in the East Village, between 1st & A, just by Tompkins Square Park. Email me.