Flat out

Sometimes, it's the thrill of the chase that dictates an interior.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There is a crumbling building in London's much-gentrified West Hampstead, which, depending on your point of view, is an eyesore or a thing of beauty, but which has unquestionable investment potential. It has only ever been owned by two people. The first purchased it from the original builder late last century. The second has lived there since the War - in one room lit by a naked lightbulb, perhaps oblivous to its potential worth.

As house prices continue to rise, it becomes ever harder to find an affordable property on which to put one's own stamp. It was different in the summer of 1994, however, when that elusive bargain within the compass of the Circle Line was still a possibility even for those with a modest budget, and interior designer Eddie Frost was better placed than most to find himself a flat around the corner from here.

Luck played a part, as did determination. It happened that there came on to the market a spectacularly unspoilt property, just at the time when he was looking for one. This rambling villa of Georgian elegance, never modernised, had been sold off floor by floor, but the attic floor remained. Competition for the decaying top storey was fierce. He could almost feel the hot breath of the property developers on his neck as he secured a 95 per cent mortgage within 24 hours - no mean feat when he'd blown the last of his savings on a new car the week before. It was, he says, deeply stressful stuff. "I didn't have time to sell my flat so I rented it out." Now the income more than pays for his mortgage.

The flat retains much of its original integrity. Around a central hallway open rooms in creamy shades of buttermilk and maple. The ceilings have been removed to expose the roof space - into which have been let numerous skylights - which soars to a peak over the bath, a perfect point capped by glass.

The roof alterations were expensive. The old iron water tanks had to be removed, and new supports supplied. But such expenses were the exception not the rule. A thinkable pounds 30,000 was the final cost of refurbishment. The absence of an architect and even of drawings owed more to lack of experience than to a conscious cutting of costs. Half the budget was spent on the bones of the flat - on structure, lighting and parquet flooring - while the fittings were less pricey. Cupboards are of MDF, flat-fronted and painted the same pale shade as the walls. Paintings in abundance are offset by the uniform colour. "I bought the flat because I needed somewhere to store my stuff," says Frost.

Most of his acquisitions came from the nearby Church Street market. There are tiny figurines, modern prints, books bound in leather. The second bedroom houses the kind of display cabinet usually associated with thimble collections and all things tacky, which sits somewhat grandly, surrounded by silvered Marconi chairs and crusted oils.

The inlaid chairs and ornamental busts, although they speak of a male designer, are less blatant in their self-indulgence than the bathroom ("Sexy, isn't it?") with glass-bowled basin and a Jacuzzi added last year as an afterthought. Still, the effect of the whole, with rusting wall sconces, and with sofas chosen for their comfort rather than their line, is essentially earthy. Rural leanings that roughen an otherwise too pristine interior. A bachelor pad made home.

The sense of homey permanence and authenticity is enhanced by the use of reclaimed fittings. Frost's quest for oversized double doors took him all over London. The glass in them had to be replaced, but otherwise they were a bargain at pounds 400. Modern substitutes would have cost twice that. With the mantelpiece, too, he struck lucky: it came free, its Chiswick owners only too glad to be rid of its Gothic grossness.

The real coup was the kitchen. Frost found a trainee carpenter who agreed to build it for just pounds 600, and the price he eventually paid was more emotional than financial. "He was fine until he fell out of the window.We found him on the outside steps. After that he became unreliable." A three-storey fall seems not to have affected his handiwork, however, and the cheap laminate worktop and Ikea handles are but insignificant details beside his craftsmanship.

Since he bought his bargain just over three years ago, the flat has tripled in price. Profit is too tempting and it is being sold. The search for the next place is on