Charlotte Mendelson: Inside the novelist's ideal home

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Charlotte Mendelson thought that houses in the London enclave where she set her novel were all out of reach. Then she found the perfect doer-upper...

We've just moved to a house that's eight minutes' walk from Hampstead Heath, in Dartmouth Park. We moved from a three-bedroom maisonette opposite it – which was lovely, but it was bulging at the seams.

We'd made offers on various houses in Tufnell Park, which is nearby, but our hearts hadn't really been in them. They were mostly compromises, or they were horribly overdeveloped – lots of downlighters and strategically placed tiny shower-rooms. Meanwhile, our neighbour kept saying, "I don't want you to move", and we'd say: "But we can't afford a house in Dartmouth Park!" Then late one night she knocked on our door and said: "Do you know the people opposite are about to put their house on the market?" We spent most of the night desperately trying to get hold of them – they weren't living there – and then, at last, we succeeded.

When we saw the floor-plans, our hearts sank, because the garden looked tiny. Then we had a look around, and just fell for it. This all happened last summer. We know we bought at the worst time, when the prices were at their highest, but we sold at the best time and got a good price for our flat over the road. I don't think prices are going to plummet here.

The surveyor said the house was 1900 but various people think it's more like 1880s. It feels almost Georgian, because it's flat-fronted and has big, wobbly, rippled panes of glass and very deep skirting boards. I like to think it's really 1700 and nobody noticed it before then. The reasons we love it – wonky stairs, creaky floorboards – are all reasons that anyone sensible would buy somewhere else. But every single person who's been in and looked around has said that the house has a really good feeling, and although I'm not remotely soppy about that sort of thing, I think they're right. It's a familyish, characterful house, and that's exactly what we were hoping for.

Ours is quite a noisy road, but it doesn't bother us; there are lots of intriguing neighbours to speculate about. This part of London is fantastic: lots of interesting people. When I was writing When We Were Bad, my third novel, it was always going to be set around here, because it's so odd and interesting. It reminds me of Oxford, where I grew up, but less exhaustingly brainy – an ideal setting for the story of a perfect family falling apart. And so it reflects my love of the area – lots of scenes on the windy Heath. I think detail like that adds to fiction, because it shows you what the texture of the characters' lives is like.

The move was just as exhausting as any other. It's amazing how many people say, "Oh, didn't they just carry stuff over the road?" But what with the traffic, and all our books, how could we do that?

On the ground floor there is a room at the front that is officially a bedroom, where at the moment I write. Next to that is the kitchen, which has grey and blue units – very Eighties, and all about to fall down, but it faces south-east, so the most enormous quantity of light pours in all the time. There's also a long hall, a tiny loo and a dismal shower room – and, most exciting of all, an under-stairs cupboard; I've always wanted one of those.

We're going to knock through the wall between the kitchen and the bedroom. Some people have enormous kitchen extensions with lots of glass, but we don't want that because we love our garden and I've been bitten by the vegetable-growing bug, so I need the flower beds for kale. It's an old brick courtyard with a fascinating view of neighbouring houses. The other day my daughter said: "I can see a naked man." It's a real Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window house.

There is the most beautiful, elegant, curling banister going upstairs to the first floor, where there's a door to a roof terrace, and a big sitting room with a fireplace. Parliament doors divide the sitting room from a lovely study. One of the reasons we moved was so that Joanna and I could each have a study.

The second floor has three small bedrooms, a bathroom and the best thing in the entire house – a deep, old built-in cupboard covered with hundreds of years of gloss paint, which we are using as a games cupboard. It would be fantastic if we could extend up into the loft, because the bedrooms are tiny, but I don't think we would be allowed because this is a conservation area.

We paid £800,000 and moved in December. The previous owners moved in almost in the year of my birth and then didn't do much to the house, so it needs all sorts sorting out. The bay window at the front is basically falling off, other windows are rotten, and there are lots of different sorts of damp. The idea of having builders in fills me with dread, but I couldn't live in a house that someone else had dolled up. I'd rather we lived through the work, miserable as that will be, but still keep the feeling of the property. What I love about this house is that it's old and creaky and delicious, and the work we do won't make it a glass and steel avant-garde style house; it will just make it sound.

To buy 'When We Were Bad' for £7.99, with free p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0870 079 8897

Charlotte Mendelson's second novel, Daughters of Jerusalem, won the Somerset Maugham and John Llewellyn Rhys prizes; this week her third, When We Were Bad, was longlisted for the Orange Prize. She has a son, eight, and daughter, five, and lives in north London with the novelist Joanna Briscoe.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy