How I became a design junkie

Warning: owning your own home will change you and your lifestyle forever
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The Independent Online

It was after a heated discussion with my best friend about ericaceous soil and the correct pronunciation of "clematis" that it occurred to me that buying a flat might have changed me.

It was after a heated discussion with my best friend about ericaceous soil and the correct pronunciation of "clematis" that it occurred to me that buying a flat might have changed me.

Six months ago I was a carefree 27-year-old who frittered money on handbags and went nocturnal at the weekend. I'd never had a conversation about gardening in my life.

Now I spend Sundays pacing the seed-packet aisle of Homebase and recite the Farrow and Ball colour-chart in my sleep. Gordon Brown's new first-time-buyer loans should come with a Government health warning: owning your own home will change your lifestyle, your attitudes and your relationships. It will send you all Martha Stewart and you might just like it.

The change in my purchasing habits was the second surprise. In the mid-Eighties I'd have to look both ways before being dragged into Laura Ashley by my mother. Now I have a clubcard and the staff know me by name.

Buying a flat, I've discovered, is a bit like having your ears pierced; it opens up a whole new world of stuff to buy, stuff that you've never had cause to want or need before. Prosaic items like bathroom shelves suddenly become ludicrously desirable. Then there are the vintage glass jars to put on the shelves, and the pretty soaps to put in the jars on the shelves.

And the best thing about whacking a couple of hundred pounds on your credit card for homeware is that, unlike buying a new pair of shoes, it's not really spending, it's investing. I can almost see the price of my flat go up as I punch in my PIN.

My boyfriend, who owns half the flat but less of the emotional trappings, calls many of my interiors purchases "clutter".

He thinks Cath Kidston and her ilk, who have sent minimalism scurrying under the carpet and made spotted teapots and floral bedspreads pop up all over the place, have a lot to answer for.

The flat has altered our relationship considerably. Before we were ensconced in domestic bliss, we met for romantic lunchtime tête-à-têtes. Now I summon him for emergency meetings in John Lewis. On one occasion, he found me among the rolls of fabric. "I expected you to be wearing a gingham pinny and a headscarf," he said, before devolving to me all responsibility for soft furnishings. We used to spend Saturdays nursing hangovers in bed. Last weekend we spent the entire day sealing and painting the garden wall (Farrow and Ball exterior masonry paint in tallow.)

My three-month curtain-research project had an unforeseen by-product: patchwork. After I'd chosen the duck-egg Josette print for my deep pencil-pleat curtains (Laura Ashley, 20 per cent off with the clubcard) I was left with an impressive collection of fabric samples. Some of them were Designer's Guild - £40 a metre at least. Unwilling to throw them away, I set about tacking them to cardboard squares and sewing them together. I enjoyed myself so much I considered starting a handmade cushion company until I realised I'd have to charge £300 a unit just to cover labour costs. Still a work in progress, my patchwork now comprises 81 mini-squares of 22 different materials.

My garden (actually just an outline around the outside of the flat with a strange pointy triangle at the end; the patio garden promised by the estate agent particulars was a gross exaggeration) has affected more than my friendships. It has turned me from a cat-lover to a lobbyist for cat-hunting.

It may have something to do with the saucers of milk I left out the first few days of occupancy, but the local felines seem to think the gravel is a giant litter tray. I will stop at nothing in my efforts to expel them.

But perhaps the most significant change is to my social life. There's very little point in having a flat if you can't share it with your friends. Nights out have turned into dinner parties in. Sometimes my friends take my invitations the wrong way.

There was the time I invited someone to supper "to see my new tablecloth". "I'd like to see you," she said, "but I'm not that bothered about your tablecloth, even if it is Cath Kidston." Sometimes they don't seem quite appreciative enough of their surroundings.

Recently my best friend saw fit to criticise my garden: "Roses like light, Kate," she said, "I'm not sure it'll get enough there," before making derisive comments about the "stunted growth" of a tobacco plant. She left soon after.

So am I happy in new incarnation as a first-time buyer? Absolutely.

Of course I worry incessantly about being in a perpetual state of negative equity, have panic attacks every time house prices drop a percentage point, and close one eye when opening credit-card bills.

But the enormous sense of satisfaction I get from opening the door to my own flat and sitting on my own sofa, or inspecting the growth to my sweet-pea seedlings while grinding another snail into the gravel, outweighs all this.

Symptoms

* You can spend an entire lunch break choosing a pedal bin

* You suddenly become obsessed with gardening programmes

* You're much more likely to bump into your friends in Habitat than down at the local pub

* You host "white wine, no stiletto" parties

* You have enough scented candles to illuminate your street

* You read the newspaper property section before the headlines

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