Me and my home: Thrill of the chase

A fashionista turned author tells Christine Rush why she eschews buying new
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The Independent Online

A former editor of 'Elle' magazine, Maggie Alderson, 45, has just published her third novel and is a fashion writer for the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. She lives in Hastings with her husband, Popi Popovic, and her two-year-old daughter, Peggy

A former editor of 'Elle' magazine, Maggie Alderson, 45, has just published her third novel and is a fashion writer for the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. She lives in Hastings with her husband, Popi Popovic, and her two-year-old daughter, Peggy

Nothing thrills me more than discovering a new junk barn. For me, it's like discovering King Tut's tomb, you never know what you'll find; like a box full of old Christmas decorations.

"This thing with Cath Kidston... I've been decorating my house like that for years, and to see that style available off the peg in Marks & Spencer was a bit galling. I've got hardly anything new in my house, apart from electrical goods. I love old things, second-hand stuff with character that's been bashed up. Even my bed linen is 'vintage'. My mattresses are new, though - I draw the line there.

"I've been buying junk since I was 18. I always loved going to markets and jumble sales. I just love things that have been used, the patina of old age. It's recycling on a grand scale. And the thing is, it's so much cheaper. I've got nothing from Ikea - it has no soul, the veneers peel off. It's not going to be knocking around in vintage shops in 50 years' time.

"I chose Hastings because my best friend lived there. When we came back from Sydney after eight years, we were so softened up from living there. We couldn't have moved back to London, the competitiveness of it all, and the prices were so ridiculous.

"So, rather than live in a tiny flat in a horrible part of London, I could have a Georgian house in Hastings. I'd had my daughter by then and it gives you a different set of priorities. We lived in Malvern for a while, in my sister's house. That was a great place to be pregnant but I realised that country life was just not pour moi.

"Hastings is a great combination of being urban and being on the sea, and having lived in Sydney, it's very hard to live away from it. I can see the Channel from the house, and walk down to the beach. It's pretty groovy there, quite a few people have moved down: artists, film writers, picture restorers, musicians... it's a hotbed of creativity. A mix of that and fishermen. There's a real community of creative talent but it's not pretentious the way that Brighton is. It's like the St Ives of the South-east - just that jaunty, maritime air. In the summer, it's still an outing for families from the East End. You get these enormously fat people walking along eating ice-cream and fish and chips, but it keeps it real. It's like living in a Beryl Cook painting.

"Our home is an early Georgian townhouse but quite a tiny one on four floors. The rooms are quite small but because they're Georgian they have nice proportions so they don't feel poky. My favourite room is the loo. We put bookshelves in and I painted it Blue Venom from the Paint Library. That was the first room I finished and when the rest of the house was a bomb site, I could go in there and look at my lovely books. It made me feel more optimistic.

"I also love the drawing room. It's incredibly light and has a wonderful bay window that looks across the Old Town. I bought quite a lot of furniture and masses of art when I was in Australia. I've got a real problem with buying paintings but I've never, ever regretted buying them. They give me constant delight. Before I left Sydney I wanted some really good pieces of Aboriginal art as a memory of my love affair with Australia and the desert. They were investments.

"What I loved about Australia were the people, the landscape and the food. The attitude, too. The British whinge - and I can say this, because I'm one of them - and they can be very negative. In 1993, when I left, London was very depressed, people were losing their houses and I got to Sydney and everything was optimistic. People were so welcoming. That's what I love about Hastings too - there's still grit in the oyster, a lot of character. There are still fishermen in my street; it's real. Whereas you go somewhere like Rye, it's so twee.

"My criterion is very simple: if I like it, it comes into the house. If you're trying to buy pieces because they've been written about in wallpaper, it's not real. I like the serendipity of finding those sofas in a junk shop. It's the thrill of the chase.

"The world of fashion magazines is such a crazy circus. With the book, I really wanted other people to know what it's like. In Sydney I became editor of Cleo but I was very disillusioned with magazine editing by then, just how corrupt it had become. The pressure from advertisers really stuck in my craw, so I went back into newspapers.

"My one concession to the fashionista lifestyle is that I've got a walk-in closet. Clothes storage is quite an issue for me because I'm a hoarder. I've got shoes from my mother from the Forties and I've got a massive collection of hats and I do like hat boxes. I look like I've got a massive wardrobe but I've been assembling it for years. I'd like to wear more vintage clothes but they're actually very hard to wear: the fabrics are stiff and women have changed shape so much.

"My best friend collects vintage curtains and we just went through them all and found curtains for most of our house They're old Sanderson floral prints; again, it's recycling and it's so much cheaper than buying new.

"There's masses of colour in the house. The halls and stairs are a kind of 1920s green, a minty Eau-de-Nil. It's funny; when we got the house I thought it was going to be all tasteful Farrow and Ball colours, but we're just going brighter and brighter."

'Handbags and Gladrags' (Penguin, £6.99)