Helen Lederer, 51, lives in East Dulwich with her 16-year-old daughter Hannah and her second husband Chris. She began her career at London's Comedy Store and appeared in the BBC TV series Absolutely Fabulous. She is currently writing her first comedy novel. On Sunday, she is hosting a wine tasting at the Rosé d'Anjou Queens' Garden Party in London's Soho
used to live in Brixton, in a cottage that I bought from Rab C Nesbitt (the actor Gregor Fisher). I lived there for 10 years, first as a single girl, then with my first husband, then, after we split up, with our daughter Hannah. Many years later, I met Chris, husband No 2. He sold his house in the country and together we were able to get a mortgage on a bigger property.
Five years ago, Hannah was about to go to Alleyn's School in Dulwich, so it made sense to be here, although I'm really a north-London person and hanker for Upper Street (in Islington). A property finder found this house for us. I know that sounds poncey, and it was expensive, but I hate that thing of going into people's houses and looking at their bits and bobs and going, "Mmm, it's lovely...", while just wanting to get out.
The house is turn-of-the- -last-century. It had been converted into flats, then a developer returned it to a house and a couple moved in. They promptly divorced, and we bought it for just under £600,000 - it's probably worth £900,000 now.
My dream was always to have a big fuck-off house to do up, but having done it, I wouldn't necessarily do it again. One can become obsessed - it took me six months to sort out the colours. The trouble with me is that I know what I want, but only when it has gone wrong. The kitchen was yellow to start with because I'd read that it is a good colour for a kitchen, but even the people who painted it said, "Oh, my God, it's like sick!". So I made friends with a wonderful American who worked in a shop that sells paint and talked to her a lot. She recommended a Sanderson colour, a sort of taupe, and I love it.
The kitchen units are from Ikea and we just painted them blue and put in the chunky white tiles. People said, "You're trying to be too rural", but I wanted warm shapes and textures that are friendly. The table was an expensive thing from a place in the King's Road. It's new but somebody has made it look old, so you can get pen marks or candle wax on it and give it a really bad time, and it doesn't matter. The bench is from a church. There are cushions for the poor guests, because it's not that comfortable.
We have two sofas in the kitchen - it's a huge space - arranged around a pretend fireplace. It's made of some Italian plaster of Paris stuff. I think faking things for effect is good. Above the fireplace is a triptych that we got up a mountain in Spain, and in the corner are our "happy" paintings. Don't laugh, but because the former owners got divorced, I got in a feng-shui lady. She advised us to use paintings that reflect happiness and life, and give good vibes.
The sitting room at the front of the house has been five colours, including red. Now, it is taupe, with one wall of Neisha Crosland wallpaper. The bookcase, once a school cupboard, looks a bit weird, and the room needs something like an amazing dresser that you might pick up in France. I have tried and failed with this room; now I'm happy to leave it. I follow my Rosemary Conley tape here on rare occasions, but we all prefer to sit in the kitchen.
Upstairs, there were too many bathrooms, and they reminded me of Harley Street ones - clinical, with back-and-white lino. Maybe we shouldn't have, but we took out one bathroom and now use it for storage. Next to it is my study, and the reason we bought the house. It used to be a bedroom and has doors on to a balcony overlooking the garden. I threw the plants around and got the two loungers cheap, in a garage off the M4. We don't use the balcony as much as we thought we would - we tend to sit on the terrace downstairs - but the other day, I had a beer out here and it felt nice.
I've tidied up the bedroom - there were pants everywhere. We have a kingsize bed, because I read that Sting said that the secret of a good marriage is a big bed. I get very excited about the fabric hanging behind the bed, because I like things that twinkle. The walk-in wardrobe was once a shower room, and the en-suite bathroom used to be a bedroom. I'm thrilled with the lighting - there are lights in the mirrors and at floor level, and you can choose from three different sorts of illumination. Hannah uses the brightest, but I can't have too much light when I'm naked.
Altogether, we've spent about £150,000 on the house. We've run out of money now, so it's done. It looks like we're affluent, but some of the furniture is from junk shops or we've given old things a lick of paint, and there's a lot of fake stuff - even a "Dufy" painted by my friend Brenda! We laid fake York stone on the terrace, and even the façade is fake. When we bought the house, it was orange brick - it could have been mistaken for a municipal swimming pool or library - and there was so much gravel, it was like Camber Sands. We plastered over the brick and painted it with creamy Farrow & Ball paint, replaced Camber Sands with cobbles, and chucked some trees down the sides. It's all a cheat, a bit like a film set.Reuse content