PROPERTY: WHERE I GREW UP

Fashion designer Helen Storey grew up in Belsize Village in Hampstead, north London
Click to follow
The Independent Online
We lived in the basement of a three-storey, late-Victorian villa which was split into three flats. Ours had three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet and a sort of sunken garden, half of the original. Six of us lived there, plus a dog.

The house itself was huge. It originally had seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a billiard room, a living room, a wine cellar and three or four reception rooms. It was built in 1888 for a very large family.

The neighbourhood was kind of Sixties hippy - David Bailey and Twiggy lived down the road. It was very middle-class, full of people making a living out of the arts.

My favourite room was what, in the old days, would have been the billiard room. It had a large marble fireplace and French windows which ran along one side of the wall, into the garden. When we grew too old to share with our two brothers, my sister Kate and I moved into it and it became our bedroom.

Life revolved around the biggest room in the flat, the living room. We had a big dining table and met there as a family for meals.

We were a very active family. Playing outside was safe in those days and I lived as much out in my street as inside. I also did ballet and swimming. We watched TV like other children but it wasn't like nowadays. Our parents encouraged us to draw and to make things and we spent a lot of our time doing that. We weren't restrained to one room - the house wasn't precious in that way. We were allowed to make a mess.

The walls were white and we had polished floorboards everywhere. The things that stay most in mind are some of the fittings that were there before we moved in. The doors had enormous brass handles sculpted as lions' heads. The stairs were hand-crafted. The bathroom was full of stained glass windows, all different patterns. One wall of our bedroom had bottle- green wallpaper with giant white cabbages all over it, presumably left there from the 1930s. The whole house was full of features like that.

My parents didn't have very much money. My father was a writer and, financially, we lived from one day to the next. Our furniture was very basic, made up of bricks and planks. This didn't matter to us because the place had such a sense of history. There was a sort of hauntedness about the house. We could easily imagine people 100 years ago living in the same room.

Living in a basement, everything was always very dark, even though there were lots of windows, and it could be quite spooky - spooky and cosy at the same time. When it was raining we used to play hide and seek. There was this narrow corridor running from the hall to the toilet. It was narrow and dark and bulging with wellingtons and raincoats. We used to hide among them and jump out and scare each other.

We stayed until I was 13. Then the landlady was made an offer by a property company. In the end my parents were paid to move out. Developers demolished the building and built an ugly block of yellow-brick flats in their place.

We moved down the road, into a whole house. At the time I wasn't sorry to go, I was excited to be moving somewhere bigger, but I grew sad as time went on. I could never visit the big house again.

Now, again, I live in a big Victorian house in north-west London. I would describe it as a combination of my two childhood homes, but not inside. Details like the height of the ceilings and the wooden floors are the same, but the interior is very different. That reflects my own taste which, in that respect, has developed differently from my parents.

More details of Helen Storey's childhood home can be found in her autobiography 'The Fighting Fashion' (Faber & Faber)

Comments