My Home: Lucy Neal, co-founder of the London International Festival of Theatre
In a quiet south London street, two semis combine to create a large and theatrical space
Wednesday 02 November 2005
I have lived here for nearly 20 years. When we found the house in 1986, Simon and I and our first baby were living in a tiny one-bedroom flat in Fulham and we knew we had to find something bigger.
As Simon was away filming, I did most of the looking, which involved blundering around west London looking at houses with Alice in tow in her buggy. One Saturday, I headed south of the river, which was unknown territory to me, and stopped at an estate agent's in Tooting Bec. The woman behind the desk was exhausted after doing all the Saturday viewings, and I asked whether there was anything for sale. She pulled out a piece of paper from under her desk and it was the details about this house - which she hadn't even had time to type up. So I was the first person to see the house.
As I walked round, most of the house felt gloomy, but I stood by the French windows and the sun streamed in, and I had an instinctive sense that this was going to be our family home.
After we bought the house, we sorted out the dry rot and started decorating, bringing back the light of day into it. By 1999 we had three more children and an au pair, and we had already converted the loft. Then, our next-door neighbour died and although it wasn't anything we had ever imagined doing, we suddenly got the idea that it would be an opportunity to buy the house next door, which was the other half of our semi. At the time I was working at the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and Simon was working as a film cameraman, and it felt like a big risk in terms of meeting the mortgage, but we wanted the extra space and so we decided to put all our eggs into one basket and buy it.
We decided we would only knock together the two back garden rooms, which has created a large, surprising and quite theatrical space. We also turned the two back gardens into one much wider one. Apart from that, we left both front doors, the front rooms and the upstairs parts of both houses as they were - if you look at our home from the road it looks exactly like two separate houses.
I co-founded LIFT in 1980 with Rose [de Wend Fenton] after we both graduated from Warwick University. The idea was to create a London-based festival which would welcome artists and theatre-makers from all over the world. I had worked on two LIFT festivals when we first moved here, and as the festival was every other year, family life went through cycles of becoming very pressurised. My three eldest children were all born pretty soon after the festivals finished in the summer, so in those cases I did get a slight breather before I had to fly off to Ghana or China or Chile to meet theatre artists and see shows.
The children range between eight and 19, and the space at the back is big enough for a group of teenagers making breakfast on a Saturday, as well as preparations for our eight-year-old's birthday party. Light is important. Simon spent a lot of time working out where the sun rose and did a great job with the architect designing the back of the house so that you always get the best light whether it's summer or winter.
The room is half open-plan with the kitchen down one side. One of my prize possessions is my old weighing scales, which came from a junk shop in Wales. After a trip away I used to feel at home again by baking a cake: it was my way of saying, "I'm back".
We all went to Bali in 1998, and when we came back we built the "Bali House", which is a little raised bamboo structure in the garden. The children play in it and it's got lots of bamboo around it and I love to pretend that I'm in Bali or India.
'The Turning World', celebrating 20 years of LIFT, is published this week by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, £15
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