Rebecca Front: Take It From Me

'My experience of interior design was confined to putting up pictures where a previous occupant had left a nail'

Share
Related Topics

If estate agents are to be believed, there has never been a better time to buy a bigger property. However, it's widely accepted that they're not to be believed, and unless you've been hibernating, you'll know that the only sensible reason to move house now is if you are on the run from the mafia. Generally, neither I nor my husband is au courant with trends in the property market. His first house, where I later came to join him, was in an area he described to me optimistically as up-and-coming north Islington. It turned out that the local police called it Murder Mile. And having bought at exactly the wrong time, negative equity saw us trapped for two years while the fires raged, sirens wailed and drunks from the pub next door urinated against our gate.

So it was with uncharacteristic prescience that we took the decision a year ago not to sell our current home, but to stay put and rebuild. The allure of gaily handing over thousands of pounds to surveyors for properties that were then taken off the market or bought by someone else had curiously begun to wear a little thin. All we really needed was a bit more space, and my brother-in-law, who is in the building trade, persuaded us that this could be achieved relatively easily and without the stress and expense of moving. We took his advice, and embarked on an adventure that saw us moving twice in six months, alienating our neighbours and spending, at a conservative estimate, five billion times more than our budget. And strangely, I recommend it.

There are innumerable benefits to having your brother-in-law project-manage for you. He won't let you down because he cares; and anyway you know where he lives. The downsides, however, became evident early on, when he asked me for my thoughts on sanitary ware. Keen to see a man engaging with women's health issues, I began talking to him about the relative merits of towels with or without wings before realising that this is a builder's euphemism for lavatories. We met in a fancy lavvy showroom in, naturally, Waterloo, where after glancing at what was on offer – marble cisterns, antiqued pedestals, loos that flush with 20 litres of extra virgin olive oil – I said that, really, they all looked the same. "Well, you can't tell by looking," he replied. "You have to sit on them." Call me old-fashioned, but there are some lines I will not cross, and sitting on a lavatory in front of a man with whom I may share Christmas lunch is one of them.

We were then persuaded that mere loft conversions were for sissies, and we might as well have every internal wall of our home repositioned, the floors reinforced and the windows replaced. Consequently, we were not going to be able to live there. Our initial plan, to rent a room in a local motel for a fortnight, turned into a six-month lease on a flat. And after a few weeks in which the builders tried to work around the furniture and boxes of books we had left behind, it became apparent that everything would have to go into storage. In other words, we would have to pack up our entire house and move it to two separate locations; then, six months later, pack it all up again and move back. Add in mortgage payments and rent, and there's no money left for luxury toilets.

The work went as smoothly as possible, barring a disastrous mishap involving 90 years' worth of soot falling into the newly decorated house next door, and Trevor the builder casually lopping off the top of his thumb. My brother-in-law behaved throughout like a rather charming pit bull. Our six-month exile seemed interminable and stressful, characterised as it was by two of my least favourite things: decision-making and expenditure.

In the past, we had bought flats or houses on the basis that they weren't falling down and the decor was broadly acceptable to us. Thus, my experience of interior design was confined to putting up pictures where some previous occupant had left a nail in the wall. But now my bedside table and floor groaned with catalogues, fabric samples and order forms. As the builders carved out rooms that hadn't previously existed, so those spaces had to be decorated and furnished. We were faced with questions we had never before considered: different paint colours either side of the dado? Pleated or tab-topped curtains? How high up did we want our splashbacks to go? Finally, at the end of our lease, we moved back in, despite the work not being finished. For a further month, we sat on sofas covered in plastic to protect them from the dust, tacked bin bags to our windows because no curtains had been delivered, and had to choose between cold showers or scalding baths because we couldn't decipher the thermostat instructions.

But now it's done, and more than anywhere we have ever lived, this feels like home. We have chosen everything in it. The children, who were always set against moving, got their way. And we, who wanted a proper family house, have got ours, too. It's as if we're living through both aspects of The Wizard of Oz: there's no place like home, and yet we're not in Kansas any more. Yes, it's been expensive, but considerably less so than moving would have been. Now we just have to make peace with our neighbours... and get to work on the garden.

Claudia Winkleman is away

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor