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'

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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Ed Miliband:  

Ed Miliband: I pledge to make Britain a more just and equal country

Ed Miliband
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk