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

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us