There's a street in Brighton where each house is brightly coloured, so the road becomes a splash of colour against the sky when days are grey, and when the sun shines, it's an archetypal postcard from the seaside. No surprise that Blaker Street is a popular backdrop for television adverts: it says something about the cheerful welcoming eccentricity of Blighty, where the sun usually shines and when it doesn't, there are colours to speak for themselves. Although, for most of us, that's not exactly our experience – you usually associate brightly coloured houses with sun-strewn villages in the Mediterranean, not British suburbs.
Which is probably precisely why the houses on Blaker Street are so sought after. Rob Fane is an estate agent for Kendrick Property Services, and the view from his window comprise about 30 of the street's different coloured homes, reminding him every day of what sells. "The next road is called White Street and the houses are exactly the same as on Blaker," he says. "If it's between the two streets, though, Blaker will sell first." And while the external colour won't put the price up, especially in the current climate, it does tend to tip the preference. "If you've got a nice photo in the window of a brightly coloured house or a red-brick traditional house, which goes first?" No prizes for the correct answer.
It's not just Brighton of course: all across the country, there are pockets of colour where the houses won't conform to traditional white or redbrick exteriors, and the air somehow seems more breezy. In Kentish Town, north London, that street is Kelly Street, where the pastel hues invite pedestrians to take a detour off the busy road for more of a meander than they'd usually permit.
The mysterious thing is, nobody seems to know how this road, or any of the others for that matter, acquired their colourful status. It's forbidden to paint your house a non-traditional colour without permission if you're in a conservation area, but as far as any other residence goes, the painter's palette is yours for the taking. Not that it's always advisable to be too wacky. "The worst colour I saw was a black house in a street of white houses," says Matt Poore, of Chesterton Estate Agents. Kelly Street falls in his jurisdiction, and Poore is well aware of the allure that such anomalous areas hold. "It's sought after," he says. "Coloured houses tend to be found on little streets, seaside areas, and exclusive places."
Maybe that's why buyers are so drawn to such places – even if they're in the heart of an urban landscape, there's something about the bright colours that bring with them the smell of the seashore. It only works, warns Poore, if there's some kind of uniformity, and he wouldn't necessarily recommend striking out on your own: "I wouldn't say that if you live in a normal street, painting your house pink would make it better," he says.
Even if the other houses on your road are brightly coloured, it's a good idea to consult the neighbours. "Sometimes streets have restrictions on the type of colour they use – nice blues and greens, say, nothing garish. If they're all well presented, and it's possible to get everybody to agree, it can look good." It's important that the houses are in a similar state of repair – it doesn't really matter how aquamarine your shade of blue was if it's now weather-beaten and peeling.
Liza-Jane Kelly, from Marsh and Parsons estate agents in west London, presides over a selection of beautifully coloured homes in the Notting Hill area, and so is no stranger to the appeal. In fact, she used to live in one of them. Her home was in Hillgate Village, three streets that make up an oasis of calm on the borders of Kensington and Notting Hill. Of course, the location says it all, but the fact that the homes are an attractive array of rainbow colours certainly doesn't damage the desirability.
Hillgate Village is a conservation area, so the colours are carefully monitored: owners have to apply for planning permission from the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to make a change. Originally railway workers' homes, it's unknown how the colourful tradition started. "I don't know how or why they came to be painted," Kelly says. She guesses that maybe it's something to do with a creative heritage: "If you think about the lovely colours on Lancaster Road which has houses in deep red, yellow and purple, or along Portobello Road, it's all very artistic. One street in particular is very bohemian, with dark, rich colours."
Kelly, too, cautions against being too artistic for the general market. When she lived in Hillgate Village, a house behind hers was being renovated. One day, after seven months of work, she walked past the front for the first time and got a bit of a shock. It was the World Cup at the time. "The owner had painted red stripes on the exterior like the English flag: it was unbelievable!" she laughs. "Although, as far as I know, none of the neighbours complained." When she was selling it for the owner, however, she advised him to repaint it – red stripes of the English flag holding something of a niche appeal.
Why do we love a coloured house so much? Perhaps we all secretly long for the storybook pictures of trips to the seaside, where pastel ice-cream colours reigned. Or maybe it's just that most of our urban landscape has been bleached of vibrancy, and we were meant to live in environments where the landscape was more than grey. Whatever, there's no doubt that a row of colourful exteriors brightens the day a little.
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