It’s the same every year. Our first Christmas card comes from a couple who almost bought our house in Chiswick in 1993, and we’ve been exchanging cards ever since. They did eventually buy a similar property, in need of total renovation, around the corner which they’ve turned into a lovely home. In the past few years, they’ve also been lavishing similar love and attention on a large property in Limoges.
My beloved hails from west London and we’d pinpointed Chiswick as the place we wanted to live and had even identified the streets in which we wanted to live. Our modest budget restricted us to a terraced property and we were keen to buy one which needed a total refurbishment. That way, we could have pretty much what we wanted.
We purchased the house in Chiswick in the mid-80s. It had started life as a semi-commercial property, a house and laundry, so was wider than the average terrace. We bought it from a divorced couple who’d split the property none-too-expertly in two. We couldn’t move in straight away because it needed cleaning, nay fumigation, from top to bottom. The day we completed, my beloved and I stood in the house and wondered what on earth we’d done. Inside it looked as if the previous owner had just left his half-eaten breakfast and walked out.
Friends kindly lent us a hand while we all donned haz-chem suits to clear and clean the property. The garden, which contained two large sheds stuffed full of rubbish, looked more like Steptoe & Son’s yard. It took ten skips and endless bottles of bleach and elbow grease before we could finally move in. Even then we only settled in the back of the property, as the wiring in the front was a bit dodgy (typical British understatement).
We then contacted a local architect for ideas. The property was part of a Victorian terrace and had been totally denuded of its original features. The kitchen was tiny and the bedrooms upstairs all led off one another. Aside from taking the property back to its bare bones and replacing all the plumbing, plaster and electrics, the architect proposed removing the two rickety staircases and replacing them with a stone spiral staircase – a stroke of genius – as the property’s focal point.
We retained the large barn like front doors which opened onto a small porch and a glass fronted door which enabled anyone to see into the paved walled garden beyond, ideal for al fresco get-togethers. The former kitchen became the laundry and the second reception room was turned into a spacious kitchen cum breakfast room. The dividing wall between the front lounge and dining room was demolished. We had corridors and additional bathrooms installed upstairs giving us a four bedroomed, two bath-roomed place – ideal for visitors!
We moved out for nine months while the work took place, most of which was spent at the outlaw’s. Fortunately, we both worked long hours and could escape to the tennis club, our sanctuary at week-ends. Finally, it was such a relief to move back into the light filled, quirky yet modern property. There was however one fly in the ointment. The outlaw moved in with us while she was waiting for her new flat to be completed. She’d decided to downsize. Finally, we had the place to ourselves.
We loved living in Chiswick and never wanted to leave. But, by the time we had the place looking exactly how we wanted, my beloved was working in Germany. I used to fly over to see him each week-end and we had rented a lovely, brand-new apartment overlooking Lake Constance. The grand plan was that we would sell the house in Chiswick, I would move in with my sister – pay back time – and look for a new job in nearby Zurich.
The house sold quickly to a young couple expecting a baby. The other couple were waiting in the wings just in case something went awry. It’s always good to have a plan B. I found a job in Zurich. I intended to resign, spend the winter cross-country skiing and then start my new role in April. Just before I handed in my notice, my beloved was head-hunted for a CEO role back in the UK which he wanted to pursue. And, just like that, bang went my plans to improve my cross-country skiing! More importantly, I now had to find us a new home in London, but where?
Property Postscript: The house has only changed hands a couple of times since we sold it in 1993. It now has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms thanks to a loft extension. This was the only photo I could find of it on the internet, courtesy of Rightmove.com. It’s the house on the left which used to be a painted a classy black and cream with a much smarter outside light, number and door handle! Otherwise, it looks pretty much the same.