Thursday, 6 November 2008

Council House: Britain's Tract Housing

When I moved to South London three years ago to marry my wonderful husband, something big and complicated stood between us: the house he'd been living in for the past eight years. Take pity on me, though! He had chosen it with his ex-wife, and her ghost, mostly in the form of her taste, was everywhere. Plus it was an ex-council house, something like "the projects". Mrs Thatcher had given the occupants a choice to buy these houses (some of them were apartments in tower blocks, some of which have become super chic to inhabit recently).

I had always been an antique-loving, Victorian/ Edwardian sort of female. I looked longingly at the Victorian houses surrounding us-- our council box is in a row of eight or so, the previous houses victims of the Luftwaffe (we can't dig basements here for obvious reasons).

First, I wanted to move. I couldn't love the box, plus it had been overlaid with circa-1990 features that were vaguely twee and had nothing to do with the house. My husband agreed but I could tell he was unhappy. He is comfortable in his house, likes his garden and the neighbourhood. He had my Victorian furniture shipped over from Vancouver; it didn't look right at all. And now the house was jammed with disparate stuff. A nightmare for the trembing aesthete.

Suddenly, an epiphany! Talking to a friend, I said that if we sold the house it would be napped up by some groovy couple who would do it up all Fifties. Then it occurred to me: why should we not be that couple?