Glass – The Great Divider

Ask anyone about what they think of glass used as a material or finish and you will get very divided opinions – traditionalists consider it too modern; modernists too minimal and up-cyclers too clean. It’s never going to tick every box but I think we can agree that one thing glass does fantastically is let light in. Earlier in the year I mentioned clients who I had ‘talked into’ putting a wall back in their downstairs living space, which had been carved up by an architect some 17 years ago and was now not meeting the family needs.

I persuaded them that a glass wall would allow the space to have an element of privacy as well as maintaining a connection throughout – it would allow the space to function as three independent areas while still being linked visually by the wall itself. Happily they loved the idea and we reconfigured the entire downstairs – moving the kitchen to the rear and creating two reception areas to the middle and front which the glass wall would enclose. The tv snug is the central space which takes advantage of the lower light levels and it is this area that is formed by the glass wall – but it the front room into the bay window that has really been transformed. Previously the kitchen, this space is now a grown up and relaxed place to sit and read or chat. It’s taken back a sense of the grandeur of the architecture (very high ceilings) without any of the stuffiness that some Victorian buildings seem to possess.

What it’s also done is allow us to re introduce the stairs – which had been consigned to a ‘coal chute’ by the architect in favour of over sized doors. It was so interesting to see how they used the space before the wall went back in – the middle area was the dining room and the furniture was against the wall, the kitchen was to the front with the units against the walls. The space was incredibly limited in what it could do and the architect had only added to this; the ‘space’ was only used for movement. And here’s the thing, if a building is already tall emphasising this will make the rooms feel narrow; when people walk through a space like this they follow pathways – even if there isn’t one – they don’t venture into the space because the height is telling them that it’s not generous enough for them to walk wherever they want.

People don’t trust space that they don’t understand. Weird but true – I’ve put walls back in before because the space (another downstairs) had been opened up completely and no-one ever used the middle of the room (the junction point between the original rooms) – ever. Just putting back in the piers where the walls ended and creating an opening with a column effect gave the entire downstairs a sense of structure and all of a sudden the space became more relaxed; it felt like it could breathe again.

With putting the glass wall in, the rooms now get walked into and around because the furniture is arranged across the space and not just along the walls. This makes the space more visually interesting and also more flexible – there are now two seating areas as well as the kitchen-diner. Nothing feels cramped but there is definitely more furniture in the space than there was before.

The interesting thing for me as a designer is how this space will look in 10-15 years time. Might they feel then that a solid wall would be more practical? It’s possible – and because of the way it’s been constructed, they could certainly do that, if they wanted. But think about glass internal walls in office spaces or hotels. It’s that element of curiosity that makes them interesting, the fact that you can glimpse what is happening 5 or 10 metres away adds a drama to an otherwise blank canvas. And so it is here, because the wall is also a window it both contains and disappears. Best of all, with the lights on, the furniture glows and the space looks a bit like a jewel box – or a glass bauble. Your every day solid wall doesn’t do that. So I’m willing to bet that because the wall is glass, it’ll still be looking good.


From This – To This

After much hard work I can finally reveal the transformation that has undergone the flat I purchased in June. I’m thrilled – but it wasn’t without its stresses – I have learned many lessons as ‘the client!’

If anything progress was made more difficult by not having a buffer between client (me) and contractor. Reflecting on the process has given me a totally different understanding of my role as designer. I find it quite straightforward to be decisive for clients; for myself, not so much; the agony of not having quite finalised something and knowing that my indecision could potentially hold up the workforce. I never do that for a client!

When I viewed the flat and decided to buy it, it was a bland and ‘generic’ space; lots of cream and beige, very inoffensive (such a damning word!) What that really means is whoever did the initial design for the space sucked all of the individuality out of it and turned each flat in the block into an identikit replica. I genuinely believe that it is possible to create a space with personality without a high price tag, so this mass-produced look is one that feels like the designer has lost interest and isn’t actually invested in giving the end users an interior that a) looks good and b) functions well. All of the finishes were low cost – and after ten years looked a bit rough around the edges. It was light and spacious though and that was the element that sold it to me – as well as the location very close to the river and the sense of tranquility in an area that is quite heavily trafficked.

looking toward the front room

What I wanted for the flat was a look that had personality and warmth, I wanted to add more individuality and to create a space that related to a more design led aesthetic. I earmarked the ‘big ticket’ items (flooring, appliances, carpet and work surface) and decided to use finishes that would age well, I want to see if in ten years time the place still has a more considered feel to it. I don’t mind if the floor is a little scuffed and the carpet a little scruffy … in some spaces it is this lived in feel that adds to the success of the design. And this is my challenge to myself, how will the flat look when it’s been used for ten years?

So, what’s been the biggest lesson? A bespoke finish isn’t going to be quick, so I was unrealistic to think it would be achieved on a short refurb schedule.

I specced a herringbone wood floor – it took two weeks to fit. I specced hexagonal tiles for the bathroom – it took six days to tile two walls ( a space 1.70cm x 1.90cm!) Each straight edge (into the corners and trim) had to be cut, that was 200 cuts which took almost a full day. I specced black tap-ware for the bathroom and kitchen and due to changing specs I couldn’t get them without ordering from Italy and waiting for their summer hols to end, so no plumbing until the beginning of September. Needless to say the tap-ware isn’t black.

I got really frustrated with myself at having to have fall back options for the fall back options (the work surface is plan d!) and that meant the work force were critical of my choices – not that it was any of their business, but it dented my confidence – for a client they would never have questioned it. I discovered that the bedrooms were longer than the largest size of carpet (a 5 metre width) and so had to order nearly double the amount to finish them. I looked at ordering more wood herringbone but in terms of cost there was no saving and that would have added another ten days to the fitting dates (so additional labour costs) – the carpet went down in an hour and a half.

The most stressful part of the process was doing a job I don’t normally do and measuring the space for the tiles. Needless to say I miscalculated (in the teeny tiny bathroom) and ended up short – the handbasin wall short to be precise. I went back to the supplier to find that the whole shipment had gone to a developer and they weren’t getting more stock until September. ARGH. NO No no. The suppliers were amazing and tried to track down an alternative (which wasn’t quite the same colour white) and we had about a square metre to finish on one wall that would stand out like a sore thumb. I sent them a photo and effectively begged them to check the warehouse…THEN miraculously they found enough to finish our job just lurking somewhere in the back of their football stadium sized warehouse. What? The week before they had nothing left. How does that happen?? That was an awful week.

The thing I have learned from this as a designer is that it’s the build process that absorbs the lead times of the order schedule. We weren’t doing any building works, so there was no buffer between ordering and delivery. They guys needed everything on site immediately and for the most part we had an easy time with the delivery process, but some things we just didn’t allow for. The work surface for example. I was going to use a quartz (plan a) but the cost was way more than I expected (and I spec this for clients frequently) so we looked at Corian (plan b) and the colours weren’t what I wanted, so I looked at an acrylic surface (plan c) and found that as supply only it was more than the quartz when we factored in the labour costs. So I ended up settling – very halfheartedly – for a laminate. I have never specced laminate in my entire career as an interior designer. Who knew what a steep learning curve that would be! The width we needed wasn’t standard and it had to be ordered in. It took two weeks, which meant that the kitchen was the last room to be done; we had no running water for about four weeks, just a bucket under a stopcock. Joyous!

But it’s all over now and the place is being marketed for tenants. I’m also going to list it on Airbnb – let me know if you’d like to stay sometime!

Advice to Property Sellers

Finally, finally after thirteen months, I’m a property owner again. For those of you who don’t know, the one I now own was property number four and it seems appropriate for me to offer some insight into why this has been such a difficult process. Considering the property press is quick to say it’s a buyers market, why exactly did I have such a hard time getting back on the property ladder?

Purely from my perspective, I think it’s to do with the fact that the media seems to focus on the buyer. It’s the buyer who has to have finance in place, the buyer who has to arrange for a survey – and any other reports that need to be done – the buyer who pays the stamp duty and who has the bargaining power of pulling out of the transaction if they’re unhappy. It’s the buyer, therefore who causes the problems. Or is it?

My finance was in place; I sold my house last June. I have a great surveyor in London who can turn his report around in five days, I have a great building contractor who comes to viewings with me to keep me focused and not let my heart pull the strings. I trust the advice of my solicitor and know that she acts in my best interests and then it all falls apart again. So where is the weak link?

Property Number One had two commercial units attached to the title and the vendors renegotiated the leases with the tenants during the time that the property was marketed for sale without consulting their solicitors.

Property Number Two had an incomplete lease lodged at the Land Registry (even though it was share of freehold) and the vendor wouldn’t take the responsibility to rectify it.

Property Number Three had a short lease which needed extending (and I agreed to do this as part of the purchase) but wouldn’t allow me to contact the freeholders or negotiate with them on my behalf unless I paid them a ‘consideration.’

Property Number Four was bought in shared ownership so the title was only 75% in their name and I was told when my offer was accepted that they were in the process of buying the final 25% so that I would own full title. The owners took five months to sort this out!

In every case the vendor wasn’t ready. Their paperwork hadn’t been run past a solicitor to check if there were any outstanding issues. They hadn’t considered the time that this would take nor even if this would hold up the sale. And this is all before the opposite side (the buyer) gets involved. Remember, this has to be done whoever you sell to, it can’t be bypassed – because solicitors are trained to look for irregularities. They’re risk averse, if they’re unhappy with something, they will tell you they think it’s unwise to proceed. The old caveat emptor (buyer beware) still holds true, so if you move forward against their advice, on your head be it. It pays to read everything in the solicitors report carefully because this tells you who the energy supplier is, who the local authority is, who the alarm is maintained by, who the tv service is supplied by, who your landlord is – if the property is leasehold. All the nuts and bolts in one big file; it’s the paper version of the property you are buying and it’s all information supplied by the seller.

As a seller the person you have most contact with in the early phase is the estate agent contracted to market your property. And of course you pay them a commission for this, so they are keen to demonstrate their skill. There’s often a lot of contact to keep you updated about viewings feedback, to keep your spirits up if progress is slow and to adjust expectations if the offers are not quite at the level you hoped for. But – and it’s a big but, their advice doesn’t form any part of the legal contract between you and the buyer. This is the role of the solicitors. The estate agent brokers the deal to act as the negotiator between seller and buyer and once an offer’s been accepted, they’re there to keep the lines of communication open. That’s it.

As a seller if you’ve told the estate agents anything about the property that you’re uncertain about; this is interesting to them but it isn’t directed at the right person because they can’t instruct any further action. The person you should be discussing this with is your solicitor. And as a general rule of thumb if anything was an issue when you purchased the property – and wasn’t resolved by your solicitor as part of the purchase – it will still be an issue when you sell. It won’t have sorted itself out while you get on with the business of living there – IT WILL STILL BE AN ISSUE WHEN YOU SELL.

Very often I’ve heard friends agonise over the buyers of their property and how they’re mucking them around; making so many demands and asking for all kinds of things to be included in the sale. There’s certainly room for good manners in this process, but for the most part when the finance is in place and the reports have all been read, there’s nothing much for a buyer to do but wait. If they wait too long, they get frustrated (and that’s when all the demands creep in; they feel they’re owed some special treatment for being patient.) Sellers have to ask themselves if they could have done anything to reduce this.

The estate agents have a part to play in this too. As I discovered when I collected the keys to my new flat, they hadn’t realised the owners had never sold a property before, so they really didn’t have any idea what was expected of them. This is the big divide – if you don’t know the paperwork needs to be ready for the solicitor before they can start the conveyancing – who is responsible?

In most cases to sell a property we have first to buy; it pays to remember the agony of trying to secure the property in the first place. In other words, remember what it feels like to be the buyer. Would you have liked the person you bought from to be more amenable? Perhaps the question sellers should be asking themselves is, ‘how can I help my buyer with this purchase?’ If you really want to sell – no, if you are committed to selling – you’ll need to do just that.

Simple Structures

There’s something so charming about miniatures and scaled down versions of everyday domestic products. I can’t say why I’m drawn to them but even something as simple as a miniature bottle will have me cooing, so I’ve got a bit of a confession, I have a thing for cottages.

While I recognise that I would quickly run out of space in a traditional farmhouse cottage, I just love that simple pentagon shape that kids draw when they’re asked what their house looks like. Of course, most houses don’t look remotely like that especially in the UK where much of the built environment is terraced and long rows of residential properties share walls with their neighbours. Nonetheless, we all know what that square with the triangle on top means – home – shelter and privacy; a refuge, a haven.

It is this same simple shape that gives agricultural buildings their reference point, pared back and stripped of any detail they make quite a statement of their silhouette. Picture the skyline with a stark building rising above it, projected against the setting sun. See what I mean? These simple shapes are powerful.

While on holiday recently in New Zealand I was really smitten with a number of homes that have taken their design references from their agricultural neighbours. The scale was modest and the rooflines key to the overall impact, but what these buildings achieved was the relationship between the surrounding countryside and the simple proportions of a cottage. I was charmed. And I took lots of pictures.

Set within an orcharding area in Hawkes Bay, this is a permanent residence and the building has more solidity with its pebble dashed walls than the other images. What they all have in common though is the honestly of the architecture; uncluttered shapes, simply expressed.

This is the only two storey example, but what I like so much about this one is the relationship between the roof lines and the way the materials chosen create areas of contrast.

These are both waterfront properties on the edge of Lake Taupo (and available for rent through I’ve walked past these properties so many times and have either not had a camera with me or been pushed for time, so it’s actually the first time I’ve ever seen the second place with its front gate open. To have so much privacy on what is often a very busy walk way – and then to reveal the view when they open it – the best of both worlds.

The modernity of these two is what appeals; the colour and the choice of materials is a very conscious expression of the architecture, considering steel and concrete are more often in the supporting role; (literally) here they take on a feature element.

Again a waterfront property in Lake Taupo, this cottage is built up to a retaining wall. From the other side, you have no idea that a building is tucked in below.

Where the view is undeniably the key ingredient, what I see with these homes is a connection between the past and the type of buildings that were used on a lakefront – boat sheds – the sister of agricultural buildings. They sit happily on the shoreline and ‘mind their own business.’ They don’t try and compete or relate to the landscape, what they do is offer the view as the focal point – they are there because of the location. Even more, they serve the age old purpose of providing shelter in a way that connects the past activities of buildings along the shoreline with moderns needs. Timeless.

Another One Bites the Dust

This property – the third – was supposed to be the lucky one. It was supposed to be mine! And to be honest I really did want this one, but I didn’t get it. Why? It’s another long story.

When I first lived in London over twenty-five years ago I lived in a shared flat on the Fulham Road. There were 10 of us; it wasn’t exactly private. Or quiet. We shared everything and it was CHEAP, which made living in London affordable on a very low salary. It was also a fantastic flat in a fantastic location; you could hear the Household Cavalry trotting off from the stables to exercise in Hyde Park a couple of times a week.

I lasted there three months and then moved to leafy Putney… And it always stuck in my mind that if I had the chance to buy a property on the Fulham Road, I would go for it.

So after the warehouse disaster, I started looking in the areas I knew and this little, tired, gem of a flat on the Fulham Road just called my name. It hadn’t had anything done to it since the 90’s, it was just waiting to be taken in hand (by me) and given a new lease of life. So what was the catch? HA – you figured that out already, did you?

first floor flat

It needed its lease extended.

And that was going to cost. The agent mentioned this at the first viewing, so I did know I was going to have to pay for this and the agreed purchase price certainly accommodated the lease premium. I was happy to take that on, but things unraveled really quickly.

Within the first week of my offer being accepted I discovered that the sellers hadn’t had a leasehold survey done. What is this? Well, its jolly expensive is the first thing I should say. It’s a report done by a surveyor to set the value of the lease premium in relation to the value of the property and others of the same ‘type’ in the same area. Essentially the premium compensates the freeholder/landlord for loss of earnings (ground rent) but does not factor in things like the general condition of the building and certainly not the decorative order of the property. What we found was that the premium we’d been told was likely to be asked was a fabrication – though not a million miles from what was an accurate value – just more than I wanted to pay for a building that needs a fair bit of TLC – because the moment I became a leaseholder, I too would have a share of those costs.

With the advice of the surveyor and my solicitor I asked the sellers if they would consider extending the lease in their name – if I increased my purchase offer to cover the premium – so that it would be transferred to me as part of the sale. That way the whole process would be ‘friendly’, they already knew the freeholders and it would be a simple conversation between them to get an agreed price for the extension. Or so I thought. They would only agree to doing this if I paid them a consideration – which they would split with me if the premium was less than what was agreed between us. Hmm. And then I got a really weird call from the agent to tell me that they could get more for the flat with the lease extended, if they remarketed it. Hang on, I was buying it, it wasn’t being remarketed. Was it?

From that moment things got nasty. The sellers refused to talk to the freeholder on my behalf, they would only allow us to start the lease extension after exchange of contracts – so at the point I owned the property and deposits had changed hands – and they kept pushing for me to agree to their terms. I got twice weekly phone calls from the agent, to see ‘how I was getting on.’ One of them left me shaking. So after three weeks of this I couldn’t take it anymore and withdrew my offer.

That was nearly three weeks ago and more pieces of the puzzle have revealed themselves, but the bottom line is that the sellers wanted more money for the flat than the market was prepared to pay. The place had been for sale since March of 2016 and they hadn’t accepted any offers before mine. Somehow in the process of accepting my offer they decided they would recoup some extra funds from somewhere. But how to do it?? Aha. Inflate the lease premium. Thing is they hadn’t done their homework.

the palette for the updated interior

If they had initiated the leasehold survey and agreed the price with the freeholder in advance, they could have added their little bit extra and no-one would have known. I’d never have questioned it because it would have looked like they were organised sellers, paperwork in order and all ready to go. But because the agent kept making ‘out of nowhere’ comments, I knew something was up. Every time he tried to coerce me into accepting the sellers terms he would mention that they could get more if they remarketed it.

In the end they got what they wanted, but the market is pretty uncertain right now; maybe it’ll be another year before they actually have it off their hands. And have I found another place to buy?


Planning a Space

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to have your interior space work for you. Not only does it have to house all your belongings, it has to accommodate you, your family and visitors too and if you live in a period property the way it functions now will be very different to how it functioned when it was built.

A house I’m working on at the moment had a raft of alterations done to it about 16 years ago that modernised the property. The clients signed off on the plans and liked the work, but considering my brief, I’m not sure they were ever particularly happy with the function of the space afterwards. So it’s been an interesting task because what those improvements did has actually created problems that in rectifying, I’ve had to decide not to do anything with. I know, that sounds mad, but where steels have been put in, I’m leaving them; where windows have been fitted, I’m leaving them; where ceiling heights have been reduced, I’m leaving them and where soil stacks have been installed, I’m leaving them too.

Yes, I am actually planning on doing things to the house – in fact we’ve finished the first two phases and the final, most invasive scheme was kicked off at the end of January. The clients gave me the go-ahead to radically update the downstairs by putting back in a wall – a glazed wall – early in December. But more on that another time, the space just finished is a master bedroom suite and so far, it seems to be a success.

miranda bedroom

We started out with two adjacent rooms – the bedroom which was the full width of the house and overlooked the street and the ensuite which had been created by borrowing from and reconfiguring the bedroom behind it. The ensuite was also able to be accessed from the bedroom behind and I think when the family first moved in would have been a practical nursery for their new born son. But times have changed, the rear room is now a study and both parents have said how they wanted to have their room back – privacy was definitely a motivating factor in this redesign.

existing layout

At first I approached the layout in a very conventional way, left the ensuite where it was and just closed in the door to the rear bedroom/study, but the issues surrounding this were largely of storage and whichever way I looked at it, I couldn’t get enough wardrobe space by leaving it in the bedroom. It just didn’t feel very exciting, the bedroom would still be long and dominated by a wall of wardrobes. Yes, I do put together schemes that are simple and don’t involve a lot of building work – but they usually happen when the space is good to start with – and when the client wants a lot from a space, sometimes there is no choice but to spin it on its head.


That’s when I started to think about this annoying soil stack that had been installed from the upper floor and came down on the party wall through the master bedroom and the front entrance way! It wasn’t at all noticeable but it couldn’t be moved, so why not use it?? Why not spin the layout round and put the ensuite at the far end of the bedroom? That’d mean the old ensuite would become the dressing room and we could double the amount of wardrobe space, the mess would be out of the bedroom and the whole space would have a more intimate and enclosed feel to it.

new layout

I re-drew the space to see if it worked and it really did!

Usually there’s a point where all the thinking and the drawing comes to a natural conclusion – and I know I’ve got it right because I get all excited about it – I can see it in my mind. In this case, I wouldn’t have suggested putting in a new soil stack but because it was already there, I was able to take advantage of the location it was in – and in making that decision the whole scheme fit together like puzzle pieces.

creating the ensuite

creating the ensuite

creating the dressing room

creating the dressing room

Yes, it has created a smaller bedroom, but it is one that is focused solely on sleep and relaxation. It has a serenity to it; a sense of calmness. There used to be two entrances to the bedroom before, now there is only one. It’s become a destination instead of a corridor and each piece of furniture in there enhances that feeling of peace. The ensuite has that same sense of tranquility too – and this really is a small space. These are all issues to consider when you’re planning a bedroom suite. How much time do you really spend in your bedroom as an adult? In your own home, not that much! So the important function is to promote rest and allow you to start the new day refreshed. It’s worth considering the surrounding rooms if you want to get the space right, but most importantly, take advantage of what you already have. Don’t make something that can’t be moved a negative, instead make the things you can’t change a ‘feature’ or at the very least the pivot for changing the way you think about the room.

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard


miranda's bedroom

Resolutions – or Projections?

You will have noticed I haven’t been posting recently, I got caught up in the chaos of house buying again – and had another property slip through my fingers. When things go wrong the process of buying property in England – Scotland has a different system – really induces anxiety. As a buyer you get to ask questions and so long as your finance is secure you pretty much get left alone, which can be very difficult if you need advice. Your solicitors are only there to offer legal advice. For anything else they’ll say ‘It’s up to you, I can’t advise you on that.’ And there are some aspects of the property process which are not legal but are important, like knowing how a block of flats pay for maintenance work.

Gatti's Wharf

The most recent disaster was a one bedroom flat in a warehouse development near Kings Cross. It was very cool, all exposed brick and bed platforms, but tired and needing a bit of love. It was in a gated courtyard and was on the first floor balcony. It backed onto Regent’s Canal and each property had a key to the canal, just like the private garden enclaves of Knightsbridge or Notting Hill. I really liked its simplicity and how I would be able to use the raw materials to create something unique. I loved how quiet it was and especially how close to such excellent transport links it was – Kings Cross-St Pancras was about half a mile away through a pedestrianised piazza – great for Eurostar, the South coast, the North and central London.


But right from the start the owner wanted as much as he could get out of me. There was another buyer interested and that pushed the price up. I should have walked then because as the conveyancing progressed it became apparent that the documents held at the Land Registry were irregular and that to have ‘clean title’ they would need to be rectified – and the owner was adamant he wasn’t paying for it.

The tussle went on for a number of weeks with the other sides solicitors saying ‘you can do that when you own it.’ But really, why was it my problem? And as my solicitors pointed out, he had owned the place since the development was created in the early 90’s, his legal standing (to prove that the documents were the only copies) was greater than mine would be as the new owner. It all became very heated and then the issue of how maintenance work was paid for raised its head. The development freeholders had had a report done to help them define what maintenance should be done first and then over a 10 year timescale – naturally there were costs attached and I wanted to know how they were intending on paying for them over and above the service charge. Not an unreasonable question but no-one had the answer because it hadn’t been voted on by the owners.

exposed brick

So they agreed to share the minutes of the AGM with me. When they came through I got a bit more than I had expected because not only were the service charge costs going up they had also voted that there would be no AirBnB in the development. And right there, the property was suddenly not fit for my needs. Because I had planned on setting the place up as an AirBnB. That way we could also use the flat ourselves, family and friends from abroad, overnight guests who just needed a single night in town and even me, if I fancied a change of scene. It’d be like a city break without having to go away!

regents canal

Anyway, it wasn’t to be. As the new girl I wouldn’t have been able to get them to change their minds (the owners association) and I couldn’t take the risk of ignoring it because what kind of protection would that have been for my investment?

bed platform

So here I am – again – just having put an offer in on another property and what will I do differently this time? Well, that’s the burning question! As I sold my house last year and the funds are just waiting to be put toward a property, I’m ready. As a buyer all I need to do is appoint a solicitor, order a building survey, read some documents and transfer the funds to my solicitors. I think this time that is all I will do. No chasing and getting upset because people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

The thing I have learned though is that in selling a property you should expect to be challenged – if the building has a long and quirky history and a commercial aspect as well or if it is part of a development that was converted from warehouses – any buyer will want to unravel the paper trail to understand how and why things have been done. It isn’t enough for you as a seller to say ‘ that’s just the way it is,’ no-one would give you the legal advice to trust an answer so vague and unfocused. So, when you want to sell a property think about how you would feel if you encountered a mess on the property if you were the buyer. They will feel nervous and need reassuring. If you want to sell, you need to be able to reassure your buyer. And the way you do that is by making sure your paperwork is in order.

Creepy Crawlies

Happy All Hallows Day! I was ready to post yesterday and the trick and treating started earlier than I thought!

halloween decs

With the day falling on a Monday this year, it seems that the weekend has been full of ghosts and ghouls – I certainly spotted plenty of great costumes and makeup in town on Saturday night. Last year we had a party and managed to make Halloween last for a number of days, this year I’m content to just open the door to trick or treaters. Our pumpkins are carved and the decorations have just been flung about, the sweets have been purchased and the bowl is waiting to be filled. All set!


We even have some truly marvellous cobwebs hanging in the hall – and not the manmade kind. In this house the ceilings are so high that removing them involves a ladder and long handled duster. Does that even seem like something I want to do on a regular basis?? No it does not. But of course after the decorations come down, I’ll have the excuse of ‘clearing up after Halloween…’ So why are there so many spiders in the house at this time the year, anyway?

Apparently it’s spider breeding season.

I did not know this, but it certainly explains why there is always a sudden increase of spydies (so called in my house) at this time of the year. It seems that the influx of late summer flies (and we had a few of those this year) entice the spiders to come indoors – nice rich food supply just waiting for their attention. And that of course is the perfect situation for breeding. Hmm, I’m starting to feel that my inattention to house work might even be contributing to this situation – they must love it here! And yes, one of the ways that the spider population can be controlled is by removing dead insects quickly. Oh dear, that’s me at the bottom of the class then.


I’m consoling myself with the fact that I don’t hate spiders, so cleaning up their food source isn’t such an obsession as cleaning up crumbs and foods that might attract mice – which I really do hate! In fact, aren’t spiders supposed to be good for the house?? Isn’t a house with spiders in residence supposed to be a healthy house? I’m sure that spiders are considered to be good luck too and so it seems – in European folklore seeing a spider in the afternoon is a good omen and you are supposed to receive a gift soon. The superstitions seem even more fitting at this time of year because the ancient Greeks and Norsemen believed that spiders connected the past with the future and at Halloween the division between the physical and spirit planes feels very slight. Does this make us more susceptible to superstition? It’s possible, especially when you come across an old English nursery rhyme that states, “If you want to live and thrive, let a spider run alive.” Hey, I even fish them out of the bathtub!

luminous spider

The interesting thing is that at Halloween we use siders webs to create a barrier; they’re the embodiment of our ideas of the spooky, undisturbed house. Something that is more the realm of the spirit than the living, which is a very literal interpretation of what a web does – traps its prey and immobilises it. Folklore is kinder, focusing on luck and fortune and the transition from one plane to another.


There is also a group of spiders (Linyphiidae) called money spiders. They are tiny in size and it is said if one climbs over you, it is spinning you a new set of clothes that will introduce you to a more wealthy lifestyle! I remember my grandmother talking about money spiders when I was small, but I guess their magic takes quite some time to work – I’m still waiting for this new wealthier lifestyle.


The Search Continues

I did what you all said you would do. I walked away. There was no point where the sellers and I seemed to be able to agree – they really didn’t understand that they would no longer be the landlords of the shops and as such that their concerns were not the priority. And I had to concede that I just didn’t have the experience to take on a property with complicated commercial leases. Anyway, all gone now. The place is back on the market, wonder what will happen next time round? I guess that’s not my problem! Time to start looking again…

lordship lane

When you walk around your neighbourhood, what do you see? Do you notice front gardens; front doors; gates; trees? Colours? A friend of mine really loves street art. She regularly posts pictures on Pinterest or Facebook and as she’s a secondary school art teacher, I’m guessing this search becomes resource material for her students. Street Art is a controversial thing. There are still people who prefer a wall to be a wall and because its a wall, it should be well, blank. But here’s the thing, you adorn your walls inside your home, don’t you? And when you see a blank page, its almost irresistible to not make a mark on it. Same with blank walls – and they’re cheaper than buying canvas or artist’s paper. People have been doing it for quite some time…

sign writing

Yes, I agree, there’s nothing that pretty about squiggles of black spray paint but when someone has taken the time to plan a mural and has executed it with style – well the sheer scale takes it from being a picture to something monumental. At the very least it becomes a landmark – and we all still use them regardless of how often the mapping on our phones comes out. I’d rather navigate by art than by supermarkets or service stations!


My new area has a lot of good art. Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that there’s an Art Gallery in the neighbouring village, or it could simply be that this area has a bit of a vibe anyway – it’s the louder, younger sibling to the genteel village; smaller, punchier, livelier. Lots of pubs and cafes serving good food and three big (in size and in league table standing) independent schools all judging each other by the cut of their uniform.

north cross road

Maybe people are too busy to notice the walls they walk by, but I defy you not to smile when you look at HRH ‘walking’ the corgis. Regardless of whether you like it or not, it inspires a response. And that is what artists over the centuries have been wanting to achieve with their work. A Street Artist is no less interested in the viewer just because the work is outside. And it’s quite likely that their work will have a much shorter lifespan than something in a frame and hung indoors, so their choice of subject matter is a point of curiosity, but funnily enough the rest of the local street art doesn’t appear to be topical, there is no theme; it crosses generations in content and execution. There is a mix of colour and monochrome. Some are on shops, others on hoardings. Their only commonality is their location – and my sense of joy at having spotted them.

frogley road

goodrich road

And that I think is important, in spotting something unexpected the viewer experiences a shift in focus; a distraction, is diverted. You may simply be going about your business and bam a whacking great piece of art is right in front of you. Yes, you could be too immersed in your phone to notice but if you weren’t, that surprise discovery would take you out of yourself for a moment. It would give you pause and direct your focus away from whatever was preoccupying you. You would be in the moment, connected to something unexpected in exactly the same place as you. And that focus outside of your problems and concerns – for just a moment – is like drawing air deep into your lungs, reviving and realigning your body and soul.

Mrs Robinson

For the artist this work has probably taken thought, planning, preparation maybe even research. But for the viewer, it is just there same as you. I saw something on Facebook recently about meditation techniques, in our busy world even slowing our breathing for 20 seconds reduces stress levels, so taking the time to notice the little things and to put aside our concerns for the smallest amount of time can have a positive impact. If just looking around and noticing your environment changes your focus for a moment, then the artists are achieving something great in modern day reality – and that would give street art as much relevance as the works of the Great Masters.

the lordship

How Not to Buy a House

Earlier in the year, I sold my house. As you may remember I marketed it through an online estate agents and was pleased with the results. That was back in June. I decided not to buy in London immediately because I wanted to invest some money into small scale property development and didn’t want to tie up all my capital. I did however fall for a property in Rye, East Sussex which had two shops attached to it and would be a wonderful place for holidays and to rent out as a holiday let. So the property would pay for itself and I would get the added bonus of being able to enjoy it myself.

High St Rye

I put my offer in and it was accepted. That was in April. I booked my surveyor and almost from the very moment I started to follow the normal process of buying a property in the UK, I encountered issues. The survey had to be done by someone who also specialised in commercial property, because of the shops. Surveyors are cautious people – they give you every possible worst case scenario and you as the prospective owner have to decide which bits scare you and which bits don’t. He expressed concern about several areas – the shop windows, damp in the cellar and about the building being on a hillside. So, I booked a structural engineer to report on the hillside behind the property (the garden was on terraces below the building). He was happy that there was no evident subsidence or land slip but expressed concern about the open cellar (mentioned by the surveyor) to the building called the Undercroft and suggested it might be caused by the drains. So, I booked a drain survey. He expressed concern about a blockage to one of the drains. I asked the owners if they would get the drains jetted. NO.

undercroft arch

cracking to undercroft

Before I go any further I should say that the house is a listed building. It was built in 1580 and remodelled in the mid nineteenth century, so the street frontage is Victorian. That didn’t worry me particularly but the idea that the drains were possibly affecting the cellar that supported the building did. Especially since the current owners had done extensive refurbishment in 2010-12. So this was a sticky issue for a bit. But then early in July, my solicitor threw in the curve ball – the leases on the shops were irregular, old fashioned and the tenants had a protected tenure under the 1954 property act. To make matters worse they were new leases, one was only signed a week after my offer was accepted.

stairs to loft

All of a sudden my legal team grew and I was called in for a meeting to explain exactly what the pitfalls of these leases could be. Lawyers are risk averse, they want you to make an informed decision because let’s face it, buying a property is a big investment. So, the partner specialising in litigation explained that the 1954 property act was written to help tenants who were setting up businesses (after the war) to be able to establish themselves in a community and to be able to rely on the premises becoming part of their identity in that community. It was a way of offering stability at a time when life was fragile and so the 1954 act protected tenants by offering them an automatic right of renewal of their lease when the term ended. In 1954 that was good for business. In 2016 it isn’t. I was potentially buying a property with two tenants who had an automatic right of renewal to their leases at the end of every term of that lease. And as there was no rent review in the leases either, at the same rent. In theory that would be fine if everyone were happy, because no-one wants an empty rental unit, right? But the minute there was a problem (like rents not being at market value) these leases would be a noose around my neck because I would have to compensate the tenants – or take legal advice to rewrite the leases so that they were no longer protected tenants. Either way I would have to pay.

front bedroom

According to the estate agents – who had written one of these leases – there was no intention for the tenants to have protected tenure and they suggested that the owners might be amenable to re-issuing the leases. So I asked the owners if they would terminate the current ones that my lawyers were so concerned about and arrange with their tenants to enter into unprotected leases. Initially they said NO. And that I thought was that. But then they came back and said ‘alright.’ And this is where it got really tricky. One of the points of my survey was the repair of the shop windows, he felt they needed immediate attention, but under the terms of the leases, the decorative repair of the windows was the responsibility of the tenants – and it hadn’t been done. How was I, as new owner, to get my brand new tenants to undertake repairs to the windows (because my surveyor suggested it should be done before the winter) when they likely had made no provision for the expense?

shop 1

The problem with taking over leases that you weren’t party to is that they are likely not to suit your idea of how you want things done. I could make no changes after these leases were re-issued until the term ended in two or three years. And that to me seemed like a long time to have to wait to get things done – or to interact as landlord with my tenants. So I asked if we could add a clause to the leases (that were in the process of being rewritten) that would work as a service charge – payments that the tenants already made coming to me for me to administer as owner of the property. That way I could keep the maintenance of the building on track; wouldn’t that be of benefit to the tenants as well? This idea went down very badly. Not only was it a NO, it was a ‘we don’t do things this way in Rye’ NO.

view to the rear

I took advice – from my lawyers who really were only able to say ‘the owners aren’t obliged to do this. When you buy a house you buy it as you find it, the leases are the same.’ I spoke to a dear friend who is a property law lecturer – who said ‘do the tenants have their own independent legal advisors? Even though they’ve agreed to give up the current leases (with protected tenure) and go to unprotected leases, without the rubber stamp of a lawyer, they can come back at any time and say “we were misinformed” and you would have to compensate them for that because you would be the owner.’ And then I spoke to my Dad (who worked in property for 50 years) who said ‘you’re doing too much running around. You’re the buyer, they should be trying to convince you it’s a good buy. Personally if they won’t include the maintenance clause, walk away.’

So, what would you do?