In September last year my daughter had an offer accepted on a  small flat in Hampstead, London.  Securing a property, no matter how small, in London, is no mean feat and although her offer was accepted in September, it was early January before the solicitors ‘exchanged’ and late January before the deal was ‘completed.’  The hiatus between having an offer accepted and completion can be a nail-biting time as any number of things can go wrong, not the least being a change of heart of either party.


So receiving the news that the deal was sealed, so to speak, was a cause for celebration.  South Africans have to make huge mental adjustments when buying property in London and it is impossible to draw direct comparisons between the space money can buy on the tip of Africa and what it can get for you in this humming, heaving metropolis.

It seems that my interest in space and decor has been passed on to my children. Juliet looked at lots of flats last year and each one was more depressing that the one before.  Her search was not confined to Hampstead.  She looked high and low finding each flat more depressing than the one before.

So it wasn’t without some fundamental requirements that she subsequently came to see a Mansion Block flat close to Hampstead High Street.  It just so happened that not only was I visiting at the time, but my sister from Sussex had also come up to London for the day so we were able to bring our combined experience to bear on the three flats we saw in Hampstead that day.  One subterranean lair still gives me the jitters just thinking about it.


View of Hampstead High Street

The owner of this particular flat was at home when we visited and the flat was dingy and cluttered.  But it was oblong; shoebox-shaped with no funny angles or staircases to nowhere. (And yes, we’d seen a few of those.) Best of all, it had beautiful, tall, sash windows and although ground floor, faced onto banks of hydrangeas.



At some stage, someone had fitted built-in cupboards down the longer side of the bedroom, meaning that a queen-sized bed could only fit with its headboard against the windows.  This gave the room a ‘stretched’, elongated look.   Then it turned out that the cupboards were so shallow it was impossible to hang coat hangers any way but one behind the other and adult-sized shoes had to lie longways…  Juliet’s first thought was to get those cupboards moved.  And her second was to get the entire flat painted from top to bottom and the floors redone.


The bed, off centre, against the windows. One wall covered in dark, textured wall paper.

The keys were finally handed over and Martin, the  Polish builder, started work on February 1st.


Keys at last

Martin calls himself a ‘Handyman’ but has proved himself to be so much more than that.  We think he has an engineering background and we know that he remains stoically undaunted no matter what household building obstacle is put in front of him.  In fact, I’ve seriously considered flying him out to Johannesburg to finish of our snag list here, once and for all.


Built in wardrobes along ‘wrong’ side of bedroom. Note the smaller, mirrored door next to the window.


Martin moved the mirrored cupboard door and installed it on the entrance hall cupboard.


Here it is all spruced up and with a new Mother of Pearl handle from Portobello Road.

This time, he brought along two Polish helpers and the three of them together, in just two weeks, wrought miracles.  They expected to finish on the 17th of February and were apologetic about running overtime to the 18th, when they had to work side by side with two cleaners, miracle-workers in their own right.  By the end of last Thursday afternoon, when the builders handed back their set of keys and the cleaners left, the flat looked brand new and as though there had never been any previous residents.

The two biggest changes, other than installing new bedroom cupboards, were to repaint the entire flat and to refloor it.  The bedroom was carpeted, the small entrance hall and living room had very old, dark wooden floors that could not withstand further sanding and the kitchen floor, also wooden and equally aged, was a hazardous step up from the living room.

IMG_3182 Juliet found several floor samples she liked and after poring over  photos and one visit with her to the supplier, she settled on one she liked which is quite similar to what we have had installed in Johannesburg.


Cupboards removed, beautiful new floors laid.


New mirrored cupboards from Ikea.

The flat doesn’t get much direct sunlight although the windows ensure that it is not dark.  Mirrors are also very effective in ‘bouncing’ light around.



The bedroom on the first night.

The bathroom, other than needing a shower screen, new cabinets and a very good scrub, was salvageable.  While the entrance, living room and bedroom have all been painted in Farrow and Ball Wimborne White, the bathroom and kitchen have been redone in plain white.

When you’ve looked at enough flats in London, a bathroom with an actual window is a big win…


Bathroom as it was.




And after…


Bathroom now.



Below is the kitchen on the day we saw the flat:


The kitchen as it was.  Note door on the right – entry from the living room.


Long drawer installed under the countertop and a shelf below.

With the exception of the oven which was not salvageable,  the kitchen is remaining essentially the same for now.  The door from the living room into the kitchen has been removed to create more space in what was a very inaccessible area behind it.


Old oven and light fitting.


New oven and induction hob installed.

The kitchen came with a washing/drying machine on the left and on the right of the oven, behind the panelled door, is a 6 place-setting dishwasher.

The workmen and the cleaners finished off at about 4pm on Thursday the 18th and the movers were booked to bring the furniture out of storage on Friday the 19th.  In Africa I’m not used to working to such a tight schedule.  I tend to always have a few days grace in-between times to allow for the inevitable delays and no-shows.  So it was not without a degree of trepidation that we awaited the arrival of the moving men on Friday 19th but they arrived absolutely on cue.


Van in the slip road outside the Mansion Block  There was much discussion as to where to park it so as to cause the least inconvenience, but eventually the driver manoeuvred it right outside the front door closest to the flat.

A very busy day followed.  We unpacked as much as we could as fast as we could, so as to send away as many empty cartons as possible when the truck left. By the end of the day the flat looked very habitable.

The following day we set off in search of bedside lights and ended up in Heals on Tottenham Court Road.  I love having a good excuse to visit decor shops in other countries and Heals was a very rewarding place to spend a morning.


I just loved these balloon ceiling lights and wished I had an excuse to buy them.


Also loved these……..


And these ‘balancing’ table lamps…..

Heals offered all sorts of distractions:

I loved the vividly-coloured fabrics and cushion covers they sell which so beautifully off-set the neutral base items that continue to be popular.



Gorgeous Jewel Colours

And this is how the flat looked by the time I left two weeks later:





Seeing this sort of transformation in two weeks was hugely satisfying. In the end it  came down to new floors and new light fittings, a fresh coat of paint throughout, an incredibly good clean and, most importantly, great workmanship from three Polish guys who take enormous pride in their work and for whom nothing seemed to be too much trouble.  They even came back the day after finishing, just to hang pictures.

And now I’m looking forward to having the time to get to know Hampstead much better.  It’s a beautiful part of London.


Hello Hampstead! These crepes are worth the queue.