The computer-generated “after” pictures, by contrast, have about as much
character as a Barratt show home. Everything is black, white or grey. There
are grey deep-pile carpets, grey shot-silk walls, bathrooms of swirling
black marble, chrome and glass. It is a Middle Eastern despot’s idea of
subdued good taste.
This kind of arid luxury – in which houses are systematically stripped of all
personality – has become ubiquitous in well-heeled London. I recently went
to a party given by a hugely rich English businessman, with an ego to match.
Yet his house could have belonged to anyone with money to burn. A vast white
cavern, with expensively uncomfortable sofas and an empty, hi-tech kitchen,
it conveyed absolutely nothing about him other than the state of his bank
I sometimes wonder if it’s an elaborate joke on the part of interior
designers: charge a fortune and eradicate every trace of your puffed-up
client from his own home. Where are the family photos? The children’s
drawings stuck to the fridge? Where are Granny’s curtains; the piles of
welly boots; the pots and pans, herbs and spices? Do these people not have
mysterious bowls full of coins, gloves and dried-out highlighter pens? Do
they not have lives at all?
The most magical houses – the ones you want to go back to again and again –
are not designed: they are laid down in layers, like a palimpsest. They bear
witness to the people who have lived in them, whether it’s through a
terrible piece of DIY plumbing or a beautiful piece of dilapidated
wallpaper. They are pieces of history, upon which each generation makes its
The squatters who lived in the Mayfair house obviously understood this: they
appear to have looked after it remarkably well. But of course, they didn’t
have the money to vandalise it.