Subterranean home-makeover blues

I’m aware that this blog is becoming an outlet for my disproportionate reactions towards members of the public who inadvertently provoke my irritation or annoyance. For this, I make no apology: it’s therapeutic, and you don’t have to read it. And so to my latest trivial but heartfelt gripe.

The other day, as I was working on the computer in my front room, an interior designer’s van pulled up in the street outside and two well-groomed ladies (there’s no other word for them) stepped out. One of them paused on the pavement, feet away from my desk but oblivious to my presence, and peered down through my basement window, which looks out on to a small lightwell below street level. With a traumatised expression, she turned to her coiffed companion and exclaimed, ‘Ew, what a ghastly kitchen!’

Once the comment had sunk in, I felt a surge of anger. My instinct was to chase her down the street and ask her to explain herself. I wanted to defend my crummy kitchen, even though she had a point. It’s not the most elegant part of the house. The room itself is spacious but rather damp and dingy. The plastic units are cheap and functional; the lino worn and scuffed; the tiles a muddy shade of brown. And yet the kitchen serves its purpose. There’s a sturdy six-burner gas oven, a stainless-steel sink and a 1950s formica table where the children eat their tea. It’s a room to be lived in, not admired.

Perhaps it was my lack of attention to detail that so offended the woman’s aesthetic sensibilities. From her vantage point on the pavement, she would have had a clear view of the kitchen windowsill, which hosts a random assortment of objects we’ve collected over the years. These include a League of Gentlemen plastic snowstorm, a miniature Pernod bottle and a rubber troll finger-puppet. None of these objects is remotely tasteful. Some once had a sentimental value, long since forgotten. And all of them are there because we can’t be bothered to throw them out or take them to a charity shop.

The interior designer would also have noticed the dirty washing-up piled high in the sink (I operate a ‘no housework’ rule when I’m working from home), and the clean dishes left on the drying rack. It’s always struck me as a colossal waste of time to put crockery away in cupboards when it will only be taken out and used again – a bit like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill, or my mother-in-law closing the toilet lid before flushing.

Very occasionally, I consider getting a builder in to overhaul the kitchen. I picture handbuilt wooden cabinets, a slate floor and directional lighting. I imagine sophisticated people (hired actors, presumably, since none of my friends fits the bill) milling around before a dinner party, nibbling canapés and sipping bellinis. But I balk when I think of the expense and disruption – the dust and upheaval, and all the take-away dinners and microwaved ready-meals that we’d have to endure while the work was in progress. Invariably, I conclude that it isn’t worth it.

This unhealthy obsession with home improvements reaches its nadir in the wealthier parts of London, where the trend is to dig out vast cellars beneath Georgian mansions and build underground games rooms and swimming pools – not because the occupants need more space, but just because they can. I don’t think I would, even if I could. Nor do I want to spend my life watching property makeover programmes, stashing my clobber in carefully concealed ‘storage solutions’ and fretting about my kids getting scuff marks on the paintwork. On balance, I think I’d rather stick with my gloomy but functional basement kitchen.


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