London ball

Inside the renovation of a 19th century London house: the revelation

Contributor Jo Rodgers details the final phase of the complex renovation of her Georgian home. Read the third part, here.

Our builder Howard is an early bird so he let us know first that the job was almost done. My husband and I read his note in unison on separate phones, standing in the kitchen of our rental home in the East Sussex countryside, two hours south of London. We could book a moving truck in a few weeks.

I don’t know how I expected to feel. Relieved, probably. We had spent two years filling out the papers to renovate the apartment, which is spread over three floors of a listed Georgian townhouse in Islington, one year waiting for delays and another year renovating. Before construction began, a school bus full of people was involved: there were architectural engineers knocking on walls, judging what would or would not bring down the house; a heritage consultant who took the train from his beautiful home in Bath; a few land surveyors; lawyers to establish a contract with the neighbors; three town planning officers from the district; and architects to trace each wall bracket and electrical outlet. One realization for me was the amount of our budget spent even before the demolition started. But hardly anyone had been there as long as Howard, who was one of the first to enter and would be the last to exit. Anyway: rather than relieved, we were nervous.

One of the knock-on effects of renovating during a pandemic is that for health and logistical reasons we only visited the property in person a handful of times. Instead, we relied on photographs, and not a lot of them. It was a cold comfort. Was the sink with brass legs installed too close to the tub? Were the beehive doorknobs on the correct doors? Who knew? As we approached the house a few weeks ago, in front of a pear tree falling with unripe fruit, it was as if we were meeting for the first time at the altar.

Outside, a copper lantern, made by the Urban electricity company in South Carolina and rewired for the UK — was fitted next to a door painted in Railings, a blue-black manufactured by Farrow & Ball. I had thought about these two choices so long ago that I had forgotten them. Seeing them there was like reading an old diary entry. Behind the door, under a clear bell-shaped light fixture we bought at Pooky, a carpenter had built tall receptacles for rain boots and a ledge for letters and catalogs. As we entered, silence fell like a curtain, and as we climbed the sisal-covered stairs, a dappled light filtered in from three sides.

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