Northwest, north, southeast, east… After 10 years of renting in London, I have definitely experienced all four corners of the capital. I’ve paid as little as £0 in rent (living with my sister when I first moved here) to now in excess of £1,750 for a three-bedroom Victorian terrace in Leytonstone with my husband.
I’m a freelance branded content and documentary producer, and moved to London 10 years ago for my first job in TV in Soho. At the time, I was being paid very little so my sister kindly let me stay with her (and share her bed) for nine months, until I'd definitely outstayed my welcome. Shortly after, I got a job in a production company in Greenwich and decided to make the move south of the river to be close to the office. I was sharing a two-bed with three people, which meant that rent was only £500 per person. It was a beautiful flat with double height ceilings, wooden floors, marble feature fireplace and a kitchen big and modern enough to host a feast. Having been spoiled by that flat (maybe it's my Frenchness but I refuse to live in a house with carpet or curtains), when it came time to move, I spent hours, days and weeks on end scrolling every page of Rightmove for a miracle listing that might match my high expectations.
Since then, I've lived in Angel, Brick Lane, Primrose Hill and West Hampstead but always in a flat, often without much space and never with a garden. Four years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) Cal and I moved in together in a large one-bedroom flat in West Hampstead. It ticked most of the boxes for us: those really high ceilings I love, an open-plan kitchen/ dining room, wood floors and neutral decor. We also loved the area and never wanted to move again, but after two years – and just days after Cal proposed – the reality of renting came crashing down on us; our landlord who'd moved to NYC needed the flat back immediately and so it was time for us to leave. We were both devastated and once again spent our time browsing one- and two-bedroom apartments to rent in West Hampstead or nearby. Day in and day out, we were disappointed as we looked for something similar only to discover that prices in the area had risen beyond our budget. We decided it was time to widen our search net so extended our mile radius on Rightmove.
By this point we'd set a date for the wedding, and agreed that we wanted our first home as a married couple (though it would still be rented) to feel more 'grown up'. I wanted an outdoor space in which to do some gardening (and drink G&Ts in a hammock) and Cal wanted space for his numerous hobbies.
Having begun to look further out, into the mysterious Zone 3 and Zone 4, I realised that we could get a lot more bang for our buck there. I looked in so many areas, from Brockley to Kew, until landing on what looked like the dream house in Leytonstone. I remember being at work when I saw the listing, and immediately called the agent to book in a viewing the next day. It was a three-bedroom terraced house (hello space!) with a garden, hardwood floors, a basement the size of our flat in West Hampstead, and a huge kitchen. It seemed too good to be true! Following the viewing we immediately put in an offer – it had exceeded our expectations and we just knew we would love it. While the decor wasn’t exactly to our taste, we would be renting completely unfurnished so we could see the potential and I started to spend my days inviting a semi-enthusiastic Cal to mood boards on Pinterest and religiously browsing Scandinavian design stores. Our offer was accepted and so began our journey from the northwest to the suburbs of the northeast.
Moving from a smallish one-bedroom to a three-bedroom with a separate kitchen, dining room and open-plan living room was equal parts exciting and stressful. My interior design head was definitely keen to start putting our footprint and style on the place and furnish it how we wanted, but we quickly found that doing this for such a large property means spending quite a lot of money which, while planning a wedding and following a surprise move, can be a bit hard to come by. To me, acquiring new furniture can be one of the most stressful aspects of renting, as you're constantly plagued by questions: Will this dining table fit in our next place? Will there be space for my office desk when we're inevitably forced to move again in a few years' time? Was buying this cross trainer a terrible idea? (Yes. Yes it was.)
Moving into a three-bedroom flat has been liberating for storage space but we also found that you have to have a huge amount of self-discipline not to allow the lesser used spaces to become dumping grounds. We're both guilty of this – me with what Cal calls my "Monica cupboard" and him with his Aladdin's cave of vintage games consoles and dusty cameras that will never make the Instagram cut.
I went freelance earlier this year, and we used that as an excuse to finally convert the back bedroom into my home office. We put up my white string shelves and I now have a minimal, peaceful and bright desk space where I can lock myself away all day to ensure I remain productive and undistracted when I need to work from home. I’ve loved playing about with the decor in different rooms, moving furniture around, changing the position of the art and moving the chairs from room to room. Cal is a little less excited about this as he has to go through a lengthy reorientation process when he gets home from work.
Renting has its limitations in terms of what you’re able to do with the decor, unfortunately, and the house is full of wallpaper, which in my eyes is sacrilege! (Did I mention I’m French?) I’d love nothing more than to rip the paper off and paint the living and dining room in a warmer, lime wash paint. Instead, I’ve had to satisfy myself by adding personality through the furnishings, fixtures and small details.
The move to Zone 3 has definitely had its ups and downs but some of our favourite moments over the past two years have been having a kitchen and dining room large enough to host family Christmases. We’ve also made use of the garden terrace (still no hammock…yet) on most summer evenings, which after years of having no outdoor space has been bliss.
We have also come to really love the area. The neighbourhood is incredibly diverse and with that comes an array of amazing eateries, pubs, wine bars popping up in nearby railway arches and some hidden culinary gems. Our neighbours welcomed us with open arms and regularly invite us in for drinks and home-cooked meals – presumably when they notice we’ve been ordering too many takeaways. It’s the kind of community feel that we've never experienced in our years of renting in London, and we've found that being able to wave at your neighbours as you leave for work is something well worth looking for in your next move.