My Modern House: food editor and writer Mina Holland on refurbishing a first home in south London
“Refurbishing a first home sounds like it would be stressful, but I really enjoyed the process. It was very much a collaborative effort between my husband Freddie and me, and I think what’s nice about it is that we’ve ended up with something neither of us would have done on our own.
“Before moving here we were living with Freddie’s mum in West Hampstead for two and a half years. We were supposed to be saving money but, in my experience, you end up spending the money you save on rent!
“We still love Hampstead and we miss the Heath a lot. But down here it feels like there are lots of people at a similar stage to us, who perhaps work in similar industries and are the same age.
“I work on the Saturday Feast section at The Guardian, which is based in King’s Cross, so we were looking for somewhere on the Thameslink. Nowhere north of the river was affordable for us at that point so we started looking south. That’s what brought us to Crofton Park.
“We’re on a street of what I figure were quite experimental Victorian houses. Ours is a purpose-built maisonette, and opposite there are cleverly laid-out cottages. It feels like it was a bit of a testing ground for small-space living.
“It’s not a huge space but we were really drawn to the fact that it was designed to be occupied in this way. All the rooms are equally sized and come off a central hallway, so there is an illusion of having more space.
“I don’t think it had been touched for 20 or so years when we bought it; it felt really lived in. It meant that we had to start almost completely from scratch.
“It was really important to us to work with the original features, like the fireplace, cornices and doors. But we’ve used them like a line drawing that we’ve coloured around – albeit in a neutral palette – with exposed plaster, plywood units, painted floorboards and encaustic tiles.
“I think it’s important to adapt your taste to a space. We love this flat and are proud of what we’ve done, but these aren’t necessarily the choices we’d have made elsewhere.
“We’ve tailored the materials, furniture and objects to this building in this neighbourhood – everything has been chosen according to what we really need to live comfortably in a small flat of 750 sq ft.
“Freddie’s sensibilities are a bit more neutral than mine. I was probably more inclined towards colour – like the tiles in both the kitchen and bathroom – but there’s been a real sense of compromise and balance in what we produced.
“Both of us make things for a living – Freddie is a musician and I write or edit copy. But neither of those things are visual, so doing this place up was creatively rewarding in a way we don’t often get to feel.
“Working in food, it was really important to me to get the kitchen right. It’s not that I ever really stopped cooking, but I’ve reconnected with it a lot more now that I have my own space.
“I’m very much a home cook who freestyles, particularly during the week when most of my meals start with frying an onion and seeing where I go from there.
“I freelance two days a week. I really love working from home but I think that’s because I don’t do it all the time. I really like the variety – I’m not great at doing one thing.
“Our weekends tick to a rhythm of mealtimes and walking our dog, Ernie. If we’re in London, we’ll go to the farmer’s market and decide what to cook based on what’s in season.
“I’ll normally cook something a bit more involved at the weekend and for this I turn to my collection of cookbooks by the masters: Simon Hopkinson, Margot Henderson or April Bloomfield.
“Now that the flat is done, we’ve recently turned our attention outdoors. We’ve created a kitchen herb garden and planted beds of low-maintenance wildflowers like lupins, daisies, jasmine, grasses and a fig tree.
“We’ve been following recipes a bit more recently because Freddie got a Big Green Egg barbecue – I think his plan is for our whole summer to revolve around it!
“We have a lot of friends over, but we tend not to invite more than four at a time, so there’s six of us. That might change in summer because the garden feels like we have an extra room.
“But we also really enjoy just being here alone. Earlier on in my career and our relationship we were out a lot. Now I really appreciate spending time here, in a space we have created ourselves and cooking in a kitchen I love.”
Mina, how do you define modern living?
“For us, modern living has been about navigating the spectrum between period features and contemporary design in a way that works for us, with a healthy supply of natural light thrown in to enhance the sense of spaciousness.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
“Other than our dog, it might be something of my grandmother’s – the mahogany mirror hanging above the fireplace in our bedroom, for example.
“We have also grown used to having very good and sharp knives, so I think we’d struggle without our Japanese paring knife – a multipurpose best friend in the kitchen.”
Is there a property on The Modern House website that has caught your eye?
“We would love to be able to move near Hampstead Heath. Who knows if that’ll ever happen, but the house on Willes Road in Kentish Town is close to the dream. We’d love to buy somewhere like that as a wreck and do it up in that style.
“We think we’ll end up moving to Norfolk eventually and, when we do, if we could just transplant Peasmarsh in East Sussex to the Holt area, that’d be ideal. I love everything from the kitchen and the grounds, to the outside studio (for Freddie) and those gorgeous radiators.”