My Modern House: chefs Fergus and Margot Henderson talk cooking, gardening and upsizing in London at their Lambeth home
Fergus: “We were in a flat in Covent Garden before moving here. All the children were stacked on top of each other, so we began thinking about upsizing in London to get a bit more space.
“We positively didn’t know the area well before we moved here. South London has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
“It still is, to be honest. But the Canton Arms is very good – it’s a big persuader, to have a good pub serving good food.”
Margot: “We’d been here to visit our friends, who live up the road. We’d had many happy times with them and I think that it’s enough to pull you to an area, to have even just a couple of mates around.
“Our centre of gravity is very much Soho, so we felt east was just too far away. We didn’t think about work so much, it was more about our life and friends. We’ve ended up spending a lot of time travelling to east London!”
Fergus: “But it’s lovely to pass by the river in the morning.”
Margot: “Yes, and we see the Houses of Parliament every day; all the great, iconic buildings are right there.
“At first I thought it was going to be terrible leaving Covent Garden: I’d miss being out late and walking home, watching the business of everyone going by and being close to all those restaurants. But I love being here. And I definitely don’t miss Marks & Spencers, or all the tourists!”
Fergus: “And it’s better for our health here.”
Margot: “What, because we are out jogging every day, Fergus?!”
Fergus: “Well, no, not quite. But the garden is nice; it’s like an urban lung. We have a bit of mint and rosemary, but it’s more of a wildflower garden. I’m not sure if it’s by choice … that’s Margot’s remit.
“The problem is that a lot of them have Latin names, which I’m not sure I have enough room left to remember.”
Margot: “I just keep shoving plants in. I’m not very good at the ‘less is more’ philosophy.”
Fergus: “More is more?”
Margot: “I think I just pounce on little gaps that open up. Maybe to the detriment of some of these poor plants. But the bees love it!
“I’ve mostly been making it up. But it looks quite sweet, doesn’t it? I think I just need to stop buying new plants and look after the ones I have.
“Having a garden is a blissful thing. We don’t go out as readily now because of it – you don’t feel the need when you can come back here and eat dinner outside.”
Fergus: “We both go to our restaurants every day. I take a taxi though, normally to St. John Bread and Wine for lunch.”
Margot: “He’s above ground!”
Fergus: “I find the world of the Underground weird. Strange things happen down there like ladies doing their eye makeup. With all those pencils being pointed around you can’t help but think someone is going to lose an eye.”
Margot: “I’m always trying to avoid the Northern line in the morning. Sometimes I think it’s just better to be late than to brave it at 8 or 9 am.
“I’ve discovered that the best thing to do is to not worry about getting a seat, but just try to get by the window, in between the carriages.
“I’m split between the ICA and the original Rochelle Canteen at Arnold Circus; I go wherever I’m needed. If I’m working at the ICA, I get the bus to Westminster Abbey and walk across the park to the Mall. Or sometimes I walk all the way.
“We also do catering, so I’m at weddings in the countryside a lot, which I love – it’s good to be out and about.”
Fergus: “Our restaurants are known for having white walls and Shaker hooks, which you’ll also find here. And if we moved somewhere else, we’d do it again, because it works.
“Restaurants can be full of distractions, like red velvet banquettes, paintings on the wall and music. But underneath it all should be … well, pleasure is the noise of eating, the slurping of wine, not decoration.”
Margot: “But we do have pictures on the wall here! Home living is more personal, and I suppose in our restaurants it’s more that the people are the art, they make it.
“At home, you fall in love with the things that are special to you – they become your landscape. And no, we don’t have hills to look at…”
Fergus: “But we have the flight path.”
Margot: “I find it comforting! Because of our jobs, we have to be committed city dwellers. It would be nice to be in the countryside and have a bigger garden with a potting shed, but actually, this house is satisfying us in so many ways.”
Fergus, how do you define modern living?
Fergus: “Stairs are quite interesting. Having had a flat, it was all on one floor. Whereas here, if you leave your cigarettes in the kitchen and go to the top floor, you have to go up and down. I’ve done my leg in, which wasn’t great timing for moving to a house with stairs! So convenience would be important to modern living for me.’”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
Fergus:“It’s a tricky one because I think one should be careful that possessions don’t become too important. I’m cautious about being too emotional about objects. If it gets bust, it gets bust. And if things were to make the move, so well!”
Is there a home for sale on The Modern House website that has caught your eye?
Margot: “Maresfield Gardens is a beautiful Modernist house. I love the architecture, the modern lines, panelling, light and the doors that open on to that beautiful garden. It looks like a fun house to live in and great for parties. Our furniture, art and life would fit very happily there. A total gem!”