What is it? Hello? Is that… the London Rental Opportunity of the Week? I… it’s been so long!
It’s been nine weeks. N-nine? Weeks? Has the world changed? Have the people changed? Do they remember me?
Nine weeks isn’t that long. Were they asking about me, the people? Were they demanding to know where the column went while I wrote a book?
We got one tweet – Hold on. One?
One tweet. I don’t— nah come on. There must have been a DM, or—
No there was one tweet. One tweet.
So shall we—? Just get back into it, I suppose. God: one tweet.
What is it? It’s a mezz— I’m still thinking about the tweet thing. One.
Do you need a minute: Yeah –
It’s a mezzanine flat in Sheffield… One tweet!
Things to do in Sheffield include: Fall down the stairs in Corporation, ker-thunk ker-thunk ker-thunk, until you wake up the next day with a bruise that goes green before it goes blue – and then I literally can’t think of a single other thing I’ve ever done in Sheffield beyond that. Genuinely. I lived in close proximity to this city for 20 years and all I ever did there was hurt myself inside and out at Corporation and then maybe go to a since-shuttered LaserQuest for someone’s birthday party. We went to Matalan, once.
Yes you went to a big Matalan once. That’s Sheffield. How much are they asking? £625 per calendar month. Don’t know how to end this bit, now…
Just say “one tweet” again: One tweet!
Fans of this column (one!) will recall that mezzanine beds had a really big moment in 2019, a little of 2020. They dropped off in 2020 proper and a lot of 2021, because fundamentally to erect a mezzanine bed – they are always situated in grimly clean-grey “newly refurbished ALL NEW WHITE GOODS” flats – you need to get a builder in and pay them. Builders either couldn’t work during the pandemic or did work anyway because they don’t care, but suddenly the cost of hiring a builder went up because the law dictated they couldn’t technically work (even though they did) and consequently the demand for them both became higher and got backlogged.
If there is one small good thing to take from this pandemic, at least slum landlords have to pay more for their refurbishments now, though that means they’ll just charge more rent to recoup the cost. And one raised rent means next door, upstairs and downstairs all raise their rents as well (so actually: fuck. Fuck!). So you will, of course, recall mezzanine beds as a slightly cringe trend from the past.
But when trends die in London, they find new life beyond the M25, which is why this week we’re in Sheffield. Sheffield is actually great because it has all the component parts a good city needs – a two-team football rivalry, one university for nerds and one for shaggers, a central shopping complex that doesn’t just feel like every anodyne high street in Britain, big hills and mad trams and a thriving population of “people whose shirt always gets a bit ripped when they go out drinking” – but without all the big city costs that come with it.
This is why it worries me to see a mezzanine bed here, looming above a cramped little kitchen: it’s yet more evidence that the poison has spread. If someone’s trying to shill a mezzanine-bedded studio flat in Sheffield for £625 a month, what cities will there even be left in five years’ time?
I know the line “we could have had a society but instead we decided to protect our capitalist interest in the hopes that we ourselves would become the elite wielding the money and the sword” is quite played out by now, but truly we have let landlordism thrive unabated for so long now that the whole thing feels fairly unfixable. If every city in the UK has a mezzanine studio flat in it now and the government won’t do anything because the landlord responsible “is a good guy, actually, bloody good bloke actually” then where, in five years, are we all… supposed… to live?
Well, not here. The thing with a mezzanine bed is there is, just about, a way where they can be installed where they’re not a horrible eyesore and doesn’t suggest that they are held up with glue. These are very rare but they can exist. The logic behind a mezzanine, on paper, makes sense. This one is not that: It’s somewhere between “actually quite well-installed” (there’s electricity running neatly through the kitchen ceiling!) and “but also looks like some of the pieces of wood were found rather than bought”.
The stairs up to the bed-shelf seem to have carpet on them – an extra layer of care and attention I was not expecting – but also I know for sure the whole thing creaks like an old ship when you get into and out of it. Also, and I am eyeballing it here, but based on the size of the kitchen and the angle of the stairs that seems to take up a lot of the actual space going up to the bed-shelf… I think there’s only space for a single mattress up there. It is not clear how much space there is between your bed and the actual ceiling.
But the worst part of a mezzanine is always this: It’s such a huge, eye-popping piece of domestic furniture that cannot help but telegraph the fact that the space is too small for a bed to actually be in it. There is no moving around this fact, ever. You have to cook your dinner under this fact. You have to look at this fact when you sit on the sofa. This fact is the first thing you see when you step through the front door. There is absolutely no escaping the knowledge that your bed is hovering grimly above you at all times.
The rest of the flat is fine, if uninspiring – a breakfast nook you can’t sit at unless the sofa is moved wholesale, a horrible grey-brown carpet that irritates naked skin, a pathetically undersized space heater, a bizarre half-staircase up to a bathroom where the toilet is nestled against the wall like it’s hiding from a murderer – but what depresses me most is the fireplace, which is actually nice.
I am used to the dreadful, soulless, spotlights-and-white-tiles-and-clean-sharp-edges anti-aesthetic of Britain’s rental spaces by now, but to see it contrasted against a glimmer of what once was is particularly galling. This room was probably nice, once! It probably had some colour and some warmth in it! A couple of actually comfortable sofas that didn’t smell like food preparation! A tasteful low corner table! A cosy rug! People laughed in this room, they cuddled up, they exchanged gifts!
And now you’re here, paying £625 a month to loom above your kitchen like a ghoul, occasionally going up some stairs to sit on a toilet that has no business being there and shitting in it at an acute and strange angle. The disease sucks the life out of properties and drains them of their blood, and slowly it is creeping around the country, a beige-and-grey plague spread by the rats that are landlords. What happens when they run out of flats to mezzanine? The sad answer is: They are going to figure out something mad to do with the placement of toilets. Look out for that in about, what… three years’ time?