What is it? In the short: it is a sofa-bed in a kitchen that costs over £2,000 a month to sleep in. In the long: it is a searing indictment that the rental crisis is crawling ever higher up the tax brackets, and is coming just as much for people who grew up skiing and having really big hallways with Christmas trees in them as it is for you and me, who, and I don’t know about you personally, but I really am two texts from my bank away from acquiring a new identity on the dark web and disappearing—
Where is it? South Kensington, truly one of London’s most curious postcodes, home to at once staggeringly expensive maisonettes and lots of low growling supercars as well as former council blocks that have now been, flat-by-flat, bought up, greyly refurbished and sold for staggering profit (South Kensington was home to the UK’s first £1 million plus ex-council flat, and that was listed in 2015). I once pitched the idea of ‘South Kensington’ to the producers of Doctor Who as some blunt-force-subtext version of what the country will look like in 40 years, and they said it was “a bit too on the nose”.
What is there to do locally? Fairly good place to meet someone who rows and has never been to a club that didn’t have an annual membership, to be fair, and in a cost of living crisis like this one, that’s what more people should be doing. To repeat: everyone who is young and sexy should be trying to transparently marry up right now (this is a decent alternative to Love Island: you get the going-to-Sketch-and-driving-a-white-Range-Rover lifestyle without having to endure all the cyberbullying). You all should be flooding London’s fancy postcodes with your allure. The only viable way to get wealth to trickle down is to bamboozle it out of those who have it. We should be spray-painting this on walls: Fuck All The Wealth Out Of London
Alright, how much are they asking? £2,499 a month, though if you get in now you can get it for a special rate of— oh, £2,289. That’s not very special. Like, at all.
A recurring theme of this (increasingly erratic, less-and-less beloved, borderline loathed) weekly column is the idea of a ‘Bed In A Kitchen’. This is what started us off: someone put a bed in a kitchen, and I went, “That’s bad”. Over the years we have had many different configurations of beds in kitchens. Expansive dining room-type spaces that have a small kitchenette and, at the other stale-smelling end, a double bed! Tiny modern attempts at chic continental-style hotel rooms, where the fridge butts directly against the corner of the bed! A mezzanine where the entire box-shaped flat is technically within a kitchen! But the raw function is still the same. If you can cook something in a room, that is a kitchen. If there is a bed in that room, it is a bed in a kitchen. It is never, just, ‘a bedroom’.
Here is a twist, though: a smooth polished new-install kitchen and a smooth polished new-finish flat (parquet floors! In-built shelves! An actual lampshade! Blinds that are actually fitted into the window they were built for! Sturdy and useful cupboards!), but a bed is in the kitchen, still. The bed is also a sofa, by the way. So, to reiterate: nice glossy flat, but your sofa is a bed and both of them are also in your kitchen. It costs two-and-a-half grand a month.
Theory dictates that I shouldn’t be mad at this, because it’s aimed at people who actively want to live in South Kensington, and have two-and-a-half grand spare a month to pay to do that, and they would put a shiny finish about the human comfort of, say, living in more than one room. Whoever ends up renting this flat will never have my sympathy. But I do think that this property, as a symptom of an ongoing illness, is a distressing one: people at the two-and-a-half grand a month rent bracket should theoretically be able to rent somewhere gorgeous, huge and central, with one of those big plaster things in the middle of the ceiling that the light fitting comes down through. The fact that this now peeks into that class-bracket of the market can only be bad for everyone below it. If this is all two-and-a-half grand buys you, the ‘£700 a month, absolutely max, looking to move very urgently!!!!!’ of us will soon be toast.
Anyway, we should look at the flat. At the surface level, it is nice. It has been decorated with some rare taste – it’s still very ‘look, the tap is matte black, and that’s very interesting!’, but compared to the current crop of London flat finishes (‘We made it grey and white and soulless and took the old fireplaces out for some reason, please give us £1,400 a month for the honour of living in a neutered cell’) it is very fine. I am always intrigued by how agents decide to dress a property, and this is particularly interesting: according to these photos, the wealthy make intricate pots of leaf tea, cut a passion fruit in half and leave it next to a ripe peach, spray an entire bottle of Byredo after a shit and lay daintily on their bed reading the flopped open pages of a magazine.
But then we must confront the reality of living here: to get out of bed and to the kitchen, you have to crab-walk past the thin strip of parquet between your sofa and the wall-mounted TV; there is absolutely no comfortable or spacious way of sitting on either of the plastic chairs and table that have been left in the corner for you (why there? Why even have them at all?); no amount of ‘the toaster matches the microwave!’ can disguise the fact that your shower and toilet open out directly into your kitchen. Again, this isn’t said with sympathy, but: come on. Two-and-a-half grand should buy you more than this!
Once again, I am struck by the idea that there is, according to landlords and letting agents, some interstitial mid-class – somewhere between the just-about-earning-enough-to-move-out-of-their-houseshare youth and just before the dad-says-if-we-get-married-we-can-have-a-house wealth that ruins a number of friendships when they hit the magic age of 29 – that is populus in London, and they are building thousands of these properties for those people despite the fact that they don’t really exist.
Who are the people who earn enough that £2,499 a month is affordable for them but want to spend it on sleeping in their kitchen and also shitting in their kitchen (but the kitchen is nice!)? Who needs to be in South Kensington enough that they would sacrifice a fair amount of practicality and dignity to be there? People who earn money are often ‘good’ with it in that very irritating, coldly logical, almost cheap way – everything is an investment, an experience, a balance of whether it is worthwhile to spend or not (“Girls get off my fucking table if you’re not going to chat to us”), and nothing about this two-and-a-half grand nice toilet really ticks any of those boxes.
So, who is this for? Who is this for? Who is this for? We need to find the hundred or so people in London this flat appeals to and, sorry to say, slaughter them. Their bizarre and alien needs are overriding the wants of the city.