London Rental Opportunity of the Week

Rental Opportunity of the Week: What Was This Room Before It Became a 'Studio Flat'?

There's a game I like to play called "What Was This Room?" Good news: you can join from home!
15 June 2020, 7:36am
flat to rent hackney downs
Photos via Dimension Estates

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

What is it? There's a wall in this place that has a light switch on it, and the light switch is wider than the wall. It is a normal-sized light switch, before you start with your shit. But that's not even the extent of what we’re dealing with today.
Where is it? Good Old Hackney Downs.
What is there to do locally? I lived in this precise area for two years and though I can tell you things you should do in the locale – where to buy a cardamom bun, where to buy a burek, where to go for a posh pint of beer and where to buy a satisfyingly shit one, which pub does the best burgers, which pub does the heroin, which of the servers in Palm 2 make a good coffee and which of them always burn the beans, making buying coffee there a bizarre roulette, your options being bad coffee and exceptional coffee, &c. &c. – I would genuinely say the best thing to do around there is to go to the best shop on the planet, "Fair Deal", and spend around 45 minutes looking at the various soft drinks and dried pulses on offer there. That's about all I did for 24 months, anyway.
Alright, how much are they asking? [_Blinking twice and rubbing my eyes as if I’m some character in a 'Looney Tunes' short about to get flattened by a truck_] A frankly astonishing £1,300 pcm.

Alright, look at this one. We're going to play my favourite sub-game on this column, "What Was This Room?":

studio flat to rent hackney downs
studio flat to rent hackney downs
studio flat to rent hackney downs

So, What Was This Room? Strip back the furniture and look for the clues. Because if you look out of the window, onto the balcony outside, you can see – far below, there – there's a fountain at the end of someone else's garden and – to your left – the upper floors of the buildings either side. So I’m going to guess this is on around the third floor of another person's house. Take away the escalated bed frame, and the bizarre segmenting window-wall between the kitchen and the living area, and consider this space, simply, as a room that leads out to a balcony: what was this room? What was it, once, before it was converted via a locked door and a wooden bunkbed into a supposed studio flat? Was it just an attic-height utility room? Was it a hallway at the top of some stairs? What was it? Was it nothing? Or was it something?

I like to play "What Was This Room?" because it gives some indication as to how much work has gone into turning an ordinary, mediocre, nothingy room into a studio flat this shoddy, and therefore, from that, ascertain the amount of intent. This took a lot of work. Here it is, from the property listing: "A unique and incredible studio apartment with private roof terrace with delightful view of the Victorian House rear garden and offering generously proportion bedroom and eat in kitchen – newly built to a very high standard of with interior décor in Lower Clapton [sic]".

Someone had to design a space this bad. Someone had to decide to segment a room in half, like this – one side kitchen, one side bedroom-living room, a windowed wall in between – and get a builder in to make the bed. They had to tell the builder they wanted a bed frame made that floats above the half living room, and the builder had to nod, and say, "That is normal, and I will happily do that, for money." They had to put a sink in the kitchen and all the various white goods that go along with it. They had to build-in a wardrobe and find a sofa just dinky enough to fit in the space. Everywhere you look, in this tiny room that has been split in half to make it even smaller, you see layers and layers of intent. Someone meant the room to look and function like this. Someone intended for it to be this bad.

studio flat to rent hackney downs

One thing to note is that this space is comfortably lived-in, which is a rarity in this column – normally we see the rooms stripped back to the bones, sheets ripped from the bed, furniture moved to make it easier to hoover behind, nothing but stray coins and dustballs as decoration, all scraps of humanity eradicated, anti-bac wiped clean – but someone exists in this flat, currently, with their books and their flowers and their Diptyque candles and their pans tidily poised in the kitchen. Someone has made this as acceptable and tasteful and cosy as it is possible to do in a space where literally 40 percent of the time a bed is looming above your forehead. Assuming that the rate being asked for on this advert is a new, bumped-up fee for new tenants, it begs the question: how much is this tidy, candle-owning, book-reading, tasteful soft furnishing-having person paying for this space? Every indicator I get from the person living here is they are a considerate, neat, adult person of fair means and no little style. And yet they are paying to live in this half-flat above Hackney Downs. Why? What life choices have led to them being here? How do I avoid making them myself?

Anyway, for £1,300 a month (bills included), you would expect a bit more. I mean, yes: there is a balcony, but then this is Britain, so you can only use it properly a maximum of 50 days of the year, and the space itself is bigger than the rest of your front room – you would be better off just walling it and making your interior space bigger. I suppose it's good they put windows in the interior wall so natural light can filter through to the kitchen, but there’s something very disconcerting about being able to gaze through a window at your own bed while you’re reheating soup. Additionally, there is one of my quiet red flags of an unsalvageable shithole – a kitchen counter that has been specifically shaped to accommodate the size of an incredibly normal piece of equipment, in this case a sink – on full display, next to the posed wine bottle and glass.

Hackney Downs is nice, having Fair Deal around the corner is blissful, and living on your own is a great luxury. But don’t let £1,300 in half a flat above someone else’s house fool you into thinking this is good.

@joelgolby (h/t @LoveEnds)