Inside the Renovation of a 19th Century London Home: The Reveal

Contributor Jo Rodgers details the final phase of her Georgian home’s intricate renovation. Read part three, here.

Our builder, Howard, is an early riser, so he let us know first thing that the work was nearly finished. My husband and I read his note in unison on separate phones, standing in the kitchen of our rental house in rural East Sussex, two hours south of London. We could book a moving van in a couple of weeks.

I don’t know how I expected to feel. Relieved, probably. We’d spent two years lining up the paperwork to renovate the flat, which is spread over three floors of a listed Georgian townhouse in Islington, a year waiting out delays, and another year renovating. A school bus-worth of people were involved before any building work began: there were architectural engineers who knocked on the walls, judging what would and wouldn’t bring the house down; a heritage consultant who took the train from his own beautiful home in Bath; a couple of building surveyors; lawyers to draw up a contract with the neighbors; three planning officers from the borough; and architects to plot every wall support and electrical outlet. A white-knuckling realization for me was the quantity of our budget spent before demolition even began. But hardly anyone had been around for as long as Howard, who was one of the first in, and would be the last out. Anyway: Rather than relieved, we were jittery.

One of the ripple effects of renovating during a pandemic is that for health and logistical reasons, we only visited the property in person a handful of times. Instead, we relied on photographs, and not many of them. They were cold comfort. Was the brass-legged sink installed too close to the bathtub? Were the beehive doorknobs on the right doors? Who knew? Approaching the house a few weeks ago, past a pear tree drooping with underripe fruit, it felt like we were meeting each other for the first time at the altar.

Outside, a copper lantern—made by the Urban Electric Company in South Carolina and rewired for the UK—was mounted beside a door painted in Railings, a blue-black made by Farrow & Ball. I’d chewed over both of those choices so long ago that I’d forgotten. Seeing them there was like reading an old diary entry. Behind the door, beneath a clear, bell-shaped light fixture we bought from Pooky, a joiner had built tall cubbyholes for rainboots, and a ledge for letters and catalogues. Stepping inside, the quiet dropped like a curtain, and as we moved up the sisal-covered stairs, dappled light filtered in from three sides.

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