Looking over the roofs of Muswell Hill Place and Alexandra Gardens towards Springfield Avenue and the Alexandra Palace TV mast, from the viaduct at St James’s Lane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
British domestic architecture is largely made up of strange angles and peculiar proportions. Or, at least that was the case in the kinds of flats I lived in during most of my twenties, when I was, first, a student and, later, a young academic with precious little dosh for rent. One flat had soaring double-height ceilings, impossibly narrow hallways, and, in my bedroom in the back, an overly wide Georgian door that opened to show shelves 3 inches deep. Even my hairbrush didn’t fit. In a later flat in Muswell Hill in London, the most exciting feature was a tiny window, three-stories up, that opened onto a massive flat roof the size of the kitchen, bathroom, hallway, and bedroom below. It was covered in gravel, but I spent many evenings there looking up to Alexandra Palace in the distance.
Neither of these flats were being put to the use they were intended, and the proportions of living seemed charmingly off-kilter because of that. The former had been a Victorian boarding house in Leeds, before walls were shifted and latches were added to accommodate legions of Red-Brick students. The latter began life as a middle-class family home in a leafy suburb that was neither then nor now serviced by the Tube. But it has lately been carved up and made home to one middle-class family downstairs and several eager young career men upstairs, nearly doubling the original number of inhabitants. From slim crevices to capacious outdoor landings, every feature of these buildings was always too big or too small. Or, more regularly, both too big and too small at the same time.