Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Socio-Politics of External House Decoration

Don't worry...
It's not the tome it might, could, or should be.

If you like decor and / or original writing 
then I have the blog for you.
I just read another marvelous post from the most articulate and amusing 
Blue at The Blue Remembered Hills.

The timing of the article was so pertinent as I had just finished reading this article about a house painted in red and white stripes in one of the poshest areas if not the poshest area of London. 

"Circus house" in Kensington Via
This house has been in the headlines from 
broadsheets, local gazettes to redtops 
( links on all three if you wish to read further ) 
because it touches on 
British obsessions of home ownership, class, money and taste.

The house is worth an estimated £15 million pounds and neighbours think she painted it like this as revenge for the street for objecting to basement and redevelopment applications.

Interestingly we had a situation on our street last year.
We have a house on my street where the newest just moved in owner occupant states she is an artist. 
I normally love artists - if they actually are artists. 
Apart from various behavior patterns that I shan't bore you with, she put fake green astroturf grass in front of her house.
Via
( The street is a cobbled mews and there is a few feet in front of the house in which most people put plants and chairs - 
she chose astroturf as a base.)

A few of the neighbours raised the literal and proverbial eyebrow. Fake flowers indoors is pushing limits at the best of time but fake grass outside!
So one neighbour took action and found a clause pertaining to our council with the help of a local planning officer that stated any display on the exterior of the house that is not considered in good taste must be removed.  ( I wanted to ask him more about this but he's not around this weekend.)
He got a local councillor in our borough to mention this to the "artist" and luckily she got rid of the eyesore without it having to escalate into an unnecessary squabble.

But in the case of this red and white striped home, the owner is being insistent and the matter has become litigious.

But it is also very telling about the U.K. psyche that the Telegraph has done a front page article about the personality and biography on the lady who has done this deed.  There have not been such lateral attacks and exposes on some convicted criminals! 

The article is also ranking as the most popular link today.
I am sure this story will be followed and the nation will be updated on any change in the facade or planning approvals and rejections.

I suppose when such large sums of money are at stake that a gentle word and lending out cups of sugar or a pint of milk doesn't do the trick.  All I can suggest is bake a batch of gluten and wheat free cookies ( one can't be too safe these days) or have a street party to maintain and foster good neighbor relations!  
You don't want to be on the front page...

45 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It's fun but then again I don't have to see it everyday ;)

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  2. Hello Naomi,
    First time I have commented but have followed your blog for some time- as I didnt have a blog myself I felt it odd to reply. But now that i am in the world of IG- realised how stupid that reasoning is.
    Its so interesting this article as it show how it can touch a raw nerve, sometimes very justly and that living in a community does require some responsability on the owner to take in the general feel of the community to ensure harmony.
    I have a home in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne as well as a farm( wood_farm in IG world)- I love our street and have very good relations with our neighbours and our homes are mostly older with character and interest. All the new homes and renovations-mine included- have kept their individuality but have ensured a beautiful streetscape, certainly no McMansions and the newest craze- faux chateaus!!!
    This is a sought after area but by no means the most expensive but the average house price is around 2.5-3million. A large home on a good size block- three doors down- sold to a developer over 18 months ago for land value alone of 2 million dollars- the new proposal of two town houses on the block all threw us into action. It was designed by a well known architect in Melbourne and we could not believe how ugly the proposal was. It was going to be two box like buildings with absolutely no reference to any others in the street and it would be two dwellings a new precedent for this street. We knew as a group and around 30 of us in our street opposed the dwelling and after advise given we oppossed on grounds that we knew we had sway on - as in building height and visual appeal, set backs from road and enough green landscape, overlooking and shadowing of neighbours etc.I am pleased to say that we were listened too and have just seen the amended plans yesterday and even though it is still two dwellings- something we know we possibly wont win, the plans are greatly improved and the general consensus is positive. I am so glad that i stuck to my opinions and beliefs as if it is done sensitively it can be a positive outcome for all.
    It will be interesting to see the outcome of this striped home- we certainly didnt have to vilify the architect in a personal attack to sway opinion- that is unfair.
    Love your blog and IG
    Marilyn xx

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    1. Thanks for your informative comment, especially a Melburnusn one ( where my Aussie side is from!) there is a balance and like you say while the planning was completely denied at least modifications were made. What seems to happen in some instances is that ego gets involved then lawyers quickly follow. I used to develop properties a bit myself a decade ago but it didn't have to be so disruptive at my level. Now a new kitchen and a new floor plan doesn't quite cut it anymore with the DIY revolution. My former next door neighbour built a basement which caused so much disruption for over a year but he wasn't emotionally invested and now he's made a sizeable sum but we are still a bit scarred. It's a topic that does deal with so many issues and so much to consider. Ps love your IG Marilyn! Makes me feel close to Oz and commenting is a funny thing but there are plenty of blogs I read but don't comment either! Xx

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  3. But what about the famed British Eccentricity?

    Rich white person problems indeed.

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    1. Maybe eccentricity when it's just pertaining to the person? But those eccentrics are a dying breed.

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  4. It's an interesting article. And yes, you can't help what your neighbours choose to do with their house if it's within council guidelines. We have tried to always get along with our neighbours after having one difficulty early on with a neighbour in Melbourne. The resultant headache and frayed relations was not worth the minor issue in the first place (even though we were in the right). As a result, I tolerate my current neighbours obsession with growing ivy over every available surface… including the wall of our house on the boundary… tolerate the large quantity of dead tress they do not remove from their garden… tolerate a lot of small and petty things in other words. But a larger problem, like a Development approval that will impact on others, well, things get very heated indeed.
    The original house seems out of scale with its neighbours though - it doesn't look original to the street (?), so really her plans can't be any worse?? Certainly whatever it is is not going to be as bad as the circus stripes. But then, she's not caring what goes on as she intends to sell it on for profit.. and now it's such big news I doubt a lot of people will want to buy any redevelopment as clearly the neighbours are going to hate you regardless.
    Good work on the astroturf. Another neighbour up my street rolled it out on their nature strip a few months ago. THe rest of the street are pretty aghast, but it's become very common here due to water restrictions and there's not much we can do.

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    1. It's worrying if you get a vindictive character and they can easily annoy you by default of proximity. It is best to leave things as the discomfort as you say isn't worth it. The AstroTurf was really odd as it's not a lawn but it was consistent with the rest of her behaviour! But it's funny how one house either really nice or bad can impact a street especially when buying or selling.

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  5. At first glance I rather like the circus stripes, but then I am a bit eccentric at times. Wouldn't choose them myself and maybe I wouldn't like to live next to them, specially if they were going to lower the value of my own property. But it's quite well done (could have been really outlandish) and just needs a royal blue car in front! Perhaps they should swap cars!
    It does look like rather a boring, even if rich, neighbourhood. The brick house on the right in particular. The off white/greige duplex on the left could be more interesting with improved front door colours.

    It's bit like women who always wear beige being outraged by colour. Agree neighbours can be so tricky - never a good thing to rouse sleeping dogs. We have a neighbour with an open fire who stores logs along the fence between our properties. But in Canberra you can't have a front fence or side fences between the front of house and footpath area. Some of his logs spill over onto our garden - and it's all rather an eyesore. But we say nothing. He's not the most amenable of characters. But it must be v frustrating when being refused planning permission. Was always a bit of a rebel - never liked being told I couldn't do something.
    Fascinating! Do keep us posted on outcomes Naomi! Pammie

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    1. I don't take huge offence either unless I lived next door and was selling as you say. But it seems such a red flag and in this case symbolises much more than the stripes. It's tough because we are nearly a million homes short every year and yet we can't build here nor this nor that. Believe it or not we couldn't object to the basement bc there was no law relating to it as it's such a new phenomenon in the last decade. Rather like not allowing spaceships to park I don't think they'd get a ticket bc it's not listed in the law. I heard in Texas there are no planning laws and some chap lives right next to a roller coaster!!

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  6. Don't fancy having a new build roller coaster next door!

    Remember on our garden tour we were walked up v beautiful street in best residential London (sorry don't remember name) with really elegant houses. So true about basements, our guide told us almost all these houses had basements put in because they weren't permitted to extend upwards - some excavated down even three levels, with swimming pools, garages, casual living spaces or whatever. Many supposed to be worth around 12 million.

    Canberra is so planning controlled - we even have an area zoned for brothels (legal here)! Seriously. Of course, well away from residential property and upmarket commercial property. In Sydney they built multi level apartment properties v close to Luna Park. Then people who moved in complained about noise from roller coaster and other rides, but they were there already. I think if you buy next to airport or fairground you can't in fairness complain about noise.

    So many places around world have sketchy planning laws. Remember some years ago in Beijing there were smokestack power stations in middle of city, right next to commercial/residential buildings.

    Have heard it's impossible for average young Parisians to buy/rent houses in Paris too. Prices/rent levels so high they're forced to live miles out and then commute - dreadful for them last year during train strike. Apparently a lot apartments are owned by foreigners who don't live in them. Just rent out occasionally or use for their own holidays. Maybe it's similar in London? Pammie

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    1. This does bring up issues all around! The house next to mine is still empty a year after they bought it!! Such a pity...but due to squatting rights people can't be too generous to let people reside either. Ironically if they got rid of squatters rights people might be more willing to open their homes to charities but even charities don't want the headache!

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  7. This story is simply every street, writ large, isn't it? One person's taste is another's madness in my experience. In the end, it always comes down to dollars and cents, even when you remove societal pressures; you are right, no one wants their property value to fall. I remember an old bachelor painting his house an electric pink and being the scandal of the white bread neighbourhood, but all the kids adored it. I kind of like those stripes...

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    1. I like pink houses too! But to lower the price of one's biggest assest does set off and frays the nerves for sure.

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  8. Ha ha. Did you watch Millionaire Basement Wars on BBC 1 this week? I was very intrigued. The disruption these two year basement development projects can cause is of course resulting in planning applications for basements being rejected and I guess this is the problem the Circus House owner has, but this is definitely one of the coolest revenge acts I've ever seen. It could be a tourist attraction, i should definitely look out for it when i'm next in London. If I'm honest, I'd just appreciate to live on a road with houses worth 15 million and as long as mine looks good inside and out, I'm not sure i'd be too bothered by the neighbours' homes - great talking point at a dinner party! xx

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    1. Yes I saw it and we had our own battle with our neighbour who did theirs and the cheeky builders wanted to go under our house and thought we were rude when we didn't give them a foot under our home!!! Yes I think it is becoming a tourist attraction now! xx

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  9. First, thank you for the very complimentary mention about my post this week. As we Middle-of-the-Pond-Peeps say "I really do appreciate that."

    The moment you see or hear the word "inappropriate" as in "totally inappropriate for the area" you know somebody got it right and somebody else is very pissed off and can't do a thing except be pompous. Painting the house in pink stripes is a perfect response to the neighbors' interference in the woman's private affairs. If she wants a swimming pool in her basement that's entirely her choice. Good for her!

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    1. ha! yes - appropriate and inappropriate is definitely code. For me the most surprising thing that came out of this age old village type matter was the article dedicated on this woman's life!

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  10. Well let's just say to each his own....I would not want to see that home on my street.
    There was a purple house in our neighbourhood for years that we used to think was the home of some old hippies and it did stand out like a sore thumb. Thankfully the new owners repainted it!
    But having said that we really have no control over how people choose to decorate or paint or landscape for that matter....it makes a great conversation starter doesn't it?

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  11. My favorite are the Victorian semis where the neighbours cannot agree on paint or shingles and you have two clashing exteriors on one facade. People are funny creatures.

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    1. Yes - people fight over hedges and all sorts!

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  12. fabulous! only in London. I actually love those stripes. And re the warning to your friend - who gets to decide what is "good taste.?" hopefully not the permit people at the council? I worked at Greenwich council and it was chockaful of the oddest people ever including my boss who had been in prison for white collar crimes.

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    1. So agree about "good taste" - who gets to decide? Yes, so worrying if it's the odd mix of people on, or linked to, any council - v true in Oz too. Councils often seem to attract people on the periphery of white collar crime - questionable connections with developers, etc - and people who are desperately keen to find a niche where they can attain some kind of power, whether or not they have the training, ability, judgement and integrity, or even common sense, to exercise it responsibly.
      Didn't Diana Vreeland say something about a bit of bad taste being better than no taste? Like beauty, taste is probably in the eye of the beholder.
      And who knows, all the attention might increase the property values in this street! Pammie

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    2. Yes Jody which is why I wanted to speak to him further - luckily we didn't have to legally test the measure of good taste otherwise that would have also ended up in the front page of some broadsheet!

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  13. Have spent the past twelve years fighting four projects that a developer has intended upon putting down the front of our very bushy area. It’s been worth it. He began by wanting thirteen units, then eight, five and last was a development of three triple storey townhouses. I think he has given up as that was couple of years ago. We have a very strong community and all banded together to fight on various fronts as we have an environmental overlay and parts of the bit he wanted to bulldoze was remnant vegetation with some significant trees. Also, it was a 'flight path’ for ducks!! We are hopeful that the developer will end up selling to the shire. Fingers and toes. Funny that an artist would go for artificial turf. Tonkath

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    1. but aren't these battles exhausting and quite consuming - it riles up people and stresses everyone out - I also think there is a big difference between owner occupiers doing a restoration or refurb because they have to live and face the neighbours versus developers bc they have absolutely no regard whatsoever.

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  14. London is a different country to the rest of the UK. Especially when it comes to property. Understanding the local vernacular is very important. After all when you but a property, that's what you decide to buy into. Lets face it, London property is all about location.

    I must say I was shocked to see the journalistic lynching of the owner of the 'circus' storage facility...Not that I agree with her modus operandi, or iceberg houses. But a line was crossed between personal privacy and business propriety.

    And, thank heavens for conservation areas!
    Any 'artist' who thinks astroturf is appropriate in a cobbled mews is significantly depreciating the value of their property, and every other one there. Banksy, she is not.

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    1. I was so shocked when they went into her personal details...

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  15. Found you in the comments of Blue remembered, just LOVE this posting. We have the same problem here in Washington DC. We have rather fickle 'historic' boards in some of our neighborhoods which are continually pissing off well-heeled home owners. I have one client who considered an 'art installation' of a large phallis in her front yard in retaliation. But at the end of the day you have to live there -and would YOU want to live in a red and white house? I applaud the effort however!

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    1. A large phallis in her front yard would just make HER look like one.

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    2. @ architectdesign now the added question is - what is art?!

      @anon - ;)

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  16. We have an interesting situation in the historic neighbourhood in Fredericton. A couple wants to subdivide their large historic property to build another house. The bylaws prohibit them from building any structure that looks old but isn't?? so the design they have chosen is quite modern and frankly quite ugly especially for that neighbourhood. The city has slowed down the approval process in light of protests but the woman who lives in the original house found a garden shovel on her verandah and has taken it as a threat?? Not sure what it signifies although she commented it might refer to them digging their own grave. Bit of a stretch I think. We all get uptight and anxious when what is usually our biggest investment is targeted.

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    1. Interesting bc you would have thought that respecting style would be good and not all old is good and not all modern is ugly right? BUt yes it is THE most expensive thing we own so it's natural we are so protective!

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  17. Oh dear! Neighbors can be such a treat to live by, or not, as this house clearly demonstrates.

    I recently read of a basement project in a Victorian house in England which caused the entire house to collapse. Can you imagine how that affected the neighbors either side of the crumbling heap of bricks?

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    1. Collapsing houses are not as unusual as you might think!

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  18. Hi Naomi, Just came back for another look. It's funny, the more I see it, the more I like it, I'm afraid!! The beige-yellow-brown brick house on the right looks distinctly dingy in comparison. London bricks can be very unattractive. With some exceptions, particularly around Belgravia/Chelsea/Kensington, don't think many London urban residences have anything like the charm of most central Paris residential buildings, for instance around the Marais (lots of other quartiers too).
    Many, many years ago we lived in Harringay for about a year while husband was researching in the British Museum. It was interesting to see what all the West Indian immigrants in nearby areas had done with their houses - they'd been painted bright colours, hot pinks, greens, violets etc. Probably would have horrified most of your readers. But in that neighbourhood there was a real feeling of liveliness and personality and joie de vivre. In Bermuda, visited a long time ago too, many of the small local people's houses on the cliffs were in similar colours, but particularly blue-green, turquoise, lolly pink. They were completely charming there. While these colours did give us a jolt when we first saw them in London, we came to enjoy. Pammie x

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    1. I think the issue is ultimately about safeguarding your hoome's value. If there were a home on that street for sale now - there is no way that house will fetch a decent price due to the issues but also a red and white striped house while innocuous in itself will raise alarm bells for a prospective buyer even without the newspaper articles and you would wonder how your life would be impacted by someone who did that. Of course this is purely from a Londoner's POV and I myself would react differently to a house such as this in Bermuda but I would be lying if I said I would happily bid on a house in London that had a house like this! xx

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  19. In Hervey Bay there is a house on the esplanade named "Asbestos Manor" painted a hideous yellow. The owners painted it as a protest, trying to bring the value down for neighbouring development sites. http://www.spentmemory.com/2012/01/asbestos-manor-real-story.html

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  20. The red and white circus look amuses me. With such a bizzare story dominating the screens, who would know there was an election coming up shortly? ;)

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    1. Well yes - but this might be one of those visceral election issues!!

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  21. "what is art" -well THAT is a delightful question to get into over drinks in the evening but in the sense I meant it is that in our historical neighborhood rules there is no jurisdiction over paint colors and work of 'art'. So then you get people arguing that all kinds of things are 'art' to get approval. It can get quite ridiculous!

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    1. I lived in an area of London where you were only allowed whiteand in fact the facades had to painted every 5 years which meant a hefty maintenance fee. But I agree to argue over anything art related or "good taste" related then that will be a case tied up all the way to the supreme court!!

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  22. Call me crazy, but I kinda like the stripes. They add some pep :-)

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