The Joy of Things - Peter York

An author and broadcaster who began writing whilst Style Editor at Harpers & Queen, Peter’s focus is on social groupings: he believes people at the top, should not escape scrutiny. He is President of The Media Society and attached to the London College of Fashion.

I’ve just seen a flat for sale online that I really liked. It’s just up the road. Not my current road, but my childhood road up in London NW3. A road I still go back to constantly. It’s next door but one to my late aunt’s house. And its big 1890 drawing room is absolutely chock-full of Victorian ‘gingerbread’ joinery and plaster. It’s a lovely sliver of a big old house.
But I’m not moving. During lockdown, when people were stuck at home, when sales of DIY stuff soared, they were asking themselves: do I really like it here, and if I have to live here for ever, can I make it work for me? I looked into every cupboard and drawer, saw things I didn’t know I had, things I’d forgotten, things put away neatly by other people – sheets and shirts, print-outs and bills in lever arch files. And enough of most things to see me through.
Everything I liked about the flat when I bought it was still true in spades; another big drawing room with lots of Victorian gingerbread, the big front balcony, with the bit over the porch big enough for a (small) supper party. And – the best London luxury of all – the view over the garden square. This is my third London square home, and it’d be hard to give them up. And I like what’s in it too. There’s a lot of stuff – inherited, given and bought. Pictures of friends, pictures by friends. Some ‘good’ – my parents' clever Victorian buys, back when no-one wanted them – plus some engaging boot-fair rubbish. Side by side.
This flat is another sliver of a Victorian haut-bourgeois stucco terrace house; in turn part of a Thomas Cubitt stucco cliff, built for a steadier, servanted life. The only problem, is me. Rationally, I don’t need another thing, I need to enjoy what I’ve got. And I should get rid of some of it. So if I never moved again, never bought a retreat out of London – I nearly did back in 2016 – that’d be fine (I’m still looking of course!).
I dream about discovering new rooms. But I wake to thinking that I’ll ask the talented architect two streets away – the husband of the brilliant gardener who makes the garden square so beautiful on a shoestring – to devise me some clever space-saving storage. Like the clever secret spaces in his own house.
I’ve got a Grand Plan for everything, every last thing (The Joy of Things is the subject of my next book – where I challenge darling little Marie Kondo to a knockdown fight). But I need people to help me do it. To re-paint walls flaking from the great blocked-gutter water overflow of April, to hang heavy stuff that needs two strong blokes, to switch round light fittings. And to hump heavy things in and out, wiggling them round my little curved internal staircase.
At the moment, looking into every cupboard, pushing and pulling every bit of furniture has created unimaginable chaos, like those documentaries about sad hoarders who can’t move in their own homes, for things.
So all I can do, while we’re waiting for the All Clear – or a Bit Clear provided everyone wears masks and cleans everything every hour – is tidy up. Bigly. That’s where I am with Marie Kondo, about the joy of re- ordering things. I’m hugely looking forward to it.
Peter York’s latest book, co-written with Paddy Barwise, is ‘The War Against the BBC’, published by Penguin, November 2020.