It's the Rightmove Roundup with a Manhattan dreamhouse, Fire Island beach shack,
the best flat in Edinburgh EVER. And Catford.
Photo from The Modern House
A favourite game, here at the Sophist towers, is to work out which area of London I should have bought a house in twenty years ago. Thirty years ago. Alright, before I’d even been to London. Before I was born. Before my parents were born.
I find it increasingly hard to watch period dramas set in eg the stinking docks of East London several lifetimes ago, as while the characters are going about their smugglings and strangulations, I am entirely distracted by thoughts of FOR GOD’S SAKE BUY HOUSES, buy that terraced workers’ cottage with the indoor puddles of plague rat piss, that warehouse by the Thames where the orphans are picking oakum, that townhouse with the half moon window over the door that will go to sealed bids while your great great grandchildren are watching Bluey on your phone, buy it you idiot strangler buy it now.
Which is quite stressful. Even though these people are dead, or never even lived. And even if they had bought it then, they wouldn’t still own it now, and still. My nerves. My nerves!
In that spirit, people are talking about the South London enclave of Catford. Yes, Catford. I know, it’s a place name that should sound nice, because it has a cat in it, and a ford, and those are two nice things: every stream needs a crossing place and every garden needs a bird murderer. And yet it sounds awful. So I asked some friends of mine who moved there from East London because, as you’ve guessed, they wanted to have children and buy a house. And they said this:
“Some people love Catford but I think it’s miserable. No one cleans up their dog shit, so you have to dance round the turds on your way to the shops, and the shops are sad, and the good pubs keep getting closed down due to locals complaining about the noise, and my friend got punched in the face by a random nutter for putting his bins out.”
Oh. So I looked up what the papers were saying.
“Catford has been tipped as the next big thing for at least a decade, but it determinedly refuses to come up in the world like most of its neighbours.”
Ah. So I looked up what someone from there was saying. “It’s like Bethnal Green fifteen years ago.”
Make of that what you will - now look at this lovely house.
4 beds, 2 bathrooms, 1276 sq ft, garden.
Surely nobody’s going to twat you in the face in the bins area here.
Surely this blue kitchen could help you forget about loose dog turds.
Surely you could recover from all the sad shops in here.
And here! Oh God this beautiful house! NB, it’s on a terrace that’s about three houses long, tucked off a big road, and the rest of Catford looks absolutely nothing like it, but still, who cares, I’d accept many bin thumps and pup shits to live here. And I’d deserve all of them.
7 beds, 3 baths, garden, 5690 sq ft.
One thing we can categorically say about Stephen Sondheim is that he did not live in the bins in Catford. Rather, until his death in 2021, he owned this house in the Turtle Bay neighbourhood of Manhattan - an area described by our local correspondent as “a bit Midtown”. He bought this house in the 60s, using the money from working on the musicals Gypsy and West Side Story. So it was here that he went on to write Company, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and so many more of the greatest sung shows - right there at that black piano above! Christ, life really is all right in America.
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The six-storey house is on sale for $7m and seems to still be available after a month or so, despite some media attention - is it the whole “a bit Midtown” sitch that is keeping buyers away? If so, I’m happy to go out on a limb right now and state that I’d be fine with it. Super relaxed about its location in walking distance to both Grand Central Station and the headquarters of the United Nations. And not much further to MOMA. I would, categorically, cope.
I was going to say that seven bedrooms must be lovely for having all the family to stay, then remembered that Sondheim’s mum once wrote him a letter saying her only regret in life was giving birth to him - so maybe not. But the wonderful man was survived by his husband Jeff Romley, who must be the one selling up now.
2 beds, 1 bath, built in 1936, practically in the sea.
Let’s stay with the beau monde of gay 1960s New York but head to their holiday retreat - Fire Island! A place I know too much about because the poet Frank O Hara died after being hit by a beach buggy there in 1966. I know. What a way to go. Getting run over in a place where there aren’t even any cars.
Fire Island is the thinnest strip of land you ever saw, just along the coast from the Hamptons, which are down the posh end of Long Island, which is where New Yorkers go to estivate, a word I did not just make up.
Fire Island has a couple of little towns called Cherry Grove and The Pines, sometimes described as the USA’s first gay and lesbian towns from the 1930s onwards, and this beach house is in Cherry Grove. The author Olivia Laing described the area, in a book review, as “the ultimate queer utopia, a site of riotous hedonism, wild creativity and immense loss.”
And if you zoom in, this humble abode has a little sign on the outside wall saying Eleanor Roosevelt Slept Here. Which is probably a joke, although I just checked her diaries and the former First Lady does indeed write about spending “another perfectly gorgeous evening on the beach at Fire Island” in the 1930s, so who knows, perhaps President Roosevelt’s wife was off living it large with the Sapphists. Empires were built on such greatness.
Over 20 rooms!
I grew up here! Well not in this massive great house, which was inhabited by an army general (and then became an officers’ mess) but in a normal house just down the road. This one always fascinated me, though, as it was set back from the main road behind high walls and a gate. I never really knew what was going on there when I walked past, on my way to the Museum Gardens to smoke anarchic spliffs with private schoolboys and listen to them say momentous things about the Velvet Underground while I cursed my bad luck for only being at the Comp. Oh I want to say something sarky but to be quite honest, life has rarely been as thrilling since.
Now this Mojo Dojo Casa House belonging to the Ministry of Defence might be the reason we can’t see any interiors (the Imphal Barracks are across the road), although it’s more likely they’re a bit embarrassed about public money and being left to rot but still - it’s an absolutely massive bit of property for a relatively medium sum of money. Over seven thousand square feet inside!
Plus, Fulford is a pretty great place to live. There’s even a Steiner school right behind this house, as well as a special needs school, if you don’t want your kids to turn out like a) me b) the anarcho spliff boys or c) squaddies. You see - York really has something for everyone. What more could you want? Apart from a kitchen, bathroom, walls, windows etc.
2 to 3 beds, 1 bath, 1080 sq ft, garden, quick stroll to seafront.
Full disclosure, I shouldn’t have moaned about going to a state school in York as I got to do my A-Levels alongside people such as the artist who now owns this house in Portobello, the lovely seaside community in Edinburgh. Where you can, if you want, have the job of ‘beach.’ Weather probably not permitting.
THIS HOUSE THOUGH. Have you ever seen anything more exquisite? Technically a flat but the size of a house with a bonkers garden. For a fraction of what it would cost in stupid London.
(Urgent note to any other friends who will now expect me to flog their houses on this roundup: absolutely not, Amy has set the bar obscenely high, I’m making this journalistic exception for art itself mon dieu. Cash bribes are a separate matter however.)