Happiness Is a Skip Raid; Novelist Deborah Moggach Was So Intrigued by a 'Dark' House in Hampstead, She Wrote a Story about It. When It Came Up for Sale, It Had to Be Hers

Article excerpt

Byline: CAROLINE PHILLIPS

SHE throws parties for 60 people in her bedroom, keeps hens in her garden, holds poetry readings on a platform by her bed and has a lavatory in an old lift (the sign on the wall reads: Load Not To Exceed Three Persons).

She also has an ancient animal skull on top of her cupboard, a kitchen built from the contents of Boy George's skip, and she dines at a billiard table - at which her erstwhile lodgers used to play strip pool.

She lived here communally with a bunch of Hungarians but now shares part-time with a Baroness. Welcome to the Hampstead home of Deborah Moggach, author of 16 novels, screenwriter for Pride and Prejudice, and currently adapting her book These Foolish Things for the cinema.

Deborah coveted her Georgian house for years and, lacking the funds to buy it, put it into a short story. "I wrote about an adulterous woman who used to live here and meet her lover in the car park on the Heath," she laughs.

Deborah first stepped into her character's home 10 years ago. "It was charmless, dark and overpriced. But I had to have it," she says. The huge 1940s studio on the top floor was what sold it to her. She paid [pounds sterling]535,000 and took on an enormous mortgage and a lot of work. "There was nothing in the house except for a Bechstein grand piano, which had to be winched out through a window."

She moved in with her then boyfriend, Csaba Pasztor, a Hungarian artist.

His friends, and their au pair girlfriends, also moved in.

"Hungarians don't come singly," she observes. The Hungarians pulled down a wall to open up the dining room to the hallway and, downstairs, built a workshop. In the charming cottage garden they constructed a pavilion with a glass roof and gothic windows. And they made an open-plan bathroom in the studio. "We drove around at night depositing rubble in skips around London," she says.

"Then we would raid skips and come back and panel the rooms with old doors."

Her resident floating Hungarian population (many of them artists) have spent six years being Renaissance men. They can mend cars and fix plumbing, but they also installed a marble fireplace and then carved herons on it; they built a four poster-style canopied guest bath and put rams' heads around the doors. They carved a fish onto the bath panel in the master bathroom, and made a television corner with a cupboard decorated with a serpent, and covered an alcove with overlapping gold fish scales made in cardboard. Csaba built a huge Dutch-style pine fireplace, using wood liberated from a skip while Deborah was writing her book Tulip Fever.

The look of this house is quirky, bohemian, a bit cottagey, almost Ruritanian, with Dutch, Moroccan, Indian, Georgian and Hungarian touches. …