There are gorgeous houses in my west London neighbourhood where the bedrooms look like five-star hotel suites and the sitting rooms have featured on Downton Abbey or Grand Designs.
I know because those houses are advertised on Onefinestay. Like Airbnb crossed with Harrods, it’s a website where beautiful people rent beautiful homes in London, Paris, LA and New York, from other beautiful people.
But those houses are not my house. They do not have plastic crates of Lego piled up in their children’s bedrooms, or five bikes and some scooters starring as the only “feature” in the garden, or piles of dusty folders on a shelf in the kitchen that have been there for at least eight years, but have no known purpose.
So, when a trio of charming and friendly inspectors from Onefinestay arrived to see if my home was up to the site’s stringent standards, I sensed a potential humiliation was on the cards. I wasn’t wrong.
The bedroom that my two girls share is, indeed, “too busy”. “Condensed” was another word that took a while to pick myself up from. It contains two single beds, two drawers under the beds, a desk, a chair, 12 cuddly toys, 550 books, 74 hair ties, a collection of 118 buttons, a sewing machine, stashes of sweets and a separate collection of sweet wrappers.
As I showed off our bathroom, it was only truthful to admit that the water pressure is less than pressured. It is perfectly normal for a member of the family to scream: “I’m washing my hair. Stop a) having a shower downstairs in the children’s bathroom; b) doing the washing-up; c) doing anything involving water.” Then again, I am not an Australian couple on the trip of a lifetime to London, paying £2,000 a week to rent my house. (OK, I’m making up that price, but that’s the sort of money we’re talking.)
“And where else could the bicycles live, other than in your garden?” asks Leo, a question that is, frankly, unanswerable.
The sitting room, superbly redesigned by my brilliant sister Emmie, is the only one that passes the test. They like it! It is stylish! It is neither condensed nor too busy (but that’s because they didn’t open the toy cupboard, which hides all manner of chaos, and where the forces of hell could be unleashed if you dared to try to play Monopoly).
Our basement is so dark, damp and profoundly depressing that it is extremely distressing to have to show anybody our subterranean sadness. Even Onefinestay’s lexicon of charm could not spin that one. I would have to pay the retired group of friends from Australia or America — apparently they are very keen on the website — to stay down there.
Onefinestay can also “seal off” rooms — that is, make them out of bounds for guests by putting tamperproof tape around the door or the cupboard. This is the room where the junk from your other rooms can be hidden. Or your Van Gogh collection, if you have one.
The kindly threesome told me it was advisable to lock away special items such as champagne flutes. I looked sadly at our shelf of Ikea glasses and knew that was not a service we would need. In fact, I could tell they were thinking that most of the rooms were perfect candidates to be sealed. Perhaps Team Australia could just make the sitting room into a bedsit?
By the end, it felt as though I had turned up at a model agency and asked to walk down the catwalk with Cara and Kate. I would love my house to be beautiful and expansive, with a magical cloud hovering overhead where bicycles are kept safe, but small terraced homes in Hammersmith where five people live very happily, but in a “condensed” way, are not a well-trodden path to clutter-free domestic perfection.