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Renting in London: 4 ways lockdown is changing what we need and desire from our homes

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Anna Brech
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Commuting time is out and green spaces are in: this is how our renting priorities have changed in London as a result of lockdown

While a larger home don’t necessarily equal a happier home, other aspects of living space can have a profound impact on our sense of wellbeing. And nothing highlighted the importance of this relationship more than lockdown earlier this year.

The coronavirus crisis meant that many city-dwellers went from using their flats as a fly-by-night crashpad to actively needing a place of sanctuary: somewhere calm to work and retreat in for months on end at a time. The challenge was especially acute for the 2.7million London tenants, whose choices are limited by the capital’s sky-high rates and a lack of space, in addition to the usual restrictions of renting. 

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These living difficulties have not only been tough in the moment, they’ve also had a knock-on effect on the London rental market. New research by neighbourhood association Wembley Park has revealed that Londoners are reassessing their living priorities in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, with a fresh focus on quality living space and close-knit community hubs.

Here is the new-look wish list for Londoners looking to rent, as based on a survey of just over 1000 private renters in the capital aged 25-45.

Quality living space is a top priority

Well, who wouldn't love a blush-themed kitchen?

While once upon a time a cupboard in W1 was worth its weight in gold – prime location and all that – Londoners are now placing a higher premium on the quality of their home environments.

The Wembley Park survey reveals that 59% of London renters are looking to move home as a result of lockdown, having become frustrated with their current living space during confinement.

Meanwhile, the need for outdoor space or nearby greenery has outstripped commuting time as a lead concern for two-thirds of London renters. 

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It’s not all about space, though. Design is also important.

Self-isolation signalled in a brave new age for DIY and interior design, with many people using spare time to try their hand at painting, or embark on homemade book nook projects.

Stylist digital writer Hollie Richardson is among those who discovered a fresh enthusiasm for home design under lockdown. “I started buying bits and pieces for my flat,” she explains. “It’s something I hadn’t really done before because I always think, ‘what’s the point? It’s not my place.’

“Lockdown’s made me think more about investing in furniture and prints for my room that I can take on to my own home eventually.”

A living room with a rubber plant
Lockdown has signalled in a newfound enthusiasm for design

While rented flats can be problematic to change, it’s worth thinking creatively about how you can get around restrictions. A recent spike in rented furniture allows tenants to be more flexible as they move from place to place, while free-standing shelves or wall art panels can help to rejuvenate tired-looking space without actually changing anything.

If crowding is an issue, you could look to create a sense of calm, and the illusion of more space, with the clever use of lighting, mirrors or a coordinated colour palette

We’re craving private roof terraces

Little nooks of outdoor space are the dream.

Unsurprisingly, lockdown has reignited a fresh passion for the coveted roof terrace: over half of Londoners now want one, and 54% are looking more generally for private outdoor space in rentals; an increase of 26% compared to the pre-Covid period.

But with a rooftop to call your own pushing already-high London rental rates even further out of reach, a compromise might be necessary. 

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If it’s nature vibes that you’re after, there are actually lots of savvy ways of growing indoor fruit and veg; be that windowsill basil or trays of garlic shoots.

Research shows that just looking at scenes of nature is enough to significantly lower stress levels: so a bit of indoor growing may have bigger impact on your mood than you expect. Creating an indoor garden space filled with plants is also a nice way of fuelling your wellbeing, and channelling the nourishing effect of botanicals. 

Alternatively, you could think about joining a nearby allotment or social farm project, for your outdoor and community hit all rolled into one.

Community is more important than ever 

Strong local communities are in hot demand

Talking of community, there was a distinct aura of positivity going on during lockdown: things like weekly clapping and local volunteer projects drove home a valued connection to those around us. 

That, along with the fact that many of us are still working from home, means that 39% London renters are now actively seeking out a local community feel when choosing a neighbourhood to live in.

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Want a little inspiration? Check out results from the latest Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide, with Blackheath and Bermondsey both leading the way for a strong neighbourly spirit. 

And if you assume it’s harder to make friends in your London neighbourhood, this ode to the power of female friendship is sure to convince you otherwise.

To flatshare or not to flatshare? 

In an age of solitude, is flatsharing overrrated?

With community emerging as a frontrunning priority for London renters, the pandemic has shone a light on not only where and how we live, but with whom. 

While the events of lockdown led to a rise in loneliness, especially for those living alone, it also sparked a newfound appreciation of solitude for some people. 

“My flat mates went home throughout lockdown so I was on my own,” says Stylist’s Hollie. “At first, I felt lonely and scared etc but after six weeks, I actually really liked it. I was like ‘I could get used to this.’”

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“It felt more like my flat,” Holly continues. “I also used the rooms for what they’re actually intended for (bedroom just for sleeping, lounge for relaxing, a new desk area for working). A flatmate moved in a couple of months ago and I’ve found it really, really hard to adjust.”

It seems Holly isn’t alone in her experience, either. “My housemates left before lockdown to stay with relatives,” says Londoner Jack Tindale on Twitter. “I feel bad but I’ve actually quite relished the solitude.”

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On the flip side, many people have seen the pandemic as a reason to embrace their flatmates. “The pandemic is hitting the UK pretty hard now,” London-dweller Anne Whitehead remarked on Twitter in March. “Luckily I live with a few great housemates from all over the world, we are all well and one of them just made me dinner! #Gratitude.”

Wherever you stand on this and other living issues, above all, the pandemic has perhaps been a cue to be more mindful about the choices that we make. 

Whether you’re craving the support of a strong local community or are hankering after a landlord who’ll let you have a dog for company, now is the time to tune into what you really need from a good London rental. Because –  however great the bright lights of the city are – nothing beats the comfort of a cosy place to call home.

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.