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Book recommendation: London: From Punk to Blair

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Sunday 5 December 2004 8.24pm
Books about London rarely get under the skin of the city, but here's one that's really got me. I'm only part way through, but already I'm loving it. It's a collection of essays from some great writers.

Here's a page from one article - "Higher and Higher: How London Fell for the Loft" - by Tom Dyckhoff.


There it was, the ad, staring up at me from the Homes and Property section of the Evening Standard: 'newly build loft-style apartments'. Andy Warhol would have been proud. Here was the mass production not of art, but of architecture - not screen prints on the production line but the Factory itself, drained of life, but packaged and pumped full of profit. In Crouch End, too.

The loft, along with Feng Shui, skinny lattes and Cool Britannia, was what London was all about in the 1990s. Or rather, that's what it was supposed to be about. That's what Wallpaper* magazine told us. And before we can do anything about it, this fact has already been immortalised in history, the loft's style and symbols preserved beside the 'Regency home' as the '1990s home' at the Geffrye Museum of English domestic interiors in the east end.

Every detail is in place: the double height 'space' (never a room), the wooden floor, the white walls (the odd section picked out in canary yellow); the mezzanine for sleeping; the Matthew Hilton Balzac armchair (displaying the owner's modish, and mandatory, interest in young British design); the casually placed copy of Wallpaper*; the designer kitchen - olive oils, River Cafe Cookboook 2, Smeg oven - for impromptu dinner parties with creative friends; the suitably urbane reading material on the Conran shelves - Captain Corelli, Rem Koolhaas.

And all - so neatly - on the edge of the loft's natural habitat, that swathe of inner London that now sings with the capital's highest property prices: Clerkenwell, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Borough, Soho, SoBo, NoHo, SoSho, Cityside, Aldgate Triange, South Central and every other neighbourhood that property developers try, in vain, to Manhattan-ize.

Yes, every detail is in place. This is, indeed, the image of the London loft, 1990s style. High gloss, high price, and we all bought it - at least some of it.

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