I visited a friend in Barcelona. She lives in the old quarter, close to the shore. Her flat is amazing, with a terrace straight out of an Almodavar film, three large bedrooms, a study and high ceilings with original plaster moulding. The entrance features a formidably huge carved wooden door, with a smaller one cut into it so people can duck and enter without damaging ligaments.
Originally the flats were built around a cooling courtyard, now covered sensitively with a glass roof (I visited during the rainy season in Catalonia) and the owner had recently paid for a glass lift to be installed. We reached it via an elegant, ancient street with an equally ancient coffee house on the corner, where neighbours met for a cuppa.
The tenants are varied. My friend has two teenage sons, and her neighbour has a toddler. Another neighbour has lived there since being a dreadlocked engineering student, and is now a smartly dressed professional (what? they scrub up nicely.) Other occupants are elderly and have lived there all their lives. The stone steps are eroding with countless human footsteps
The flat is absolutely unfurnished, not even white goods, as has become the custom in unfurnished flats in Scotland. Over the years she has amassed a begged and bargained for beautiful raggle-taggle band of chairs and other belongings, all of which suit the grand and eccentric nature of the building.
The landlord has not put up the rent for two years, and it being close to the yachts, beach and shoreline development, you can imagine how desirable that flat is.
My friend recently wilted in the heat and paid to install a much-needed ceiling fan. She said that if she ever installs central heating (which she might well do) she will expect a longer rental agreement, but it seems tacitly understood that she will stay as long as she wants, be that decades or forever.
The problem is that the landlord doesn’t really ‘do’ repairs. It’s her home, and so she does all the work. Before she moved in he installed a modern bathroom and kitchen. Oh – and regular readers of this column might like to know there is utility cupboard, something I advocate in confined space, but this is an airy flat.
Even the locks are carefully crafted, adorned with decoration. The windows might leak in the winter, but they are antiques, with moulded locks and fittings, and to replace them with sealed water resistant plastic ones would be a crime and a travesty.
It’s always been an apartment block. Over the years, the flats have been reduced in size (I imagine they once had space for servants, larders and laundries as they are quite grand). Tenants have always rented homes long-term here, and the landlord inherited the freehold from his mother – it’s been passed down the generations.
Tenants wash clothes, floors and each other, die, are born and marry, love, work laugh and argue in this grand, cool and fantastic building. And they’ve been doing so, as tenants, since the early 1700’s.