hef, writer and restaurateur Gizzi Erskine’s east London home isn’t your average warehouse conversion.
Whoever gets the keys to it will inherit an unapologetically playful and feminine interior (bubblegum-pink kitchen and House of Hackney tiger-print pelmets, anyone?). Yet while the decor is perhaps polarising, it’s a refreshing change from the soulless, developer-grade sea of silvery carpets and sterile white bathrooms which are installed so thoughtlessly and which nobody actually wants.
“Everyone thought I was mad when I started decorating it — it is a bit like a giant liquorice allsort,” laughs Erskine, who has listed the property for offers over £900,000 through Dexters.
The author of Slow: Food Worth Taking Your Time Over bought the two-bedroom house in a private cobbled mews close to Hackney Downs station nine years ago, and the property has enjoyed many former lives. It started out as a Carrara marble factory, and there are suggestions it was once used to store fridges and as a pig abattoir.
Erskine renovated her Hackney Downs home — with its sleek bathroom and living areas flooded with light — with the help of her ex-partner
/ Juliet Murphy
Its latest incarnation, as a live-work space for Erskine, 43, is undoubtedly its most glamorous yet. While pretty and pleasing for Instagram, the kitchen is of a professional standard, with a capacious Rangemaster and a steam oven under a free-standing mini island topped with a butcher’s block.
Erskine tweaked the ground-floor layout, knocking out a dividing wall to make the space open-plan, and reworked the downstairs loo to house a giant, American-style fridge-freezer instead. “I go into my neighbour’s houses and I’m like, they’ve all missed a trick! It really makes the whole space work better,” she says.
And talking of the neighbours: the gated entrance enclosing the six properties means they are a close-knit bunch. A mix of artists, musicians, graphic designers and scientists, “everyone’s smart and fun. They keep themselves to themselves when they need to, but in Covid we all locked down together and it was a really great sense of community”. They even grew veg together. “I’m a Londoner so I’ve never experienced it before in my life,” she says of the camaraderie.
Erskine grew up off Edgware Road and moved east in her early twenties. “I’m from a family who wouldn’t have even known to go on the property ladder. My mum still rents,” she reveals (Erskine’s late father, a baron, was declared bankrupt after an ill-fated business venture when she was young). She credits her ex-partner with helping her to appreciate the value of homeownership: “He was a working class lad whose family just invested really well, and it was interesting to see how that was put into play. I really learned about the property market from him.”
The home has served as a backdrop for shoots and partnerships with food and drink brands, saving Erskine the hassle of outsourcing dedicated spaces in which to film/ Juliet Murphy
Together they bought their first place in Clapton before Erskine, who studied her craft at Leiths School of Food and Wine, segued into TV and commercial work. “We saved and we did all the stuff that was easier back then. I think we bought our first home for about £180,000.” She rolled her sleeves up and learnt how to tile and put up plasterboard.
After selling up, they were armed with a large deposit when buying the mews house several years later, and fought off stiff competition for it: “It was a bloody nightmare, there was a bidding war but we won.” Its two-up/two down formation made it a rare find. “Most warehouses are on one floor, so they were like extreme live-works. This was like getting the best of both worlds for me,” she says. One of the bedrooms has a balcony, and the long windows means everywhere is flooded with light.
The zig-zag tiled floors are inspired by the iconic Mayfair dining spot Sketch
/ Juliet Murphy
The couple broke up shortly after moving, so the quirky find was rented out for the first few years. Erskine was eventually able to buy her ex out and, remaining friends and business partners, they renovated the property five years ago into the jewel box that it is today. The zig-zag tiled floors downstairs — inspired by the iconic Mayfair dining spot Sketch — and opulent bedrooms are all her vision. “I wanted to make them kind of boudoir-y,” she says, “I like that rich, turn-of-the-century look.”
It’s a dazzling formula which has served as the backdrop for shoots and partnerships with food and drink brands, saving Erskine the hassle of outsourcing dedicated spaces in which to film (for a new owner wanting to capitalise on the house’s photogenic qualities, listing it with a specialist locations agency could be a savvy way to generate some income on the side).
Opulent bedrooms: “I wanted to make them kind of boudoir-y,” says Erskine. “I like that rich, turn-of-the-century look”
/ Juliet Murphy
But the time is now ripe to move on: having found new love with her musician boyfriend Matt of the band Luxury Apartments, the plan is to split her time between Brighton, where he is based, and a place south of the Thames to make heading down to the coast easier. Even celebrities aren’t immune to the current instability of the property market though. Referring to the interest rate rises affecting mortgages, she says: “I definitely feel nervous about it.”
There is much to pine over in the local area: “I’m going to miss going down to Broadway Market and having the most amazing fishmongers, Fin & Flounder; I live off of Ridley Road and that’s a big West Indian and African market — I love the vibrancy of, it’s so fun.” She’s sanguine about her local pub, The Spurstowe Arms, and happily admits that Pophams Bakery in London Fields has a special place in her heart.
“The Real Housewives of Clapton [the satirical Instagram account mocking the elitist ways of this pocket of east London] — they laugh about the Pophams pain au chocolat, but literally every morning, if I can, I’ll go and get a coffee and a pastry. They are the best you’ve ever had in your entire life.”
However this patch is more than just a couple of square miles populated with local haunts — the streets are punctuated with markers of her professional life too. Erskine was one of the first to host pop-up restaurants — seen as radical at the time — and co-developed the hip foodie Mecca that is Mare Street Market.
On Shoreditch High Street, she and model-turned-nutritionist Rose Ferguson launched Filth, a revolutionary vegan take on US diner food. “The Hackney area is where I’ve done the majority of my businesses, so it’s sort of saying goodbye to a certain part of my career as well.” It really is the end of an era: “I left catering school 20 years ago and started my career in Hackney 20 years ago. It’s really interesting seeing how the food industry has changed.”
The past year has been a challenging one for Erskine, but the lure of a fresh start is re-energising her: “I’m building my confidence and getting to work out exactly what it is I want to do again.”
This summer she will pop-up with a seafood-themed menu at Lucky Beach Café in Brighton, and she’s exploring other new ventures. Her four cats are spending the summer in East Sussex alongside her, but they all plan to be back with a new London postcode very soon. “I’m a Londoner — London is my home,” Erskine affirms.