I recall the day with a clarity that only shock can impart. It was the first day of my last year at boarding school and we were finally allowed our choice of room. I had deliberately come back to school very early so I could have my pick. And I was feeling so very smug. The room I had chosen was the best on the floor. But then my roommate arrived and her face fell.
‘But this room has no view,’ she moaned. ‘How could you pick it?’
She was right: rooms on the other side of the corridor overlooked the cliffs and the sea, while ours boasted an enchanting view of the school’s parking area. Her words suddenly made me realise that, despite all my professed admiration for the local seascape, I didn’t think twice about it when it came to choosing between a cramped room with a breathtaking panorama and a large, comfy room with none.
I didn’t know it then?and didn’t realise it for a good deal longer?but that first choice of comfort over vistas was a seminal moment that would set a pattern for the rest of my life.
Nominally, I have always wanted a room with a view. I recall dreaming of rivers and lakes, old churches and gardens and always, always some trees. Indeed, the first home my husband and I bought together had leafy views, for it overlooked a carpet of dead leaves strewn over the dusty roof of a neighbouring bank. It was so near that most people who came to visit told us:
‘What a lovely terrace you have there! Ever thought of sweeping it up?’
Hum. Feeling a tad frustrated, we decided that our second home would definitely have far-reaching views. And it did. The views reached across a row of Edwardian houses to the glass-and-steel roof of the Chelsea& Westminster Hospital.
‘Well, it is a view of sorts, isn’t it?’ my ever-positive husband piped when we first saw it.
At one stage, we considered moving again and got really taken with a Clerkenwell loft whose enormous windows framed St Paul’s Cathedral to postcard perfection. We seriously thought of making an offer for it for at least five minutes: about the time it took us to tour the neighbourhood and discover that none of the local shops was open till late or?shock, horror!?on a Saturday. We went back to our hospital views and a stretch of Fulham’s The Beach where London’s best Italian deli and French traiteur would welcome us until 9pm.
Even so, we kept bleating about moving somewhere with views. Except that when it came to our home abroad purchase?in Milan, this time round?we ended up choosing a spacious, beautiful flat with fabulous vistas? over a busy thoroughfare. Which probably explains why one of my toddler’s first words has been ‘car’ (soon followed by lorry, taxi and the quintessentially Milanese tram).
We paid some lip service to the shame of not overlooking the 1600-year-old Church of Sant’Ambrogio (just round the corner, and fetching a premium of several thousand euros), but the truth is we have come to terms with our viewless homes. We very much enjoy seeing the rolling Tuscan hills from our room at my in-laws’ Florentine home, or the sea and cruising ships from my parents’ house. But we happily return to our flats, secure in the knowledge that between location and budget, square footage and comfort, safety and panorama, something has got to give?and that something, for us, is the views. Just like it was all those years back at boarding school.