lot has changed in the past four decades, not least the way Londoners buy and sell their homes, along with how much they pay for them. Just ask Ninka Scott, who bought her Notting Hill townhouse in 1981, the year Charles and Diana got married.
“It was a half-term, and I was in a flat with my 11-year-old daughter. For something to do, we went to a property exhibition in Kensington Town Hall,” she recalls.
Faced with a sea of estate agents touting properties across the area and not wholly expecting to buy a house that day, Scott was convinced by one of the very first agents she met to visit a Victorian terraced house in Queensdale Road, W11.
“We went along, and my daughter and I walked in. Before we got as far as the staircase, we said, ‘This is it.’” Today, the notion of a property exhibition is even odder than it was in the early Eighties, and it’s not the only thing that’s changed.
When Scott and her then-husband bought the property made up of a four-bedroom maisonette and separate one-bedroom apartment in the basement they paid about £100,000 for it in total. Today, Scott is putting it on the market for £2.45 million through Inigo.
An actress by trade, Scott has starred in The Bill, Miss Marple and even alongside Michael Caine and Sigourney Weaver in 1986 film Half Moon Street. In more recent years, she supplemented this time-to-time income by opening her home to lodgers until the pandemic struck.
“When the children left home, immediately I had students, and then there was Airbnb. I’ve always had lots of lovely young people around me, which I think keeps you young, really. But because of Covid, my business has collapsed, so I’m moving on. It’s the sad side of the story, but I can’t really be here forever especially as I haven’t got a rich lover.”
Scott has lived in and around Notting Hill since the Sixties, and recalls just as much “drugs and rock’n’roll” as you may expect. “I lived under Alex Trocchi at the time, a very, very well known drug pusher. I was in it, but not in it, if you know what I mean. Being a goody-goody girl and all.” Writer Trocchi was just one of many intriguing characters Scott has come across in her time in London’s bohemian heartland.
Before Scott’s tenure, the house was owned by a divorcing couple. “The wife lived upstairs and was into ‘rebirthing’ therapy, so we’d open doors and there’d be people lying down, rebirthing,” Scott says. “The husband was a musician and lived downstairs with one of his pupils, who he’d fallen in love with. It was quite an odd arrangement.”
Scott’s cousin, director Roy Boulting, would stay at the house and regale her with “wonderful old stories about Churchill and Greta Garbo”. Lately, she has become friends with his ex-wife Hayley Mills and knew Mark Rylance back “when he wasn’t a megastar”.
Scott hasn’t just led a colourful life, but built a colourful home too. When she arrived, the house was “covered in brown paintwork” now every room is bedecked with a different patterned wallpaper, a wildly eclectic collection of artwork fills the walls and quirky objects of all ages are found in every corner.
“It’s patterns on patterns, but they do work, strangely enough,” she says. The kitchen features what Scott calls a “Matisse-ish” wallpaper, covering the room from corner to corner, and overlaid with mounted ceramics and framed paintings.
“People said to me, ‘Oh, you can’t have this wallpaper all over. You can just have one wall.’ And I said, ‘No, trust me. I am going for it.’ I enjoy colour. When I was very young, I went to art school and I would like to have been a painter really.”
The art, Scott says, comes largely courtesy of family and friends. Notable pieces include a painting given to her by Zbyszek Buday, an artist friend from her student years; drawings by her daughter, children’s author Gabby Dawnay; ceramics by friend Suzanne Katkhuda; a piece by renowned glass artist Sam Herman, and a selection of works by her great-grandfather Charles Radclyffe, an engraver who worked with JMW Turner.
“I’m beginning to collect my grandchildren’s art now. It’s wonderful to see it come through the generations.”
An appreciation of interesting objects also runs in the family. Up until about a decade ago, Scott spent 20 years working on-and-off at Graham & Green, an antiques shop in Portobello Road.
“I was one of those actresses who was forever resting,” Scott laughs, as she explains that bringing up two daughters made it tricky to dedicate herself to the career full-time. “In the old days, Graham & Green used to mostly employ actresses who were out of work. It was so nice, because we could drop in and out.”
Here, Scott could indulge her love of collecting and her “passion for moving furniture about”, but her parents had already made moves of their own in the antiques world. “That’s a Hepplewhite,” she says, referring to the grand four-poster bed in the house’s master bedroom, made by the celebrated 18th-century cabinetmaker. “It was bought by my parents in an auction in Essex for £50. It seemed cheap even to them.”
Scott also inherited a Chippendale table, complete with the designer’s famed claw-and-ball feet. “Most of the good pieces are from my parents, and the cheap pieces are from Golborne Road, which is wonderful, my favourite shopping street for antiques,” says Scott.
For Scott, Notting Hill’s greatest selling point is its colourful nature not just in the pastel rows of Instagrammable houses, but in the creative instincts of those who live and work there.
“It’s tremendously rich artistically, with all the restaurants too, and with people that really seem to enjoy life,” says Scott. “I was near Graham & Green at the weekend, taking photographs of new shops that had grown up because I thought, ‘I’m going to really miss this area, because it’s just so colourful.’” But the area’s soaring property prices haven’t been good for every aspect of the community. A London Councils report showed that the revaluation of business rates in 2017 saw the borough of Kensington and Chelsea record the capital’s ninth highest total increase in rateable value, with that of retail properties rocketing by about 30 per cent.
Scott suggests that higher bills are doing damage to Notting Hill’s reputation as a heartland for independent antiques retailers. “All the individual shops around Portobello have been bought up by coffee places, and that’s sad,” says Scott. “They’ve put the rates up but Golborne is still accessible, it seems. I hope it lasts because I love that street. You have really nice dealers who are not greedy. It’s very full of soul, and not too upmarket.”
“I could never be an antiques dealer because I’d like to keep everything,” she laughs. “But now is my time to change from being a maximalist to a minimalist.”
Just like Notting Hill, Scott is facing a lifestyle shift brought on by a changing financial climate. She is planning on moving to south London to be closer to her daughters, and while she is expecting a bit of a “culture shock”, she is happy to see her longtime home go to new owners.
“I think that it’s such a family house,” says Scott. “It’s so lovely, and comfortable, I feel almost guilty for having it on my own. It’s too indulgent. When I had the lodgers, I was serving a purpose. I was giving a service, and it was useful to them and useful to me.”
Scott isn’t yet sure if she’ll be able to squeeze all her collected treasures into her new abode, and reckons she’ll “probably be having to cull” some of them.
While the house is filled with four decades of history for her and her family, Scott is at ease with letting go of the past.
“I’m absolutely happy about it, excited, in fact,” she says. “I think it’s healthy to change and also one mustn’t be too acquisitive. Although I look like I’m very acquisitive, as soon as it’s gone, it’s forgotten.”