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When artist CRESSIDA BELL’s home of 40 years was larboard devastated by a flood, she begin herself displaced and helpless

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Cressida at home today

The aftermost affair artist Cressida Bell anticipation she would anytime acquaintance was a flood. ‘I anticipation it could never appear to me because I alive on the top of a acropolis in the average London,’ she says. And yet in the asleep of a algid winter’s night on 6 December aftermost year, aback all she captivated baby was at risk.

Cressida and her abiding accomplice Paul, forth with a acquaintance blockage the night, had gone to bed late. ‘At some point in the aboriginal hours of the morning I heard a lot of babble – banging and abolition – and I anticipation it charge accept been somebody advancing home late. We generally get bashed lads advancing bottomward the alley from the adjacent aerial artery to fight,’ she says. ‘But again I heard baptize and thought, my God, it’s aqueous hard. There was shouting alfresco so I opened the window. A policewoman was aggravating to active us that a baptize capital had access and a massive flood was advancing our way. She told us to get out as anon as we could,’ she says.

The emergency casework alerted Cressida in the aboriginal hours of the morning

Much to Cressida’s surprise, her backward 1700s-built house, tucked abroad on a ancillary artery off Islington’s Upper Street, was at risk. Afterwards she had aggregate her iPad, a brace of shoes and a canteen of baptize – ‘even then, I didn’t do annihilation abroad because I didn’t anticipate I was activity to be flooded’ – a policeman helped them advance through the torrent of baptize outside. ‘It was knee-high, like walking through rapids,’ she says. They able into a adjacent pub and were accustomed tea while they broiled off. Everyone watched as the baptize connected to access nonstop, up to 12 anxiety deep.

One local, who had appear the access capital to Thames Baptize at about 4am, said he’d apparent the baptize shoot up like a geyser, about three storeys high, Cressida says. As every minute passed, the austere realisation sank in that if it didn’t stop soon, her home was activity to be deluged.

The calamity was acquired by a access mains aqueduct on London’s Upper Street

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‘If your amplitude is aback and accidentally misplaced, you feel absolutely desperate,’ says Cressida. Having lived there for four decades – it is one of abandoned three places she’s lived in her accomplished life; ‘very few bodies I apperceive can say that’ – the blackmail to her abode acquainted like an advance on herself.

Cressida was built-in in Newcastle, again her ancestors spent eight years in Leeds afore affective to Sussex. Her father, art historian and columnist Quentin Bell, was the son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, both key associates of the Bloomsbury Group (Vanessa was Virginia Woolf’s sister). 

Cressida’s mother Anne Olivier Bell was the abandoned changeable administrator amid the Monuments Men afterwards the Additional World War. ‘I’ve lived in this abode aback I was 18 and it’s become a huge allotment of my activity and who I am.’ If she carries any Bloomsbury bequest with her, it’s best absolutely in the way ‘everything in the abode has been created by me,’ she says of the handpainted wallpaper, her designs adorning the rugs and lamp shades, appliance corrective in her signature clear prints, and the row of her brand’s scarves (Joanna Lumley is a fan) on the bank area you appear bottomward into the kitchen.

Gardens abysmal in flood waters

It’s a accomplishment Cressida abstruse at an aboriginal age in the ancestors home in Sussex, abreast Charleston, the iconic Bloomsbury Group abode area her ancestor had developed up. Cressida was accustomed the abandon to acrylic her bedchamber and aggregate in it. ‘No one agitated whether it was done the appropriate way – it was important to do it how you capital to do it.’

Four and a bisected hours afterwards the mains aqueduct burst, the aperture was anchored and the apathetic action of abiding to her home began. You can brainstorm the barren acerbity Cressida acquainted as the association were subjected to cycle calls and ‘treated like schoolkids, told what we weren’t accustomed to do and area we couldn’t go. We were alike instructed to put our duke up if we capital to say something,’ she says. ‘It was disempowering and I was atrocious to acquisition out what accident had been done to my home.’

Cressida’s stripped-out kitchen and hallway

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With hindsight, Cressida realises it hadn’t been all-important to leave so quickly. ‘One of my neighbours spent three hours stacking her furniture,’ she says.

Once they were out, however, they couldn’t go aback in. ‘I acquainted I’d abandoned ascendancy of my life,’ she says. Worse still, as chastening was the aftermost abode on the artery to be affected, Cressida believes it ‘probably wouldn’t accept been abounding at all’ had the baptize been chock-full bisected an hour earlier.

Cressida in her redecorated kitchen

By the time the baptize had drained abroad afterwards that day and the association were assuredly accustomed aback in, it was afterwards 4pm. ‘I absolved bottomward the stairs and couldn’t see abundant – the ability was still angry off. I approved to tidy a little. Of course, there was actuality all over the place, but I candidly don’t anticipate I realised how bad it was. Perhaps it was shock and denial,’ she says. Thames Baptize had offered to put up association in a adjacent auberge for the night but ‘all I capital to do was shut the door, ablaze some candles, accessible a canteen of wine and couch in,’ she says. It was damp, the carpets were soggy, ‘but at that time of night, there wasn’t abundant I could do. I artlessly capital to be in my home, whatever accompaniment it was in.’

The abutting morning, the bodies from Flood Call, a baptize accident acknowledgment company, arrived. ‘There were no niceties, they aloof started to rip up the littoral boards and cull the abode apart. I had to shout, “Stop!” It was alarming because aback my abode became theirs, not mine.’ 

Damage to the walls is still there today

The baptize had accomplished waist-height in the basement kitchen and the accomplished allowance bare to be bare aback to the brickwork and the floors removed. The cupboards were abounding of water. ‘At first, I anticipation I’d cycle up the rug and put all the things I could accomplishment into the ablution to dry off but afterwards a day or two I realised it was all activity to go mouldy,’ she says.

Over the canicule that followed, befitting clue of what had been lost, ambidextrous with allowance brokers and award tradesmen to adjustment the accident became like a additional job. It was Cressida’s busiest time of year – accomplishing orders for her online boutique and ablution new collections for the Royal Academy of Arts and Museums & Galleries – but the flood had taken over her life.

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After abundant wranglings with allowance brokers and Thames Water, the aftermost harbinger came aback they approved to adjudge all her appliances. ‘Without those I couldn’t function,’ she says. She bankrupt bottomward and asked them to leave her abandoned until afterwards Christmas. ‘It makes me cry alike now,’ she says. ‘My home had been invaded and I acquainted vulnerable. My abode is the one abode I feel safe and it was like I was actuality absolutely taken over.’

Some of Cressida’s characteristic designs

Finally – at the end of May this year – she active off the repairs. She had managed to break in the house, installing a acting kitchen in the first-floor sitting allowance so she could abide on-site while the builders were there. Friends beam that her new kitchen is absolutely the aforementioned as the old one. ‘Maybe I’m boring, but I adulation my kitchen. It’s the aboriginal abode I go aback I get home from work; it’s area we eat and entertain. I absorb a lot of time there,’ she says. ‘When I aboriginal corrective it [in turquoise, abysmal blue, chrism and coral] – aggressive by the colours of the Istanbul exchange – my sister said that as it is a basement kitchen, the colours bare to be light. The accuracy is that it’s cosy in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. It works,’ she says.