To the uninitiated, navigating the London housing market might well hold parallels to an inexperienced cyclist’s first tentative pedal through busy city streets. Having to cope with the labyrinthine nature of the medieval street plan and a plethora of unwritten rules and nuances, it would be easy to excuse a feeling of utter bewilderment.
Although not – as yet – offering cycling proficiency classes, The Modern House is an estate agency uniquely qualified to support their clients when buying and selling property. A belief that design is a powerful force for good, driving a commitment to help people live in more thoughtful and beautiful ways. An ethos, according to Senior Director Rosie Falconer, that mirrors the cycling culture that exists within the company.
“Our vision is founded on originality, enjoyment, hard work, energy and passion. And the team love cycling because it embodies all these qualities in a physical manifestation. We even collaborated with London-based brand Freddie Grubb on a Modern House designed bike.”
Jointly responsible for the day-to-day running of The Modern House and with an enviable insight into the comings and goings of her colleagues, Falconer acknowledges that over three quarters of the 40 strong team ride to work and appointments wherever possible. An approach to cycling wholly endorsed by Charlie Monaghan as Head of Editorial and a keen cyclist himself.
“I joined The Modern House in February 2018 and for the vast majority of this time I’ve cycled to work. I had an old road bike that I adapted for commuting with practical considerations such as mudguards. For me, the bike is an everyday tool that I use to facilitate my life and not just a hobby I enjoy at the weekend.”
Asked to explain what he enjoys most about cycling through London’s boroughs, Monaghan cites an avoidance of public transport as the main motivating factor.
“Every time I use the Tube or get on a bus, it makes me realise how lucky I am to have an alternative. Buses are especially unreliable and there’s a loss of control in terms of your movement. Not knowing how long a journey will take means you seldom arrive at your appointment in a relaxed frame of mind like I do if I cycle. There’s an agency in travelling under your own steam with that rush of endorphins.”
With London – at least according to Monaghan – being quite flat and dotted with traffic lights, he particularly enjoys anything that replicates going up or down a mountain. Idiosyncratic aspects of city riding such as the climb up Swain’s Lane in Highgate, a downward bend in Richmond Park or Boxhill to the south of the city.
“I used to live in Newcross and would cycle out to Kent where there’s some nice views looking back towards Canary Wharf. Not the classic London skyline of St Paul’s from the river but I enjoy the contrast between the countryside and the urban environment you’ve left behind. Almost like a Renaissance painting that depicts farmland with the city in the background.”
A reference to covering distance that Falconer believes often surprises non-cyclists when they question how The Modern House team utilise a bike in their day-to-day work life.
“The majority of my colleagues live in South East London and clients are often amazed by the distances the team cycle to get to meetings in North London. We sell the best design-led homes across the UK with 55% of our properties located in the capital. And one of the biggest misconceptions about estate agents is that it’s necessary to drive to be one.”
That’s not to say that city cycling doesn’t come without its challenges. A viewpoint nicely illustrated by Monaghan as he rattles off his own list of annoyances.
“Traffic, rain, potholes, drivers, buses, bad urban planning, other cyclists, pedestrians; the list goes on. Cyclists are up against a lot in London but I still believe it’s worth it.”
Choosing to ride into work wearing cycle-specific clothing, Monaghan then showers before changing into more office-friendly attire. Unlike many city commuters, however, rather than locking up his bike ready for the return journey home, it’s immediately put back in service to attend any appointments during the day within a reasonable riding distance. Monaghan allowing himself enough time to cycle a little slower to avoid arriving in too dishevelled a state.
“The beauty of modern clothing is you can wear something really practical that works well on the bike but that also looks stylish in a professional setting. Though admittedly, if the rain is lashing down, then I’ll take my chance on public transport. But generally I prefer to ride. A bus on a rainy day is rather a bleak experience.”
Whether the bike allows Monaghan and his colleagues to do anything better causes him to pause before picking up his narrative.
“I’m definitely more in control of my day riding my bike. Journey times are consistent and it’s just quicker to cross London by cycling. Our offices are in Southwark and travelling south is much easier by bike as the transport links aren’t as good. But even crossing the river to Shoreditch – it can take an hour by bus but I’d only need to leave myself 30 minutes by bike.”
An aspect of The Modern House cycling culture echoed by Falconer:
“It keeps the team fit, is great for the mind and is carbon neutral. A fast and fun way to enjoy the incredible historic and modern architecture that London has to offer.”
This mention of architecture prompts the question of whether team members have a favourite property out of the thousands that cross their books. And what bike they’d choose if tasked with complementing the building style.
“We obviously have so many to choose from,” comments Monaghan, “but there’s a house in Wiltshire called Ansty Plum that I particularly admire. A modernist building which has been renovated to contemporary standards with the original design preserved and just updated to perform better environmentally. But I wouldn’t choose to match this with a vintage road bike from 1962 when the house was built. I think I’d rather have my own bike – the frame constructed from lightweight carbon – as I feel the modernist designers and architects would appreciate the very latest bike design in terms of efficiency and use of materials. They were all looking forward after all. So a modern bike for a timeless building.”
This informed analysis of form and function perhaps explaining Monaghan’s comment that when he views a bike in motion, more than likely it’s the person he notices first. How they look, their position and whether they appear comfortable. A way of seeing that he feels applies equally well to architecture and also interiors.
“I think ultimately, for The Modern House it’s a human first approach. It’s never been purely about the bricks and mortar. Apart from the sales listings, editorially we don’t feature homes without picturing people in them. And I think that’s what makes houses interesting. When you add the human element and then see how they live and function in that space. Much in a similar way to how I view someone riding a bike. It’s not about the bike purely as an object but what the individual is doing with it.”
“As for riding in London,” he concludes, “if I had to state one primary motivation, it’s that the city can sometimes feel relentlessly urban and occasionally a little oppressive. But when I’m cycling through the streets, it helps me connect with the seasons and offers a sense of the outside. And if there’s a little bit of London drizzle? Well, I’ve got my mudguards.”
Images with kind permission of The Modern House