Foxberry Towers: at home with Robyn Donaldson
We loved every minute of our visit to Robyn Donaldson’s home, which she shares with her husband Jamie Watts and their rescue Bedlington Terrier, Cilla (after Cilla Black, of course). The pair bought in Brockley, south-east London, over a year ago, and have been putting their unique stamp on the place ever since. You may have spotted Robyn on Instagram at @almost_everything_off_ebay, where she’s chronicled their renovation project, and continues to document her incredible knack for sourcing thrifty finds.
When she’s not decorating or scouring the vintage shops and warehouses of Lancashire (her top tip) for bargains, Southport-born Robyn works for the Orwell Foundation, overseeing events, partnerships and book prizes. Jamie, a Londoner, is works for Bedales Wines. The pair have been together for 13 years.
Their house (which they’ve dubbed Foxberry Towers because it sounded suitably Alan Partridge-esque) is a 60s semi tucked into a Victorian Terrace, which they’ve transformed with a new layout that makes more of the kitchen and lets light in from the garden. After spending six months remodelling and redecorating, Robyn set about filling the house with a wealth of quirky purchases – we could have spent hours chatting about them, as almost everything has a story. Her favourite eBay bargain? The £200 yellow velvet sofa in the living room. “It was from someone’s nana’s ‘good room’,” she says, “so it was in perfect condition.”
You’re from Southport originally. What brought you to London?
Jamie got a job in London, and he’d spent two years living with my family on our farm by that point, so I felt it was only fair that we moved down to give it a try.
Two years of farm life must have been a change for a London boy. How did that come about?
My nan died in 2009, and she and my granddad had been together since they were 16, so we moved in to help him adjust to life without her. I did my creative writing MA and volunteered at a literary festival, and Jamie ran a gastropub. It’s quite hilarious that our village has a gastropub, as the only other places of note are a church and a garage. And, the first time Jamie went in there, before it became trendy establishment, they refused to serve him because he had a southern accent.
Sounds like Jamie earned his northern stripes. How did you feel about moving to London?
I found the idea a bit terrifying.
I have to admit that I love it now. All my friends are here, and my two housemates from uni live ten minutes away. It doesn’t feel like I’m in London, as it’s a real little community.
It’s all about living local. Is that why you chose Brockley?
Originally, I want to live in Brockley because it sounds like Broccoli, which I thought was a brilliant name for a place. Jamie obviously thought that was ridiculous reason to live somewhere. But, it was that or the Isle of Dogs, or Mudchute (because they’re also great names), so he’s lucky that Broccoli won out.
Probably for the best. What’s living in Broccoli like?
It’s dead nice. It has lots of good cafes, and there are loads of artists here because it’s near to Goldsmiths. There are regular open house and open studio events locally, which is great. I also love that our road has such a mix of people on it. Some are new to the area, and some have lived here for over 50 years.
How do you find London life now you’ve been here for a good few years? Do you miss home?
I don’t miss village life, but I miss things like getting on the train, and a stranger offering you a chip from their bag of chips, and then having a big gossip with you. Liverpudlians will just go up and talk to people without any qualms, which is so nice. I miss the sea, too.
Nothing beats chips and a chat. Has your family, and their homes, influenced your own place at all?
My nan’s house is full of stuff. She was obsessed with car boot sales, so there’s a lot of art. I’m not saying it’s good art – I’m talking dogs playing snooker, that kind of thing – but she had so much personality. She had the sky painted on her bathroom ceiling; her home was like a wonderland.
She sounds brilliant. Were you close?
She basically brought me up, so yes, we were. Her home always felt so safe, and there were always so many objects and knick-knacks to ask her about. We’re a family of storytellers, and I wanted our home to be like that, so that people walked in and asked questions about it and us. I guess the design is more me, but the house is a mix of both of our stories.
Exactly what a house should be. Is that what home means to you?
I’m fascinated by the idea of home, actually. It’s both a fiercely personal space, and one that you retreat to, but it’s also an outward reflection of who you are as a person. You can tell so much about someone by the type of home they create. No one should underestimate the importance of having a space of your own, and the catastrophic effect losing your home can have on you, as I learned from the project I just delivered on homelessness.
That must have quite something to be part of. Can you tell us more?
The Orwell Foundation teamed up with The Connection, the homeless charity at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and we worked with three men who were homeless for wildly different reasons. The whole project was very powerful and so incredibly moving. We organised live dramatised readings in Paris and London to raise awareness, speakers included people from the YMCA in Stoke, John Snow, Simon Callow and Sali Hughes – Sali experienced homelessness herself as a teenager.
What an incredible project. You must be very proud of it. What do you to relax when you’re not working?
I love to read, go to galleries, and do other arty farty stuff, or just go rambling about in south-east London with the Cilla. I also like hula hooping and rollercoasters, just not in the winter.
Yes, the latter definitely sound like warm-weather activities. And, as it’s Friday, what are you up to tonight?
So, tonight I’m celebrating ‘Ally Christmas’ with my friend Ally. It’s a tradition we have where we have a full Christmas dinner, eat lots of Celebrations and watch The Office Christmas Special. This year has a special bonus element in the form of a bespoke cake with David Brent’s face on it from Bodoh Bakes (@bodoh_bakes). It’s all a huge surprise and I can’t wait to see her reaction.
Amazing. Please send us a picture of that cake. Do you do much hosting at home?
We had all these amazing aspirations to have dinner parties every weekend when we moved in, but that came to pretty much nothing. We’ve had a couple of lovely get-togethers though. It’s a great space for a Sunday roast, and I’ve got a feeling Christmas is going to be off the hook!
We have a feeling you’re right. Who would your ultimate dinner party guests be?
Dolly Parton, Brian Blessed and David Attenborough.
Now that’s what we call a guest list. Oh to be invited for festive shindig at Foxberry Towers, with or without the national treasures, or a David Brent cake.
Want to see more of Robyn’s personality-packed interiors and bargain-hunting brilliance? Head to @almost_everything_off_ebay for a visual diary of her home.