Featured Rental Host: Catherine S, the Water Tower London
Catherine is an avid traveler who has visited 50 countries and is the London local offering travelers a unique place to stay - the Water Tower. She gives us some tips on what to see and do in London and the inside scoop on her amazing vacation home rental.
Tell us about your property in London.
The Water Tower was built to supply one of the first pressure-fed central heating systems to the wards at the Brook Fever Hospital in the 1890s. The whole hospital was developed in 2004 with many of the more basic buildings removed for new housing. 3 buildings were preserved, one of which was the Water Tower.
Converting the Tower took about two years and involved architects (Loates Taylor Shannon) as well as various specialist contractors. The tank at the top of the Tower has been replaced by the observatory lounge with 360 windows and balcony allowing views of the City of London and the Olympic sites as well as Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey.
After its conversion the interior and furnishing was carried out by Red Zebrano, a top West End interior designer firm. I bought the building in 2008 and spent a few weekends there with family and friends while I set it up as a rental property.
I love the diversity of groups we get to stay - a couple and their families from Chicago who always wanted to get married in London, a group of musicians performing at Westminster Abbey, some South African women visiting for the Greenwich Dance Festival while their men stayed at home to watch the World Cup, lots of international reunions of families and friends, a deep meditation group who use the space regularly for its magical properties and of course lots of people who just want to live like a celebrity for a weekend. When you visit the neighborhood where the Water Tower property is located, what are some of your favorite things to do? The most likely thing guests say to me at the end of their stay is "we had all these plans of things to go and see but in the end we couldn't tear ourselves away and we just wanted to stay at our Tower". But assuming you do get out the door, I'm fascinated by Eltham Palace (1 mile) with its Tudor history (Henry VIII in his boyhood) and the 20th century glamour the Courtaulds added - its an inspiring place. For a peaceful Sunday afternoon you can't beat the ancient woodlands of Oxleas Woods (0.5 miles) and of course the Greenwich World Heritage site is only 10 mins by bus - I especially recommend the History of Time at the Observatory and rolling down the grassy slopes of Greenwich Park towards the many restaurants and bars of the town.
It looks like your property has gotten some interesting press mentions - where has it been featured?
For the professionals, the special feature in The Architects' Journal gave all the technical information about joists and materials but for most of us the weekend papers' view is more accessible. The Daily Telegraph has run two features on this "stunning Water Tower... a sumptuous base for parties, a weekend escape or an unusual conference venue." When US property program "Househunters on Vacation" filmed here recently host Taniya Nayak loved the old Victorian brick and iron work, the sense of history and atmosphere the Water Tower offers - but with proper plumbing and without any of the inconveniences of Ye Olde England.
I was fascinated by the feature film that used the Tower as one of its main venues. I've seen the finished article now and they have managed to use different rooms for completely different locations in the film. At one point there were 40 crew on site, all the furniture was in different places or stacked up in the garden and they rebuilt the cloakroom to fit with the pivotal escape scene in the film - I hardly recognised the place!
What are your must-see recommendations for a first-time visitor to London?
Tick off all the famous sites with an open top bus tour or a river tour starting from Greenwich and getting off by Big Ben. Once that is out of the way and you've taken the photos you're ready for the more intimate aspects of the city. Potter around Covent Garden - I love ducking through the narrow alleyways between the streets, takes you straight back in time. On a sunny day sit in quirky Soho Square and eat your sandwich with the office workers who flock there for a break. If you're going to the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert, I recommend picking 2 or 3 things you're really interested in and heading straight for them - it can be overwhelming to just wander though so much history. And if you have a hobby or special interest then check out the specialist museums - from the oldest operating theatre in England (1821 onwards) to cartoons, engineering, money.... see Time Out for info. You are also an avid traveler. How many countries have you visited? What have been some of the highlights? I've travelled to over 50 countries for work and leisure and wouldn't have missed any of them, even the tough ones. I have particularly fond memories of the warm welcomes of slum dwellers in Addis Ababa, the screech of parrots circling Mayan ruins at sunrise in Tikal, Guatemala and spending my 30th birthday camping among 10,000 hippos on the Ugandan shores of Lake Victoria. Travelling always challenges my preconceptions, it teaches me resilience and courage, it gifts me with many of the beautiful objects in my home and has given me a network of friends to visit all over the world.