Tilly Wood swaps family home for a mortgage-free life in London's Royal Parks

Tilly Wood doesn't want a mortgage, so a rental house in one of London's Royal Parks is perfect.
Tilly Wood recently did something which, pre-recession, would have been unthinkable for a Londoner. She sold her family home and voluntarily stepped off the property ladder, moving into a rented house with her two children, Lola, seven, and Arthur, 11.

Though the rent is costing her more than a mortgage, she knows that at least she's not missing out much on capital growth as property prices are hardly rocketing. She also does not have to worry about maintaining the property she lives in.

Tilly Wood Mortgage-free life
© All photographs by David Butler
Tilly Wood with her children, 11-year-old Arthur and Lola, seven, plus labrador Stan. The family live in a rented home in London and enjoy a mortgage-free life

According to the latest census, one in four people in London lives in rented accommodation. Tilly's motive for joining them was partly practical — but also lifestyle-driven.

"A few years ago you would move house and your house would increase in value and then you would move again," she says. "But now the cost of moving is so high that if you are going to buy you need to buy somewhere you are going to stay in for years, and I wasn't ready to do that."

Tilly was brought up in Gloucestershire and would dearly love to live in the country again. But she needs to be close to London for her career as a model and actress. She has been producing a film, Barking at Trees, written and directed by Heidi Greensmith (vortexpictures.co.uk) and starring Tommy Flanagan. Tilly, 40, who appeared in the BBC2 series The Cut, also has an acting role in the film.

Equally important is the desire to be close to friends and family, most notably her ex-husband, Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stones icon Ronnie.

Despite the fact that he now has a new partner, the TV presenter Fearne Cotton, the former couple are on excellent terms and Jesse sees Arthur and Lola very regularly, as does their rock-star granddad and his ex-wife, Jo Wood.

The solution to the problem of not wanting to commit to a home for a long period of time came when Tilly spotted an advertisement for a house in Sheen. The property didn't capture her imagination, but its more precise location — in Richmond Park — did.

"We came into the garden and Arthur sat down on a bench and he just looked so relaxed, and I thought it was an amazing place for the children. It is so quiet that it is like being in the country, but you are really close to town."

Tilly Wood Mortgage-free life
The house and surroundings give the children and Stan the dog plenty of room to play

The large garden was a particular plus-point for Tilly, not least because it gives Stan, her two-year-old white labrador, plenty of room to play. And since it is maintained by Royal Parks' gardeners she doesn't even need to mow the lawn.

The three-bedroom house had been recently renovated with simple oak floors, off-white walls and a modern white kitchen. The neutral walls are a great backdrop for Tilly's art collection, which includes paintings by her children, watercolours by her grandmother and pieces by Ronnie Wood, whose triptych of bandmate Mick Jagger has pride of place in the living room.

The kitchen table is from A French Life in Kingston (afrenchlife.co.uk), while the dining chairs are an antique Indian garden bench and two period garden chairs (made more comfortable with the help of floral cushions from Laura Ashley). The property costs £3,500 a month.

Living in the Royal Parks may sound glorious but only a very few people get the chance. There are only 17 properties across the eight parks that are let.

"I think it's fun to rent something that you couldn't buy," says Wood. "It is like an adventure living in the park, and renting is the only way you can do it.

"I think you sometimes have to shake your life up a bit. It is amazing living in the park — so quiet, no cars, and all the deer gathered around the gates when I come home at night.

"It is very peaceful and the kids love it. They can climb trees and run about. The only problem is that it is going to be tricky for me to leave."

Photographs by David Butler

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