Flat-hunting is a great excuse to be nosy about how other people live. In Moscow, of course, almost everyone lives in a flat, although some also have a summer house/dacha to escape to at weekends. Rents are high – currently around 45, 000 - 55, 000 roubles (about 1000 GBP) a month for a two room flat (that is, living room and one bedroom), so many Russians share; but on a British-level salary I can just about afford this on my own.
Entrance doors and common spaces seem uniformly pretty bleak, not grubby exactly but very shabby and unkempt, with hallways smelling of old cabbage. Lifts feel very rickety, some rather ineptly ‘glued’ to the outside of buildings. Lots of clanging heavy metal doors to be navigated with several big keys which I assume are left over from the economic collapse here at the beginning of 1990s when things were pretty hairy for a bit. (I haven’t asked anyone to check – it is just that Moscow feels reasonably safe right now)
Inside the few I visited was the usual private rented mix of miscellaneous furniture, from overstuffed, heavy and overdone to a few bits of cheap tat. Kitchens and bathrooms, though, have all been done up to high standards, and of course electricity is subsidised so heating is not a problem. I went for a compact IKEAed place on the seventh floor with a slightly bleak and ‘in-lived-in’ feel, because it has a fantastic view of two of the seven Stalinist skyscrapers – called the Seven Sisters here – and is a great location, about 15 minutes walk from Red Square. Now plan to add more IKEA in an attempt to make it homely as there doesn’t seem to be other ways of getting at secondhand furniture.
Some of my colleagues meanwhile have found themselves a two room flat in one of those Stalinist skyscrapers I see from my window, which is extraordinary. The rooms are huge with very high ceilings, chandeliers, oak parqueted floors and big glass doors. The flat has been decorated in the Moscow signature red/black combination with wallpapers of different abstract patterns, for example squiggles of black on a rich red background. Luckily the rooms are big enough to take it (just). The owner has it because her grandfather was in the KGB. There is also a mysterious door at the back which leads into a black hole. Until we get a torch we are making up lots of stories about KGB escape routes and hiding places.