‘It’s like a marriage but a lot less hassle’ How grown-up flat-sharing became the smart way to live

They get to share childcare, chores, bills and even dog-walking – how grown-up flat-sharing became the smart way to live.

‘We call home our mummume’

grown-up flat-sharing
Armandine and her daughter Mia now live with Sonja, far right, and her children Jake and Milla. Image: Sarah Brick

Single mum Sonja de Rooij, 41, an account manager, lives with her children Milla, five, and Jake, three – and single mum Armandine Gaulin, 34, and her daughter Mia, five, in a house in Brighton. 

Sonja says: I got chatting to Armandine while on a playdate with Milla in November 2018. She and I were in similar situations – both recently separated from our partners, both mothers struggling to find a decent place to live. I joked that we should find somewhere together, thinking if we pooled our budgets we’d get more space. 

Not long after that, I came across a beautiful terraced house with two living rooms, a large kitchen, two master bedrooms plus a huge garden. Although Armandine and I barely knew each other, after showing her the house, she agreed we should take the plunge and we moved in to our ‘mummune’ in March this year. 

We keep different hours. Armandine is a hairdresser and works Saturdays, so often I’ll have the place to myself. When she has a day off, she’ll cook a fantastic vegan meal. We share the cost of the house based on a percentage of what we earn. Since my income is higher, I pay more on the bills but have the bigger bedroom and Armandine does my hair for free. 

We can help each other out, too. Armandine plays in a band and every Wednesday has rehearsals so I look after Mia if her father can’t. When I have to work late, I know I can ask Armandine to pick up Milla and Jake from school. But we make sure to synchronise our weekends so that when the children stay with their fathers, Armandine and I can have a drink together. 

When we all moved in, we explained to the children that we are two families living under the same roof so different rules and bedtimes apply. They’ve learnt to respect that. We all speak English but because I’m Dutch and Armandine is French we also speak our own languages with our children – and Milla and Jake have picked up the odd French word. 

Of course there have been obstacles. I like things tidy so I insist on having a cleaner, and Armandine doesn’t like it when I use her pans to fry meat. But we’ve learnt to be mindful of each other.

Armandine and I aren’t best friends but it’s comforting to know there is someone at home who I can talk to. One night I was a bit emotional and asked her for a hug and had a little cry. We both understand how painful a separation can be.

Co-living might not be for everyone but if you’re relaxed and can be flexible with other people’s habits, I’d recommend it to anyone.

Armandine says: I moved in with Sonja for financial and emotional reasons as I found it difficult living with my ex. I love that Sonja and I can rely on each other for help – and live in such a big space that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. 

‘I chose to live with my best friend, not my boyfriend’

grown-up flat-sharing
Alexandra, left (with dog Buster), and Charlotte have known each other since they were 16. Image: Sarah Brick

Charlotte Dormon, 39, a natural health and wellbeing PR and coach, lives with best friend Alexandra Prince, 38, in a flat in Southeast London. 

Charlotte says: I’ve lived with boyfriends since I was 19 but when my previous relationship ended I realised how much I enjoyed doing what I wanted, when I wanted. I think women tend to lose a little bit of themselves in a relationship and put the man first when sharing a home. So when my new boyfriend of eight months suggested we move in together, I decided I didn’t want to, which he respects. 

In April this year Alex asked if I wanted to live with her. I leapt at the chance. We’ve known each other since we were 16 so there’s no awkwardness. I love that we are so similar – both of us go to bed early and get up early. In the morning, I’ll make Alex coffee and we’ll chat about our plans for the day. When I was single and lived on my own for six months I felt lonely. Sundays were the worst – I’d go to the gym then try to fill my day. Now Alex and I will go for a walk. She’s a life coach and I specialise in natural health so there’s always lots to talk about. And I don’t have to make polite conversation – with Alex, I can be myself.

Friends have asked if this is a temporary setup, which surprises me. At the moment, I’m not considering moving in with my boyfriend – I’d rather live by myself if I can afford it. People have it in their heads that if you’re not living with a man by the time you’re my age, you’re a lonely spinster. But it’s a powerful decision. I’m grateful that I can live with a friend I get on so well with, as opposed to having to live with a man simply because it’s what society expects of me.

We respect each other’s spaces.When I’m in my room Alex will leave me alone and when she’s making work-related phone calls I won’t disturb her. If my boyfriend comes over I give Alex notice so she can make plans if she wants.

If you’re considering cohabiting you need to be honest and clear about who you are when speaking to potential flatmates. I’m not a huge fan of chores, for example, but I’m happy to pay for a cleaner. If you enjoy listening to loud music or walking around the house naked you need to let them know that. Being open and communicating are so important when it comes to living together.

Alexandra says: In the past I’ve lived with boyfriends, but living with Charlotte keeps me young – I feel like a teenager having a sleepover with my best friend every night. 

‘It’s a block of flats with a difference’

grown-up flat-sharing
Donna with her dogs Pablo and Mia alongside some of the other residents at Fizzy Hayes. Image: Sarah Brick

Donna Blakeway, 56, a medical secretary, lives by herself with her two dogs. She has a flat in a complex in West London aimed at renters looking for a sense of community.

Donna says: I had been living with my 28-year-old daughter Sophia in Clapham, London, as she couldn’t afford rent on her own and I’d just got divorced after 30 years of marriage. But when our tenancy agreement came to an end we decided to go our separate ways. 

Sophia stayed in inner London and moved in with a friend, while I chose a modern two-bedroom flat with a large terrace at Fizzy Hayes in Greater London. It’s a new way of renting: you have your own flat but the company encourages interaction with the others living here. There are communal spaces, such as the two rooftop gardens and the ‘party room’, where the management and residents hold social events such as drinks and Christmas get-togethers. One of my neighbours had a wine and cake party recently and anyone from the complex was welcome. 

There’s an app for residents, too, where we can post anything from items we’d like to sell, to invitations for dog-walking meet-ups. Everyone is friendly – people stop to say hello and ask me how I am. It’s so different from the type of encounters you would usually have in a big block of flats in London where everyone is very private. 

You’ll find a real mixture of people: individuals living alone like me, couples and young families. I’m older than the typical demographic – most of the other residents are in their late 20s or 30s – but there are other people my age, too. This way of living is definitely not just for young people – I’d encourage anyone to consider it. 

My rent is much cheaper – I’m paying £600 less a month for nearly the same amount of space as I had in the flat with my daughter, and the facilities at the complex make life more convenient. There is an in-house property management team and a 24-hour emergency hotline. When my heating wasn’t working, the problem was sorted quickly; I work full-time and am too busy to deal with repairs. There’s someone on reception to take deliveries for me and, if they’re heavy, they’ll even bring them up to my flat. 

I chose this particular complex because it’s pet-friendly. I’m often in the rooftop gardens where my dogs Pablo and Mia can run around freely – and I feel safe walking them before work. As I’m living alone, safety is important to me, especially at this time of year when I have to get up at 5am and it’s still dark outside. There are security cameras in the gardens and you need a special key to access them. 

There are always other dog owners there, too. It’s a great spot to socialise. A woman who lives on my floor with her own dogs offered to take my two out for me while I’m at work. Although I live alone I don’t feel lonely, there is always someone around. When I have more time, I’d like to go to more events hosted by the building. I’m looking forward to the summer when there will be barbecues in the gardens. 

On the weekends my new partner will either come to mine or I’ll go to his. I spent 30 years living under the same roof with someone else and I can’t imagine doing that again. I like my independence too much. By living like this I have the best of both worlds – my own flat and people around when I’m looking for company. 

‘We’re sisters… Living together is so comfortable’

grown-up flat-sharing
Sisters Camilla, far left, and Chantal, with daughter Caitlyn, are also best friends. Image: Sarah Brick

Chantal O’Brien, 44, a residential support worker, shares a house with her daughter Caitlyn, 15, and sister Camilla Hardman, 48, in Leyland, Lancashire. 

Chantal says: Growing up, Camilla and I had three aunts who lived together. They always seemed happy and we told each other that one day we would live like that. So, in 2015 when Camilla and I were going through divorces at the same time, we decided to buy a house together even though we could have afforded our own places. 

As luck would have it, a house with three double bedrooms came up just down the street from where I was living.

Before we moved in we made a list of rules. Camilla does the cleaning and the washing; I do the shopping, cooking and sort the bills. Camilla is a claims adviser and we both do 12-hour shifts, three days a week so it works out well as one of us is always home for my daughter.

We’re best friends. We watch our favourite TV shows together, go on days out and, as we have the same group of friends, we meet them together. 

So many people who’ve got divorced say the worst part is the loneliness. Thankfully, I’ve never had that and it’s probably why I’ve never felt the urge to jump into another relationship. 

I also love how comfortable my sister makes me feel – I never felt like this around my ex despite being married for 13 years. Camilla and I talk about anything and never argue. 

We have an agreement: should either of us want to remarry, we will continue paying our half of the mortgage or we’ll sell. Our friends are a bit jealous. They’ve told us how lucky we are to have a sister at home who does all the cleaning or one who prepares all the meals. 

My only advice to anyone thinking of doing the same is to make sure you have rules in place first. It’s what made it work for us.

Camilla says: I love that Chantal takes care of the bills, as that was something I found hard after my divorce. Living with my sister is like having a husband, but without the hassle.

For more on Charlotte Dormon, visit instagram.com/healthyeatslondon. For more on Alexandra Prince, visit instagram.com/alexandraprinceco or alexandraprince.co. Production: Luisa Avietti

Interviews: Katreen Hardt