As the founder of the award-winning blog Mad About the House, podcaster and bestselling author releases her latest book ‘Home: The Way We Live Now’, Kate Watson-Smyth reveals her home truths to Jessica Jonzen
KATE WATSON-SMYTH AT HER FORMER HOME. IMAGE: REKHA DAMHAR
Where do you live and why?
I have lived in Crouch End, north London, for 25 years although we have just moved for the fifth time within the area. We started in a two-bedroom flat, had a child and moved to small house, had another, moved to a bigger one, found a wreck and did it up and have just moved back to a smaller property as my sons are now between home and university.
My husband moved to London before me – we were both living and working in Birmingham – and he shared a flat with an old university friend here. We loved the area and although we ended up renting in west London, we knew when we started flat-hunting this was the place for us. It’s a cliché that London is a series of small villages but because Crouch End isn’t on the tube it has retained that village feel, but with better buses! There is a butcher, a baker and definitely candle sellers, if not makers. I love that I always bump into someone I know when I leave the house.
How would you describe your home?
Currently? A building site! We moved in six months ago and it needed far more doing to it than we had initially planned so at the time of writing we have no kitchen, boxes in every room and a filthy stair carpet that will, hopefully, be replaced in the next few weeks by one I have designed myself.
It’s a Victorian terrace that was probably a worker’s cottage originally. It had already been extended to add a loft conversion and a utility room so we haven’t changed the footprint but pretty much everything else is different.
I tend to favour rich, warm colours in tonal shades with lots of pink, chocolate, cream and terracotta; this house will be similar to our old one in that sense. One big change will be the flooring. In the old house we painted all the floorboards white but, since it was built in 1860, there were big gaps and they starting to split. Here we have laid dark engineered wooden boards, designed to look like they are original but, crucially, without the gaps. We are also having terracotta tiles in the kitchen, sisal and cork in the bedrooms so it will be tactile and warm and full of natural materials.
THE KITCHEN AT KATE WATSON-SMYTH’S FORMER HOME
What was the first thing you did to your home when you moved in?
Ripped a shelf off the wall which I had immediately hated. As I was unable to instantly change all the décor and address the lack of storage I wanted to do something to stamp our ownership on the house. Usually when I move house I make my husband hang pictures before we do anything else – it’s a way of marking territory and trying to make yourself feel at home – but because I knew we had so much building work that wasn’t possible.
If you are doing a big renovation I always recommend doing the bathroom first. That way you have water when the kitchen is being done and, crucially, a lovely space that you can retreat to when the house is filthy and full of dust so at least you can clean yourself. Also, it tends to have a locking door so you can close yourself in and have a little cry when it all gets too much, as it inevitably will do at certain points.
If the objects in your home could talk, which would have the best stories to tell?
Given that nearly everything in my house is old and either inherited or bought from eBay and junk shops I imagine it would be quite the conversation. My sofa belonged to my Great Grandmother who died in 1979 at the age of 98. My joiner has just made us a coffee table from some old teak handrails we bought from Retrouvius, which had been salvaged from Fawley Power station.
THE SITTING ROOM AT THE ORIGINAL ‘MAD HOUSE’
Which part of your home makes you happiest?
The cleanest! I tend to always fall in love with the last room I did so currently that’s my bedroom, although it was lovely for about 24 hours before we had to fill it with boxes from the other rooms that were being decorated. In the last house I loved the library which had a super high ceiling and a small window. It was cosy and dark and the perfect spot for curling up with a book.
What’s on your bedside table?
A clock radio, my Kindle, a lipsalve and the tripod for my microphone as I am currently recording the podcast in my bedroom.
What was your childhood home like?
My mother was a serial house mover but the one that I tend to think of is my Grandmother’s, where we lived for a few years after my mother’s divorce. It was a 14th century black and white timber farmhouse with parquet floors and low ceilings. My bedroom had a basin in it and a set of blue and white curtains with a pattern you could see faces in. The bed was antique and high and I felt very cosy and safe in there. I also had a playroom which was always called The Dairy, I assume referring back to its original function. It had sliding glass doors and curtains and I could be completely private in there.
THE LIBRARY AT KATE WATSON-SMYTH’S FORMER HOME, WHERE SHE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR HER AWARD-WINNING BLOG, MAD ABOUT THE HOUSE
Do you have a domestic guilty secret or pet hate?
Where to start? I recently mentioned to the local florist that I loved gerberas and I thought he was going to throw me out of his very tasteful shop, so I guess that’s a floral design crime! Who knew? I like the cartoon shape of them and I often buy them – although not from him, clearly! My pet hate is the default use of white paint for woodwork and ceilings. You don’t wear a white top with every pair of trousers so why default to white paint because tradition (or the decorator) thinks you should? Paint radiators to match walls so they disappear and either paint woodwork the same colour as walls to make them look taller and therefore your ceilings look higher, or pick a toning or contrasting shade. Either way, make a choice about it – I guarantee your rooms will look better.
What is the most memorable thing to have happened in your home?
In this house it’s probably too early to say but I came up for the idea for the blog in the library of the last house. It was initially painted grey throughout, which led to the publication of my first book, Shades of Grey, and from there to the books of the blog, all of which feature illustrations from that house.
What makes your house a home?
It’s about understanding what colours make you feel comfortable and relaxed. Then it’s about surrounding yourself with objects and furniture that tell the story of who you are. It’s really important to bring objects from the history of your life, whether that’s pictures and ornaments, or larger pieces of furniture. If you don’t have furniture from your past then buy vintage pieces that remind you of happy memories and in which you feel comfortable. Every home will have an element of the occupant’s personal nostalgia that takes them to their personal happy place whether that’s childhood or holiday memories.
ROOMS IN KATE WATSON’S SMYTH’S PREVIOUS HOME
Home: The Way We Live Now by Kate Watson-Smyth (Pavilion, RRP £30)
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