Award-winning journalist and author Kate Watson-Smyth has garnered a loyal following with her inspirational interiors blog Mad about the House. Known for her love of grey, she shows Jessica Jonzen around her London home.
Back in 2009, Kate Watson-Smyth declared grey to be the new magnolia in a newspaper column. Since then, the British public have taken to it with a quiet zeal and it has crept into our homes, from the carpets to the walls to the furniture.
While some interior designers might be turning their noses up at the colour (High Priest of Chintz Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen among them), it seems that our love affair with grey shows no sign of abating. Indeed, Dulux has expanded its range of greys to 557 variations.
Such is Kate Watson-Smyth’s devotion to the colour, she dedicated her first book, Shades of Grey, to it. Her name and blog, Mad about the House, are now synonymous with the colour and she is an advocate of its place in our homes. ‘Grey is every other colour’s best friend; it goes with everything. There will always be people at the forefront of adopting new colours – and then there are the rest of us, who just want colours that we can live with,’ she says, sensibly.
That’s not to say that Kate’s style is play-it-safe – far from it. The North London home she shares with her husband and two teenage sons is a masterclass in dramatic style. From the rich, dark-grey walls of the sitting room (Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball) to the tin ceiling tiles in the kitchen and the flashes of pink in the library, this is a striking family home.
The three-storey Victorian house was arranged as two rental flats when the family moved in at the end of 2010. They spent the next nine months moving around the building ‘like Tetris’ as the neglected shell became a stylish home.
At the same time that Kate and her family were living in a mad house, her aptly titled blog was taking off. Kate’s excellent writing and her eye for detail elevates her blog to make it essential for anyone with an interest in interiors.
A news reporter for papers including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent, Kate went freelance when her first son was born 16 years ago, and worked on The Independent writing about property. She began to focus on interiors, which had always been a passion. She says: ‘I’d get access to some of the best brains, interior designers and experts in the industry, so built up my knowledge.’
As is the way for so many journalists now, the work slowly decreased. ‘I started up the blog slightly in desperation as a sort of online CV,’ she admits. ‘I thought it would be a good way to archive my work, with a big neon sign saying “hire me!”’
The blog led to commissions from The Financial Times and others, and she also found herself being asked to help readers of her blog with styling their homes. Her consultancy, Mad about your House, was born, and she has helped to transform houses across London and the Home Counties. She says: ‘I’m not a formal interior designer – it’s an advisory service. I’m good on layout and helping clients to imagine how to use their space better.’
When it came to renovating her own home, Kate had a clear idea of how she wanted it to look: ‘It was originally very white and Scandinavian, partly because our last house was so dark, but we’ve since painted the sitting room dark grey and the kitchen cupboards black.’
If it sounds oppressive, it is anything but in reality. The North-facing kitchen is painted in Wimbourne White by Farrow & Ball, while the black kitchen units have had texture added with leather handles from Superfront. The reflective quality of the stainless steel work surfaces is picked up by the tin ceiling tiles from Andy Thornton. ‘Down Pipe is a warm grey and it works well in electric light,’ she says. ‘Paint the skirting boards the same colour as the walls to make them look taller.’
An ante room to the sitting room was turned into a library. ‘We had MDF shelves made and painted to match the sitting room – dark walls make books look great,’ Kate adds.
A bedroom was converted into an en-suite with a freestanding bath in front of the fireplace, a big shower and twin basins. The bedroom is uncluttered. A false wall behind the bed is decorated with Neisha Crosland’s Hollywood Grape wallpaper and disguises a walk-through wardrobe. ‘The wardrobe isn’t tidy but the room is a monument of Zen and tidiness!’ Kate says.
There is also a loft conversion that doubles up as an office and spare room. Forgoing the floor-to-ceiling windows and Juliet balcony often found in loft conversions, Kate chose a window stretching the width of the room. ‘You lose furnishing space otherwise,’ she says.
She found a lab worktop at Retrouvius to be made into a desk and had wooden window frames put in and painted black.
It’s a home that tells the story of the family who lives there, and invites you to sit down for a chat with a tasteful friend – precisely how it feels to read the owner’s blog.
Kate Watson-Smyth’s Tips for a Stylish Home
‘Every room must have something new, something old, something black and something gold. You need metallics to bounce the light around the room. Black helps to anchor it – it could be picture frames or chair legs, and something vintage or antique will add character.’
‘When it comes to your home, be true to who you are, not who you think you are. Do you really need a pink sofa and a white carpet if you have toddlers? Are you really going to use a teppanyaki barbecue in your kitchen if you’re a vegetarian?’
‘Painting a dark room white won’t make it appear lighter. White needs natural light to reflect off it, and if that’s lacking then you’ll end up with a drab room. My advice would be to embrace the darkness and go for a dark grey. Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball is my favourite as it’s very warm and works well in both natural and electric light.’
‘You can find inspiration in unexpected places. Restaurant loos are often great for interesting ideas for small spaces.’
Kate Watson-Smyth’s Favourite Instagram Accounts for Interiors Inspiration
Bianca Hall is a print and textile designer. She’s really clever and her house is amazing.
Fiona Cameron is based in Edinburgh and has a lovely Instagram feed.
She sells beautiful sheepskin rugs and her home is very dark. It’s lovely.
Carole Poirot is a food and prop stylist and photographer. It’s a fantastic feed and all her own pictures.
All images by Paul Craig