Go wild for your home
As her new book hits shops, Mad About The House blogger Kate Watson-Smyth gives Gabrielle Fagan a peek inside her own utterly stylish rooms
Kate Watson-Smyth’s known for her witty, down-to-earth advice on creating brilliant interiors, which she shares through her award-winning blog, Mad About The House. Now, the blog’s inspired a new book of the same name — and in it, a complete guide, she reveals how to identify your own personal style, and cope with colour choice confusion, and gives easy-to-follow tips on designing and furnishing every room in the house.
Here, Watson-Smyth, who has hands-on-experience of most decor challenges — she’s renovated four houses and runs an interiors styling consultancy — opens the doors to her own home, and reveals how to work her magic in your own interiors too ...
Create a show-stopping entrance
You might not think it — as it’s often cluttered and uninspiring — but the hall’s the most important room in the house: “It’s certainly the first place anyone sees and, as such, sets the tone for the rest. It needs to be both welcoming and fun, practical and pretty. You can afford to be bold with your decorating choices here.”
Practical flooring’s essential. “I have white painted floorboards (you can instantly see the dirt and clean it). My stairs are spotty. A deep burgundy carpet with large ivory spots (‘Dotty Damson’ by Alternative Flooring). They truly make my heart sing every time I come home. You can have stripes or flowers, if you prefer. I’ve painted the back of the front door a burgundy shade, which goes with the stairs and stops the hall being a complete white-out.” QUICK FIX: Choosing a dark colour for hall walls will make the other rooms leading off it seem brighter, and make a statement. Dark shades also won’t show inevitable scuff marks from all those hands, bags, boots and bikes coming through. Think navy blue, dark green or charcoal.
Whip up delicious decor touches in the kitchen
Soften the harshness of hard surfaces and straight lines in a kitchen with tiling or glass: “This is a room you’re going to be in every day. It needs to reflect your personality and make you happy. Introduce some pattern (and colour) to the splashback. Think encaustic, Delft or geometric design tiles. Lay plain metro tiles in a brick or herringbone formation and add coloured grout or consider glass for tiles, which these days comes in lots of colours. In short, have some fun.
“Another option’s a large piece of foxed mirror. This has the dark spots and smokiness of antique mirror, so your kitchen won’t look like a gym but will reflect light. You can fit it to the base of cupboards instead of a traditional wooden kick board, which will reflect the floor and make cupboards looks as if they’re floating.” QUICK FIX: Change ugly cupboard doors for more contemporary ones, or simply replace handles to make a huge difference to a kitchen. If you’re replacing wall-mounted cupboards, make sure they extend all the way up to the ceiling, which will make the ceiling look higher and the room more spacious.
Dress a room the way you dress yourself
Use your wardrobe for inspiration on colour and make decor choices easy: “Most of us know what we like to wear, but many of us are paralysed with indecision when it comes to dressing our houses. It’s actually the same as getting dressed.
“First, check out the colours of your clothes in your wardrobe. If you’re comfortable wearing those colours, you’ll be comfortable living in a similar palette choice. It’s that simple.
“Next think about the proportions you’ll use the colours in. The idea is basically 60% one colour, 30% another, and 10% for the finishing touches. Pick perhaps a neutral for the largest area, your walls. In clothes terms, that’s the main item you’re choosing to wear that day. Choose a second colour for the largest piece of furniture, say a sofa. This is your top or jacket. Add some pattern in the form of cushions: your earrings or necklace. The accessories — rugs and armchairs — are the final colour: your shoes and bag.” QUICK FIX: Green is the colour of the moment, whether it’s plants — real or faux — or paint. A touch of greenery will enhance any room, as it really does bring a little of the outdoors in.
Have one item that makes your heart sing
A signature item may always feature in your outfit — flamboyant earrings, cool socks, or a tiny tattoo — extend the same principle to a room: “Just as we all have a random item in our wardrobe that we probably shouldn’t have bought but which makes us happy when we wear it, so we should have the equivalent in a room.
“Mine’s a 6ft brass lamp in the shape of a palm tree. I still don’t know how I got it past the husband, but I love it every single day and it looks perfect with the dark grey walls and splashes of pink that accessorise my sitting room. “That’s the ‘wow’ factor in that room, which gives that space its personality and turns it from tasteful into fun and witty and cool.” QUICK FIX: Don’t overthink when choosing this signature piece — if you spend ages fretting over whether it goes with a colour scheme, or looking for something that ‘fits’, it defeats the purpose. If your gut says you love it, then that’s the piece for you!
Work the walls and sleep in style
Use a fake wall and a funky feature wall to create a calm space: “Bear in mind that the bedhead, or wall behind the bed will only show when you enter the room. You can be flamboyant there with colour or wallpaper because you won’t be looking at it while lying in bed reading or sleeping.
“What’s crucial is the wall at the end of the bed, as it’ll be one of the first things you see when you open your eyes in the morning. Don’t follow my example. We have a copy of a drawing by artist Tracey Emin of Kate Moss. Nude. This is what hangs on the wall at the end of our bed. It’s not completely ideal to wake up to, I will say!” QUICK FIX:If you decide on a pale colour, try wrapping the whole room in it: skirting boards, radiators, doors and even the ceiling. This will not only blur the edges, which will make the space feel larger, but also create a calming effect.
Ramp up the storage for happy splashing
Before you plunge into a bathroom revamp, be realistic about your storage needs: “When it comes to bathroom storage, you always need more than you think. It’s like sockets in the kitchen. You might think you’re going to exist in a minimalist haven of beautifully packaged bottles and jars, but you aren’t.
“Think about installing a niche in the shower for the things you need every day; you can add LED lighting strips to make a really good feature of it. Make sure you have ample cupboards or shelves built elsewhere — you will need them.” QUICK FIX: Finally, it’s an old trick but one that works — the more floor space you see, the bigger the room will look. So wall-mounted basins and loos are a good idea in smaller rooms.
Kate Watson-Smyth’s sleek, industrial-style kitchen used budget Swedish units, open-plan shelves and she softened the look with leather handles on the cupboard
Kate Watson-Smyth’s bathroom with a free standing bath fulfilled one of her long-held interiors fantasies
Mad About The House: How To Decorate Your Home With Style by Kate Watson-Smyth is published by Pavilion, priced £20. Available now