Kate Watson-Smyth is an interiors journalist and author, recently penning her first book, Shades of Grey. She runs the award winning interiors blog, Mad About the House, alongside her interior styling consultancy. She is the latest creative to feature on ‘today’s coolest habitats’. We sat down for the cuppa with Kate to discuss her home and how she lives.
Where do you live?
I live in north London with my husband and two sons.
How did you find your home?
We had been house-hunting for a few months and knew we wanted a wreck. They’re quite hard to come by, but we saw this online the day before we flew back from holiday in Italy and we arranged to view it the day we got back.
Did it feel right immediately?
Yes, although it was pretty horrible. It had been divided into two flats that were rented out and had been empty for over a year. Downstairs there were holes in the floorboards and cigarette butts in the fireplace. Upstairs had been redecorated – in magnolia woodchip and a bright blue carpet – it was hideous but at least it was clean and we knew we could make it what we wanted.
How have you made this house your home?
We had to do so much to it that it couldn’t fail to feel like ours by the end. We have lots of books, ornaments, photographs and treasures that help tell the story of the people who live here. You can change the furniture but it is the accessories that make a house a home.
How did you shape it – and how did it shape you?
It was a bit of both. There were definitely parts where we wrestled it into submission and other parts where it won. I have always felt that houses respond to their owners and as we replaced windows and sanded floorboards I felt like the house was relaxing and breathing again after years of abuse.
Where’s the heart of this house?
Well it’s supposed to be the kitchen isn’t it, and while that is definitely one of my favourite rooms, I also love the library which is literally the heart of the house as it’s right in the middle. It is dark and cosy and surrounded by books but with a view of the sitting room which I also love.
And the head?
Well that probably is the kitchen as that is the room we most often gather in as a family. It’s the room where we end up sitting late a night drinking one glass of wine too many and having mad ideas for new projects and plans which usually involve winning the lottery and buying a house in Italy.
If you could re-live one moment in this house what would it be?
For the last four or five years – since my sons were old enough to stay up a bit later – we have all had Friday night dinner together. Some of my happiest memories in this house have been of us all eating together and talking followed by everyone dancing round the kitchen. It’s like a reward for all the toddler years of no sleep and food fights and it balances out the teenageriness of the rest of the week.
Are you done yet? Is this your perfect habitat?
What’s travelled with you from last home to this?
My husband! Actually not much in terms of furniture apart from an antique pine cupboard which was the bottom half of a dresser from my mother’s house. It has been in all four of our homes. The kitchen table has been with us since the second house and other than that only books and accessories have made the journey. We started off with nothing in our first flat – the sofa and chairs came from my mother in law, we had a mattress on the floor and a garden table in the kitchen. Gradually we have built up a collection of furniture.
What’s your most treasured possession?
That’s such a hard question. Over the years we have edited our possessions so that we like everything we have. I am very attached to a Chinoiserie box that came from my Grandmother, which I think may have come from her mother in turn. Inside are different shaped boxes and inside each box is a treasure such including seahorse skeleton, some mother of pearl buttons, and, in one, a collection of scarab beetles. For me, they are so full of memories that I never change the contents and my own children (who are not allowed to touch, as I wasn’t) now know exactly what is in each box..
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I always tell my clients that they should try and have one treat in the kitchen. This can be anything that makes their heart sing – from an eye level cooker to painting the inside of the cupboards in a bright, unexpected colour. Mine is the hot water tap. It was expensive, I’m not entirely sure it’s eco-friendly but I love it.
What’s your skeleton in the closet?
I could tell you but I’d have to kill you. Oh go on then: we were completely seduced by a hob by a well-known industrial designer. It’s rubbish. It has rubber feet under the burners that melted in the heat from the gas. They have been replaced countless times and now the burners just wobble. It is the very definition of style over substance and I can’t wait to get rid of it.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? And why?
I’d need a few of Henry VIII’s wives – I’m fascinated by that period of history – perhaps numbers 1,2 and 6 – they’re definitely the most interesting ones, although presumably we’d have to sit Aragon and Boleyn quite a long way apart. We need Katherine Parr because she outlived the old tyrant. Then I’d like Iris Apfel because she’s amazing and possibly the coolest person on the planet, Ilse Crawford because I love her style and she can give me some tips. Hillary Clinton because it’s election year and Victoria Beckham; she’s definitely got more interesting as she gets older and perhaps I could talk her into giving me a discount.
Then some men: Obama, do you need to ask? Although actually he’s really funny. Clooney – so far so cliché – John le Carre for my husband to talk to, as well as Bruce Springsteen because he’s cool, Tim Burton because he’s weird, Cesare Borgia, another historical period that fascinates me and Jeff Lynne, of ELO, I reckon he’s have some great stories from the 70s.
Now, can you make this happen?
Are you a #HabitatVoyeur?
Definitely – nothing I like more than poking around other people’s houses both IRL and online.
What does Habitat mean to you?
Habitat is stitched into the British psyche isn’t it? The duvet, the chicken brick, the paper lantern. So many of the pieces it has sold have been in everyone’s houses over the years. I don’t think I have ever lived in a house which didn’t have at least one thing from Habitat in it, even if it was only a mug. Now I have several lights and quite a collection of tableware.
Do you have any memories of the Habitat brand specifically?
My very first duvet came from Habitat in about 1975. It was a Christmas present. My mother bought herself a feather one and I got a synthetic one in case I was “sick on it”. Years later I interviewed Sir Terence about how he was the first person to bring the duvet to England after encountering one in Sweden where he met a girl. He told me he was impressed by how easy it was to make the bed the morning after the night before, and I remember how impressed I was that he had bothered to make the bed the morning after the night before.
What Habitat products are your favourites?
Habitat continues to be really strong year after year. From the current collection I love the Orrico hammered coffee table in silver and I’m always a sucker for black and white tableware.
I also have two Spindle lamps which I adore – one is a burgundy floor light and the other neon pink table lamp. I also have two of the Helena Christensen VIP flower lights which I have had for years and which are pinned against the black walls of my sitting room where they look fantastic. Rummaging through a cupboard recently I found two round brass table lamp bases which I still love – I just need to find new shades for them and they are coming back out again.