#10MINSWITH: KATE WATSON-SMYTH

If you need interior advice then visit blog Mad About The House: an award-winning treasure trove of interior inspiration, with where-to’s, how-to’s and what-not-to-do’s! Whether you are looking for advice on paint colour, where to install your bathroom lights or just to immerse yourself in beautiful photos you’ll find it there. The Mad About The House blog is essentially the sourcebook for unique modern living.

We love it, so naturally we love founder and journalist Kate Watson-Smyth. We took 10 mins to get to know the lady living in the mad house…

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1. Kate, you’re first and foremost a journalist. When did you realise that your passion for interiors was more than a hobby and was to become your career?

I started out as a general reporter and then after the birth of my elder son I went freelance. I had a spell writing about health issues, which was never my passion but was a way of earning a living, and then about 12 years ago I was asked to write the weekly Six to View column on The Independent. I was instantly, and completely, absorbed by the idea of (virtually) poking around other people’s houses and started to write more about interiors and design. I spent several years interviewing experts and that led, four years ago, to the blog. That led, in turn, to people asking my advice and from there it turned into a business.

2. In a way you’ve gone from the interviewer to the interviewee! How does it feel to be the expert?

Well that’s very kind of you to say so *coughs*! I’m hardly an expert, but I have picked up a certain amount of knowledge from the real experts over the years and I have a good eye, so that seems to be a good combination. I realised a couple of years ago that I probably needed to make the switch from writing about people in the field to being written about if I was to progress, and I’m happy to say that has started to come about – partly because of all the publicity for my book Shades of Grey. I will never stop writing and I love interviewing people and drawing out their expertise so perhaps I can have a foot in both camps for a while. Two of my design heroes: Ilse Crawford and Suzy Hoodless both started out in journalism after all. Ilse was the launch editor of Elle Decoration UK and Suzy was at House and Garden and Wallpaper*.

3. What top 3 tips can you give our readers who want to be mad about their own house?

Do what you want and not what the magazines tell you to do – only that way can you be true to yourself.

Every room should have something old, something new, something gold and something black (it can be metallic not just gold but that scans better!).

If you’re not sure where to start with colours then look in your wardrobe. If you are comfortable wearing it, you will be happy to see it on your walls.

4. If you had to give one piece of advice to an aspiring interior writer or stylist, what would that be?

Two very different things. To the writer I would say keep an open mind and open your eyes to what is around you. And spell check. To the stylist keep experimenting till you find what works for you and develop your own style.

5. We’ve seen the stunning progress of your home on the blog, but what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced? Renovating a property is a big old job!

We had great builders who helped project manage, so probably the hardest thing was living in the dust and mess for nine months while the work was being done. Also, on a long job, you get design blind by the end and feel that you can’t make another decision about anything, so keeping motivated and knowing that you have to focus on that tap or that light switch because you will regret it later when it’s too late is tough too.

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6. What’s next on the property agenda?

I think it’s the bathroom. We have learnt the hard way that the old adage of Buy Cheap Buy Twice is sadly true. When we moved in we were crowing about the fact that we managed to fit out two bathrooms for under £5,000. That was six years ago, one has been replaced and the other needs doing now. What do I know? Don’t buy a cheap shower tray, it will buckle underfoot and the only way to replace it is to rip out the tiles so you will have to basically start again.

7. Inspiration is everywhere, but do you find yourself looking in one place more than others?

I look anywhere and everywhere. The problem with Pinterest and Instagram – although I love both – is that you only see what you follow which tends to be what you already like so you aren’t necessarily being challenged or seeing new things. I am an avid magazine buyer – especially when I go abroad so I will pick up Danish Elle Deco or Spanish Architectural Digest. I always pay close attention in restaurants because often what happens there will filter into domestic interiors. And the loos – always look at the loos -there are often interesting tiling arrangements and ideas in there.

8. We always like to break a room up into ‘style spots’ when changing up the decor – where’s your go-to starting point in a room?

I could be all “designery” and say that I start with a treasured painting or swatch of material but in reality, and I suspect this is true for most of us, it makes sense to start with the biggest piece of furniture and go from there. Then you can turn your attention to different corners. I tend to start from an activity point of view. So – this is where you will have your coffee on a sunny weekday morning, this is where you will sit on a rainy weekend afternoon, that way people can visualise how they will use the space and what they need to have in it.

9. Let’s talk paint. Your first book ‘Shades Of Grey’ is all about matching the perfect tone to the perfect space – what’s your favourite shade and why?

I like dark grey best. It brings drama and elegance and makes everything else in the room look more exciting and better than it might actually be. So I would say Down Pipe by Farrow and Ball, Night Jewels 2 by Dulux or Urban Nights by Wickes.

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10. What’s your favourite RSG product at the moment and why?

Unfair question. I always want everything. I’ve just seen the oil and vinegar glass fish bottle which is fun and I have liked the brown and black industrial leather dining chairs with brass and metal legs for a long time. If I could, I would have two of the long tassel glass lights – one at each end of the sofa. I love the mix of materials and think they are insanely beautiful.

I’m happiest when I’m: Writing
My biggest guilty pleasure is:  A really cold glass of rose and a bowl of salted almonds
My favourite magazine is: The usual: Elle Deco, Living etc, Architectural Digest, Grazia.
If money was no object I would: Buy a house in Italy
My best skill is: Writing
My personal motto is: Well I actually do have a family motto which is Calm in the Face of Adversity which I don’t necessarily live up to! I think it’s probably if you talk about it for long enough you will either sort it out or make it less scary. Is that a motto? Let’s say it’s Keep Talking.
My latest obsession: I haven’t got it yet but I want the Oree Stylograph more than anything at the moment. I love a gadget and a beautifully designed gadget makes me very hot under the collar. Just trying to justify the price tag to myself….
My favourite film is: I wish I could say something arty and clever but the truth is that when my husband is out I always seem to end up watching Mamma Mia – I like how the cast all seem to be having fun and most of them really can’t sing. When my husband is in, we tend towards one of the Jason Bourne films.
My go to track:  I need two: Gone Gone Gone by Robert Plant and Allison Krauss and the Moby track at the end of the Bourne films.
Three things I can’t live without: Coffee, my laptop, fizzy water.

Head over to Kate’s blog Mad About The House for some serious decor inspo, and make sure to  follow her on Twitter and Instagram for even more interior madness.

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