Househunter: A Three bedroom maisonette

As moving day approaches and, following a measuring up visit yesterday, I find I’m drawn to small houses and how they use the space. Is is just me or sometimes do rooms look smaller when they are half empty? Going round the new, smaller, house I suddenly felt the impact of our imminent downsize and had a slight moment of panic. It did all seem so much smaller than I remembered – perhaps that’s just the effect of looking at the estate agent’s somewhat stretched pictures for the last six months! A couple of hours back home (home for now) with a sheet of graph paper and a tape measure has allayed some of those worries. And so we come to this week’s property – a three bedroom maisonette in East London, none of the rooms are large and yet it looks light and airy and, dare I say spacious.

It’s on with The Modern House for £790,000 and the great selling point is the rather wonderful garden office. The downside is the third bedroom is just under 6ft wide but if you are a couple needing two offices it would work brilliantly as there’s a loft space as well. If you have a small child and are prepared to move again when the tiny bedroom is outgrown it would also work but if you are working your way up the property ladder and intending to move after five years or so then you do need to think about how you might add value (other than just from a, hopefully, rising market) and this is so well done that might be tricky. Good for downsizers though….

From the moment you see the cheery yellow gate you get a hint that the interior might be interesting. It’s a bold choice and it really does line up with the inside of the property. I imagine that your spirits might be quite lifted to see it glowing out of the street on a rainy walk home from work in winter. Of course yellow might not be your happy colour, but whatever yours is, then using a small amount on an external gate or on the back of the front door so it’s the first thing you see as you come downstairs or the last thing before you leave is a good way to give yourself a quick boost.

I’m taken with the unusual grey green of the kitchen cupboards too which is really warm and striking but doesn’t dominate the space. A couple of clever decorating points to note here; one the floor. Conventional theory might suggest that you keep the floor all the same to make a space feel wider or larger but in this case the terrazzo floor strip isn’t just practical for cleaning, it also works to zone the space from working kitchen to relaxed dining area. You can also see how the mood changes again at the far end where it opens up into a sitting area. And somehow, as it matches the worktop it tricks the eye into thinking that the kitchen is wider than it actually is. One to think about.

The palette is also taken from the terrazzo with its green, white and soft orange shades which are picked up in the vintage wooden table – a great way to bring character to a modern space. Note also how there is a narrow end cupboard facing outwards so you have a little storage but, more importantly, something more interesting to look at than simply an end panel. This need only be about 10cm deep but would allow you to add some small decorative items which can make all the difference when you are creating multi-functional open place spaces.

Another good trick for small spaces is the chair in the bottom left of the picture above. It may be a design classic Bertoia diamond, or it may not, but the point is that it allows the light to flow through and around it and doesn’t stop the eye from travelling through the space which is key when decorating a small property. The dining chairs also don’t have solid backs and if you look at the top picture this chair leads the eye to the Eames rocker and from there to the window and the view beyond. It’s subtle but everything is doing a job on top of its original function here which is vital in a small space.

And here then is that view. More green pulling your eye from the green of the kitchen and an orange chair that links back to the one inside. If I bought this house there would be a real fight as to who got to use this office. As it is, our new garden is not big enough to build one so we have come up with an idea for a shared space that we can enjoy together. More on that another time.

Have a closer look and tell me books don’t make everything look better!

Coming back inside now to the sitting room where the same greeny grey palette resumes. It’s not a huge room but the vendors have deployed more clever tricks to make the space feel airier. Firstly the sofa and chairs have wooden arms so the light can pass through. They also have tall legs so you can see more floor. Now I appreciate this style of furniture won’t be for everyone but, as ever, this page is not about telling you what’s right or wrong in general but about helping you to work out what’s right or wrong for you personally. In this case be aware that a low slung sofa that sits flat or flush to the floor with large cushions and solid arms will dominate the space even if it measures the same as the one below. Here they have added lots of cushions to bring the softness rather than relying on the upholstery.

And in the alcoves the storage is fixed to the wall rather than sitting on the floor and covering it up. Look closely and you’ll also note that the rug island has been narrowly, but intentionally, avoided. The picture over the fireplace is also a reflection of the colour palette used throughout the house.

Moving upstairs and what a joy to make a feature out of the bannister. There is lots of natural wood from the period doors to the sanded floors and the modern ply staircase, but the green bannister acts like punctuation and draws a line between all the different elements so they aren’t fighting each other or just sliding aimlessly into one. Like the rug positioning, this is very intentional.

Back to the yellow of the front gate and while regular readers will know that I probably won’t be covering my own walls in this shade I can enjoy looking at it in someone else’s home. However, it’s the technique I want to draw your eye to here. This is using shades of yellow to give depth and character to a room that might otherwise feel an awkward shape or lacking in period features. If that’s your house then use paint to draw your own features. This would replicate perfectly well in shades of pink, blue or green. If you don’t have a similar cupboard you could use a darker version of the walls on the ceiling. Or vice versa. The world is full of paint shades – use as many as you love.

Lastly, this rather lovely bathroom. Black and white is a classic that will never go out of style. Here it has been enhanced with black taps and fittings while the dark grout is a practical choice. To avoid the somewhat stark beauty of black and white there are wooden floors travelling up the side of the bath and the walls are a very soft pink while the key feature is the towel in a darker shade of pink. You could add any colour you like in here but believe me when I tell you that that pink one is bringing it.

This tiny bathroom has definitely given my ideas for my own small one from where this post will be coming to you next week. That said I may not have any internet so I’m not promising anything yet. I hope this has also inspired you whatever the size of your own places and spaces.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Love this Kate. We recently had our side return rejected by our local council so have decided to make the most of the space we have. It is scary though trying to get it right – more on small kitchen design would be great! Need inspiration. Love this space – and is it me or are round tables becoming more popular?!

  2. Lots of clever interior ideas here. I live in Lewes where most of the houses are tall and skinny with a basement the staircase for this is usually in the already small middle room, moving the staircase to the back of the house as they have done here is genius. I also love the shower screen which sits flush to the wall away from the taps and just low enough for the shower head to sit on top. Glass sceens that have to open and close away from the bathroom wall (and like mine over the loo) make getting to the taps difficult and makes the aleady small room feel smaller. Great design.

  3. This house, to me, is faultless…I would move there in a heartbeat – after asking if the vendors would sell me all of their beautiful furniture as well. Love all of these clever ideas – and the beautiful simplicity that living in a smaller house can inspire. Kate, hope your move is a stress free as possible – we’ll await news from the new place!

  4. Hasn’t this been done beautifully! Love the colours and the light and airy feel. I quite agree about the books, too. I recently realised that we have books in every room in the house, except our shower room (too damp).
    Hope your move goes smoothly, Kate. Hope, too, that you have time and internet for a post from your new home next week!

  5. A great choice for this week Kate. The temperature has dropped and sweaters are on. This is a home I could easily live in. It is peaceful and easy. I love the contrast between the Georgian stone exterior and the strong, clean lines of the interior furnishings and fixtures. A second look at the floor plan for your next home suggests that the kitchen area may not be wide, but it is long, as is the reception area. In this home your natural light source is coming from three sides, which will add brightness, height and interest to every room. In your present home, you have commented that there is no natural light along the sides of your house. The new house promises this will be a lovely change for you.

  6. Couldn’t agree more. We moved from a mammoth flat to a small 70’s house where our present kitchen could have fitted twice into our previous hallway alone but now we have a balcony, fantastic view and much wanted garden. Yes, we got rid of a lot of stuff and I now have the capsule wardrobe I always struggled to achieve so having less room has been a real life changer. It took a bit of time to get my head round it but it proved to be a brilliant move, quite literally!
    Kate, if anyone can make it work you can!

  7. I love Rosie Greenwoods comment. I work for a suicide prevention charity and the retail shops rely on donations to keep going – so we can keep going. Thank you Rosie.

    I have a question – if a room is less than 6 foot can an estate agent call it a bedroom? I’m sure once upon a time it would been called a nursery or study. But in this case it has been labelled bedroom 3.

    1. Nicola, according to the RICS a ‘bedroom’ is a room with a window that a single bed fits into. So estate agents stretch that, don’t they?! (I used to be a Chartered Surveyor in part A of my life). We use the little room as an office – my husband snaffled it, and he really likes it. It’s very cosy. He had to ditch years of accumulated paperwork to fit in – which is no bad thing.

  8. Thank you Kate – I love seeing smaller spaces done well. Wishing you a smooth and easy house move!

    We moved from a five bed Victorian house to a two and a half bed (third bed is 6 x6) in a better location and we love it. I reckon we got rid of more than half our stuff. I feel a lot freer. Plus, donation of the things we had no room for was lovely – we chose to donate causes & charities we admire and support rather than try to sell things, which is time-consuming.

    It’s completely changed my relationship with shopping and ‘stuff’. There just isn’t room for extras, things have to be useful and beautiful, as WM said. So you may find the space changes you, as well as you changing the space.

    1. What a wonderful way of looking at life changes Rosie. I too am hopefully moving and I’m dreading getting rid of ‘stuff’’. You have inspired me to change my outlook.
      I love this article Kate… bring on the downsiz!

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