The Househunter: Room by Room

Welcome back to the Househunter. The housebuying season is officially open – not that it ever goes away but this time of year tends to be the start of the busy period. Last year television presenter Amanda Lamb kindly guest-blogged a post on how to sell your house – sound advice which is always relevant, so here it is again for those that might be in need.

For the rest of us who have no intention of moving but just like an excuse to poke around other people’s houses we are going first to Mile End Road, in London, to see this 18th century townhouse which, I suspect, may divide opinion…

Actually I’ve left the very busy rooms out but you can see them on the Savills site where this house is listed for £2,000,000. It’s a four bedroom Queen Anne house that has been lived in for 20 years and was extensively refurbished in the 1990s. It’s in the Stepney Green conservation area and close to Whitechapel station which will host the new Crossrail so transport links are about to get a whole lot better.

It’s one of those houses that would be amazing to visit even if it was a little cluttered for your personal taste as there is something interesting to look at in every corner and on every surface.

The owner, an interior designer, has kept as many original features as possible and there are fabulous parquet floors, cornicing and shuttered windows. It is arranged over four floors with the dining and kitchen on the lower ground, a reception room taking up the whole of the ground floor and bedrooms above although one is currently used as a second reception room.

The downside – if there has to be one – is that apart from a downstairs loo off the dining room there is only one bathroom, which is on the second floor, while at the top there is a studio space with quite a steeply pitched room. The temptation would be to keep it as an office but if you work at home for any length of time you would need to ask yourself if you would indeed schlep up all those stairs or would end up working at the kitchen table.

My hunch is that that would make a fabulous walk in storeroom and the office space would be better in one of the bedrooms below. This all plays in to the Who, What, When questions that I was asking yesterday by the way. Right enough of that – although you should nip over and see the kitchen.

Right then, staying in London but moving over to the south east to this four bedroom mid-century townhouse which is on with The Modern House for £825,000. Mid-century is a clever bit of branding too as buyers can be sniffy about 60s houses but love the mid-century stuff to put in them.

We’ll start with the most important room of the house – the kitchen – which flows across the whole of the back of the house and is decorated in a minimal black and white with just the green of the garden to add softness and colour. It works. Can I also take a moment to point out how the black doors frame the view of the garden perfectly and draw your eyes to the dark steps beyond.

The same trick has been used here where the internal dark walls and door frame draw your eye back and make a picture of the views, both internal and external. And this, Sharon, is for you to show your husband if you are reading today and see how that will work in your hall.

Here, for completeness, you can see from the other side how the large dark cupboard punctuates the open plan space. We are not privileged enough to see inside it, but if it were mine I would paint the inside in a vibrant colour that you would only see when you opened the door. Could be green to go with the garden, or a dark orange or pink. Something fun and unexpected.

I am often asked about using dark paint colours in modern houses and I see no reason why not. However, let’s unpick this a little in this room shall we? It’s narrow – nothing is going to change that and that cupboard isn’t helping matters but storage is vital so we’ll ignore that for the time being.

The dark walls make this space cosy and dramatic, but if you take dark paint up to the ceiling and then go white you are drawing attention to the parameters of the space. In other words you are outlining that it’s a narrow room. If, however, you took the dark paint – say two thirds of the way up – and brought the white ceiling down to meet it you are blurring the edges of the space and you might trick the eye into thinking it’s all a bit bigger, or crucially wider, than it actually is.

And you know the last thing I’m going to say don’t you? Paint the radiators. These aren’t pretty so either make them disappear or paint them in a totally unexpected fun colour and draw attention to them. It’s about making a decision one way or the other rather than just leaving them in their soul-sapping whiteness.

So there we have it. Two four bedroom houses (this one at less than half the price has two bathrooms) two very different looks and styles. Who’s spending their fantasy lottery money where this week?





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. I know this is off topic…but, I just had to tell you that I have just received your new book (had it shipped to US from UK) …it is FANTASTIC. Really, really well written with loads of great information. Thanks, Kate!

  2. Not only the dark framing trick to lead the eye to the view through to the garden but also the trick that if the dark room has a light ceiling it would be better to take it down to a picture rail level or grab the bull by the horns, go dark all over and create a cocoon – either would improve that room
    Off to buy loads of tester pots of moody dark blues and greens and see if Michelle OGundehin’s current Cerulean theme on Instagram will give me tone ideas for a cheerful blue.
    Nearly bought a painting at the RI Private View at the Mall Galleries last night just because the colours of Martin Caulkin’s Venetian water in evening light were exact tones to mix pale greys and creams into Theresa Green tones: hubbie had to remind me the money has to go on taps!!
    So much to decide

  3. I am very sorry that the outside wooden window trim on this lovely house has not been kept white, in line with an otherwise rather beautiful row of terraced houses. The understated colours of the neighbouring front doors are subtle, and respectfully in keeping with the architectural history of the houses. The inside is what it is…. an owner’s personal odyssey.

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