Mad About The House: Book Extract: Find Your Style

Something new for today. I thought I would run an extract from the book as it has been out for exactly five months now (22 March 2018). This is from the first chapter and tells you how to find your style when it comes to interiors.  Should you, ahem, decide that you might like to buy a copy after reading this then here is the link where you can get a very good/cheap deal… image by jjmedia image by jjmedia

I am going to make a radical assumption here; that you have been dressing yourself for some time. That it’s been a while since your Mum stopped laying your clothes out the night before and that you have been making your own sartorial choices for a few years.  If you haven’t then you should probably pass this book along to the person who is making those decisions for you.

Now, for those of you who are still here, we can assume that you have a pretty good idea of what you like to wear. But many of you will be paralysed with indecision when it comes to dressing your house. And you do need to think of it in those terms. And in many ways it’s easier to find clothes for your house because your house doesn’t have fat days. Or hungover days. Or days when it can’t really quite be bothered and just wants to wear tracksuit bottoms and lie on the sofa with a packet of digestive biscuits.

Your house, flat, penthouse, apartment or cottage is the same size all year round and probably the only thing that ever does change is the light, which depends on the weather outside and the time of day. And we will come to that later on.

In the meantime, the first thing you need to bear in mind when you are planning your décor – whether it’s a full refurb or  gentle tweak – is that you do know what you like, it’s just that you haven’t quite worked out how to find the relationship between your favourite shoes and the wardrobe you want to put them in.

Which leads me neatly to that wardrobe. For that is where you must start. Go to it now. Open the doors. Or the drawers. Stand in front of the rail and see what colours are there. And yes I appreciate that you have nothing to wear to that party at the weekend, but that’s different book. We are looking simply at the colours for now. Because that is the first clue to finding your style: If you are comfortable wearing it you will be comfortable living in it. It’s that simple.

My wardrobe, for example, has no blue in it. And, it turns out, there is no blue in my house. At least there wasn’t until  a couple of years ago when I randomly bought a navy blue silk shirt. And suddenly, when ordering a sofa bed for the loft conversion I decided that it had to be navy blue. A colour I have not worn since school and which had never appeared anywhere in my decisions before. My wardrobe is basically black, grey, ivory and various shades of pink. And guess what? So is my house.

Now I’m sure there will be lots of you who say you only wear black suits to work or sensible dark clothes, but what about the weekend? What colours are your socks? Your earrings, your ties – does anyone still wear those? – or the cover on your smartphone? And if it’s still black, all black, then congratulations; you are massively on trend and quite possibly Danish. Or you’re an architect and will know exactly how your want your home to look regardless of anything I might have to say.

mad about the house kitchen image by jjmedia
mad about the house kitchen image by jjmedia

When you have worked out a palette of the colours that make you comfortable, you need to think about the proportions that you will use them in.  Once again your clothes can help with this. It’s like getting dressed. You might wear all black with a red bag, zebra print earrings or contrasting laces in your shoes. You might prefer to colour block – a pale blue shirt with orange trousers, ivory trainers and a matching bag (that was Victoria Beckham a few months ago). But you can see already how you are mixing up the colours to create outfits without panicking. Even if you go into a shop and buy everything head to toe off the mannequin that’s still fine if you like it all, because that outfit has been put together by experts so you can be confident that the colours and proportions are correct.

It’s exactly the same with a room. Pick a colour – perhaps a neutral – let’s keep it simple to start with – and put that on your walls, which is the largest area. Those are your clothes, or the main thing you are choosing to wear that day – a dress or trousers, for example.

DFS baileys sofa styled by Kate Watson-Smyth, image by Chris Snook
DFS bailey sofa and peace chair styled by Kate Watson-Smyth, image by Chris Snook

Choose a second colour for the largest piece of furniture, say the sofa. This could be your top or jacket. Add some pattern in the form of earrings or cushions. And for the accessories – shoes and bag – armchairs and rugs – the final colour.

The idea is basically 60 per cent one colour, 30 per cent another and 10 per cent for the finishing touches.  So it’s black jeans, black and white striped shirt, red boots and gold earrings. Which translates as pale grey walls, dark grey sofa, pink cushions and brass lamps. You see you don’t even need to do maths for this formula. Just think of it like getting dressed. If you like to add a patterned scarf as a final flourish to your outfit then that’s a sofa throw.

Of course once you are confident with this method you can afford to play around – substitute mismatching earrings or a funky handbag for an unusual table lamp with bird legs or a mirror with a huge frame.

After all, haven’t we all got that slightly random thing in our wardrobe that we probably shouldn’t have bought but which makes us happy when we wear it? Mine is a vintage Miu Miu bag covered in silver sequins which practically made my mother cry when I took it to a country pub for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m not sure if it was the bag, the location or the timing which upset her the most but it made me happy so I didn’t care.

The equivalent in my house is a 6ft tall brass lamp in the shape of a palm tree. I still don’t know how I got it past my husband, but I love it every single day and it looks perfect with the dark grey walls and those splashes of pink that accessorise my sitting room. That is the wow factor in that room. The element that pulls everything together and gives the space its personality. Without that lamp it’s tasteful, well put together room. With that lamp it’s also fun and witty and cool. I appreciate it might be a little over the top for some/many/most of you but this book is about helping you find your own palm trees.

mad about the house sitting room in fallen plum by cassandra ellis studio
mad about the house sitting room in fallen plum by cassandra ellis studio

When you get dressed do you have a signature item? Are you known for your flamboyant earrings, your tiny tattoo or your cool socks? Perhaps you have an amazing handbag, cool glasses or always wear a black t-shirt whatever the weather? You need to find that signature element that is always in your outfit and make sure that your home has it too.

So having dealt with the colours and proportions of your outfit/room you need to think about your style and yes it’s back to the wardrobe again.

Do you wear structured suits for work and perhaps keep to the same simple shapes at the weekend? Have you considered the clean minimal lines of mid-century modern furniture?

If your wardrobe tends to the monochrome with the odd splash of colour – not pattern – then think about the muted greys and architectural lines of Scandinavian style.

Do you have a bit of a rebellious streak when it comes to clothes? A ripped jean, a statement sleeve or a pair of metallic boots? Perhaps industrial is more your thing with its exposed brick and leather sofas, reclaimed floorboards and metal task lamps.

Or are you a full on glamour girl – lots of gold accessories and pattern – in which case a bit of boho might be the thing for you – mismatched chairs, tassels on the cushions and metallic motifs.

But if you live in jeans and spend money on interesting tops and t-shirts, then modern rustic might be the way forward. Natural textures such as wood, concrete and stone with luxury elements thrown in such as brass, marble and velvet.

It’s all there staring you in the face. You just need to look for it.

Enid's House for JJ Locations

But there is one caveat: Just as you should never buy that garment thinking you will slim down into it – you won’t – so you should never decorate your home for the person you think you want to be. Instead, decorate for a slightly better version of who you are. If you like cooking and want to improve then buy a great oven. If preparing meals is something you do simply to stave off collapse, then buy a functioning cooker and some great bar stools instead.


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. Thank you for that, Kate.
    For the colours, I discovered this truth via two things: sitting on a good friend’s sofa, with which I ALWAYS clashed and a Colour Me Beautiful-type article suggesting you should always choose sheets in one of your own best colours to give your un-made up face an advantage first thing in the morning! LOL.

  2. “…never decorate your home for the person you think you want to be. Instead, decorate for a slightly better version of who you are. ”

    The best piece of advice I’ve ever read, anywhere.

    I loved this excerpt! Thanks Kate. 🙂

  3. Dear Kate I have ordered your book three times twice on eBay and once on amazon each time it has not been delivered. I am always told it has been delivered but i have not received it and had a refund each time. Is it in a book shop ..I live near Bath and Bristol Jackie

    1. That’s very strange! It’s in stock on Amazon. It is in Oliver Bonas, it was in the Bath Anthropologie but I don’t know if it still is and in some Waterstones. Do you want to try again and if that’s no good I can send you one but I would have to charge you the full £20 price I’m afraid.

  4. That approach doesn’t work fully for me, as the clothing that I actually like to look at is not clothing that I can afford, nor for which I have the body ( such as certain dresses, just look like terrible sacks or night gowns on me). Perhaps the focus should be more towards what kind of clothing you gravitate, or favorite fashion designers.
    I love Alexander McQueen stuff, and Prada, but certainly don’t own any.

    1. It is absolutely about the colours and stykes of clothes and designers that you like and buy but equally you can also pick things that resemble clothes that you wish you could wear but don’t suit you as they may suit your house and will give you pleasure looking at them. You don’t need to own a Prada dress to appreciate its styling – as you say – but you can bring that style into your house and access it that way – I’m talking style and colour rather than actual Prada.

  5. Dear Kate,
    I absolutely love todays post. In my case there is absolutely no yellow to be found in my surroundings. Neither clothes nor furniture or plants. Even wood that tends to turn yellow in time is either stained, varnished, painted or smoked.
    Kind regards

  6. Ohhhh!!!! I was determined not to give my amazon account another bashing. At least until the end of the month!

    Now looking forward to the postman arriving:)

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