The Househunter: A colourful three bedroom modern house

This week a fairly typical looking suburban house – from the outside at least – which might feel relatable to many of us. I was asked to look at houses that aren’t on millionaire’s row, or aren’t tiny crofts. In short, places that might resemble the sorts of houses that many of us live in. In the UK at least. And I found this. But inside it’s a little different.

However, I wanted to show it to you as many of the differences are simply created with paint which is, of course, the easiest thing in the world to change. So you might love the colours. You might hate them. You might feel inspired to use these combinations or to stick to all white, but what you also have is a newish, three bedroom house with one bathroom and an extension that provides a large sitting room looking onto the garden. It is perhaps, an ordinary house that has been elevated to be the best it can be for the people who live in it and that is really something we should all aspire to whatever our taste and individual budgets.

It’s in Leyton, east London and it’s on with The Modern House for £775,000 and again, you’ll need to be aware that this will be a London price. That the same thing on the edge of Bolton might cost much less. It might cost you more by the beach in St Ives. This is why, unless you are specifically looking to move within the specified area, the price is irrelevant for our purposes here. This is about the space and its decoration and what we can learn from it.

So yes I’m fully expecting that many of you will not like the colours. I rather love the boldness of them and while I might not choose pink and yellow for my walls I can a)admire the person who has and b) definitely consider this combination in cushion or chair fabric. As one reader pointed out on Monday, when I posted a bedroom from the Wow House, among the riot of colour and pattern it was the sisal floor covering that I have taken away and brought into my own house.

I’m also going to say, learning from a previous post, that I’m aware you will all hate the hatch into the kitchen. We’ll come back to it later but you can see that it has a dark frame and has been integrated into the space with the use of two paintings either side adding to the sort of gallery effect.

Now let’s talk about the hallway below. And that’s a trick you can all take away should you so wish. The side of the stairs has been painted in gloss. This is a great way to catch any light and bounce it back into what can often be a dark space. You can use the same trick on ceilings painting them in eggshell (traditionally reserved for wood) or even gloss for a lacquer effect. Be aware that gloss will show every lump and bump so it’s best for a ceiling in good condition or one that has been recently plastered. You can now also get water-based gloss paints rather than the traditional oil which are more eco-friendly and quicker to dry.

Staying in the yellow room and we’ll gloss (ha!) over the short curtains and white radiators (if you want short choose blinds not curtains and paint your radiators to match the walls – both those things will look better you just have to believe me on that). But instead let’s focus on the dark door frame. This leads your eye to the room beyond and literally frames the view. If you were a magazine stylist you might keep a yellow coat or a pink coat hanging on that peg. I’m being slightly facetious but the point remains; your house is full of doors – each one is framing a view so treat it like a picture and try to make it something that either gives you pleasure to look at or draws you into that room. If, on the other hand, this was a coat rack overflowing with muddy macs and a jumble of coats you can either close the door or find somewhere else to hang them. The point being that sometimes practicality has to take precedence but if you can find a way to make it work you should. Staring a neat row of coats where you can always access the one you want not only looks nicer but will make your life run more smoothly too.

So that hatch between the sitting room and kitchen I mentioned. This may be original. The house has the look of one built in the 60s but it may also have been added as, if you look at the floorplan, you can see that without it the kitchen is an entirely internal room with no natural light. It’s also quite a small kitchen and if that hatch were a door you would lose a lot of cupboard space. It’s the same on the other side – a window over the sink looks into that back room, which has a glass wall and is, therefore, flooded with light.

And this is another key point. One which Sophie made on her instagram the other day and which we have then reiterated in the podcast which will be out on Thursday. Sometimes when you knock a wall down all you get is more floor. In this case the owners could have created a large open plan space but they would have had to have the kitchen either partly in the front living room or partly in the back dining/living space. Perhaps they felt they wanted to keep it contained with windows between the two for connection. And I’m also aware that while I love an internal window, it’s a short step from internal window to 60s serving hatch. It’s a question of perception. And also how you live. In this case the hatch/window allows for maximum natural light to penetrate to the middle of the house, as much cupboard and prep space as possible and screens the messy business of cooking and washing up from the rest of the house. The paintings on the wall in the yellow room are simply a way of dressing that opening so it looks less hatch and more gallery. And that’s also a way of noting that decoration is a question of perception. Sometimes there’s a feature we can do nothing about and we have to find a way to dress it so it looks as good as it can.

This is the room at the back – the pink is just visible on the left of the picture above and it’s the dining room end of the reception. Now you might call this a feature wall. Or you might say it’s a clever use of paint to zone a large room and make a clear distinction between the different activities. See? It’s how you spin it. As long as it works for you and how you live then it works. Unless it’s short curtains and white radiators – I’m struggling to spin that one.

Moving upstairs and the door framing trick has been used again to great effect. You might feel that sky bluexand green don’t work together (yes nature but we’re inside here) but the dark door frame between the two breaks it up and gives each shade its own presence. This is another trick you can use – you might have white walls and use a contrasting colour to divide two rooms. Or you might want to go tonal – dark green in one, pale green in the other and a pink or different green between the two.

Put your colours together like you would an outfit (you might add a contrasting belt between a top and a pair of trousers) and it can be easier to experiment. As I’ve said before you don’t have to have white woodwork just because it’s traditional – you don’t always (ever?) where a white belt with every pair of trousers.

Now the bathroom might stop you in your tracks but it’s a return to the pink and yellow of where we came in. And I fully appreciate you might not want a sugary pink bathroom but I’m going to point you at the towel rail. In the last house we had a classic chrome one and yes it went with the taps but it sat on a dark green wall and it wasn’t pretty. When we redid the shower room I had the towel rail sprayed a deep red to match the window frame and it looked great. The builder is starting on the bathroom here next week and I’ve already lined up for the towel rail to be sprayed cream to go with the brown and cream wallpaper. No it’s not a very exciting colour but, for me, in this house, in this bathroom, it will be better than chrome.

As I say, you need to think about what works for you and decorate accordingly.

So, has anyone got any thoughts on colour combinations they might want to try? Or what about the internal window/hatch debate?

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. Just discovered this post. How refreshing to see a suburban family home up for sale that has flown against the perceived wisdom of painting everything neutral ‘to sell’.

    The owners have had fun with this home & are adept with colour. Hats off to them! They will surely find a buyer who appreciates their flair even if they may eventually temper it down a little.

  2. On short curtains and white radiators… if you’ve got cafe curtains would you pair them with a blind rather than short curtains? I’m really adamant about not having curtains over the radiator for the waste of energy as mentioned!

  3. I adore the bathroom it is FAB!!! Bold is beautiful and pink is my gink (even though so far I have not one room painted that colour).
    In a different era I was a professional cook and worked in private homes big and small as well as commercial kitchens; not only that I currently have a tiny corridor of a kitchen. The hatches in this home are brilliant, far from the hatches of the 50’s/60’s/70’s with (invariably) their nasty wee cheap wooden doors, these work like a commercial kitchen but also maximise every area. Not only that the mess is hidden but you are still a part of what’s going on – as my mother says, you are still “in the body of the kirk”.
    I don’t LOVE this house but I do love bits of it

  4. I’m so glad the blog is back, I’ve missed it all but especially The Househunter!
    I like to cook and not to be distracted so I love a separate kitchen and having never thought about hatches before, I can see the appeal and love the styling of this one. The whole house strikes me as a witty tribute to the original era of the build and I think the short curtains are part of that, they make me smile! (Wouldn’t do it myself but I think they’re tongue in cheek rather than a ‘mistake’…)
    We too have sprayed chrome and other metal; our local car bodyshop did it for us. He thought it was very funny when we turned up once with a 90s metal bedframe and asked for it to be yellow.

  5. My grandparents had a hatch in their very modern 1960s house, I always loved it and am surprised at the hate. In a small house you don’t want to be staring at the kitchen mess all the time. But I’ve always loved walls and don’t like open plan spaces.

  6. I want to eat in my kitchen so there really is no need for a hatch in any scenario where I would chose to live. That said in this house they have done the hatch really really well! Impressive. It makes sense and it has been well executed from the library area and looks great in the kitchen. From the dining room they perhaps should have put in a little more thought to the hatch but it is the hot pink that really bugs me. Not that it is hot pink but that it doesn’t cover all the walls up to that awkward bump. And it would have been fun to see that yellow from the library in the ceiling and top part of the walls in the dining room. Happy Friday to you all!

  7. Looking at the floorplan, I would have incorporated the kitchen L shaped into the dining area, letting in the maximum amount of light coming from the rear glass doors, doing away with the boxed in kitchen. There is an entrance from the front reception into the hallway which is one way to enter this area. I might consider opening the wall where the hatch is to provide a flow of light all the way through. It would also be a more direct entrance to the rest of house on this floor. Pocket doors or French doors could be added. This would expand the space where the kitchen is now, but that space could be turned into a study, a reading area, a home office or something else. There are small kitchen prep areas which are warm, inviting, stylish and cozy. This one appears to lack these qualities. The boldness of the colour scheme is inspirational, refreshing in a private home, but I think, not for most home dwellers.

  8. Kate,
    As ever, a thought-provoking post. Thank you for your superb blog.

    How would I go about having a towel rail sprayed, please? Is it something I could attempt myself or is it best left to the experts (if so, what trade do I plug into Google)?

    Thanks, Jo

  9. Thanks for featuring this house. I liked the symmetry of the hatch and internal window in the kitchen, and the I thought the 2 large pictures either side of the hatch was a very clever idea. I also liked the way black was used as a division between rooms and colours. I thought this was a very good example of what can be achieved with some paint and imagination in what would otherwise have been a very ordinary home.

  10. This is such a positive and useful post. Thank you Kate. Your pragmatic and uplifting style of analysing spaces and rooms should be considered a service to the nation!

  11. I like it! I like the view the hatches/windows give right through the property and agree that the hatch will make the front room useable as a dining area – intrigued by the need to have another dining table in the back room though. We sold our dining table just before Christmas as we only used it about twice a year – everyone squeezes round the small table in our kitchen. The luxurious feeling of space it has given back to the sitting room has really changed the feel of the room. I thought we might regret it but it is true – you should adapt your home to suit your own purposes.

  12. Quick ps to my comment. I’ve been reading your blog for many years Kate and I absolutely love it. Thank you!

  13. I don’t hate that hatch at all, it’s practical and looks ok. Traipsing food around is a pain, we had to do that in a previous rented house and would have been delighted with a hatch. I often felt shut away in the small kitchen, this house has styled their hatch well so it looks like a planned feature.
    I also think the pink bathroom is very Wes Anderson, possibly wouldn’t be my personal choice but it still looks very stylish.

  14. I love the serving hatch/ windows between the three rooms. Seems very clever and practical to me. I do not understand why they are so disliked. I also really like the green and blue together, and the bold use of colour throughout.

  15. I generally dislike “the hatch” on principle but I really like it here. Some of my approval is for the reasons you’ve outlined, but the first one that came to mind was that it makes actual usage (is “actual” otiose there??) of the dining room much more likely, because it’s easier to get to. It sounds silly but I bet that trotting round the corridor to get to the dining room would reduce its usage even further.

    I remember reading a business psychology book (Stanford professor, not an idiot) saying that moving two colleagues who need to work closely together just fifteen feet apart in the office leads to a massive increase in the amount of communication happening by email. His point was about getting away from toxic colleagues, but I’ve seen that with myself in many domestic settings, so I apply that principle – of making everything easier where I can – to maximise utility. That’s what struck me about the hatch, which I think that they have done brilliantly.

    I saw this done in another house, where the traditional terrace kitchen was extended across the full width of the back of the house. What they did was to turn what used to be the dining room door or window looking onto the side return into a striking and useful hatch, deep so that it looked intentional from a style perspective and they kept beautiful and useful stuff – fancy condiments, oils and salt and pepper in the hatchway. They didn’t have a separate dining area, so it really added to the utility in a stylish way.

    1. *Didn’t have a separate dining area in the new kitchen extension – just using the original dining room for its intended purpose.

      1. And, crikey, that is an ugly house on the outside. Thanks for taking an ordinary home and giving us so much to think about, Kate.

  16. I cannot understand how someone who got so much right in this house simultaneously got so much wrong! They’ve done a fantastic job of elevating a 60s/70s semi, framing the views through doorways and the bathroom is awesome! Yet with the bumpy ‘playschool’ flooring, white rads and short curtains I’m genuinely left scratching my head!

  17. The colour scheme is interesting – I just just clicked online to see the full house. I was wondering about sleeping spaces and colour. The bedrooms are white with the colour used on the curtains. I like it .. maybe the pink bathroom is pushing my boundaries… but in theory you should be in there too long.

  18. I love it! I live in a 1980s 3 bed with my husband annd 5 year old and I love colour! It’s a slightly awkward windowed house so we’ve had to get creative with light. We are very slowly redecorating as we can afford it (whole house is wallpapered, with fairly dark skirting) and we have a forest green dining room – it’s small and dark and we kind of leaned into it and now it feels super cozy. And then a sitting room in terracotta and filled with plants and some botanical artwork. It’s not for everyone but we are the ones that live there.

    My current project is making the conservatory (which doubles as my husband’s office/son’s creative space) more pleasing and usable.

  19. We moved into a rural Georgian property 3.5 years ago. I was adamant that the small hatch with double doors between the kitchen and dining room had to go. Many friends and living with and using the hatch has changed my mind, not least because it keeps the cook in contact with the conversation and activities in the dining room! It is practical, but not lovely. The gallery idea is great and one I shall explore. Although I had been thinking about maybe commissioning stained glass doors…

  20. Hatches always make me think of playing peekaboo round the hatch doors with my Mum in our family home (a 1950’s house still with a hatch by the early 70’s when I appeared). So I don’t mind them. They are very practical for handing hot food through to the dining area! But yes, super ugly and not how we live now. Mind you it seems having walls is coming back IN! Rather excited about that. I’ve never fancied open plan kitchen/living rooms, maybe because of smells from cooking.

  21. I’m not a lover of yellow, and especially not yellow and pink together but oh my goodness – I rather love that bathroom! The yellow towel radiator just looks fantastic. I don’t think I’ll be following that scheme but I’m now immediately plotting how to spray my chrome one…!

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