The Househunter: A Former Watch Shop

Off to south east London to this former watch repair shop which has been restored with a focus on sustainable and non-toxic materials to create three bedrooms, a large kitchen diner, sitting room and private garden. Now it can be tricky taking on a former shop with those big street-facing windows but this has been so beautifully done I wonder if it would persuade you although there is a courtyard at the front so you are not directly on the street.

It’s on the market with Inigo for £1,100,000 and, for me at least, has hit the perfect balance of looking true to its origins but with a slightly modern twist. The kind of thing we are going for here if I’m honest but it can be hard to pull off. You don’t want to create a museum or something that looks as if the original Victorians still lived in it but you want to add a few modern elements to bring it up to date.

The standout feature here is clearly the windows behind which sits the kitchen – unusually at the front of the house. But think about it. If this room is on the street then perhaps it’s a room you use more in the daytime anyway – as a working space so maybe it makes sense to put the kitchen here and the sitting room at the back of the house with access to the garden. The Victorians had their public rooms at the front where they might receive guests and kitchens which only servants or, at the very most, the owners, would use or see where hidden at the back. Now that kitchens are probably the most show-off, and busiest room of the house, it can make sense to put them at the front – where they might also have large windows although probably not as large this – and relax at the back of the house which might be darker and cosier.

Leaving aside questions of budget and convenience (moving pipework and services etc) for a second, if you are buying a house or flat do remember that you don’t have to use the rooms in the way they are labelled. If you want to cook at the front or swap a bathroom with a bedroom because that suits the flow better for the way you live then you can do that – budget and convenience permitting. We don’t live like the Victorians did so we don’t have to keep our rooms in the same order. And I say this having read this week that a fifth of the UK population lives in Victorian housing stock. So that’s a lot of rooms you might want to move around. And I also say this in the certain knowledge that for most people the rooms will be broadly in the right place but, as ever, my goal is that you ask yourself the question in relation to how you and your family live rather than just accepting things as they are.

So above is the dark cosy sitting room at the back with a door to the garden. While below is another view of the kitchen.

It’s a lovely kitchen that has that, currently, very sought after look of being not too fitted. Again there are ways of doing this – the base cupboards are all fitted together with a single worktop so it’s hygienic and level but the open shelves, the glass cabinet all contribute to that feeling that this could be an original kitchen that has been brought up to date. The brass handles and splashback bring a little retro modernity – that’s my new phrase – to the room and, in the case of the splashback, bounce the light around as well. I love the dark ceiling which mirrors the dark floor and means the walls and windows are left to be light and bring light. In our last house we painted the sitting room walls dark but left the ceiling and floor both painted white so there was a symmetry to it. Having a dark floor and walls and then leaving a white ceiling can look like you panicked the room was going to be too dark or that you didn’t think about it at all and just reached for the default colour. If you do choose dark for floors and walls, pick a pale neutral for the ceiling that isn’t too high contrast but will look like you made a co-ordinating decision. This might be a rich cream that is picked up on walls elsewhere, or a pale pink or blue that sits well with the wall shade but won’t darken the room.

We’re just going to nip upstairs to look at the vintage glass cabinet in the bathroom too. Glass will of course, bounce the light around and stop a room feeling closed in and vintage always works well in a bathroom. I predict we will be seeing a lot more of this style of storage in kitchens over the next few months/years as it’s a look at seems to be taking off. I may have something to contribute on that front when my own is completed in the next few weeks.

The bathroom is another classic example of the unfitted bathroom which is so popular at the moment but just to make things confusing you don’t need to worry about modern twists in here as the very concept of a fitted bathroom  – as opposed to a tin tub in front of the fire in the kitchen – is quite modern for a Victorian house. So you can afford to add lots of wood and character to offset the straight white lines of the sanitaryware.

Above is the so-called family room – a small sitting room with double doors to the side return and round to the garden. In a traditional Victorian house (remember this was a shop but the footprint is similar) this would have been the kitchen and the default position would be to extend into that side passage to widen the kitchen. Current market conditions would put that job in London at around £120,000 so it would be much more cost effective to move the kitchen to the front of the house and have this smaller room as a sort of day room for coffee and friends. You could also remove the sofa and make a great home office. The room at the back is the third bedroom. Again if you stuck to tradition you would have a massive kitchen at the back of the house, a middle room that you would need to find a use for and a front sitting room that you might only use in the evening. You would also, in this house, only have two bedrooms .

Remember I’m not saying that layout is wrong – it’s what I have – but take a moment to ask yourself if it’s the best use of space for the way you live.

Before we go we’ll just pop back upstairs to these two rather lovely bedrooms. One a fabulous shade of chalky rhubarb pink and the other more neutral with a flash of gold curtain to bring the sunshine in. What do you think? Does the traditional layout work for you or would you move things around?


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. It’s a lovely house, and your points about shifting meaning of the kitchen and the potential value of rethinking the front parlour and back kitchen are fascinating. But speaking as a social anthropologist with an interest in the cultural meanings embedded in home architecture, I can’t see it catching on in the UK. As you know, Brits were fairly late to embrace open plan living, compared to my country of birth, Australia, and other countries I’ve lived (the USA and Canada).

    This is partly due to the average age of British homes, but it’s been argued (well, ahem, I’ve argued) that it’s also a reflection of a fairly strict public/private boundary in the home that has only recently shifted, primarily due to what the anthropologist Kate Fox has characterised as a virtually pathological obsession with privacy – at least among the English. Arguably, the English were also later to embrace the idea of the kitchen as a living space rather than a service space, which is why it’s still common for the washing machine to be located in the kitchen, even in homes with enough room to shift it elsewhere (believe it or not, I devote a whole chapter to this topic in a recent book).

    While these ideas have shifted to some degree, I can’t see the English becoming laissez fare enough about privacy to embrace a kitchen on full display to passersby. (Adding to the confusion, I reckon you’d have people constantly trying to wander in under the impression that it was a deVOL showroom!) Sydney, on the other hand, is another story…

  2. as our high streets are disappearing fast, I think this is wonderful article to see how shops can be converted. I’ve never wanted to live in a converted chapel but always had a yen for a converted shop. super ! changing layout, budget allowing, is also a win win in the right hands.

  3. Charming house. Love the pink bedroom! Yikes! at the prices. And my first thought was, how many people come to the front door thinking it is a shop? Cheers from Canada!

  4. I know this street. I know we’re not meant to raise eyebrows at prices, but I say this with a nod to sanity: the pricing on this house comes out at £10, 700 per square metre. That is placing this on a par with the most expensive plots in London, and around 25 – 30% more than the median price per square metre for sold houses in this postcode. That is asking a lot of cafe curtains and some interesting paint effects.

    1. Thank you for this. I love this house and it’s especially useful as it’s quite similar to my own, but I did think the price was exceptional (even for London) and you’ve confirmed that really clearly.

      1. It’s always useful to look at price per square metre. There’s a good website called House Metric which uses Land Registry data to generate various charts for prices in postcodes and even – I think – streets. There are others, but House Metric is nice and clear for non-statisticians.

      2. I too live in the area and agree the price is insanely punchy. There’s no way they’ll get the number of viewings needed to move a house in this market. I can see close to £200k being lopped off before they shift it. Best of luck to them though because they’ve done a lovely job with the place.

  5. What I really love are the box pleats used for the cafe style curtain in kitchen, this really elevates them and brings an elegance I’ve not seen before

    1. I know this street too – and what’s more, remember when it was a watch repair shop. My grandmother used to clean for a doctor and his sister in one of the ‘big houses’ nearby.. during school holidays she would take me with her and when she’d finished (if I’d been very good!) she’d take me for lunch in a small restaurant near the watch shop. Memories..
      Love what’s been done to it to turn it into a living space.

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