The Househunter: A Four Bedroom Victorian Terrace

This week’s property is perhaps nothing special on the outside- it’s attractive – but there are some clever ideas inside and it’s a classic four bedroom Victorian terrace family home. The sort of thing that will be familiar to many so it’s always worth having a look around.

It’s on with Litchfields for £1,395,000 and is in Highgate, north London.  From the exterior the first thing I noticed was the pretty shape of the frame around the door and the windows and I wonder if your eye is drawn to them more because of the darker colour. Painting it dark won’t be to everyone’s taste of course, although Victorian windows were often dark green as their white paint wasn’t all that brilliant (as it were) but it made me think that perhaps we don’t look closely at things when they are in colours that we expect. Changing that element causes us to notice them more. And you can, of course, apply that point to anything inside.

So here is a case in point. The supporting steel has been painted in something close to the original colour – you can leave them exposed but you have to use special anti fire paint – and the cushion on the bench has been matched to it. The cushion then takes your eye round the space which is almost defined by those straight lines and marks that part of the room as a dining area. Of course you can zone spaces with wall colours and flooring and rugs but this is another, more minimal, way to achieve the same thing. The yellow seat cushions are also a brilliant pop of a disrupter colour too.

This is the rest of the kitchen and the splashback tiles – note a different way of laying a classic subway style – are a darker version of the pink walls and actually the upright grid-like pattern also echoes the steel on the other side of the room. Now what do you think of the wall cabinets? Traditionally these come low to the worktop and make the whole space feel more enclosed so short ones like this are good as they make the space feel more open and means they can have flip up doors so you don’t have to lean back every time you open one to avoid getting it on the head. They also sit neatly along the lower ceiling and we will never know if this was a deliberate design choice or the result of having a another steel or pipework boxed in there that mean they weren’t able to install taller cupboards.

But that, my friends, is the key to successful interior design. You can get away with many things as long as it looks as if you meant it. So these cupboards have been designed with doors that open that way to look as if that was a decision. The plate rack fits neatly in that space and the mugs and other breakfast things have been stored in open cupboards, that are easy to access and close to the toaster and the kettle.

I could go on about the lines on the wooden walls, echoing the plate rack, the use of wood at both ends of the room and the black accents – picture frames, door handles, oven – but it’s up to you how far you want to take it. Pointing them out like this allows you to notice and perhaps gives you a few more design tricks to store up your own sleeves.

Before we leave the kitchen we can pop into the garden and a small word of budgetary advice here. In our last house we were desperate to buy old bricks and lay them like this in a herringbone pattern but not only are old bricks more expensive than new, it takes a lot more labour to lay them like this so it will cost you more. In the end we went for these cobble setts, which come on a mesh and are cheaper and quicker to lay. But a word about those in turn; they are sold as driveways and if you cement between them they can look a bit municipal. Ask your builder to either lay rustic cement to make it look older or fill the gaps with pale gravel and allow the moss to grow. I’m not sure the ones we bought are here but you get the idea.

Moving into the sitting room and you will, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, spot the red thread of colours. That’s the kitchen cupboard colour has been brought into here (or vice versa) but used on the walls and in varying tones. That gives a different feel to the two rooms but also allows you to understand that you are in the same house and that the design is cohesive.

Painting the window frames to match the wall would also either draw your eye to the view beyond or simply make you aware that the room is light rather than outlining what, in London at least, might be a view of some parked cars and the house opposite. Instead, the eye remains in the room and travels around the different features from the fireplace which is picked out tonally.

Come upstairs to this rather fabulous bathroom and you will have seen this at the same time as me – more of the red, in this case burgundy, thread on the panelling which links to the downstairs colours. Also this means you can’t tell if the walls are actually pale pink or if it’s a reflection so if you have been banned from using any more pink on the walls (side eye to The Mad Husband) you can use white or cream if you want to accent it with a deeper red colour and the two will reflect off each other making the white warmer and less stark.

Anyone familiar with The Mad House will also recognise the false wall used as clothes storage. Here, instead of bedside tables, small recesses have been added either side for books. This saves space if you don’t have room for tables at the side but remember what you need to store behind them. You can just see a small dressing table has been fitted in as well. If you want to check the measurements with what you might be able to do in your own bedrooms I have linked to the floorplan here. As I have said before when explaining my own decision to create storage like this, it allows the sleeping area to remain calm and tidy which is more conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Finally, this attic bedroom and I just wanted to remind you that you can use every inch of space for storage no matter how small or awkwardly shaped. If you are feeling that your house is too small or you have too much stuff, take a few minutes to walk around and see if there’s an unused corner you can put a couple of shelves into. It’s harder in a new build as the rooms are often a more regular shape but a bookshelf need only be about 25cm deep so sometimes you can lose that all along one wall without compromising the rest of the room.

Who’s inspired? Do comment below on any clever space-saving storage you have created in your own homes that you want to share with us.


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. Thanks, your post has inspired me to paint my sitting room window frames the same colour as the walls….. one side is cars and house opposite but the other side is view of Winchester cathedral – so this trick should work well for both reasons. Also, it was a really helpful to see a demonstration of the colour thread in action.

  2. I have to confess that I really dislike the false wall in the bedroom, because it’s not sympathetic to, and fights with, the bones of the room (cornicing, alignment with windows etc – and from the floorplan it looks as though it might be obscuring a fireplace, too). Kudos to them for thinking to shelve that quirky recess in the attic, though!

    We’re a family of four living in a two bed flat, so storage and space-saving ideas are our bread and butter. The most ingenious is probably a ‘home office’ set up in a blocked up doorway. The space between the (still in-place) door and the wall behind it is only about 5cm deep, but we’ve fitted a standing desk to the wall (that folds down when not in use); hung a wall-mounted monitor and added shelving and wall cubbies to store our laptops/accessories/stationery, along with a strip of sockets. There’s a large whiteboard on the inside of the door, so that when you open the door – ta da! – just fold up the desk and your home office is ready.

    Inevitably, though, I am typing this not from the home-office set-up but hunched over the kitchen table at a very unergonomic angle.

  3. I have similar book storage space in my attic study but, as the attic style is very Scandi-modern, I find it looks too messy and cluttered. I was tempted by the genius curtain on a hinged pole in your son’s new room, Kate, but again fabric wouldn’t really work in what is quite a minimal space. Anyone got any clever alternatives please?!

  4. Ooh I’m inspired. We’ve got the weirdest shape bedroom, a sharply pitched ceiling and a nook by a right angle triangle window, and a shower in a closet to boot! I’d like to put built ins under the window but it isn’t in the budget right now, but I could put a floating shelf all the way across and use it for plants. I’ve got a comfy reading chair there but it is a weird space, and I think if it had some plants, etc, it would be nice.

    We’ve got some similar shelves to the final photo behind the door. The previous owners had a wardrobe there but I’d find banging doors into each other annoying, so just ordered ply shelves and F&B tester pots in different shades of blush. A pile of picture books for when my 5 year old crawls in bed with us and wants to read, and some big linen baskets for storage.

  5. I painted my (early Victorian villa) windows in Railings but used Dropcloth for the masonry which I think looks much nicer than this full on dark grey. All that dark masonry just hangs on this poor old house in a heavy and depressing way… The bedroom is nice though and the false wall is genius – a definite inspiration from yours Kate!

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