The Househunter: A Really Good-Looking New-Build

This is a collection of eight new apartments a few minutes from Church Street in Stoke Newington, which is a cool villagey area in north London, and each one has private south-facing outside space while one, no 8, is part of the Government Help to Buy Scheme which means if you can raise a five per cent deposit you can then borrow up to 20 per cent (40 in London) interest free for five years. Coming round?

The XO Collection is on with The Modern House with prices from £575,000 (for the one bedroom no 8 Help to Buy) to £850,000 for the largest three bedroom. Now I’ll admit and say what drew me in was the colour scheme. This is after walking down Tottenham Court Road – home of the furniture stores – the other day and seeing that every sofa in every window was a cream bouclé, mostly curved and mostly with a rust coloured cushion on. So it’s back to that age old dilemma of you may not want to follow trends but sometimes it’s quite hard to buy anything else – I’m generalising here but you know what I mean.

And perhaps that is why this apartment stood out so much. Firstly it’s an antidote to the usual developer’s grey canvas (we’ll come onto the concrete) and secondly a burgundy kitchen – anyone? Mine is chocolate brown but this warm burgundy is lovely with the wooden floors and cream accents and it does feel like a space you could move straight into as it has a little more personality than the usual new build.

Also burgundy kitchen who’d a thought? And keeping the middle cupboards the same pale as the wall behind the sink makes them almost disappear so the kitchen is less dominant than it might otherwise be and is simply zoned by the taller, dark cabinets at either end. Paint – never underestimate its power to transform your space and do so much more than simply add colour.

The furniture won’t be included in the price, but note also how there are several vintage pieces to bring character and warmth rather than a generic Swedish superstore feel ( and I speak as a fan of that place). I also love a glass coffee table to make a space feel lighter and larger as it allows the light to flow through but do make sure you have something on it at all times. When I was filming my course (oh did you miss it? Here…) in The Artist’s Residence Hotel, there was an empty glass coffee table in the middle of the sitting area and the producer, the cameraman and I all fell over it more than once.

The other thing is the walls aren’t generic rental white or grey but a soft mushroom colour (I might say pink) which warms up the concrete and works well to link the parquet floors with the more industrial ceilings. This is also a clever little spot to tuck a desk although I think you might not want to work in a corner facing the wall full time and would undoubtedly graviate to the kitchen table. Unless, of course, you need to work on a desk top that you can’t move around in which case try and make use of any spare corners you might have.

If you don’t need a desk in a space like that then you can always add shelves – either for books or storage – modern flats rarely have enough and most of us forget that it’s fine to consider wardrobes but what about the spare towels/sheets/loo rolls. In fact this might make the perfect spot for coats too as that’s another thing that takes up a lot of space and gets forgotten about.

This is the bedroom that you can see at the end of the corridor and again, while the bedlinen is grey and white, the rattan bed and large wooden mirror do all the work in here to create a much warmer space. Grey really is very easily influenced and if you have embraced this shade in your interiors and are feeling it’s a little cold then a bit of natural wood will go a long way towards turning things around without letting go of the look you wanted to achieve.

A reminder to always consider the view into and out of a room – especially in a modern building or a flat where there can often be long hallways and corridors so you might need something strong enough to stand out and be seen from a distance. In the grey bedroom it’s a large picture on the wall and above it’s the strong colour of the bedding that takes its cue from the soft pink (sorry mushroom) walls.

Even the tiny bathroom has stuck to the plan with this feature basin in a warm orange. You might not want a coloured bathroom suite (yet) but a feature basin can work and isn’t too scary. They work really well in downstairs loos but also here this is what you would see if the door was left open and it’s a little more stylish than the average white number. The black legs and taps also really work to make it a feature (although I appreciate no storage) and the terrazzo backdrop running up the walls and side of the bath from the floor makes the room feel bigger than it would if there was a sharp break between floor and wall.

Essentially while the backdrop is grey and concrete, the developers Artform, interior designers Scenesmith and Dowen Farmer Architects have added a palette of rich Autumnal tones and vintage furniture to these apartments to make them feel welcoming and to add more character than you might usually expect from a new build.




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. Back to the flat you have chosen to show us.
    I could not live with the unfinished concrete ceilings, waking up and looking at the ceiling first thing would depress me.
    The effort to bring colour into the flat, rather than grey and more grey is to be applauded. The flooring appears attractive too. But in truth I would rather choose a flat to suit my life style and then paint the walls.

  2. Keeping my comments to the interior, I like that spot of orange in the design of the bathroom basin. It is like spotting a sunflower in a field of grasses. No bold colour nor wallpaper prints in this room, yet one is pleasantly surprised by the basin straight away. The shape of the basin and it curved lines are attractive details, and the taps and faucet coming out from the wall is a feature I wish I had thought of for my own bathroom.

    1. I like the bathroom although no storage is a big problem. Not keen on glass coffee tables at all. They show the dust, all fingerprints and hurt when you bump into them, which you inevitably do.

  3. Lovely decorating touches but the word “bunker” comes to mind. The windows?!? Rather cell like. Would love to see an exterior shot of the building as a whole.

    1. Surprisingly hard to find one online – I just tried for quite a while and couldn’t be certain I had. They are certainty not using it in listings or promotional materials.

  4. There’s certainly some appealing decorative touches for a new build, I particularly like the terrazzo in the bathroom but lack of storage in these places is indefensible.

  5. I think the interior designer has done a good job of warming this up, and I like the kitchen a lot. Desperately needs some window treatment though, especially on those tiny little windows in most rooms; actually a bit “prison cell” without.

  6. I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion the help to buy scheme is an absolute outrage. It seems like a good idea on the outside, the details are very poorly explained and caution is needed. Yes, you can borrow up to 20% for 5 years without repaying anything, but it is not interest free. My son bought a flat in Sheffield with this scheme. There are untold hoops to squeeze through before actually being offered the loan. He saved really hard so that he could repay the loan in full at the end of the initial 5 year term, he did not intend to sell the flat and is still living there. At the end of the 5 year term, the flat is revalued and if it has gone up in value the help to buy scheme will claim the proportion of the increase in value equivalent to the proportion of the initial loan. That’s 20% of the increase in value. My son borrowed £28000. His flat increased in value over the 5 years. The total he had to repay was £35000. That’s the equivalent of an interest rate of 25%. A credit card would have been the better option. Multiply that up for London and you’ll get an idea of the true costs involved. Be very aware of what you’re getting into.

      1. It’s an absolute outrage. I think it might be the next national scandal, like PPI or indeed, student loans. I don’t think the people promoting this scheme understand it’s true ramifications and the level of cost involved. Even if it’s not paid off in full at the end of the first five years, it converts to a loan with interest rates higher than a traditional mortgage, and the government still wants its cut of the increase in value when the property is sold. It is just scandalous.

        1. It’s a way of propping up prices for developers, isn’t it? I agree it may well be a scandal soon, that and “shared ownership”.

    1. Your general point is spot on, but the maths isn’t quite right here. A repayment of £35,000 on a 5 year loan of £28,000 implies an interest rate of 5%, not 25%. (5% of £28,000 is £1,400. £1,400 a year for 5 years totals £7,000, which equals £35,000 minus £28,000.)
      5% is a lot less than the average credit card rate, currently running at 21% or so. However, it’s a lot more than the 5 year mortgage rate, typically 2% or so at the moment. So in your son’s case – if he could have qualified for that mortgage – it would have saved him thousands.
      A mortgage is almost always the cheapest way of borrowing. The Help To Buy implied interest rate is the annual increase in value of the property. With annual house price growth now averaging 11%, Help To Buy is an expensive way to finance a purchase, and should only be considered by those who can’t get a big enough mortgage to finance their purchase and have no other option.

      1. It’s still 125% of the original loan. If the property had increased in value by just another 10k, he would have had to repay £9k in addition to the loan. That’s 130% of the original loan. Can you not see how outrageous that is? On a London property he could have been repaying 40% of the increase in value. It is an absolute con. My son was recommended to take this option, even though he could both afford the mortgage and could have put down a much bigger deposit. And yes, we both have degrees in maths so we understand the maths. I am making a point about the hidden costs and the lack of realistic explanation by seeming professionals. These are often young kids just trying to make their way in the world, having already been trounced for a massive student loan. It is immoral. Please pass me a soap box.

  7. Lovely flat but I’m just horrified that anyone who can afford a £575k property (to put that into context it’s over twice the price of the average house in the UK) gets ‘help to buy’. No wonder house prices in London are overheated if already wealthy people get help from the government to buy ever more expensive property.

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