The Househunter: A Two Bedroom Apartment full of colour and character

Spinning the dial again this week and we go from a nearly £2m artist’s studio to a two bedroom flat that is full of colour and character and proves one and for all that size isn’t everything if you decorate cleverly. It’s in south east London and is on with Inigo for £635,000.

It’s on the ground floor of a Victorian conversion and is less than 4m wide but, as you will see, the owners haven’t shied away from colour and it’s a relaxing, pretty space that runs round a right red thread making it cohesive as well as cosy.

Firstly, I know I’m always talking about painting doors and radiators to match wall and make them disappear and this, above, is a prime example. That’s the door into the flat. If you paint it white you are just drawing attention to it – might as well stick a big exit sign over the top. But this is also the sitting room, the room where you want to relax and by make it disappear into the wall it’s as invisible as it can be.

The pale pink walls are really brought to life with the dark burgundy shelving, mirrored in the artwork over the fireplace and brightened in the sofa. The soft blue shades work as a harmonious contrast and as you will see, both colours are repeated throughout the flat so you are led from room to room in a calming way rather than jolting from space to space with highly contrasting colours. No detail has been overlooked here – even the edging of the rug is in blue to tie it subtly to the furniture and frame the coffee table within the space.

When you leave the sitting room – past the end of the sofa, the blue  comes with you washed all over the walls and ceilings. Hallways are often dark and narrow with no natural light – especially in terrace houses and especially in flats so go with that. Pick a colour you love – doesn’t have to be dark and put it all over. It’s called colour drenching and if you love the colour it means you will always enjoy the space, even if it is small.

Do the doors and woodwork as well – it’s same principle as above – and fill the walls with pictures and mirrors to add light and bounce it around. If possible hang mirrors opposite doors to lighter rooms so they catch the light and reflect it back into your dark space. If you really want to add a sense of luxury you can paint it all in gloss (water-based gloss paints exist now) and that will be even more reflective. If that sounds too much then keep the walls matt but do the ceiling in the same colour but gloss for the same effect.

At the far end of the apartment we come to the kitchen diner which is long (over 6m) and thin (just over 3m or nearly 20ft but 10.7ft). Now there’s no room for an island in a kitchen that wide – a standard unit is 60cm and you need, ideally, 1m of passage, so it’s tight. But, if your room is long and thin you can use a peninsula. This is essentially an island fixed at one end. It’s purpose is two-fold – you get breakfast bar and storage and you can “square off” a long room by dividing it across the middle so it doesn’t turn into a corridor or tunnel. A peninsula can be as long as you can make it as long as you leave enough space to pass through. As I said, in an ideally world that’s a metre, but 80 will do and a standard door is 762cm for context.

Here the vendors have decided to add breakfast bar with space for two stools rather than an extra cupboard. If you were worried about the passageway you could store the stools in front of the back of the cupboard – cleverly covered in rattan to make them pretty to the rest of the room, and make the breakfast bar foldable so you could put it down when not needed. As I have said in one of my books (think it was 101 Interior Design Answers) there are reasons why making friends with a joiner is a good idea.

I mentioned the red thread and you can see it has deepened from the pink of the sitting room to a bold red in this room. The stools link with the fabulous striped blinds which is the perfect pattern for a dining room. And, instead of a picture, there’s a large wall hanging – something you can easily do yourself and which might be an easier and more affordable way of covering a large expanse of wall.

This room is full of character with antique chairs and a table, vintage lights and lots of texture from  brass and rattan to pattern and stripe and yet the colour palette is muted so it’s not overwhelming in a small space. You don’t have to go white in small rooms but keep the number of colours down and it will feel interesting and cosy while full of character at the same time.

Lots of people ask about mixing woods and, as you can see here, you can put a dark vintage with a modern oak and it works. The key is either that the tones work together or that you create a complete contrast in period and style. You might not get it right first time but if you aren’t sure use social media for research and when you see a picture you like analyse it to understand why you think it works. I’ve outlined the broad principles here.

Back out to the hall and you come to the tiny bathroom. The blue of the door and walls outside is picked up in these vintage looking blue and white tiles while the wooden loo seat stops it feeling to cold and clinical. Bathrooms can be tricky – the furniture always basically looks the same apart from the odd variation in shape so you have to rely on the walls and floors to bring the character – the opposite of what you might do in every other room.

I thought a close up of these tiles might help and note how the curves are echoed in the mirror while the basin splashback picked up not only the blue of the patterned tiles but the walls outside.

Into the main bedroom and again I have talked about considering the view as you walk past a room. This yellow cupboard is a perfect contrast to the blue and draws the eye but you know it’s going to be a different sort of space.

Here’s a full view of the room and not only has the wallpaper been put on all four walls – as the designer surely intended but it has also been added to the door panels to help disguise it, again always good in a small room. Many people don’t want wallpaper on all the walls as they feel it might be overwhelming but this shows you the power of a soft pale pattern which adds texture more than colour and allows you to add colour in the form of the cupboard – the colour of which has been picked up on the chair, the lampshade and the bedhead.

But, because all the textures and fabrics are different it doesn’t look too matchy but rather that a selection of items have been chosen because they go and are loved – this is a room of friends not twins. And, of course, there’s the red thread in the form of the mirror which just reminds you of the rest of the flat along with the dark blue fringing on the cushions.

Finally, the piece de resistance – the garden office. Years ago the dream was an ensuite bathroom, later replaced by a pantry. I’m guessing that in this new world we live in savings will be diverted to the outside work space wherever possible. This is a beauty – not least because the green door frames tie it to the trees and nature in which it sits.

Who’s in? I’d buy this if I didn’t have to house two teenage boys and a husband.

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. Yep, too small (especially for the price!) but I do have a lot of time for the studio/office in the garden. Would be lovely to have a space like that! Cheers!

  2. I ADORE the offset handles on the yellow cabinet….looks like I am alone on that one!

    1. No, me too. Tiny details that edge out of the conventional.

      Such a contrast to last week’s vast incoherent space.

  3. I really like the use of colour but being realistic if I moved in the outside office space would be filled with everything I needed but couldn’t fit in the flat – so more like an outside dressing room, shower , pantry , utility room , study and such like – need a pair of wellies to be included in sale.

  4. Too small for me but that aside, anybody else see the offset door handles on the yellow bedroom cupboard as giant cockroaches crawling around? Some images stay in my mind, I know what I’ll sadly be dreaming about tonight and I don’t even live there! 🙂

    1. The giant cockroaches wasn’t a favorite of mine either….
      Call me old fashioned but some things should just be symmetrical and shouldn’t be messed with.

  5. I live in the US and also have two teenage boys and a husband, but in my fantasy single life, yes please! I would turn the nursery into a walk in closet. Everything else can stay!

  6. My first thought was Beata Heuman too – for all the reasons above and also that blue/red/yellow palette that runs through much of her work. A beautifully considered space without feeling at all ‘done’ – lovely!

  7. The front door would out me off buying this…trying to hide it isn’t working, the door just looks cheap.. I would stick panelling onto it.

  8. Love this one. This looks so much like an early Beata Heuman design! It has so many of her signatures and style – the tv cabinet over the fireplace, the ottoman, the wall hanging, the rattan-backed kitchen cabinets, the light fittings, playing with scale, the curvy mirrors, and the palette. If it isn’t her, the designer knows her work!

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