The Househunter: Look Familiar?

I wasn’t sure if I should post this given the sad news about the death of the Queen last night. In the end I have decided to leave it here as planned. There is no disrespect intended and it is up to you to read it now or later as you wish. 

Something slightly different this week’s Househunter as yes – you guessed it – it’s The Mad House! After 12 years, one extension, a loft conversion, countless room changes and the acquisition of a cat, we are moving on and this seemed like a good place to document that. This, by the way, is the news I promised you earlier in the week. We had hoped to exchange at the end of July. Then before the end of August. It finally happened yesterday.

Now first up we sold privately so I don’t have any estate details to show you (more on that later) but I have rustled up a few before and afters:

Like this for example.

So where to start? Why? Well, as regular readers will know, our sons are now 21 and 19. They are embarking on their own house journeys and while we will always want a place for them at home, we both felt that it would be miserable to be constantly walking past empty rooms shimmering with the ghosts of childhoods past. We wanted – as The Mad Husband said – A Third Act. And the dream has always been to buy a house in Italy with a small place in London, too. This, we thought, would happen over the next five years when both boys had graduated and we were ready for a small flat.

Then one Saturday night a text landed from our architect: “Are you moving to Italy? My friends want to buy your house.” And so it began. We found a small house that we love and will do up. It has four bedrooms (we both work from home and the elder son is back while he studies for a Masters) but is around 1000sq ft smaller than were we are now. I will share details of that next week.

To recap on this one – when we bought it, it was arranged as two rental flats. A one-bedroom ground floor and a two-bedroom maisonette. We restored it to a single dwelling and extended the kitchen at the back to add a dining space. We didn’t do the loft at the time, as we weren’t sure what we would use it for, but in 2015 we needed more office space and decided it would add value. And, having had a pay-out from a critical illness insurance policy when I was diagnosed with cancer of the saliva gland, it seemed good use of a sum of money that wasn’t life-changing but was more than a fancy holiday.

You will see from the pictures how tastes and styles have changed. I wrote my first book (in 2015) Shades of Grey when the whole house was indeed painted in variations of that colour. Now the only grey that remains is in the 21yo’s room and he us currently poring over paint charts for the new place. I may have made a tactical error leaving a book of Yves St Laurent’s Marrakech home on the table outside his bedroom…. he’s going opulent next time round, apparently.

As for selling privately, well, I have a new -ound respect for estate agents. This sale was long and tricky with plenty of twists and turns. Banks are taking months to agree anything. Ours operated on a five-day turnaround for every issue or enquiry, so you ask one question and they promise to answer in five working days. Invariably that leads to another question so it’s another five days and on it goes. We had exacting buyers and instead of their questions (which were many) being filtered through an agent, we had to deal with them ourselves – never quite knowing if what they were asking was standard or extra. Nor how fast we should deal with it. When you’re trying to deal with the mortgage and work full time, it’s a lot. We also agreed two chunky price drops, the second of which amounted to the same as an estate agent’s fee would have been, so while we didn’t lose financially on that front we did give ourselves more stress than we perhaps otherwise might have had. We also never trusted it would happen until everything was signed – and had no-one to reassure us that things were progressing normally (if slowly), so inevitably we worked ourselves into a state of higher stress than was necessary – and an estate agent might have provided calming words and advice.

My takeaway on this is, don’t underestimate what a good estate agent does – we ended up relying on the fantastic team that was selling the house we have bought. Don’t be impatient. Banks are taking ages – after trying to sort our mortgage needs for ourselves – having been told by the bank it was a formality which turned out not to be the case – we enlisted the help of a broker. And give yourself time for delays. If you go into it expecting that everything will go at snail’s pace then you won’t add an extra layer of stress when it does. We began the whole process at the end of March. We assumed it would be done by June. It was, in fact, sealed yesterday – and we move in three weeks. The broker told us that some banks are taking up to six months to sort out new mortgages. In the end ours took four months, and we were porting an existing mortgage that we have had for 20 years – so you’d think that would be easy. That said, we both run our own businesses which complicates matters.

So here we are – a new chapter awaits. We have lots of work to do on the new house and I’m very excited about creating a new look. We are going to work within the existing footprint, so there will be challenges and clever thinking – no more en-suite, no side return to widen the kitchen.

And then we are, hopefully, going to realise that long-held dream of owning somewhere in Italy. Come with me on this journey and, if you’re not already subscribed then do so to make sure you don’t miss out. I have created a fantastically fast Reel over on Instagram if you want to see more pictures flash by your eyes. Perhaps, over the coming weeks, I will revisit this house room by room and its evolution. And, of course, I’ll take you with me to the new one.


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. I did have a lovely summer. We installed an above ground pool and trampoline for the grandkids. They had a ball, and that kept them busy and happy! I hope you had a wonderful summer too Kate. Cheers from Canada!

  2. Good Luck Kate! We downsized 6 months ago and the hugely stressful conveyancing was only bearable because I had your Planners to dreaM about what I would do to our new smaller place! I’ve still got too much stuff and a kitchen to plan at some point but this ‘third act’ is great so far- looking forward to seeing your plans for the new house. X

  3. I’m adding to the congratulations of your many followers Kate – what a wonderful dream to realise in your ‘still middle’ years! We sold our house privately last year and it is an experience I would not choose to repeat – next time I will be straight on the phone to the estate agent! All the very best for the process of packing and moving which can be hellish but will be all worth it in the end. The Mad House looks fabulous in the photos and how exciting to think we can all look forward to living vicariously through you and Mad Husband as you plan and execute Mad House Italy and the next Mad House UK. All the very best and thank you for the ongoing wonderful inspiration over morning coffee.

  4. I’m one of your thousands of silent followers. Thoroughly enjoy your posts without ever feeling the need to respond. But I wish you all the very, very, very best in this next chapter of your life. No need to respond – I never did!!
    Janet x

  5. What a good decision to do this now and have time to enjoy the process in your new place(s) without the mid-60’s issues tiring you out. As beautiful and grand as some of the homes you’ve featured, I’ve always enjoyed yours the most, and I’m sure we’ll all ooooh and aaaah at your new projects and find more inspiration. Congratulations!

  6. Congratulations! What an exciting and exhausting adventure. We are in the process of selling our house. We initially thought we had sold it privately without realtors, but unfortunately that didn’t workout. We are now listed with an agent and it has been wonderful. Real estate brokers are underestimated, and hopefully we will have ours sold very soon. Can’t wait to see the new place!

  7. So exciting,I can’t wait to see what you do in your new home. We’re in the middle of selling/buying and it’s so stressful so well done on getting to exchange! Congratulations and thank you for your wonderful posts.

  8. It’s exciting but very complicated to own a house in Italy and a small property here and even more so since Brexit. We have done it and lived in rural Umbria for 15 years. Those you love in the UK must remain healthy otherwise it becomes a huge responsibility. Cancer struck hard killing much loved family in middle age and responsibilities for the elderly were suddenly ours. Grand children arrive another responsibility….loving but you become very much needed in England!

    If you haven’t already bought do ensure an airport is within a short driving distance and also fast trains.
    Private health insurance vital of course. I know so much having run a business in UK whist living in Umbria for the first 6 years.
    I remember your mother inlaw has a flat? In Liguria so you have help on hand. I am not home internet almost non existent but next week message me Kate I am happy to offer what I know having done that been there as they say!

  9. From an abyss of sorrow shines this rod of light from Italy. The promise of a fantastic Third Act!

  10. Hi Kate; I’m a long-time subscriber but I never post a message. Thought this would be a good opportunity to say how much I enjoy your blog; I love sitting down at my coffee break at work and reading your latest post. Best of luck in your new adventure; it sounds wonderfully exciting. Condolences from Ireland on the death of your Queen. x

  11. Very best of luck Kate! What an amazing time for you and your family. We’ve also just moved and I have to say the description of the process sounds very familiar. Our mortgage also took forever to come through, despite the fact we were porting it. The saving grace was what we were swapping houses (the person we bought from bought our house), which did make for a very neat chain.

    1. We swapped houses once many years ago – definitely much easier. This was a long chain that creaked and wobbled all the way through. Never quite thought it would happen until it did!

  12. Wow Kate. Best of luck going forward. Can’t wait to see all the exciting changes in the next two properties!! Lucky people who bought your house .. I’m so jealous.

    If more world leaders had the grace, dignity, honesty, dedication and straight up intelligence of Queen Elizabeth what a world we would have.

  13. Kate

    Every good wish for you and The Mad Husband in your new homes – hugely exciting and wonderfully decisive to make this move at such a young age. I have so many friends who regret having left it till their late 60s/70s to “right-size” their lives. Woot woot! Bet Enid will love it too .

    1. Anyone who calls me young at 55 has my undying love! But yes we definitely felt now was the right time. I also have friends in their early 60s who have found the renovation process much more exhausting so hopefully we still have the energy to manage it. Enid will hate it to start with but she’ll acclimatise!

  14. I , like many, have been taken by surprise at the strength of my grief at the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Our homes are woven into the fabric of our lives in a far more intimate and tangible way, enduring, vexing and rewarding through good times and bad. I am sure you will go on to reign supreme in your new dominion! Wishing you and your family happy times ahead. Susan x

    1. I’m also surprised by how untethered and distressed by the Queen’s death and reading this post made me feel very sad too: end of an era here too. Strange to feel a sense of loss about Kate moving house!

  15. Congratulations Kate and family – hope the next stage of your adventures goes wonderfully well. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how you’ve evolved your house over the years. Interesting reflection on the decision to move on from the “family” home – I had rather thought I would have to stay in our house for my children to have that sense of “coming home” when they’re grown up, but of course it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Can’t wait to see what you do to the new place!

  16. Gosh, big news indeed – congratulations on the sale and the purchase, both worth the stress I’m sure. I hope the move goes well – and that the cat settles into her new home as quickly as her human servants do! And I really look forward to a series of new before and after photos and stories.

  17. Exciting times ahead! Check out when you are renovating your Italian dream house, in the future. This woman is well known, here in Sweden, for her quirky, dreamy, different renovations. Enjoy your new home and making it yours.

  18. Congratulations Kate! I love the before and after and changes photos. It’s exciting that you’ll have 2 new projects to play with. I can’t wait to see them!

  19. How exciting! And lucky new owners of your beautiful house. We are in a similar situation; one has moved out permanently, and two are at uni, and half of our house is effectively unused (their bedrooms/bathroom are in one “wing”). It’s lovely having a tidy house and a full fridge but such wasted capital. And my husband spends FAR too much time watching A Place In The Sun…..

  20. The very best of luck to you! Try to keep up the excitement and don’t let the stress get on top of you.

    1. Oh wow! Seeing you put the dates of when you published your book has made me realise how long I have been enjoying your work. 7+ years?!? Good luck for the future, I will look forward to learning more

  21. Wow Kate! That is such exciting news! Can’t wait to see your new adventures in London and Italy. Wishing you the best of luck with it all. Catherine x

  22. Congratulations , love looking at the changes you made and looking forward to watching what happens next

  23. Oh my god ! So excitîng ! It was so interesting to see those before-before-before… can’t wait to see what you do with the new house !

  24. Oooh Kate, how exciting! Looking forward to following your new adventure. And congrats on surviving the house sale/purchase process. Ours nearly did me in and we HAD an estate agent xx

  25. A lovely thought at the top of your piece, I don’t think things will ever be quite the same again.

    And for you too! What an exciting adventure ahead and I’m sure with lots of happy memories to take with you to Italy.
    I’m ready (and waiting patiently) to share all those new adventures when you’re ready!

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