The Househunter: Old and New

While trawling the corners of the internet for a suitable property for this week’s househunter post, I happened across the oldest house in Islington – a Georgian townhouse dating from the 1700s, which I thought would work in relation to the white paint discussion we’ve been having this week. And then it seemed only fair to balance that with one of the newest properties in the capital – a curved steel structure built under a 19th century railway viaduct. And don’t forget I always link to the main site so you can see more pictures and floorplans etc.

This four bedroom townhouse, which was built around 1750, is on the market with Knight Frank for £2,850,000 and still has many of its original features. When it was built, Islington, N1, was a popular countryside retreat for Londoners (imagine!) and Upper Street was lined with tea houses, ale houses and gardens.

As was common in houses of this period, the drawing room was on the first floor. Probably these days it would be used as a master bedroom although there are, in fact, two receptions on the first floor, a kitchen and separate dining room below, and four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second and third floors.

But it’s the colours I wanted to show you. The Georgian period was long – 1714 to 1830 – so this house was fairly early. Colours tended to be quite muted, as you see here, and there was lots of soft blue, red and yellow as well as sage green (one of the most searched for colours on Pinterest last year).

As the period continued, the colours became paler and elements of beige and stone were brought in. Any shades of white were also muted as it was a while before the technology existed to make the crisp, bright whites that we have today.

So note that in all these rooms the woodwork matches the walls or, as in the yellow sitting room, the woodwork has been picked out in one shade darker than the walls to compliment rather than contrast. Yes the ceilings are white but it will be a soft off white, with the exception of the bedroom below which looks bright and modern in comparison.

I like painting rooms this way and while my windows don’t all match my walls, that is partly down to them all being white when we installed them and not getting round to changing them. I also have white floors so it does tie together, although whenever we redecorate a room now the skirting boards and doors always match the walls for a more even and cohesive look.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested to see that house. Now let’s go for a complete contrast and look at this – very white – live/work space which is nestled under and curves around a 19th century railway viaduct in south London. It’s on the market with The Modern House for £999,999 and was built by Undercurrent Architects, who have done some amazing work.

The property, currently a photographic studio and a residence, has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a study arranged at various levels under the three storey atrium, which was, in turn, designed to draw light down through the whole building.

The steel cladding provides an acoustic barrier from the sounds of the trains above so that it is can be both open plan and quiet.

It is a gorgeous space and a perfect example of when white paint is perfect. It allows not only the furniture to stand out but highlights also the interesting lines and shapes of the building.

The architects have described the building as ecclesiastical inside, and you can see what they mean. I read once that the Gothic cathedrals of Chartres and Reims have the effect of making you draw yourself up taller when you go inside and you can see that you might have the same reaction here.

And wouldn’t this be a great place to work? I might fill it with lots of plants although they most don’t like direct sunlight so it may not work – mind you they don’t seem to mind being in Kew Gardens do they, so perhaps it’s just about choosing the right ones for the climate.

So what do you think? Old or new? Historical or Contemporary?  I like both of course. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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. Funny thing tho….I love colour, mostly in art n accessories but I did most of my interiors in Spain and when I saw an older White Andalucían Interior I actually always stopped in my tracks … white roughly plastered walls and ceilings, sometimes even the beams….and an old terracotta tiled floor. White bedlinen and white Muslin curtains. It’s a stunning sight. Bliss. Of course, the sun helped 🙄

  2. For anyone interested in historical paint colours and colour schemes, Patrick Baty’s book, The Anatomy of Colour is fascinating and well worth a look.

  3. I generally love old houses and sneer at modern ones, but this one is beautiful and brilliantly done – maybe because it is rooted on the elegant 19th century archway. And yes, the ecclesiastical feel would definitely tempt me to hang some richly coloured fabrics; they’d probably provide some needed acoustic damping too, I can imagine the house would echo quite a bit.

Comments are closed.