The Househunter: Palatial in Peckham

Back to the fantasy Friday househunting where, for those who are new, we ignore the price and look into the design and layout of a real house that is on the market to see what we can learn and how we might take inspiration for our own places and spaces.

We’re heading over to east London for this first property of the year and while, technically, it’s a three bedroom terrace house it has a library, a conservatory, a studio, a family room and reception room as well as a dining room so you could, should you have £2,420,000 to hand over to Inigo, create more bedrooms.

This is, first and foremost a house of books and as someone who has been staring at 68 boxes of books in the back of the sitting room since September and whose shelves (currently under construction) will probably only hold half of them, I’m interested in all the places they have found to stash their tomes.

This house has the double sitting room common to so many period properties in London and while I was planning a set of folding doors to divide mine, perhaps creating an opening so that I can put shelves either side of it is a better solution. Leaving space for the doors to fold back takes up valuable space that could be used by books. And this alcove of books that goes up the stairs is wonderful – remember a bookshelf, if it is to hold paperbacks, need only be about 12cm deep (check your own books as sizes vary but it tends to be less than you think). The one thing to bear in mind is that if your shelves are near windows or direct light the spines will fade. We had a set of shelves leading up to the loft in the last house but one and we realised, when we moved, that after spending six years under a skylight the spines had all faded to a lovely pale cream (interior magazine style) but titles were completely illegible.

The other option is to create shelves around doorways in what is often dead space. It’s hard to tell the depth of these but you will be creating a sort of tunnel into the room so bear that in in mind when calculating the depth. And, of course, how often you will need to access those books because it’s all very well having a ladder (as they have by the landing) but how often are you actually going to climb up?

Of course you might not/probably don’t have this many books but this is about looking at your own house and seeing how you can utilise any spare inch for storage. This new house has a loft conversion and the stairs leading up to it have a strange gap about 25cm wide at the side before they turn to head up. We have decided to building a hinged “shelf” over the top so we can store spare bedlinen in there and rest a plant on top when not in use. Harder to describe than to see but I will show you when it’s done – it’s quite far down the list at the moment.

Books aside, one of the key points to note about this house is the use of colour. There’s lots of it and while they seem, at first glance, to be quite high contrast, they are also from that muted palette that works so well in the northern hemisphere. The red is soft, the yellow has a hint of brown and the blues are muted.

The kitchen is bold and while I’m not brave enough to put these colours together in my own house (preferring a more tonal scheme) these are colours drawn from nature with her endless permutations of leaves and flowers.

The kitchen leads through into the family room and it will be a question of preference how you divide these spaces. Do you want two doors for symmetry – the unit in the middle provides more storage and worktop – I might have used it for narrow shelves of recipe books – or perhaps you could have one opening and add the extra storage to one side. Or you could have filled in the two sides and left a single opening in the centre.

This might feel like there are too many options. You might feel like closing this page and abandoning the whole idea but I mention it to illustrate the point that the best way to work out how to plan your space is to visualise yourself in it. This semi-open plan might facilitate conversation between the two rooms. That family room leads to the dining area – do you have a big family and might you need to implement a restaurant style one way system of full plates through one door and empty via the other?

If this were mine I would have put the dining room in the middle and had the glass room as another sitting room from where I could admire the beautiful fern-filled garden. Ultimately if you want to make your house work for you you have to take the time to think about who lives there, what they are doing and when they are doing it. It’s the six questions which I have written about in detail in my Planner, which also gives you lots of space to answer them.

Moving upstairs and the dark and book-filled scheme continues. And yes I’m going to say paint the radiators to match the walls – these are functional rather than decorative so why allow them to stand out? And the thorny issue of curtains. I have opted for full length curtains in my bedroom and yes the radiators (which are decorative) sit behind them, but I tend not to close the curtains until I go up to bed so the heat can fill the room until it goes off and the curtains are closed. I also plan to get some cafe curtains or privacy blinds. Once again it’s about working out how you live and what you need to make life in your house better. In short, what, for you, turns it from a house into a home.

And I shall leave you with another angle of this rather stunning dark bathroom. Yes it’s dark but it has a door on one side and a window on the other. The en suite bathroom of my old house was painted in a very dark green and was similarly lit. We also painted the floor white to match the ceiling and encourage more light although this worn wooden floor is very beautiful. Note, also that the paint on the walls has a slight sheen which bounces the light off in a way that matt wouldn’t. In addition to the pale ceiling, there is a large mirror and, of course, in bathrooms the “furniture” is mostly white that increases the amount of places where the light can bounce around.

Work on my bathroom starts in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be quite different from the last 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 enjoy the fantasy house-hunting articles, and appreciate that some of the ideas might transfer. I wonder if you would consider writing articles on houses that are affordable but not fabulous (those without ‘good bones’). I was looking at an ad for a house that looked bland and thinking about easy ways to de-bland houses.
    I almost posted the link here, but I am not sure that’s allowed.

    1. I do try and do a mix of houses and if you look back over the last few years there are small flats and houses and buildings from very period. Ultimately I’m aware firstly, that I want to give you lovely things to look at and secondly, and perhaps more important, I don’t want to post someone’s home and take it apart listing all the things that are wrong. That seems unfair so it’s fine line to tread. That said, I will try and include more ideas within the framework for those don’t have original features, or nice windows or fireplaces and see if we can provide help and inspiration that way.

      1. Ah, I understand. I don’t see it as listing all the things that are “wrong,” just here is a different style/taste that would give a different look.

  2. Lots of charities pulp books. The Global Education Trust has free bookshops in deprived areas giving away books. It’s an amazing initiative and is well woirth supporting.

  3. Yes, Cathryn! We love our books but I must agree on curating them. There is freedom in living with less.

  4. I agree that the colours in this house are warm and vibrant. The books take precedent over furnishings. It is very much a curated interior with unusual finds of interest. I could enjoy a visit and would love to browse the titles on the many shelves for books. There is a sense that this is not a home for a family. Things stay in place waiting for the owner to return. Due to downsizing my home, it became necessary for me to cull my collection of books which included old uni texts. It was an emotional experience which produced a great deliberation before it was complete. I did find good homes for many of my beloved books through friends, my local library, and small organizations in need of reference sources, if culling becomes a needs must for you. Lovely Househunter pick to start the New Year Kate!

  5. What struck me about this kitchen was those alcove cupboards: almost square (and squat). At the very least, they need to go up to the ceiling and I would certainly want glazing. All too heavy for me, otherwise.

    These yellow-undertones colours, the muted reds, blues etc., don’t work for me. I’ve got blue-undertones skin and those are the tones I like to wear and to decorate with, so this house would need to be completely repainted (other than the kitchen!) before I moved in.

    I say this as an East London resident: £2.4 m for a house in east London? Aaarghhh!

  6. Hello Kate and happy new year. Great to see the blog back, and looking forward to the new podcast series as well. The completed bedroom in the new house looks lovely.

    As a fellow reader of books , not Kindles, can I urge a good old declutter upon you before you commit every spare bit of wallspace to bookshelves? Books do furnish a room (and in our case, provide heat and sound insulation for a room) as well as a life, but if you are sitting on 68 boxes there will be hundreds among there that you are simply never going to look at again, that didn’t have much impact first time around, that won’t even find a market via the charity bookshop (I work in one, and I know what we can sell and what simply has to go to recycling) and that is all fine.

    Best of luck!

    1. and once you have sorted the books and have a pile to give to charity….there’s no need to carry them anywhere. Contact Wendy’s Wishs who will collect the from your doorstep, together with anything else that you wish to give away.

    2. Yes I know what you mean but while I don’t always remember the stories I tend to remember where I was when I read them so they serve as a sort of diary. Also, if the Italian house purchase goes ahead we will take a bunch of them over there.

  7. A great house to kick off the NY. Plenty of inspiration, along with your sage advice. My decorator is finally starting next week, after a 9 month wait and although I’m bursting with ideas, I’m finding it hard to finalise my decisions. This is such a colourful house, what would you say is it’s ‘red thread’?

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