Mad About . . .

The Househunter: Room by Room: Think about Your Floorplan

27th March 2020
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Returning today to a house I featured three years ago when the owner, Greg Penn, was in the process of doing it up. He later sold it fully furnished and moved to Devon where he bought The Admiral’s House, part of the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth, which is an even more mammoth restoration job than this, a former dental surgery in Darlington was.

You can follow Greg’s progress on Instagram where he posts regularly about doing up this huge old house by himself and often tells you the history of the building as well. As he is working alone he is able to continue in the current times for as along as he can get materials and it’s wonderful to watch it coming together.

But back to this house, which is on the market with George F White for £475,000 and is a four storey, four bedroom period town house. There is a reception room and cinema room on the lower ground floor, and open plan kitchen dining living room on the ground and two bedrooms and a bathroom on each of the floors above.

I remember Greg painting his hall stairs and landing like this and it still looks great. As you can see he has anaglypta, or textured wallpaper, on the lower half of the wall which he painted black. This is not only practical but will protect against scuffs and finger prints. You can also barely see the radiator until you peer closely and if that’s not an argument for painting them to match the walls I don’t know what is. And yes I would (and so might he now I suspect) have painted the white plastic handle black too!

One other point to note. In my house we have carpeted the stairs and left the landings as floorboards. Greg has done it the other way round and with a large landing like this it works really well – you could probably create a home office in this space if, you know, you felt that that might be useful in the current circs.

Moving into this lovely light-filled kitchen. In many houses with basements the kitchen is stuck down there in a dark room and a double sitting room is created on the ground floor and then people aren’t quite sure what to do with all that sitting space. Putting the kitchen up here is a great idea and makes the kitchen so much more inviting and usable. I have discussed this in the book but it really is important that you don’t just assume that each room has to have its original or, so-called, dedicated purpose.

We’re quite used to repurposing bedrooms as offices and playrooms but somehow, when it comes to the downstairs, we tend to leave things as they were. Now in this case, it was perhaps easier as it was a dentist’s waiting room so there was no kitchen at all but it’s a good idea to approach a space as if there was nothing there.

For example, these days many of us living in Victorian conversions find the kitchen at the back. It’s small and dark – because it was often created as a pantry or just for servants to use. So we knock the existing sitting room and dining room into one space – the dining room at the back is always dark as well –  and start saving money to extend the kitchen into the garden and the side return. Then we create a massive space that is big enough for a sofa and a tv and hey presto – never go into the dark former dining room – which gradually fills with bikes and prams and junk and barely use the sitting room either. If we had used the existing space more wisely we might not have needed to spend thousands on extending and could have gone on holiday instead.

Far better to move the kitchen into what was designed as the dining room – the dark room in the middle of the house – and by kitchen I mean the actual practical washing up and cooking part and then move the dining area to the back of the house with a view of the garden. Rather than create a huge sitting room and have to extend the kitchen, you can knock the original dining room into the old kitchen and keep the front sitting room separate and use it as a grown up evening room for drinks and chats, or a family sitting room with the tv and then during the day you can live at the back of the house which has the light and views of the outside and move into the dark cosier sitting room for the evenings.

Greg’s layout is slightly different as he had a whole lower ground floor to play with and I think his instinct of putting the kitchen up here was spot on. I have been in several similar houses with dark basement kitchens and effectively two sitting rooms upstairs which is lovely if you keep a door between them so you can close them off but not practical if it’s one huge open plan space as you can’t have music and one end and tv at the other.

So that is why I say by all means look at a floorplan to see what space there is but do then ask yourself if the rooms, as designated, are where you need them to be for the way you live. It might cost a bit more to move a kitchen from the back to the middle of the house but if it’s the right thing for the way you live you will reap the benefits in terms of how you use your house and how much you love it for years to come.

I wanted to show you this room downstairs, too. Firstly – making the point about the radiator again. It matches the wall and basically disappears. And the skirting boards match the walls so the space isn’t all outlined and chopped up.

Secondly the lighting. Can you see how the central pendant light has been moved from the dead centre of the room to hang over the middle of the seating area which makes much more sense. I have spoken about this before but am sensing new readers and also a heightened sense of awareness of what might be wrong in our homes and planning things we can do to put them right. In this instance buy a new, longer cable – fabric is always nicer than plastic – and a simple cup hook and extend the cable and hang it from the hook. This saves you the bother of relocating the whole ceiling rose and allows you to put things back if, for example, you live in a rental.

The other light comes from a wall fixture but here Greg has moved it to hang from the ceiling. This can be a great way to create a focal point in a room. If you only have one central pendant and don’t want it over the sitting area then you can extend the flex right over to a corner and allow the light to hang low there. This will create a focal point and a feature – especially if you can leave that corner empty.

Moving up to the attic bathroom and you will never go wrong with classic black and white. Here, rather than patterned tiles and a plain floor, Greg has subverted that to bring in the pattern in a more unexpected way. I imagine it won’t show the dust as much as a plain floor either so it’s a practical solution. The current owner has brought in colours, and used that dead space under the eaves, for plants. You could add a bright shower curtain and towels if you wanted to brighten this up a little for your own personal taste.

Finally the bedroom, where the grey ceiling flows down over the top of the walls and makes the room look larger as you are blurring the line between ceiling and wall. The matching curtains help elongate the walls further although we all know floor length might have been better. My guess is that these are ready made curtains and a particularly high ceiling. That said it works as the walls sort of match the floor and create a similar effect as the ceiling colour does going over the top of the walls with the vertical curtains linking the two spaces.

And that’s the final point to note. Sometimes you think things haven’t worked out, or you are forced to compromise and at the time it’s irritating and then afterwards, you either forget, or realise that you have accidentally created something that looks like it was a deliberate design decision and it all turns out ok in the end anyway.

So a house tour that you probably can’t buy at this moment in time anyway but it’s always nice to see and, hopefully has given you some food for thought when it comes to planning your own spaces.

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  • Anna 29th March 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Excellent article Kate, with plenty of advice. This man seems to move across the country searching for property to restore!
    I thought the huge open plan kitchen – sitting room area needed to be broken up to bring some comfort to the sitting area. I would have a bit of wall from the kitchen cupboards on the left of the photo to slightly break up the area. Even wall to ceiling cupboards would do. Just turn then from the kitchen into the sitting room to create a divide.

  • Elaine Fraser 29th March 2020 at 12:04 pm

    Love the kitchen space but have to disagree with the pink and grey bedroom. The pink is OK but the grey which I would call school uniform grey I personally find really cold and depressing. I knew someone who painted the ceiling of their living room a similar shade of grey and I couldn’t bear to sit in the room. Even in a sunny room it makes me feel like Im looking at a very grey sky. I think perhaps some really sumptuous long curtains in a deep shade and a richer colour on the bed might help lift this room. Don’t get me wrong I love a bit of grey or even soft black and have lots in my own house just not on the ceiling.

  • Vicky Daniel 27th March 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this post. I don’t suppose you can you recommend the best floorplan platform or App?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 29th March 2020 at 12:48 pm

      I don’t know I’m afraid. I tend to draw things out on graph paper and then cut smaller pieces out to represent the furniture and move them around. Very analogue!

    • Jade 2nd April 2020 at 8:17 am

      Hi, I’m not an expert but I use an app called roomle for this sort of thing. You can do a virtual walk through to see how things would really feel as well as a 2d overhead and 3D view. I’ve found it useful in the past.

  • Longdenlife 27th March 2020 at 4:54 pm

    I have followed him on his current renovation for a while and cant wait to see how it all ends up – especially the plans he has for his party room!

  • Miruska 27th March 2020 at 3:14 pm

    This is a gorgeous house! I follow Greg’s journey with the Admiral’s House with much joy and look forward to seeing it evolve. I am so surprised that this space, so thoughtfully designed and renovated, is not more expensive. Is it because it’s not in London? I am in Canada and even here I think that house, if we had anything like that, would be more. In Vancouver, terrible 80’s homes are sometimes more than $1mil just because of the location.

  • monique 27th March 2020 at 1:04 pm

    I did not see a thing I would change. I am not normally a pink walls person but find this bedroom to be very sophisticated and elegant not girlie.

  • Ellen Reed 27th March 2020 at 11:18 am

    Thank you! Lovely. Take care!

  • Renaud 27th March 2020 at 8:55 am

    Good morning Kate!
    I love this house, it’s beautiful. I’m in awe of this light-filled kitchen and dining area. This, for me, truly is #KitchenGoals. I also very much like this soft pink in the bedroom with the contrasting dark grey ceiling. It makes it feel more grown up and more sophisticated.

    Have a lovely day.


  • Catherine 27th March 2020 at 8:47 am

    Fascinating post. Also a great way of illustrating your very sound advice in your new book. Thank you Kate. Do you have the link to your original post on this amazing house?

  • Lisa 27th March 2020 at 8:29 am

    Great advice, lovely rooms and food for thought, making what we’ve got work for us in ways we maybe hadn’t previously thought of. I love your new book too. Thanks Kate.

  • Melanie 27th March 2020 at 7:20 am

    Hi Kate, believe it or not but your posts about interior design bring some normality into a world that’s dominated by the pandemic – thank you

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