The New House

A break with the traditional Monday post of Beautiful Rooms as I figured you might want to be the first to see the not quite so beautiful rooms that we will be moving into in three weeks time. This is very much a post of befores. I’m hoping the afters will not take too many months.

If you were here on Friday you will have understood the reasons for this move. In short we are downsizing, but I have, it won’t surprise anyone to know, masses of ideas for this new smaller place. I’ll keep those until we are in and certainly until I have been round again with the architect and the builder and a tape measure. But here’s a flavour. I’m going to start with the floorplan because it’s always the first thing I look at. You can change all the decor (and we will) but the layout is the bit that tells you if it’s going to work for you or not. That is when it’s accurate, which this isn’t quite but it’s good enough for starters.

So here then is the ground floor:



As you can see it’s long and narrow but, as I said the other day, there are no plans (at the moment) to build into the side return. This is partly as there is already an extension and I see no point in knocking one down to build another that would give us the same amount of space in a different part of the garden.

So the plan is to make this look great within the confines of what is already there. I also think it’s sensible to have a downstairs bathroom – partly as we will be living there as we get older and partly because there’s no way to add an ensuite or second bathroom without losing a bedroom and this house isn’t big enough to afford that.  So that extension will be part pantry – and you better believe it’s going to look amazing – while the shower room will remain and be also a place to dry laundry when the shower isn’t in use. The plan is to tank it so it won’t need a shower screen and the drying rack can roll in and out. And yes I have all sorts of plans for sliding doors and and internal windows etc.

The main issue – and here I must urge you to bear in mind that the pictures are, in true estate agent fashion, very stretched – is that angled wall in the kitchen. For months I have been pondering the cost, and wisdom, of pushing out  a tiny extension to add maybe only a metre but one that will allow us to put the fridge freezer on that wall and then run units the full length of the wall opposite. However, a second look from the back garden yesterday revealed that the window at the back of the sitting room goes further over than we thought which means this might not be possible. This is where the first of the clever ideas may need to come in – I haven’t had it yet and need to get back in there with a tape measure and an architect.

I also plan to turn that window – with the arrow pointing at it in the kitchen into French doors leading into the side return (which is a decent width) and which will be covered in a pergola and vines creating a shady outdoor seating area. Again, if you look at the picture the window looks wide enough to make this easy, but in real life it’s a small window that will require widening, which will involve steel work. So there may come a point where it makes more sense to widen the whole space rather than making tiny adjustments that, when you take into account economies of scale, don’t save that much money. I haven’t said this to The Mad Husband yet who is talking about new windows and boilers and other boring (but vital) things.

Added to which, the existence of the pantry extension and the loft conversion probably means that permitted development rights have been used up. This means I might have to get planning permission to add a couple of square metres? That will cost more and slow things down. So there are a lot of decisions to make.

The sitting room is fairly straightforward although, again that angled door is taking up more room than it deserves. Currently I’m thinking about cutting it in half to make a small double door so that at least it doesn’t take up a huge amount of space in the room when open. And if you scroll back to the top (I know you hate doing that!) I can tell you that what looks like a grey sofa is actually an armchair so that gives you a sense of the stretch of the pictures.

I’m also pondering re-dividing the room with a set of reclaimed glazed doors sliding into a pocket wall on either side so we don’t lose light but we have the option of an extra, separate room. This would also mean re-opening the original door into the back half of the room which I assume has simply been blocked.

Upstairs, the angled wall creates the same problem in the bathroom. If straightening it turns out to be possible (by which I also mean affordable) then that metre gained in both the kitchen and upstairs would add immeasurably to the way the space could be used. However, if it’s not possible downstairs then it certainly isn’t possible upstairs and if it is possible downstairs it may cost too much to do it upstairs.

We won’t be having an ensuite bathroom as that middle room will be needed as an office, at least in the short to medium term. My older son will have the room at the back, with its roof terrace that may need reinforcing before it is safe to use it as such, while the younger one, now at university, will take the loft. This has a slightly strange temporary wall blocking it from the rest of the house and also blocking part of the window as it was, apparently, built as a studio and then a lodger arrived so more privacy was needed. We’ll have to look at that too. If you look at the plan below it doesn’t look like the wall covers the window at the back but it does a little bit which is why we can’t make real plans until we are in and can really examine the detail.


And there you have it. As I say I have lots of ideas to make it beautiful and I think it can be. But first of all we need to see what, if any structural improvements can be made and what they will cost before we can get to the pretty bit. But I hope you will join me on this journey and let me know if you have any clever ideas. As I say it’s hard to plan until I can accurately measure myself – for example – the fridge freezer might fit on that angled wall in the kitchen. We might get a tall narrow fridge to go on the wall that backs onto the reception (with the arrow pointing to it) and stick a small freezer in the pantry. The budget is small, building costs are high and floating in the background is the reason for downsizing in the first place so we might be able to realise a long held dream of a place in Italy.


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. Very exciting, have you thought about moving the laundry function to be hidden in a cupboard in one of the bedrooms? The back room could be a garden snug or dining space instead….

  2. This is so exciting- I am
    really looking forward to following all your renovations. Your current house is so lovely, so I know you will do a great job here too. Two thoughts:
    1) I agree with those suggesting moving the downstairs bathroom and pantry back towards the middle of the house, in order to ge able to push the kitchen, and especially the dining area, back towards the garden. Given how hot London summers are, you really need to be able to throw open the French doors and have easy access to an outdoor dining area- you will need somewhere to enjoy all those Aperol Spritzes!
    2) Could you pull the entrance to the kitchen back and incorporate the space under the stairs as kitchen storage, maybe for the freezer, a larder, or even mice the washing na chive and drier back here? I have seen this done and it can work very well. Good luck!

    1. Yes I hear these thoughts. It will, however, mean a narrow tunnel past the new bathroom to the back of the house and the hall is already narrow. Plus there is a level change which makes incorporating the space under the stairs quite tricky – it’s currently full of fuse boxes and meters etc and will be a good place to hide coats I think. I plan to put French doors on the side of the kitchen and really fill it with plants and a pergola to make a sort of green covered garden

  3. We are all excited for you Kate. May I make one plea? Please put the sink and hob on the same side of the room. Why? Because you seem to be planning to be there when elderly and so crossing the kitchen with a large pasta pan to drain in the sink, is never a good idea especially if you are elderly. It’s impractical for dozens of reasons including safety.

    1. Oh yes already in the plan – the sink will move to the other side so there is room for the table there. It remains to be seen how suitable it will really be for elderly as there are already steps down into the kitchen but we’re going to at least start from that point of view .

  4. Bathroom wise – it does look like the space isn’t used v efficiently-with the open space at the end of the bath with low storage by the looks of it, a funny bit of storage on the angled wall and everything squeezed so the door opens outwards, which I imagine could be annoying when going to or from the back bedroom. I’d be tempted to consider an omnitub Japanese bath, so you have the option of a bath but it takes up much less floor space (but is deeper). Perhaps you could have a full height storage cupboard at the end of this bath (accessed from the hall even perhaps- so a sink could be infront?) – maybe steps up (if you want them) that go round past the angled wall, so it’s more of a feature? All the angled walls in the house add character in my opinion, so finding ways to work with them I reckon is best, and I’m sure there’s much more cost effective ways of getting what you want without the huge expense of adding small amounts of space squaring things off.

  5. Excited to see what you do with this! Could you have the fridge/freezer in the understairs cupboard space? Then put some clever storage in the rest of the understairs area for shoes, coats etc?

  6. Exciting! Our Edwardian terrace in Edinburgh has a small angled wall in the kitchen which is a chimney breast and period fireplace. Would be handy to have the extra space but I’ve grown to love it.

  7. Putting a big steel beam the whole length of the kitchen wall will help you decide where you want the windows and the option to extend in the side return in the longer term.
    Also, I wonder if extending just the straight bit leaving the angled bit in place with a small inner atrium where drains can be run would be that expensive. You could have a window facing the garden with your sink underneath and keep the pantry/shower room where it is.
    I would also definitely put pocket doors between living room and dining room and reinstate the dining room door while blocking off the living room door so you can get a decent sized sofa in there.
    Anyway, I would say live in your house as is for a year and then make decisions. That’s what I have been doing and I have changed my mind regarding many of the costly things I wanted to do…
    I am looking forward to see what you come up with!
    Bonne chance!

  8. Exciting! And I spot the exact same freestanding kitchen we’ve just inherited with our recent house purchase!

    Are you keeping it? And out of ‘ebay interest’, do you happen to know where it was from in the first place..?!

    1. It looks to me like the Habitat freestanding Oliva or Olivia kitchen units. I remember lusting after those in the 1990s! Way out of my budget then!

        1. Thanks Helene! I’m sanding them back, giving them a coat of clear matt Osmo oil, making skirts from a gorgeous GP&J Baker sofa fabric that Sophie R has, and ‘tonsing up’ the ironmongery. Unfitted for the win.

  9. I LOVE this!!! This is so much fun. I feel like I am living vicariously through you and am going to so enjoy the renovations. Thank you for sharing it with us. Best wishes as you pursue your hopes and dreams!

  10. I think you already know the area you are moving to. The arc of the southern sun will greatly influence the textures and colours of the interior and exterior choices you make. A very different feeling from where you are in London An enviable transition!

  11. Very much looking forward to following you on this journey, and seeing how you work around the awkward bits.

    A bit of a random aside, but the kitchen units in your new home are the same as the ones in our house, which we bought last year – they’re from Habitat, circa 2000, I believe. Ours were in a FAR worse state, so I’m quite jealous. But they did paint up/sand back nicely, and with new handles they will hold up until we’re well off enough to do a full kitchen update…

    1. Yes I’m interested to see the state of them – they may well remain and we can buy more from ebay etc to make sue we have enough. The Mad Husband less keen so we shall see….

  12. I am sure you have done all the research needed but beware of Southern Italy if that is on your dream list. We were all set to move to Puglia (having looked at properties and enlisted the help of an agent) and then a friend mentioned that the Mafia operates in this area and gave a few examples of why not to go there…..look at Alex Polizzi’s documentary on the area: it endorses all we heard.

    The new London house has lots of potential and it seems you are already enthused with marvellous plans. It looks light. Good luck. Looking forward to seeing the progress and very best wishes for a great find in Italy.

  13. I’m going to enjoy following along. This will be extremely relevant, as so many people come to terms with the massive costs of renovating including full side returns and loft conversions and start to think about how they improve their homes – without adding an extension.

    Thanks again for sharing and best wishes for the move.

  14. It’s so exciting to have a new project, thanks for sharing, it’s going to be great to see what magic you perform.
    My two penneth…We had a similar kitchen layout in our old London house when we first bought it and would recommend spending the money on widening the back doors to garden, putting in a steel and taking out the wall so you can move the kitchen down towards where pantry is and reconfigure/relocate the shower back to middle of house. Our garden in summer was like an extra room and in the house I live now I don’t have that option or look out on my garden and I miss that massively. I really underestimated that when we bought here.
    I’m lucky to have space for a laundry downstairs but if I had my time again, I’d try and squeeze a cupboard/stacked set up in upstairs as that’s where everything comes from and goes back to.
    And finally – So true about living somewhere first. I rushed in with architects and plans and wasted a lot of money and won’t do a lot of the things I thought I wanted before I’d lived here.
    Good luck with your move and remember to book permits/space for long enough where your moving from and to….that was the worst thing on my move day, the new owners circling and telling our movers to move on as they’d booked the parking bay!

  15. Further to your thoughts about dispensing with an agent, I’d like to recommend using your movers to pack up your house. I had labelled all furniture in advance with the location in the new house. Well with the extra cost, they are experts and so fast! Also packed a suitcase with essentials such as a few clothes, towels , bedding and labelled it “ bathroom” .

  16. Reduce the width of the window from the back section of the sitting room so you can straighten the wall in the kitchen? (and if necessary either / both create an internal window into hall for more light, increase length of window – drop to floor ?)

  17. This is all very exciting and we can all join in 😃.
    Regarding downstairs bath/pantry/kitchen configuration – I’m wondering whether it may be worth exploring whether you’d get a better layout by relocating downstairs bathroom underneath the upstairs bathroom 🤔. And in turn moving pantry area up to middle of house too then you can push kitchen back towards the garden and the light.
    This may have already been thought and thrown out in which case I apologise 🤓
    Hope all goes swimmingly for you 😃

  18. I had so much fun spotting my personal design crimes in these photos. And the biggest design crime is the stretch of the pictures which is totally not the current owners fault! Double doors to the living room on an angle wall would give open doors that block space. I would not do that if I cant open the doors flush against a wall. So open up and not have doors? Is that an option? I wouldn’t change the odd angle in the kitchen/bathroom. To much work for too little gain in my book, but I would reconfigure the complete kitchen. With the french doors I would like to have the cooking part of the kitchen at the far end of the space and have a round table when getting into the kitchen. This idea does need upper cabinets or a marie condo redo of kitchen stuff (and I know you opinion on her philosophy 🙂 ) I would have the round table towards the french doors in winter and move the table towards the middle in spring and summer when the doors are in use. The kitchen would be a parallel kitchen with sink where it is but with better storage and on the opposite side I would have fridge and freezer (far end corner) then a cabinet (80 or 120) then stove and then cabinet (40 or 60 or 80 whatever fits) Done. Working kitchen. Small but effective. The laundry room needs to work harder as well but it sounds like you are on that already. The door needs to be a pocket door. And there is a lot of room for having that ceiling hanging rod thing (that is not Lazy Susan but has another girls name?) above the washer/dryer. Placed in the far end would give space for a pantry nearest the kitchen. Oh. It will be so much fun to see what you do with this new space! Have fun!

  19. I’m sure you’ll make this another mad house of beautiful things!
    I’m so happy to embark on this journey with you, please share with us your decision making process, it’s so insightful, it teaches us so much. Just like you did today.
    Thanks again and the best of luck with the boring, but vital, structural part of the house.

  20. How exciting, a lot of scope there to make it wonderful. Why are you not taking the bedroom with the roof terrace though?!! Tea on your own terrace, bliss. Good luck with the move.

    1. Well…. the 21yo bagged it and given that we wanted everyone on board we thought we would take the bigger one at the front as there is more room for storage – that said he will move out in a year or so and we can swap!

  21. Fantastic! Can’t wait to see how you turn this house into your new home.
    Lots of odd angled walls – was this to let more light in? Not clear from the floor plan which way is south and brightest side of the house. Is it similar orientation to the Mad House?
    Best of luck with all this! My parents downsized about 8 years ago and have not regretted it for a second. They did a few big changes to their new house which created an amazing comfortable home which they and we all love more than the original family house.
    And also, as Julia says above, hang on to the Italian plan!! 🇮🇹🇮🇹🇮🇹

  22. A really interesting post, especially for those of us who also need to downsize. Can’t wait to see how things work out!

  23. This looks very exciting and oddly similar to the issues we’re having at the (opposite) stage we’re at – upsizing from a flat to a 3 beds in need of renovation to accommodate a growing family for the next 5-10 years.
    And when you are ready to go for your Italian dream, my parents are renovating three small rural houses on the hills behind La Spezia 😉
    All the best!

  24. Congratulations! It looks great – so interesting to start to hear your thought processes about how you might use the space and the changes that might have the most impact. I was also going to suggest a smaller fridge/freezer and then another freezer in the pantry. The angled wall is an interesting challenge – in the bathroom could you shuffle the bath away from the window so it sits against the corner next to the sink, and then have the storage space under the window and then nothing against the angled wall? And for the kitchen could you get a custom-built curved cupboard to arch around the whole corner and create a smooth transition into the rest of the room? So much exciting potential!

    1. I’m interested to see your changes to the ground floor. We will be downsizing in a couple of years and likely will move into a 2 bed terrace with similar layout.

    2. Sorry just seen this, not sure why! Around Veppo/Calice al Cornoviglio, sort of North West of La Spezia

  25. Such a brave decision to downsize but you will make your new home fabulous! Hang on to that Italian dream and go for it – for so many reasons we missed out on having an escape place in France years ago and it is too late for us now.

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