Q&A with Kate Watson-Smyth
Kate Watson-Smyth is a best-selling author and journalist. In 2010 she bought two flats and converted them into a house – this became the basis of her popular and award-winning blog –madaboutthehouse.com. The blog, and its connected social media pages inspire and guide readers on how to decorate their homes with interesting and unusual items.
In addition to her blog Kate has written a number of books. The first, Shades of Grey, was re-issued in August 2019 and has sold nearly 20,000 copies. The second, Mad About The House; how to decorate your home with style, came out in March 2018 and is currently on its seventh reprint. And in March of this year Kate published Mad About The House: 101 Interior Design Answers, a companion to the first Mad About The House book.
We are delighted when Kate agreed to answer our questions – not least so we can learn a bit more about her new book and what to expect when we buy it.
(Please note this interview was conducted via e-mail in keeping with the current social distancing guidelines).
Kate, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Why don’t you start by telling us how you started out in journalism? Did you always intend to write about property, interiors and design?
I trained as a news reporter in 1993 and worked on The Birmingham Post & Mail before moving to London to write for the national press two years later. I did shifts at The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph before getting a job as the night reporter for The Independent. I did that for nine months before moving to day shifts. I always wanted to write features, but I was firmly ensconced on the news side of the room (literally) and it wasn’t until I went on maternity leave and decided to go freelance that I was able to make the move. My first break was a commission to write for the property pages and I was hooked from that moment on. I have always been interested in interior design and writing and the two came together perfectly at that point.
When you renovated your house did you intend for it to become ‘The Mad House’?
We bought it to live in in 2010 and I had no notion of starting a blog at that stage. It was also before Instagram and social media really took off (before Pinterest had even come to the UK) so I simply intended to create a home for us to live in with no intention of writing about it or documenting it in any way. When I started the blog in 2012, it naturally became a focus.
When you started the project did you have a clear vision of how you wanted the house to end up? Have you always had a clear sense of your own style?
Yes and yes! At the time I was very into the Scandi look – weren’t we all in 2010?! – and having moved from a very dark house where we needed the lights on pretty much all the time (it was at the bottom of a slope with big trees behind it) I was desperate for a feeling of light and space. That said, I always look at pale rooms and love them and always end up adding more colour to my own spaces and I did the same thing here. The white painted floorboards remain, but there is more colour on the walls than there was originally. It has evolved rather than changed.
Is there a part of you that would like to have a second house that is decorated in a completely different style? Or, if you did have a second home, do you think it would end up in some way echoing your current house (even if unintentionally)?
Oh yes for sure. I always say that I need a summer house in pale colours and a winter house in dark cosy shades! But if I did have a second home, even if it was decorated completely differently, there would still be echoes of my main home because I know my style and there are always core elements that remain and repeat.
You’ve written three books – are you a disciplined writer or do you find it hard to sit down and focus?
As a trained reporter I am used to deadlines and as a mother of two I am used to juggling work and children (they are teenagers now, but it was full on when they were small). I have written something every single day for over 25 years so yes, I am pretty disciplined. I find it much easier to sit down and write than unload the dishwasher and make lunch though so it’s a different kind of discipline.
What can readers expect from your new book Mad About The House: 101 Interior Design Answers?
It is about helping you to understand what you need from each room and how to achieve it. That is what the six questions are for at the start. Once you have answered those you are ready to decorate your own home so that it works for you, and the subsequent 101 answers are there to inform, guide and inspire you as you do it.
It is a companion to the first book: Mad About The House, How To Decorate Your Home With Style, which helps you to work out your personal style when it comes to interior design and gives you advice and help for every room from lighting to paint choices.
In addition to to your successful blog, the books and your journalism you also co-host a podcast – The Great Indoors – with Sophie Robinson. How did that come about?
I had been pondering a podcast for a while but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I met our fantastic producer Kate Taylor, of Feast Collective, when I was invited onto another podcast and said to her that one day I would get back in touch and she would produce my podcast. Then months later I was chatting to Sophie and we suddenly realised that we should podcast together. So I rang Kate. And the rest as they say….
How have you coped with the last few weeks? Have there been any unexpected benefits to the current social-distancing measures?
I spend a lot of time writing at home on my own so in many ways it hasn’t been that different for me. I have welcomed the opportunity to slow down a little and not have to be rushing quite so much, but I weep for my teenage sons who should be out with their mates. I’m not sure I can point to any particular benefits but I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to add home-schooling to the mix because I would be very bad at that.
Finally – how do you fit it all in?
I work a lot. My years of juggling a freelance journalism career with two small children was good training – a school day is very short, so I learned to pack a 9-5 day into a 9.30-2.30 time frame. I am used to deadlines, so I write fast and I work weekends and sometimes evenings as well.