Style & Life

Mad About the House

Article By Sahara .

Apr 25, 2024

We are delighted to welcome the illustrious Kate Watson-Smyth of Mad About the House for a chat about all things interiors, embarking on a journey through the realms of home décor, creativity, and the art of storytelling. With accolades spanning from authorship to podcasting, and a commanding presence in the world of design, Kate's timeless approach seamlessly intertwines with her dedication to individualism, making her an ideal collaborator for Sahara. Renowned for her ability to infuse personal narratives into every space, Kate's insights promise to inspire and transform, offering readers a glimpse into a world where interiors are not just decorated but imbued with the essence of those who inhabit them. Get ready to explore the intersection of fashion and interiors, where your closet serves as a muse for crafting spaces that resonate with authenticity and style.

Injecting personality into a home is essential for creating a unique and inviting atmosphere. How do you suggest homeowners incorporate prints and colours into their interiors while maintaining cohesion and balance?

I always suggest people look in their wardrobes as a starting point. If you are happy wearing it you will be happy living in it. So look at the colours and patterns you are drawn to in your clothes – abstract prints, ditsy flowers, blowsy florals or stripes. You can also mix all of these if you keep the colour palette tight and make sure the same colours are repeated across all your designs. A good stripe will slice through an abundance of florals and a selection of toning plains will ground the scheme.

With your extensive experience in interiors, could you share some practical decorating tips that homeowners can use to refresh their spaces on a budget?

The most transformative thing you can do is paint. Colour drenching a room – covering the walls, ceiling, woodwork and doors in the same colour - is a dramatic and modern way to freshen up a room. It looks great in a strong shade but you can also do it in a pale colour which will blur the edges of the space and make it feel bigger.

Drawing inspiration is vital to any creative endeavour. Could you tell us more about your sources of inspiration when approaching new design projects?

It varies enormously. I recently designed some headboards for my house in Italy after watching the film Ferrari and seeing a 10 second glimpse of the lead actor Adam Driver sitting on a bed to talk to his wife. TV shows and film are huge sources of inspiration. Also hotels; which have to cram a lot of function into a small space – they’re great for ideas for ensuite bathrooms.

Are there specific sources or methods you rely on to spark fresh ideas?

I have a huge library of design books and a large collection of interiors magazines for reference but it’s just as likely to come from a conversation or a restaurant loo as anything else. I think if you want fresh ideas you probably have to find fresh sources of inspiration every time.

In the ever-changing landscape of interior design trends, distinguishing between fleeting fads and timeless styles can be challenging. How do you navigate this balance, and what advice do you give homeowners looking to create spaces that feel current yet enduring?

If you read about a new trend and feel you recognise it like an old friend then it’s probably worth investigating as it clearly resonates. I don’t think it matters if Instagram thinks it’s a fad or a classic – it’s about knowing your own style and personal classics. For example, there was a period when pineapples were everywhere so buying them on a cushion or a bathmat is faddy but, if pineapples speak to you – and they are an ancient symbol of welcome – then try and find a vintage piece that you will love forever like an ice bucket or a lamp.
It's not about buying into trends, but about taking the time to ask yourself what you really like and what tells your story. That way your home will support you both mentally and physically as your home will reflect you and the people you live with.
I think we don’t give enough time to understanding the role that colour plays in our decoration. It has the power to change our mood so it’s not enough to paint a room in a colour you like; you must work out how that colour makes you feel and if that mood matches the room you want to put it in.

Your renovation journey, documented in Mad About the House and your Substack newsletter, offers invaluable insights into transforming a space. What were some of the most significant challenges you faced during your renovations, and how did you overcome them? 

My biggest personal challenge has always been patience. I want it done now! I’m an obsessive list maker and planner so with both the renovations I have done over the last two year I knew all the measurements and everything was plotted on graph paper so I worked out lighting plans, furniture plans and bathroom layouts long before the builders turned up. The biggest issues were with the house in Italy as Brexit has made it very hard to get items delivered.

Your philosophy of home decor, encapsulated in the mantra "Something old, something new, something black, something gold," is both timeless and inspiring. Does this philosophy continue to guide your design choices, and how have you incorporated it into the homes you design?

Yes it does and I still do it in every room, although I have relaxed it slightly to be dark not just black and metallic not just gold. I have also added vintage wood to the mix as well. I think every room I do (and I’ve done a lot over the last two years) conforms to that mantra.

Sustainability is increasingly top-of-mind in interior design, just as it is in fashion. How do you incorporate sustainable practices into your own home, and what advice do you have for readers looking to make their spaces more eco-friendly?

Use good quality eco-paint and buy vintage furniture would be my top tips. I have a range of eco paints coming out with Graphenstone in July – that is the most certified eco brand in the world. I created 12 colours for my house in Italy and the full range will be on sale soon. I also buy mostly vintage furniture with the exception of beds and sofas although I designed a sustainable sofa with Love Your Home. You can pick up vintage and antique furniture at all price points – my younger son has found some amazing things for free on Facebook marketplace but you can also go to 1st Dibs for collectible pieces at high end prices.

You've emphasized the importance of storytelling in interior design, suggesting that homes should reflect the stories of their inhabitants. Could you elaborate on how homeowners can infuse their spaces with personal narratives and why this is important?

It’s one of the reasons I love to buy vintage furniture as you won’t see the same pieces in everyone’s house. And also why wouldn’t you want your home to reflect your personality? There’s nothing worse than going into a bland space where it looks like it was all “added to cart” and you have no idea who lives there.
You don’t have to fill the space with personal photographs, but I love a gallery wall made up of memories – framing a menu from your wedding, or a cinema ticket from a first date, a couple of kids’ drawings and a poster from an exhibition. That’s a great way to get started.
I have also inherited/”stolen” furniture from my mother and grandmother that brings some family history into the house – rugs, stools, candlesticks and small ornaments.
Nostalgia is really important for working out your interior design. Look back at holidays, days out, happy memories and try and isolate the colours and textures within them and bring some of that to your current home. That’s the way to make your home feel cosy and safe.
Don’t be too literal – if you loved Christmas as a child you don’t want to make your whole house red and green but dig a little deeper – was it an open fire, the smell of chestnuts, a cosy jumper. Pick out some of the details and see how you can use them in a modern setting.

Italy seems like an idyllic setting for your upcoming design retreats. Could you tell us why you chose Italy as the location for this latest renovation project and what about the country inspires your creative process?

I have an ongoing love affair with Italy and it has been a 30 year dream to own a property there. Two years ago that dream came true when we fell in love with house just outside Turin. I adore the lifestyle and the food, but also the warm open-heartedness of the Italians and their love of life. I find the landscape endlessly inspiring and I can’t wait to share both my own house and the area with everyone who comes on my design retreats. You can find out more about them in this link

Looking ahead, what do you have in store for your avid audience? Can you give us a glimpse of what our customers can look forward to in the near future?

I’m fully focused on my Substack newsletter at the moment where I continue to share design advice. There are two design retreats coming up in both September and October – please get in touch for details – and I am excited to launch my new products. The paint collection comes with a range of coordinating tiles that are suitable for both walls and floors in kitchens and bathrooms.
As we conclude this illuminating conversation with Kate Watson-Smyth, our minds are buzzing with inspiration and anticipation for the design adventures that lie ahead. From the practical decorating tips to the philosophical musings on storytelling in interiors, Kate's wisdom offers a roadmap for creating spaces that reflect our true selves. With a nod to timeless styles and a commitment to sustainability, Kate's approach resonates deeply with Sahara's ethos, promising a future where individuality reigns supreme, and every space tells a unique story. 
 For more inspiring tips on all things interior, you can sign up to Kate's Substack newsletter and follow her at @mad_about_the_house.


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