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Curious About: Kate Watson-Smyth – Mad about the House

Words: Polly

Photos: Kate Watson-Smyth, El Fenn, Phaidon

“Something new, something old, something black and something gold” – Kate Watson-Smyth


From the Birmingham Post to a multi award-winning interiors blog & best-selling author of three interiors books, it’s fair to say Kate Watson-Smyth epitomises blogging success. Discover how it all began from a career stall in her forties, to her design ethos, new book and #dolessharm directory.
Moving to London in 1995 to try her luck with the national press, Kate started on a shift by shift basis at The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, where it was literally hand to mouth, hoping to be asked back the next day. Eventually landing a job as the night reporter at The Independent was followed by a day position as a news reporter, that included covering Spandau Ballet’s court battle over royalties. By 2001 with a new baby and a greater network of industry contacts, Kate went freelance again seeking out feature work on property and interiors – which had always been a passion, influenced by the likes of Ilse Crawford, who founded Elle Decoration in 1989.

2009 saw the first wave of UK blogging pioneers like Fabric of my Life, Bright Bazaar and The Design Sheppard. Breaking out was really tough back then, blogs were initially a bit of a side show considered a hobby at best. By 2012 a real shift was happening as digital media gained traction, so, with a stalling career in print, Mad about the House was conceived – initially envisioned as an elaborate CV to advertise for more newspaper work.

“At the start it was always great to be in invited on jobs as the only blogger among all the print press and know that things were changing, that digital media and blogs were beginning to be taken seriously.”

“Once I had decided to write a blog I wrote on the front page of a notebook: Blog, Business, Book so I think I have been working towards that goal since the start. It has been eight years of publishing at least four times a week and working weekends and, sometimes, evenings to reach that success.”

This discipline, coupled with seeing the writing on the wall in the print industry and being brave enough to embrace the change, are testament to the success of Mad about the House. Winning more blog awards than most of us have cushions – including the Sunday Times Home magazine’s top 10 interiors blogs and named as a Vogue top 10 interiors account, led on to publishing Shades of Grey in 2016. Mad About The House – How to Decorate Your Home With Style followed in 2018, with the eagerly anticipated sequel, Mad About The House – 101 Interior Design Answers, just released (5th March 2020). So, what does a working day look like?

“There’s always some writing – I have written every day since I trained as a journalist in 1992, but there might be meetings with brands or my publisher, taking some pictures for instagram, working on a styling job or keeping out of the way while the house is used for a location shoot as well as planning and recording the podcast The Great Indoors with Sophie Robinson.”

The bedrock of Mad about the House is Kate’s own home that she shares with her husband, two children and Enid cat, who regularly photobombs instagram posts. The Mad House is a renovation that combined two dingy rental flats into a home that’s graced the pages of many a magazine and is now also used as a shoot location – most recently her sofa was lounged upon by Bill Nighy no less.

Featuring an urban glamour aesthetic, the interiors are a mix of monochrome with grey and muted tones, layered with classic, modern and vintage elements that surprise. There’s the tin ceiling over the dining table (up long before tin tiles became a trend), antique rugs beneath contemporary chairs and a polka dot stair runner.

Kate’s most recent purchase is a Moroccan Ben Ouraini Berber rug for the library, with pink lines instead of black, from Sunday and Story run by Jo Flynn, a former fashion stylist, who’s turned her passion for Morocco into a career, sourcing the most beautiful vintage rugs direct from the Atlas mountains.

Morocco is so visually rich it’s absolute heaven for designers. It comes as no surprise therefore, that El Fenn, Marrakech would be the location for Kate’s first interior design retreat, co-hosted with the queen of joyful interiors Sophie Robinson. Owned by Vanessa Branson, El Fenn is a boutique riad with interiors that combine traditional tadelakt plaster in rainbow colours with flea market finds, restored Moroccan tiles and carved cedar ceilings, for culturally cool vibe.

“Something new, something old, something black and something gold.”

Great homes reflect who we are and how we live – they take time, they evolve, and Kate’s five year old design mantra has served her well, it still works for every room today. She also recommends always asking yourself why you are doing something in a space and just check that it’s either what you really want or that it’s the right solution for the people who live there rather than what you think you should have as dictated by your builder or Instagram.

Following fashion, it was only a matter of time until the light would shine upon the sustainable credentials of the interiors industry, with us as consumers becoming more conscious of landfill caused by a disposable culture. This conversation prompted the #dolessharm directory, conceived to provide brand information for consumers to make a more informed choices about where they want to shop.

“There is a lot of talk about trying to be, and to shop, in a more sustainable way, but it was very hard to find information about what that meant on a practical level when it came to interiors.”

As our awareness grows, Kate predicts a resurgence in the so-called brown furniture that in the 90’s no-one wanted, along with an increased shopping for vintage and for things that may not look, or be, special, but that can be painted to create an individual more bespoke look.

“Not everyone can afford to buy sustainable or hand-crafted furniture which is often very expensive, but at least if they know how to work out their own style and requirements, they have a chance of buying the right thing first time around, which saves them having to redecorate or buy again. That has always been the aim of the blog – to help people work out who they are and what they want when it comes to their homes so they can get it right first time.” 

And, to escape from the Mad House where does Kate go? “Anywhere in Italy with a kindle and Hilary Mantel download.”

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