Kate Watson-Smyth Talks Shades of Gray at Home

Shades of Gray book

Renowned interiors writer Kate Watson-Smyth is celebrating the publication of her first book, Shades of Gray. A journalist who has written for many of the leading national newspapers, founder of Mad About the House blog and interior design consultancy Mad About Your House, Kate has poured her years of invaluable interior experience into this beautifully curated tome. Perfect for design novices to interior experts, her book is full of practical advice and interesting ideas that will help you to bring this multi-faceted shade into your home and transform your interior. We chat to Kate below about how the book came about and what’s next on her interior-world domination schedule…

Kate Watson-Smyth
Kate Watson-Smyth

How long did it take you to write your new book, and how did the process differ from writing a newspaper article or a blog post?

It probably took about three months to write the whole thing but then the publishers came back to me and said they wanted to include lots more pictures and could I write another 5000 words of picture captions. I find captions really hard to do so that was actually the toughest bit.

In terms of how it differs from a newspaper article – it’s just longer which basically means you have to think about the structure and how you can keep the momentum going without dipping in the middle.

What inspired you to choose gray as the subject matter, and can you pitch your book to us in one sentence?

I wrote a blog post about it and it was, and still is, the most popular post on the blog getting hundreds of hits every day.

The one sentence pitch? Here: 50 Shades of Gray (paint).

gray interior
Taken from Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, published by Ryland Peters & Small, all photography © Ryland Peters & Small

What are your top three tips for incorporating gray into an interior scheme?

If you’re nervous that it won’t work on the walls then start with the furniture – you can always change the look with the pillows or throws.

Try painting shelves in dark gray – they will make everything on them really stand out and look amazing. They won’t be too dark either as the objects will lighten the overall effect.

Gray loves all the other colors so if you find the right shade it will go with everything but natural wood will warm up a cool shade and metallic accessories will bounce light around a darker shade.

gray kitchen
Taken from Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, published by Ryland Peters & Small, all photography © Ryland Peters & Small http://rylandpeters.com/shades-of-gray

What first motivated you to work in the interiors industry and what keeps you there now?

I have been a journalist for nearly 25 years and after the birth of my eldest child I went freelance and started writing about property. From there I moved inside (as it were) and began interviewing experts and industry leaders about interiors and design. It has all grown from there. That led to the blog, which led to people asking me for advice, which led to my interior consulting business and then the book. I am still passionate about interiors and other people’s houses. I never get bored with seeing how other people live and choose to arrange their spaces. I always want to help with a new idea or a solution to a problem and I love nothing better than talking about interior designs with anyone who will listen. I’m a crashing bore frankly.

gray dining space
Taken from Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, published by Ryland Peters & Small, all photography © Ryland Peters & Small

Social media has become a huge tool for anyone in the interiors industry – how do you utilize it and what is your advice for others on maximizing their social media reach?

I think we all have our favorites – mine is Twitter. It’s like a constant companion when you work from home and means there’s always someone to talk to. I was late to Instagram and am finding my feet but I’m enjoying it too. Or there’s Facebook which I don’t love. So my advice would be find the one that works for you – words or pictures – and use it regularly.

On Twitter I see people who just post their own information new blogs, new shopping lines – it’s all self-promotion – Twitter should be a conversation – a mix of promotion, chat and, crucially, promoting other people too by retweeting them and sharing their work. That is the way to build a following.

gray industrial kitchen
Taken from Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, Taken from Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, published by Ryland Peters & Small, all photography © Ryland Peters & Small

What has been your biggest interior disaster and how did you overcome it?

I’m not sure if there have been disasters or just changes of opinion. I once painted our bedroom an old color from Farrow & Ball that doesn’t even exist anymore called Pea Soup. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In the book I talk of how I painted my north-facing kitchen in a cold shade of gray. That was, I suppose, a pretty big disaster as it made the room cold and life-draining but it was easy to paint over so it wasn’t an irreversible decision – which is, of course, the joy of paint.

What is your favorite room in your home and why?

Oh it’s always the room I last decorated so until a couple of weeks ago it was the newly converted loft. But I am in the middle of a little kitchen refurb and am fully expecting it to be that when it is done.

light gray living room
Shades of Gray by Kate Watson-Smyth, published by Ryland Peters & Small, all photography © Ryland Peters & Small

How would you spend your perfect day off?

If I am at home, it would start slowly with a lie-in. Then a peaceful hour with a cup of coffee, a couple of interiors magazines and the newspapers.

I’d need to talk to someone about interiors so perhaps coffee with my friend and business partner later on that morning which would involve a bit of fantasy – if I won the lottery – planning.

Lunch at an Italian restaurant followed by an afternoon shopping that might segue into aperitivi before going home for dinner (cooked by my husband) and a film or a box set.

You’ve just discovered a time machine that can take you to either the past or the future, what year do you go to and why?

Nothing to do with the interiors – well apart from an instinctive desire to live in a castle, but I’ve always fancied going back to the times of the Tudors and perhaps hanging around invisibly (too dangerous to do otherwise) at the court of Henry VIII. It’s a period of history that fascinates me and I quite fancy living at Hever Castle too – it was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home and seems a very manageable size as castles go.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Stop worrying about what’s round the corner and deal with what’s here now.

Kate’s new book is out now and available to buy from all good book shops