Kate Watson-Smyth on Post-Pandemic Design And Our New Normal
As we all adjust to a new normal and begin ushering in a new age of post-pandemic design, it’s best to turn to the experts. We wanted to hear directly from inspiring home designers about ways to adjust your space during this time. So we spoke with Kate Watson-Smyth, a renowned home designer and bestselling author who heads Mad About The House, for some essential design insight.
Q: What are some ways you’re staying sane right now while staying at home?
A: Well in many ways things haven’t changed that much for me as I have always been at home writing, so I’m probably reasonably well placed for a lockdown. That said, I wouldn’t normally have two teenage boys and a husband at home all the time either. I have finally stopped watching the news all the time – even for a trained news journalist that became too much – and I make sure I get dressed and put makeup on every day. If I didn’t do that then, for me at least, it would be a short slide to staying in pyjamas and bed till lunchtime or beyond. I wish I could say that regular exercise was keeping me sane but sadly I can’t seem to find the motivation to do any!
Q: How can people arrange or design their homes to accommodate staying in for long periods of time?
A: Firstly, you need to work out what you need from your space and remember that it won’t be like that forever. So, if you need to move the coffee table to make room for a YouTube exercise class, or for the kids to build a giant fort from cardboard boxes then do it. Or if you need to make a proper homeworking spot then do that. If at all possible move the sofa so you can put a table next to the window – you might have more room if the coffee table has already gone!
The next really important thing is that you need to be able to make a distinction between the working day and the relaxing evening. Use some of the time you would normally have spent commuting to put the work stuff away – laptop in a drawer, paperwork in a box that can slide under the table or be tucked away at the end of the sofa. Changing your clothes is an effective way to change the mood and then spend the rest of your “commute” having a cocktail or a cold, iced drink to really switch from work to home. We have made a real ritual of this with a tray of drinks, a bowl of (usually tinned) olives and a crisp or seven. We are definitely all eating too many crisps. If you have small kids then they can watch tv while you have your cocktail hour. That way everyone gets a break from everyone else and you can reconvene for dinner.
In the morning take the work stuff out of that box and arrange it on the table with your favourite mug and even a vase of flowers to make your desk environment feel proper rather than makeshift.
Research has also shown that surrounding yourself with family pictures or souvenirs that bring back happy memories is key to being happy yourself so include some of those objects on your new desk.
If at all possible avoid working from the sofa or the bed or they will become bound up in work vibes and it will be difficult to relax in the evening.
Q: What lasting changes from the pandemic do you think we will see in home design? What do you see for the future of design?
A: I think it’s clear that employers will have to accept that working from home is doable, practical and doesn’t have a negative impact on productivity. It’s also possible that people will run screaming back to the offices and refuse to work from home ever again! Joking aside, I think we will finally see a rise in well-designed, beautiful office furniture that looks as happy at home as it does at work. For example, at the moment office chairs are ergonomic and ugly and the best way to get round that is to reupholster one in the fabric of your choice. We might see more dining tables with cable management built-in and desks that can double up as dressing tables. Multi-functional furniture will be key – our homes are already multi-functional; the furniture needs to catch up.
Multi-functional furniture will be key – our homes are already multi-functional; the furniture needs to catch up.
Q: On your blog, you said your philosophy is, “Your home should tell your story. It should make your heart sing when you open the front door.” What story will our homes tell now?
A: Now at the time of writing I suspect a story of chaos and mess as people adjust to having everyone at home at the same time and in for the whole day rather than coming and going. In the future, perhaps new home design will involve more natural light either via skylights or internal windows. As the homes probably won’t get bigger, our lifestyles will have to adapt to living in multi-functional spaces – perhaps we will finally start buying less and buying better. I wonder if open-plan living will fall out of fashion; it’s fine when you want to keep an eye on small kids, but when you have more people living and working in the same space you yearn for walls to divide areas up and mean that one can work while another listens to music.
Q: Can you tell us more about how people can achieve that visual story?
A: If we are going to be spending more time in our homes then we need to get the décor right and that means working out what we like and what our personal style is. When it comes to colours always ask yourself how certain shades make you feel and decide if that is the right feeling for the room you are looking to decorate. Vintage always adds character to a room and creates a more bespoke and individual look. But you can also paint cheap pieces of furniture to create something that’s uniquely yours. In my new book. Mad About The House, 101 Interior Design Answers (Pavilion £20) I say that before you start any scheme you should ask yourself six questions: who, what, when, where, why and how? Who is doing what where and when? Why do you want to redo this room? How are you going to pay for it? The answers for a couple with a kid will be very different from a couple of twentysomethings or a pair of pensioners. Work these things out before you go near a paint chip and you will already have some idea of what you are trying to achieve.
Q: What are some tips for balancing functionality and beauty? What pieces can you think of that blend the two?
A: In an ideal world, if we look back to William Morris then everything we have should be both beautiful and useful. To quote another truism, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder so everyone’s idea of that will vary. It’s up to you to work out what function you require from your sofa so that you can buy the right one for you. One person may want a large lounging modular piece where they can stretch out on and watch films while another wants something more upright for conversation and cocktails.
But there are a few pieces that are universal – a console table with drawers can double up as a desk and a dressing table – put the laptop in the drawer at night and take the mirror out. A bookshelf works for both books and displaying happy memories in the form of photos or objects. A coffee table is good for family games and resting your drinks on. A stool can be both side table and extra seating. The Saarinen Tulip table is both a beautiful dining table and a great place to work. The Wegner wishbone chair is comfortable enough for dinner and for wrestling with spreadsheets.
Q: Which two adjectives would you use to describe your interior style now? Have those changed from the two adjectives you’d have chosen when you started out?
A: I always used to describe my style as urban glamour, I’m not sure I’ve strayed too far from that although perhaps now it might be a bit more vintage elegance.
About Kate Watson-Smyth:
Kate Watson-Smyth founded her multi-award-winning blog madaboutthehouse.com in 2012 and has now written two best-selling books of the same name. She was the first interiors Instagram account in the UK to receive a blue checkmark and has 226K followers. Together with television presenter Sophie Robinson, she hosts the interiors podcast “The Great Indoors” and she is currently working on the next installment of the “Mad About The House” series.