Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet Kate Watson-Smyth from ‘Mad about the House’ and podcast companion of Sophie Robinson on ‘The Great Indoors podcast’

Kate Watson-Smyth is a journalist with over 15 years experience writing about interiors for publications including the Financial Times, The Independent, and the Daily Mail.

However it is her interiors blog ‘Mad about the House’ that has turned her into a very well known interiors expert. She was awarded the Vuelio number-one UK interiors blog award in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Have you always been a journalist? Or did you have a different career previously?

I have been a journalist since I started working – but it took me a long time to start working. I dropped out of university – I was doing French at Nottingham – and had to spend the third year in a French-speaking country. I went to Senegal and never went back for my finals. I moved instead to Paris where I stayed for three years. On returning my mother said I needed some training and insisted I go to secretarial college. While I was there someone came from the regional Oxfam office looking for volunteers to stuff envelopes and help out during its 50th anniversary year. I ended up running the press office and styling fashion shows and it was then I decided I wanted to be a journalist.

Did you study journalism or design originally and if so where and what did you study?

I went to Darlington to train on the NCTJ course for a year – it was one of the best years of my life and we recently all met up again for our 25th reunion. Then I returned to Birmingham, where I had done my newspaper work experience and they offered me a traineeship if I went to journalism college. Again. They sent me to the Westminster press training course in St Leonards on Sea, near Hastings.

I have never studied design.

Do you work as a journalist both on-line as well as for newsprint?

I started in print – because online didn’t exist – and have always been commissioned for print which is now shared online as well. Since I became so busy with the blog I tend to write only for myself online rather than newsprint any more although I often give quotes and contribute to articles.

Have you always been passionate about interiors or do you also write on other topics?

I began as a general news reporter but I always wanted to write features. I have always loved the writing part of the information gathering. When I had my first son I went freelance and it so happened they needed someone in the property section at The Independent – in the days when it was a 24 page weekly pull out… As soon as I started writing about houses and property I knew I had found my thing.

I have always loved decorating and styling. It began with my bedroom as a child and I graduated to other people’s houses – not always when they asked me to. I have been known to move and restyle a coffee table while someone nips to the loo!

Did you embrace social media from the start? If so which platforms were you using to start with and why?

I took to Twitter fairly fast as words are my thing. I loved it for ages and I think it’s brilliant for people who work from home as it gives you that chatting round the water cooler thing that you miss in office life. But it has changed over the years and can be a nasty place as well as a wonderful one. I’m on there less now as I have found Instagram. I was late to that particular party but I love it. I have found the interiors community to be very supportive and who doesn’t love looking at gorgeous pictures? I have also really enjoyed improving my photography skills, which I wasn’t expecting. Last year I bought my first camera although I still tend to use my phone more.

How and why did you start the web site ‘Mad About The House’?

In desperation! Newspapers were struggling and my freelance career was dwindling. At the time it seemed like everyone had, or was starting, a blog and I thought I would have a go to see if it would generate any work as a journalist. I thought it would work as a kind of online CV and portfolio. I had no idea it would go this far.

Did winning the Vuelio awards have a major impact on your work?

Winning recognition for your work is always lovely. I think perhaps it makes brands take you more seriously and widens your audience. Certainly the Vuelio awards, which selects a shortlist based on reach and engagement and content – tracking stats – and then calls in a panel of judges who are all experts in their fields. That definitely gives weight to the results as there is no campaigning for votes which can skew the results.

When did you set up your design consultancy?

When I started the blog in 2012 I began a new notebook so I could keep a record of what I was writing and doing. I wrote on the first page: Blog, Book, Business. I have done all three now – the books twice! The business came in about 2014 when people kept asking me for help with their houses.

Did you go on any courses when you set up your blog?

No! I figured as a trained journalist who had been writing for the national press for over 20 years I knew as much about writing as a course would teach me. I still don’t know about the tech side but I pay someone to do that for me. My brain is too full for that side of things and I can’t read an SEO document without falling asleep. My growth has been completely organic. I could probably grow more if I knew how to work the backroom details but I don’t.

I love the look of your blog/web site. Did you have it professionally designed?

Yes. It was done by Odysseas Constantine of Art & Hue. I saw his work on the beautiful Copperline site and then met him at the Amara Blog Awards in 2015. I asked him to do my site then.

Have you found Pinterest of use to your business? If so in what way?

I was a featured user on Pinterest when they first came to the UK. As a result I have 190K followers and it does bring traffic to the site but I have to say that I don’t go there very often. It’s partly a time thing and partly that I don’t need to use it for my own schemes so I have been ignoring it for a while. I wrote a chapter in my book about Pinterest being your frenemy. It’s so vast that I think it can be unwieldy and also unhelpful if you don’t use it in a very disciplined way. You fall down a rabbit hole of pretty pictures and completely forget what you went in for. I also think there’s a real tendency to pin pictures you like rather than ideas for things that will actually work in your own home.

I tend to do only do one platform at a time and at the moment that’s Instagram.

Floor boards transformed into a bathroom sliding door

Have you found Instagram a useful platform?

Yes. It’s inspirational. I love looking at great images, the community is lovely and I have enjoyed developing my own photography skills.

What do you think that the courses being offered to bloggers?

I don’t know about them so it wouldn’t be fair to offer an opinion. I’m sure, as with everything, that there are good ones and bad ones.

As a journalist how do you feel about ‘influencers’?

It’s one of those terms that everyone seems to hate but then again, I’m not that keen on the word blogger either! It is what it is – there are people who influence others rightly or wrongly. I wouldn’t use it of myself but then I have other words to choose from journalist/author/writer/whatever…. Makes a change from model/actress/whatever although I’d take it!

I love your ‘365 Objects of Design’. Has this been a popular section on your blog?

I began it when I launched the blog as a way of making sure I blogged every single day. I had read pieces about about how many people give up between three and six months in and I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. I came up with that idea and numbered them to make sure I didn’t miss a day. For three years I blogged seven days a week, now it’s five and while I don’t number them anymore it’s still a popular post. I think of it like a postcard among the letters. I write about design events and trends and advice and every now and then I drop in a short piece about a cool thing I have found.

Tiny Replica of Kate’s sitting room made by a fan of her blog

Here comes my how long is a piece of string question. What is a typical working day like for you?

As long as string…. It’s enormously varied and I’m very lucky as I love it all. No two days are ever the same. Yesterday I spent the morning with a client helping her choose colours and furniture for her flat and talking about the layout, then I went to a book signing at Clerkenwell Design week. Today I am writing, doing a photoshoot with you and taking my son to his piano lesson. Tomorrow another book signing and a talk to prepare for in the evening as well as gathering ideas for my next book. Between that I try to find time to go to the gym, wrangle my teenage children and see my husband over dinner.

How much time do you spend on your blog and how much writing features for papers and magazines?

I don’t really write for papers and magazines any more as I don’t have time. As I post five times a week I either spend a couple of hours a day on the blog or blitz it for two days straight. The rest of the time is meetings, clients, book writing or dealing with email and working on styling and brand jobs.

One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and/or aged parents or illness or had to follow a spouse abroad for work reasons. Have you ever had to deal with any of these issues and did it impact on your working life?

Before I had children I always assumed I would go back to work full time after one and stop after two. In the event I went freelance after the first and never stopped working. It was hard at the start. One year I spent nearly everything I earned on childcare and couldn’t really afford the tax bill. As they spent more time at school I could work more and I regarded it as an investment in my future. I basically worked solidly from 9-3 every day and only left the house to go on the school run – no meetings, lunches or events – or very rarely. I was glued to the phone and the computer during the school day. As they got older it got easier and now they are nearly 15 and 17 I have much more time. I’m still around to cook their tea most days and it’s fine when I’m not. I can go on press trips and they can get their own breakfast.

We have also had those episodes of life that get in the way of best laid plans. My younger son, now 15, was born at 25 weeks (three months premature). He was in hospital for three months and fragile for the first couple of years after that. He is completely fine now – we were very lucky. In 2014 I was diagnosed with cancer of the saliva gland. My type was chemo-resistant and I had surgery followed by 35 sessions of daily radiotherapy – about six-and-a-half weeks of five sessions a week. I carried on blogging for the first few weeks and then uploaded archive posts so that the blog never missed a beat while I was in treatment. I finished on 23 December 2014 and went back to work on 4 January when the boys went back to school after the Christmas holiday. I was approached about writing my first book the following day when I had just stopping taking Morphine and was still a bit high I think.

I didn’t carry on for any macho reasons but rather that it gave me something to focus on while I was well enough to do so. By the end of the treatment I was lying on the sofa under a blanket watching episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Do you run any workshops or give talks other than when promoting your books?

I have a plan for workshops but haven’t had time to work out how to do it yet. I think online will be the answer as I already tend to work on Sunday afternoons – the week invariably ends before I’ve had time to write Monday’s post so I’m not keen to add Saturdays into the working week as well. I’m currently developing an online course which will be a mix of written advice and video. I have taken part in panel discussions which aren’t book-related but recently that has tended to be the focus.

What is the best part of your work and what is the worst part?

When I get an email from someone who says the blog or the book has really helped them make their home how they truly wanted it that is wonderful and makes it all worthwhile.

The admin and the invoicing – always have to spend time chasing those – it’s irritating.

Who or what inspires you?

Mad about the house

Always a tough one. What? Restaurant loos and hotel rooms – often. Good design in a small space with clever ideas and bold colours. Who? The person who finds their passion, and follows their dream to make it work without compromising their ideals. My Instagram account is full of women like that and I admire them all. The woman with the disabled kids who decorates her home so beautifully, the dentist who started her own interiors events business, the mothers who get on with it all every day without complaining. They inspire me.

What advice would you give to any journalist starting out today?

Find your passion and write about it. Spellcheck. Oh and think laterally. You need to be a problem solver when you’re a journalist. On my first day at The Independent at Canary Wharf I was told to go to Kew Gardens to monitor a plant that only flowers every ten years. There was a tube strike and I was told I couldn’t take a taxi that far as the company wouldn’t pay. And there was a deadline to meet. I got there (bus, overland train, walking). You have to be able to think around problems.

What is next for your work?

I have just launched A directory  that lists companies who reduce their impact on the planet called DO LESS HARM

Many thanks Juliet Bawden

Blog, book review, Book Reviews

Want to be a success on instagram then HASH TAG AUTHENTIC is the book for you.

Finding creativity and building a community on instagram and beyond

We are forever being offered advice on how to up our instagram numbers and get more followers but no one does it as well as this Sara Tasker.

Sara Tasker  @me_and_orla

White Lion Publishing an imprint of quarto £16.99

www.quartoknows.com

Pics © Sara Tasker

If you are involved in design or any kind of creativity and participate on Instagram you are more likely, than not, to have come across the account @me_and_orla created by Sara Tasker. Sara set up her blog when she was on maternity leave in 2013 and she has become an inspiration to many aspiring bloggers and has in fact built herself a brand new and unexpected career out of social media. She has now written an informative and beautiful book about how she came by her success and how you might too become successful on instagram.

From the secrets of visual storytelling and crafting thumb-stopping instagram photographs, to archiving your day to day life whilst remaining authentic to yourself, this book is both an inspiring manual and an interactive tool for finding your voice online.

As she says ” Connection, communication and community are the underrated secret weapons of social media.”

The book is divided into four main chapters. Storytelling, Making Pictures, Archiving your life and Sharing your world.

The making pictures is particularly useful as she goes through what makes a good composition, why symmetry works, using negative space or a pop of colour, the rule of thirds and following your subjects gaze. She gives smart phone tips and talks about what grabs the eye. 

“Photographing our everyday lives allows us to zoom in on the details and think about the small things that hold big meaning for us”

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She finishes the book with ten commandments, for a healthy relationship with social media, I think they could equally apply to a healthy life. 1 Share, don’t brag. 2. Spend more time on other people’s pages than you do on your own. 3. Be human. 4. Mix it up. 5. Aim to serve others (instead of being self-serving). 6 Create what makes you really light up. 7. Follow your enthusiasm. 8. Stay playful and curious and don’t take it too seriously. 9. Take responsibility for your own boundaries. 10. Don’t compare yourself to other people.

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         In a book that is 190 pages long I thought that the book would have lots of repetition, it doesn’t. Sara has managed to cover everything you ever needed or wanted to know about using social media in an amusing and modest way. She is genuine, the real deal, and this with her beautiful images comes across on her instagram account.

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Making and Marketing a Successful Art and Craft Business by Fiona Pullen

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This is an updated version of Craft as a creative business first published in 2013.

To begin with it is worth mentioning a little about Fiona she originally graduated in law but with a husband and young son decided she wanted to be self-employed. After much research she launched the website The Sewing Directory. Launched in 2010 it very quickly became one of the UK’S top sewing websites with over 1.5 million visitors a year and with a social media following of over 80,000. This woman knows her stuff and she writes in a very easy to understand and straightforward manner.

Fiona describes how creative people often find the technical side of running a business difficult to manage and so she wrote the book in order to help people to address those problems.

The book covers self-employment and the questions you need to ask yourself before becoming self employed. It covers the legal side of running a business, how to present yourself and selling both on line and off line. For me the most important and fascinating chapter in the book is about social media and how to use it. This brings me to why Fiona has updated her original book.

As she asks “What has changed?’

‘Since the first edition of this book, the popularity of video in social media has exploded. The social media section of this book has been almost completely re-written, with more focus on using video to promote your business.”

To build a decent web site you need to have great images. Fiona goes into detail about how to take good pictures for your web site. A great example of a friendly face in her work space is Lisa Comfort of Sew Over it.

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There are some wonderful examples of successful on line businesses such as paperpanda.co.uk a paper cutting business with a face book following of over 250,000.

Torie Jayne a lifestyle blogger with over 1.25 million followers on |Pintrest. She explains what she does to achieve a consistent high standard with her boards.

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The acrylic statement jewellery brand known as Tatty Devine explain how they make their instagram account work.

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Reading this section of the book made me feel almost panicky thinking about how much time it all takes, until I read Fiona’s piece on scheduling social media.

Digital influencer, Rachel Pinheiro gives tips on live video streaming. Sewing expert Debbie Shore explains how to build a successful You Tube Channel.

The legislative and tax information has been updated and is current.

All the downloads mentioned throughout the book are available from the Search Press website searchpress.com

As Fiona says

‘The world of business constantly changes, so it pays to be on top of these changes to use them in a way that befits your business.’

This is a really useful book and my copy is already very well thumbed. If you haven’t already done so, go and buy it now.

Published by Search Press £12.99

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Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Studio – Creative Spaces for Creative People

 

by Sally Coulthard

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If you are a designer, or just love creative people and enjoy seeing how and where they work, then this is must have book.

It is full of inspiration. The author, Sally Coulthard, lives on a farm where she rents out barns to artists. As she says ‘it’s a scruffy space, but the people who work there have transformed the building into something truly special. Not only have the artists organized their studios into useful spaces, they’ve also created rooms that express who they are and inform the work they produce. Each space reflects the personality of the person who works there –studios are like fingerprints, totally unique.’

The first part of the book has inspirational pictures and descriptions of different kinds of studio’s. Included are brights, mono, natural, industrial and collected.AlunCallenderPhoto_SarahCampbell_31_0125.jpg

The second part of the book is divided into different kinds of artists and designers and includes crafters, fashion and textile designers. Fine art, graphics and illustrators studios are featured as are the work shops of bloggers writers and photographers and last but not least are workshops and up-cyclers. nathalie leté 20(1)

Different kinds of buildings are as unique as the artists and designers themselves. One artist works in a shepherds hut another in a barn others in industrial warehouses and lofts. Some work together others by themselves.AlunCallenderPhoto_SarahCampbell_02_0045.jpg

The final section of the book deals with practicalities of how to plan your studio, getting organized, desks, lighting and storage are all explored. As are work tops and drying spaces. If you want to set up your own studio you need look no further than here. The book is truly international showcasing designers and artists from many different countries.CathDerksema_FINAL_HIRES-7.jpg

A joy to read and a very useful handbook.

Published by Jacqui Small at £25

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Uncategorized

Create your own Decal Plates!

If you’ve got stacks of old crockery that’s starting to look a little dated, tart it up in a flash with easy-to-use DIY transfers.

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You will need –

  • A selection of old china
  • An inkjet printer
  • Waterslide decal paper, 79p per sheer
  • Copyright free images
  • Small scissors or scalpel

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Instructions-

  1. First, choose your favourite images, and print them onto waterslide decal paper.
  2. Use a scalpel or a small pair of scissors to cut out the images, then use Blu-Tack to temporarily attach them to the china in a composition you’re most happy with.
  3. One image at a time, peel backing away to reveal the tacky side, stick in place and leave to dry completely.

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Uncategorized

5 Key looks from ARGOS for Autumn Winter 2017

The Homeware team at Argos have really come up with some nice looking furniture and accessories for this autumn and winter.  I have issues with Argos stores and their queuing system and I haven’t always liked the quality of their goods, but not this time. There are five ranges that fit in with today’s trends and lifestyles.

INHABIT

Inhabit 1

The pace of modern culture has fueled a desire and appreciation for relaxed living and understated design. Inhabit is a minimal trend that celebrates a new pace of home life by creating a comforting and calming space that encourages restoration. A pared-back colour palette of soothing neutral and green tones is combined with tactile surfaces, subtle weaves, printed leaf patterns and simple geometric prints.

Furniture designs show a nod to Danish influences with clean lines, minimal shapes and blonde woods.

Products within the Inhabit trend have a simple aesthetic for a softened minimal look in the home.

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NATIVE EARTH

Native Earth 1

Inspired by the arid beauty of New Mexico and South America, the fashion-forward Native Earth trend offers a warm and rustic feel with tribal-inspired designs.

The colour palette celebrates Autumn with rich clay red and burnt orange hues paired with charcoal tones, blue accents and dark woods.

Metallic home accessories and woven materials add a rugged finish to the look, whilst bold tribal textiles and intricately embossed ceramics create a strong visual impact.

Native Earth offers a modern take on the iconic wilderness trend and creates a sense of warmth this Winter with earthy textural tones.

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DARK POETRY

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Dark Poetry is a stylistic approach to interiors with a focus on filling your home with products that are both functional and visually striking. With a fusion of elegant design and decadent materials, Dark Poetry creates a sense of luxurious living. Touches of gold, brushed brass and jewel tones add a feeling of warmth for the Winter season.

The collection of furniture and home accessories allude to architectural forms with structured shapes and designs, whilst velvet textiles and soft upholstery add elegance to the room.

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FOREST FROST

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Inspired by hazy Winter mornings, Forest Frost introduces a soothing and tranquil look to the home. Forest Frost exudes elegance with a soft blue palette balanced with pastel pink hues. Textiles are adorned with watercolour florals, nature-inspired details and diluted ombre ink washes to achieve a serene setting in the home. Furniture and home accessories are delicately rounded in a painted chalk finish. Velvet and fur textiles ensure this trend feels cosy throughout the cooler months.

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HYGENA

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Hygena provides contemporary and versatile designs for the modern home. Every piece in the range is designed to perfectly complement one another, offering ready-made design solutions which are easy to incorporate into the home. Accents of ochre brighten a sleek colour palette of monochrome and midnight blue hues, whilst geometric details offer a bold contemporary look. With urban living in mind, Hygena offers space- saving solutions and clever designs at attainable prices.

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