'Buy the worst house on the best street': how an interiors blogger transformed a run-down 1860s terrace in Crouch End - and added almost £1m value

The time-honoured principle of 'buying the worst house on the best street' worked perfectly for award-winning interiors blogger Kate Watson-Smyth.

Most of us wouldn’t know where to start with a total house refurbishment, but to Kate Watson-Smyth and her husband, Adam Leigh, a catastrophically converted property in Crouch End was catnip.

Kate, who writes an award-winning interiors blog, trained as a journalist at the Birmingham Post where she met Adam, a strategy director of a PR company. He got a job in London and she followed.

From their first flat in Highgate they moved on to a Victorian garden flat that was five minutes away from a butcher and a fishmonger in Crouch End, a “villagey” area they loved.

The couple, now both 49, married in 2000. Kate went freelance a year later after having their first son, Isaac. His brother Noah was born 11 years ago and the arrival of Enid the British Blue cat completed the family in 2013.

Kate Watson-Smyth and her husband turned two flats back into one lovely family house, with pink colour pops and a giant paper lamp shade in the living area (Habitat/Dan Lowe)

“We always managed to buy the worst house on the best street,” says Kate. It’s a smart policy. After a small Victorian house, then a bigger one, in 2010 Adam spotted a run-down 1860s terrace on a property website. It had an overgrown 100ft garden and was converted into two flats.

“We wanted a wreck, and boy did we find it,” says Kate. The ground-floor flat had rotten floorboards at the front, concrete at the back, old metal windows and small partitioned rooms. A door blocked off the stairs to the upper flat. This one had electric-blue nylon carpets and anaglypta wallpaper. The house needed to be gutted. Having established that the planners would let them convert it back into a family home, they bought it in late 2010.

Customisation: the kitchen units and island are Ikea, customised with steel tops and bespoke leather pull handles(Habitat/Dan Lowe)

An architect made drawings for a simple boxy garden extension, but after that, Kate and Adam decided to go it alone with their builder and a structural engineer. Their plans were straightforward. In essence, apart from the extension, they wanted to return the house to its original layout, redo all the wiring and pipework and put in reclaimed wooden floors.

From there, they planned to create a big kitchen-diner going into the new extension, put a downstairs loo under the stairs, its walls done in blackboard paint, and turn what had been the kitchen of the upper flat into Noah’s bedroom. Off the master bedroom they sacrificed a bedroom to create a large en suite and go into the loft.

In the master bedroom Kate designed an inspired storage unit/dressing room behind the bedhead. It’s the width of two wardrobes, so you walk behind the bed into an Aladdin’s cave of clothes.

Kate and Adam lived upstairs while downstairs was being worked on, and would come down at night “with a glass of wine and a piece of chalk and draw the kitchen and the island, to make sure you could walk round it”. They got the island and side units from Ikea, but they are top-wrapped in steel, with bespoke leather pull handles.

Colour pops: strong accent shades enliven the sophisticated warm white and grey theme (Habitat/Dan Lowe)

Other nice details abound. Noah’s bedroom has a “secret” jib door covered in faux bookcase wallpaper, complete with a skirting board, so it looks like a bookcase on the landing.

The stair handrail is painted aubergine to match the background colour of the stair carpet, making a good impact as you walk in the front door.

Kate painted most of the walls and the floorboards in the same elegant off-white shade.

The house is delightful and practical, with inspired touches and the project came in on budget. Under permitted development rights, Adam and Kate were able to extend up into the loft last year to make a large, bright office with en suite bathroom and an attractive run of weavers’ loft windows looking out towards Alexandra Palace. Job done.

Kate Watson-Smyth features in Habitat Voyeur, which looks inside the homes of creatives. Read Kate’s blog at madaboutthehouse.com

What it cost
The house in 2010: £850,000
Money spent (including £50,000 loft conversion last year) £225,000
Value now (estimate): £2,050,000

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