Black and white: Inside a St Albans Instagrammer's famously monochrome home
PUBLISHED: 13:05 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:08 27 March 2019
Katie Seidler is big on Instagram thanks to her fondness for striking monochrome interiors. Richard Burton paid the St Albans-based influencer a visit.
Katie Seidler cried when she drove away from her flat in Goldsmith’s Way, St Albans, for the final time.
The former Sister’s Hospital building now known as Harriet Heights offered split-level living, 17ft-high ceilings and endless light through sash windows.
But the one thing it lacked for her, husband Russell and French bulldog, Henry, who were looking to put down more permanent roots, was space – and, more importantly, potential – so she had go.
Now a little over two years on, almost 20,400 Instagrammers are glad she did, having followed everything she’s done via her Hello_Haus account with the modest three-bed detached she bought at the busy end of Sandpit Lane.
And by that I mean every new tile, lick of paint, swatch and strip of carpet that have been photographed, described and dissected on her way to making her one of the platform’s most promising and innovative influencers on all things interiors.
Her growing army of followers – she adds hundreds a week – have been fascinated not only by her devotion to all things monochrome but her sheer impulsiveness. She changes things around. A lot.
“My husband always says, if he leaves something lying around it’ll be painted black,” she says as we sit at the back of her kitchen at a small table where the breakfast bar briefly was and, before that the shelving unit – black against a white wall – and sitting on dark tiles.
“This is the most changed corner of the whole house,” she adds as she brings me a coffee. Not black, incidentally.
Now the wall is a putty grey, there’s a 6ft pot plant and a wood-effect laminate floor which she went the whole hog and extended throughout the entire house “to make it more fluid, more joined-up”.
I imagine an upscale paint company offering her a few tins in return for a mention online. Not unheard of. The interiors world is in PR overdrive looking to place their products on mobile phone screens.
But then again, that’s not really her thing. She’s occasionally gifted something – like a chair she points out – but she’s clear she’ll only accept something she’d buy and feature anyway.
“My flat was all Farrow & Ball,” she said. “It cost a fortune. This was from B&Q; Packed Sand from their Valspar range. It doesn’t need many coats and it’s really easy to clean.
“There were also lots of shades to choose from, so at one stage, I had about 20 samples stuck on the wall.”
And the breakfast bar? A mistake, she admits. Who wants to sit and face a wall? In the end, it became “a dumping ground for crap”.
Not that it was a problem. She accepts she’s likely to change on a whim, all to the delight of her followers who appear to revel in being part of her journey. Although, there’s another dimension. Over time, she’s become more thoughtful about what she does.
“I spend ages agonising over stuff,” she says. “I may overthink it, but I want things to be exactly as I imagined them to be. And I don’t want to do anything that wouldn’t last. I don’t want to spend £500 on something I’ll rip out in a year.
“It’s a long-term project. It was hard to leave the flat but we wanted somewhere with space we wouldn’t have to leave for five to ten years. We didn’t have the budget for complete rip-out but we were determined to stamp our personality on it.”
The place has a tangible feel of minimalism. The worktops are clear and uncluttered, there are a few shelves and a single wall cabinet. Nothing like the every-inch-is-storage-space you see on a kitchen planning app.
And it’s unfussy. The white tiles on the far wall were 20p each, the worktop is not granite or quartz but resin and the main expense, as she points out, was the labour cost.
The flooring came from Quick-Step. It’s wood-effect and lightly ridged so doesn’t show shoe marks, and a chair in the lounge that needed re-upholstering was transformed with a £49 throw from Dunelm. I note its Danish-style legs, understated but matching the others in the room.
It’s testament to the no-nonsense, no-frills approach her followers seem to lap up, judging by their comments. And one of the reasons she was approached by the BBC to feature on the recent property series The Best House in Town. She turned them down, incidentally. Three times.
I’m impressed by the sash window that joins the kitchen to the living room, the one I imagine would have overlooked the garden before the house was extended.
“That’s one of my favourite things,” she says. “It’s great to be in the kitchen when we have friends round for dinner and to be able to chat to them.”
Upstairs, accessed by a striking black carpet on white treads, there are three bedrooms, one of which is used as a study by her husband and even the loft guest room doubles as a workspace for her when need or mood dictates.
Most of what she’s done is a result of subtle, yet highly-effective, tweaks rather than wholesale change. In the front room, for example, a little paint, frosted glass, new handles and some carefully-selected furniture turned the room on its head.
This year, it’s the bathroom’s turn. Then, the downstairs cloakroom and, time permitting, the rear garden.
But it’s already a far cry from the house she originally declined to consider on the basis of its “awful” pebble dashed walls, yellow cabinets and striped stair carpet. She admits to getting a “bit snobby” and twice refusing to consider it.
Had she accepted the BBC invitation, one of those crossing the threshold to deliver a verdict would have been Emma Bustamante, someone who, coincidentally, approached her last year to help style Cositas, the home interiors and gift shop she runs on Holywell Hill.
And it’s fair to say she may well have got her vote – Emma was so impressed with her suggestions, the pair are collaborating on a mood board workshop next month in the hope of inspiring others.
“Instagram is such a strong medium,” Emma said. “It’s easy to dress part of a house and make it look nice without showing what the rest looks like. What impressed me about Katie was the way her posts were really honest and she would give people a real glimpse of her lifestyle.
“There’s a lot of pressure on people to post as the best mum, the best business, the best home, or whatever, but hers were refreshing and honest and seemed to take that pressure off.
“Apart from that, I love the way she styles. She has a great eye for grouping, for example, and doesn’t rely on traditional ways of putting things together. And, although she’s known for her love of monochrome, she doesn’t teach that; she applies those principles to encourage out of people the things that they like.”
She wasn’t surprised to learn Katie wasn’t keen to expose her home to a TV audience. She’s created her own space, a brand of her own, and she does with it what she feels is right. The prospect of a jury coming in to judge it wouldn’t have sat well.
“I didn’t like the idea of strangers judging my home. And I’d never claim it was the best house in town,” she said. “I do it as my home not as something to share. People who follow me on Instagram do so because they like what I do and I’m happy with that.”
All makes sense when you get to know the person. You could say, like her decor, it’s pretty much black and white.