‘I TURNED into an absolute brat,’ admits bestselling author for young adults, Holly Smale, 37, recalling the year she spent back living with her parents while saving up for a deposit on her first home. ‘My mum would say, “Do you want a cup of tea?” and I’d shout “Stop talking to me! I’m in the middle of a chapter!”.’
‘It’s strange psychologically to be back in the bedroom you grew up in. You start to feel like you’re a kid again, which helped with my work as I was writing a book about a 15-year-old, but it was tricky — and probably even worse for my parents. More and more people I know are doing it. It’s so hard to get on the property ladder without that breathing space to be able to save.’
That was back in 2014. Before then, Holly had been living in a room in a house share in Kennington in London. She spent most of her time in her room writing her books, some of which went on to become part of her hugely popular Geek Girl series, which has now sold 3.4million copies around the world.
‘The room had a sink, my bed and my desk. I was working, sleeping and washing in the same nine square foot room. I wrote three books in that room.
‘I think I almost went crazy. My bed touched my desk so some days I’d get up, start working and only move about six foot in ten hours. I reached the point where I needed my own space.’
Holly moved back in with her parents and kept on writing her books from their shed, while also making time to scour property websites for her dream home.
She decided she wanted a period property with big windows and lots of natural light, preferably by the sea. In the end, she bought the first property she viewed — a one-bedroom flat in a Victorian conversion in Hove.
‘I had done a lot of research — I knew that this was an unusual property to come up and that it was a good investment. And as soon as I walked in, it felt very homely.’
Holly had originally planned to give the place a minimalist look, but soon changed her mind.
‘I love the Scandi look,’ she says. ‘But after painting everything white it didn’t feel like me.’
Instead, she’s been on a voyage of interiors discovery, making some bold choices. One of the first things to go, after redoing the bathroom, was her entrance hall. Holly’s flat has an unusual layout, with entrance doorways both in the kitchen and via a hallway.
She blocked up the hallway entrance, so now the main door is in the kitchen, and turned the hall into a walk-in wardrobe. ‘I thought it was a better use of space,’ she explains. Holly then painted her kitchen — at first white, then a camomile pink. ‘The room doesn’t have any windows and I tried painting it white, blue then grey but it still felt dark — pink is the only colour that makes it feel pleasant.
‘A lot of people really hate it but I love it and I’ve enjoyed doing exactly what I want to do, even though it doesn’t suit everyone’s taste.’
She has also become a devotee of murals. There’s a jungle mural with monkeys and leopards in her bathroom and a rainbow rainforest mural in her office.
‘I follow design accounts on Instagram and found a company called Rebel Walls — they have a great collection of murals. They are a good way of creating an element of interest in a room and defining a space. I have also found murals add depth to a small space.’
‘I’d say my taste in interiors is quite feminine. I’m not girly as a person but my home is. I’ve got a green velvet sofa — it’s all quite tactile and decadent. It’s a bit bohemian, maybe. I do whatever I feel might look fun as I have no one to answer to.’
But none of it would have been possible without the time spent living back at her parents’ home.
‘My parents were lovely and so generous to let me come home,’ she says. ‘It was good for budgeting and motivation. At the end of the year, I would have moved anywhere but I know it must be frustrating for parents having an adult child move back into the house. They were entirely selfless.’
■ Holly’s new book The Valentines: Happy Girl Lucky is out now, published by Harper Collins, harpercollins.co.uk