New Year. New Trends. New You?
Or should this be the year to discover your true interior style?
The one with a little more substance than trend following. The one you’re happy to grow old with through New Years to come.
But designing for life, not just following a trend can feel tricky. It’s far easier to try and replicate a look you’ve seen a hundred times before. Once you start to discover your style though, you’ll find that design decisions command an authenticity and you can begin to create a space that really feels like you. Like Home.
So where do you start?
Mad About the House’s Kate Watson-Smyth would suggest your wardrobe and I have to agree (unless, of course, it’s mine which is currently jam-packed with maternity leggings and big woolly jumpers). Look at the colours, the style, the patterns you like to wear. If it feels good wearing certain colours, you’re likely to respond well to them in your home too. If you like lots of pattern, chances are you’ll want at least a pop of pattern somewhere in your home.
Then look at your home (or previous homes). How have your past design decisions made you feel? Do you love that dark inky paint on the wall or does it leave you feeling a little out-of-sorts? In wanting a new start, a new design, it is all too easy to focus on something new without considering what we already have. But you may already have elements that work. And if nothing works, then at least you know what to avoid next time!
Inspiration not imitation
Then it’s time to look for some inspiration. Whereas a few years ago, we’d have flicked through the pages of a few magazines, now Pinterest and Instagram provide us with endless images of beautifully curated interiors. Colourful. Minimalist. Industrial. Maximalist. Granny Chic. We’re spoilt for choice with images to influence our design choices.
So how do you navigate your way through the plethora of perfectly styled interiors to find your own style and create a space you love?
By all means start online. Create Pinterest boards; it’s the modern equivalent of tearing out magazine pages (which, by the way, I still love to do). Feel free to get lost down the rabbit holes of Instagram; follow accounts whose interiors you love.
But the key to inspirational images is to use them as just that; inspiration. You want to identify looks and styles that you like and respond well to. You’re not looking to copy, but to create something new. You’re building up the layers of your style – not just finding an image to copy.
So, save all the images you love (and I wouldn’t limit the images to the specific room you’re decorating – I’d keep it general if you want to help identify your style). Then take a break. When you come back to the images, look at them critically. Try and identify what it is you like about the images you’ve chosen. Is it the colours, the patterns, the textures you like? And be ruthless, delete any you don’t really, really love. You should then start to see strands of consistency as you build up your style library of images.
Your home should reflect your personality. You’re looking to discover your decorating style; a way to tell your story. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest and Instagram provide a wonderful forum for creativity and inspiration. But you can have too much of a good thing. Either it just becomes overwhelming or, worse, you loose sight of what will actually make you happy in your own home. Styled shots are beautiful to look at but they are often just that; styled shots. Not real life.
And just because something’s nice to look at, doesn’t mean you’d want to live with it!
So think about how you want your interior space to make to you feel. I try and ask clients to choose 3 words to help them focus. Do you want your home to to feel vibrant, bright and alive? Or do you want it to feel calm, cool and airy? Identifying early on words to represent your style will really help you make specific design decisions later on.
The Design Process
When I’m working with clients, it’s at this stage that I ask them to walk away from Pinterest and Instagram. Once we’ve been through all their images and started to build up the layers of their style, we leave the Pinterest boards and focus on a specific brief for the space we are designing.
And when you’re designing a room for yourself, I’d really recommend you do the same. It can actually be quite liberating. Create a brief, work out how you want the room to feel, the colours you like, the style of furniture you want to work with, and then stop pinning. It starts to get confusing, contradictory and that’s when you end up with a space that isn’t cohesive.
So what about the rest of the design process? Here are a few tips to help you pull your design together.
Get practical: It might not be as exciting as the pinning part, but it’s just as important. List your practical requirements for the space. Identify where you can compromise and where you cannot.
Lay it out: Next think spatial flow. If you’re replacing large pieces of furniture it’s worth drawing a floorpan; either electronically or just with pencil and paper. Measure the room to see what space you have to play with. It’ll give you a much better sense of scale and proportion. If you need more help visualising, then mark out the outline of new furniture pieces with newspaper. And especially if you’re tight for space, make sure your measurements include skirting boards, rather than just wall-to-wall; those few centimetres can make all the difference as to whether a piece fits.
Store it: It may not be glamorous and it isn’t always apparent when you look at beautifully styled interior shots, but storage is key to the success of most rooms. Have a good declutter by all means to reduce the amount you need. But make sure you’re honest and realistic and your needs and your lifestyle. Neatly curated open shelves don’t look quite so fabulous when they have piles of everyday clutter stacked up next to them!
Photo: P.Westwall @ 100% Design, London
Above all, have fun. Whether it’s just a room, or your whole house, it should most definitely be fun. Take your time if you can, and enjoy the process. You’re designing your home after all! So, get out from behind your screen and experience some design in real life. Have lunch in a fabulous restaurant (it’s research, honestly!), visit showrooms (nothing beats seeing and feeling products) or head to a design show (you’ll find products and brands you’d never heard of before).
And a final tip, once you’ve pulled your design together? Add in something a little unexpected. It keeps things fresh, adding a truly personal touch to your design and helping gently nudge you out of your comfort zone (go on, try it!).
Five weeks ago, our bundle of joy, Baby Thomas, came into the world. A whole 7 weeks early. I won’t lie, it has been tough. Probably one of the toughest we’ve been through as a family. A month on NICU, breathing difficulties, infections. The list goes on. But this post isn’t about that. It’s all a little too raw too process right now, if I’m honest. And anyway, let’s face it, you’re here for the interior chat!
This post is about nesting.
Not of the avian type, but the third trimester urge to create a nest for your new baby (or as it usually presents itself in my case, writing lots of lists, furiously sorting out cupboards and drawers and generally becoming a regular at the tip and charity shops after a massive declutter. All to the horror of my on-looking husband).
Recently, I’ve noticed that my Instagram feed is full of beautiful mamas putting the finishing touches to their gorgeous nurseries. Poised with their 40 week bumps, and the glow of anticipated motherhood. The trouble with the Instagram algorithm is that it thinks it knows what you want to see. But when life goes off-piste, it seems that Instagram takes a while to catch up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy for all these expectant mamas. Honestly. And I love looking at the beautiful rooms. But is there a little part of me that envies them? Absolutely. I didn’t get those last 7 weeks of pregnancy and I often feel really cross about it.
But, before you all think I’m being superficial or self-indulgent here, I know more than anyone that none of this matters. I’m lucky (in an end-result rather than process kind-of-way). I have a healthy, happy baby and I’m doing fine. It wasn’t the “Mother & Baby doing well” message I’d hoped to send following delivery, but we’re getting there now. Whether or not I have a nursery perfectly styled for Instagram makes not one jot of difference.
Yet on another level, the fact that I wasn’t ready, that my home wasn’t ready, has had a massive impact. I didn’t have a chance to nest. And it’s this process of preparing a space, a room, our home, that I’m talking about here.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past week since we brought Baby Thomas home. Apparently, so the theory goes, Nesting is a process which ties us to our ancestral past. It helps to ensure we provide a safe environment for our babies, and this helps to promote family bonding and attachment.
For me, not having the nursery done wasn’t about having missed the opportunity for an Instagram snap with bump. It was about feeling like I hadn’t prepared for my baby. It was so important for me that everything felt ready that I found it difficult when it all happened out of sequence. And when I did get to bring him home from hospital I just wanted him to have his own, safe corner of the house. For him to belong.
He clearly does belong. And his nursery is now more than a room full of boxes. It’s very nearly finished (blog post to follow), and I’m feeing much better about it all. Although it was one of those things that felt unimportant compared to everything else we’d been through, it bothered me. It shouldn’t matter, but it did.
Our homes are (or should be) our safe space. The process of spending time to create that family space, to nest, should never be underestimated. And, although I can’t show you a 40wk bump with pregnancy glow, I can show you a little squidge of a baby. I’ll spare you my exhausted face though. For now.
This time last year, I had just returned from a family Christmas in South Africa. I had wandered round vineyards, explored botanical gardens and generally lounged outside and in the pool. It was a truly magical time.
Although I always shed a tear or two at the end of big holidays (I know, I don’t think I ever really grew up), I’m so lucky to come back to a home I love. Last year however, my garden was a very different story. After a holiday of bright sunlight and colour, the return to my grey, dead garden made me feel sad.
Now, I know gardens don’t look their best during the Winter. But I’m not just talking about a garden out-of-bloom and bedded down for the season. I’m ashamed to say it, but it verged on actual neglect.
I’m a designer. I also like a challenge; to give things a go. But with a crazy busy start to the year, and not a green finger or toe on my body, the garden was a step too far. That’s when I got garden designer Melissa Morton on-board, and boy am I glad I did!
Not only was this the start of Project Garden Revamp, but the start of a discussion about design both inside and out, and how to ensure consistency between the two. It was also the start of our #colourconversation (a series of collaborative blog posts on colour).
I have a large sash window in my dining room which looks out over the garden. I confess, I had been known to leave the roman blind down so that visitors couldn’t see drab space (and decaying plants) outside. It’s amazing how the external space can impact on your enjoyment (or not) of your interior space.
One thing I love doing in rooms, is using a dark background against which I contrast more vibrant colour. My dining room is painted with Farrow & Ball Down Pipe and I play with a palette of more vibrant yellows and pinks against this. During our consultation, the first thing Melissa suggested doing was to paint the fence a dark grey to match the dining room walls. A simple idea but one which had never crossed my mind (even though I’ll happily paint any wall inside dark). Yet the result is transformative. It gives the whole space a more contemporary feel and provides a fabulous background against which the greens come alive, and other colours have a real vibrancy.
In order to develop this consistency we chose a colour palette for the planting which echoed my dining room scheme. A spectrum of pinks, accents of yellows as well as some whites to add balance. Clearly there’s more to garden design than colour choices (just as there’s more to interior design than choosing your wall colours) but even some simple changes and an eye to consistency between inside and out really helps create a more refined scheme.
As an Interior Designer I get to style up my finished rooms straightaway and show you the results. Melissa needs to be more patient (as I am learning to be) for nature to do it’s thing; for plants to flower and mature. With my now green-ish fingers, I’ll be sharing some shots of the colours in my garden as they emerge. And with Spring just around the corner (fingers crossed!) hopefully that won’t be too long now.
Keep an eye out and do join our #colourconversation. We’d love to hear how you enjoy incorporating colour in your homes and gardens.
Christmas has been and gone. If you’ve got kids and they were on the nice list (which, let’s be honest, I’m sure they were because have you ever heard of a kid who was actually on the naughty list?) then Santa will have been and you will now be spending your time trying to find homes for all the new toys, games and, well, stuff which he delivered (and which may, or may not, be currently strewn all over the living room, bedroom and/or playroom floor).
New Year efforts and Marie Kondo Netflix viewing aside, keeping on top of toy tidying can be tough. You’re probably actually quite pleased the kids are playing with their toys, it’s just that the box of lego tipped all over the kitchen floor isn’t quite the interior trend you were looking to follow this year. It’s also bloody painful when you step on it (next year make sure Santa brings you some slippers – it softens the pain).
So, here are my top picks for storage solutions which look great and might just help keep that mess at bay.
#1 Make the most of your walls and don’t be afraid to rock an industrial vibe; kids storage can look good too. I love these little wooden boxes, perfect for art stuff, books, anything really (currently in the sale for £49 from Room to Grow)
#2 I love the idea of having lots of mini figures on display but the reality is that kids just want to play with their lego and decapitated, broken up figures just don’t look quite as good in a display cabinet. These lego drawers are great for a quick tidy up after a building session. They even stack, and look pretty cool too (currently in the sale for £17.85 each at A Place for Everything)
#3 A hard-working piece here. I love that you can add a cushion to make a bench seat and the drawer at the bottom is perfect as it makes things so much more accessible for little hands (currently £116.25 in the sale at Great Little Trading Co.)
#4 I absolutely adore the Made.com kids range at the moment. Beautifully designed, practical and just look at those colours. This storage unit is compact but could be used for toys, games or boxes. There’s a matching set of drawers too (£99 from Made.com)
#5 I’ll say it again, walls are a great way to maximise storage. Simple but with a splash of colour, this bookshelf would work really well in a bedroom for those bedtime story books (£79 from Made.com)
#6 And whilst we’re at it, lets do everything we can to encourage good habits. Make putting away laundry fun with this lion laundry bin. I love it, might just get one for my bathroom! (Currently £12 in the sale at Dunelm)
Colour Conversation: Light or Dark?
I’ve started a Colour Conversation blog series with Melissa Morton Garden Design. With a background in colour science, Melissa knows her stuff about the theory of colour. She’s written a couple of posts about Hue and Saturation and Value which set out the fundamentals. This post sits alongside those and follows on from my previous piece which looked at the basics of colour psychology.
In the context of Interiors, I’m looking at how colour makes us feel, and am starting with a look at background colour. By this I mean the base or surrounding colour for my design; the walls, the floor and the ceiling (and it’s important not to forget the ceiling; it shouldn’t just get a coat of white paint at the end!).
Put more technically it’s the colour that surrounds the objects of interest. These background, or surround colours are important because they determine how other colours appear. When Melissa talks about background colour in gardens, she’s looking at the background colour to the foliage, flowers and garden furniture. For gardens, the background colours are the masses of trees, woody structure, the sky, grasses and other surfaces as well as fences and walls.
I just feel fortunate that in interiors most of my background colours stay pretty much the same (give or take the odd change in lighting). Melissa’s background colours are forever changing with the seasons!
What should your background be?
So how do you decide whether to go dark or keep it light? Should you add bold colour to the walls and what about pattern?!! Pinterest and Instagram don’t necessarily help either; there are so many beautiful images that it can be difficult to know what style suits you and your home.
Back to basics: You
When I’m designing a room, I go right back to basics. This isn’t about finding a Pinterest image and copying that style. It’s about finding out what a client wants a space to FEEL like. Do they want it to feel warm, soft and cocoon like, or do they want something more invigorating and energising? More vibrant colours lend themselves to the latter, whereas more subtle tones work for the former.
I also want to know what colours and tones a client is instantly drawn to. It may be “on-trend” to paint your walls dark, and whilst it can be cocooning for some, it can be energy sapping for others. This can make for quite a depressing living room experience, regardless of how Instagramable it may look! Whereas if you respond to a floaty, delicate environment, then you’re going to feel far more at home with softer tones.
It’s the advice of Mad About The House Kate Watson-Smyth, but I agree whole-heartedly. Open your wardrobe and take a look at the colours you wear. They are likely to be the tones and combinations you respond well to. It’s often a good starting point.
Back to basics: The Space
It may sound obvious but check out the light in your space. It will determine how colour is perceived. Don’t paint a tiny room dark? I disagree; in a small room there is less light. Paint it white and it’ll look dingy; a kind of white-pants-that-have-turned-grey-in-the-wash look. It’s not a great! Paint it in a navy blue and you have instant depth that can be enhanced and illuminated with clever lighting as required. Far more chic!
And look outside. If you have foliage by the window, or trees in view what’s the impact on light? If it casts a green glow, or just blocks natural light in summer, then keep that in mind. Also think about the strength of the light source outside. If it’s South facing and the light is bright then the colour intensity is weakened.
So do you go Dark or Light? Or somewhere in between?
Here we’re talking about shades, low value colours. This is where black pigment is added to a colour (the hue) to make it darker.
So when I’m talking about dark backgrounds think deep greys and midnight blues. Moody and cocooning, they form a fabulous backdrop against which you can layer your design. The key is recognising the almost absence of colour in your background. It’s bold but it works because it allows other colours to pop against it. Other brights, pale pastels or whites; they all work by creating contrast. Or you can layer dark on dark if you want a really dramatic look. It’s a great background for botanical styling.
In colour science terms, a light colour is a high value colour. Often referred to as a tint, which comes from the process of lightening paints by adding white pigment.
It is often be seen as the safe option; a light, neutral backdrop, but it certainly doesn’t have to be boring (and can actually be quite tricky to find the right shade of white or grey!). A neutral base can create an elegant, calming tone. Layered with texture, neutral backgrounds can provide a super sophisticated look. Or you can use it as a base to offset pattern or more vibrant colours, letting colours shine where they may have got lost against a darker backdrop. The key is determining whether you want a warm or cool tone. Get that right and then you have a fabulously light backdrop upon which you can build your design.
Of course, you don’t have to go to one extreme or the other. There’s a whole spectrum in-between. Which is why colour is so much fun to play with. Ultimately, it’s all about personal preference and recognising how you respond to certain colours.