Usually, I love Autumn. The colours. The anticipation of change. The smell of leaves in the air. But this year, if I’m honest, I’m just not feeling it.
Perhaps it’s the thought of navigating dark nights during a pandemic. Perhaps the reality of a lockdown, second time round, through winter feels harder and a little more intense. Summer lockdown didn’t feel as constrained; we spent time in the garden, we had the doors and windows open. But facing a winter lockdown feels tough, both physically and mentally. So, whilst I usually love watching the first leaves of Autumn fall, this year they left me feeling a little apprehensive.
But, the colours will change, the leaves will fall and this pandemic won’t be over before winter arrives. So, how do we embrace the seasonal change and try and conjure up some of the Autumnal sparkle of previous years? How do we make our homes feel like our sanctuary, a cosy safe haven for us to retreat to?
Here are my top tips for transitioning the seasons and making your home the only place you want to be this autumn and winter.
1/ DECLUTTER & ORGANISE
I’m not talking Marie Kondo, spend-the-next-6-months sorting your cupboards and drawers. I’m just talking about a little clear-out. Sort out that kitchen drawer that has you cursing every time you need to go in it. Sort out the shoes by the front door. Sort out the spice cupboard – you know there’ll be spices still in there from 2000! Just as you’d have a little spring clean, have a little autumnal spruce-up! Try and get round to those little household jobs – the light bulb that needs changing, the door handle that’s come loose. Not the most exciting way to spend your time, I know, but a weekend at the beginning of Autumn getting your house-in-order for the new season, will leave you feeling much more organised. Without the clutter you’ll be able to clearly see the spaces you’ve got to work with and enjoy over the next few months.
2/ KEEP IT PERSONAL
Now’s the time for your interior to tell your story. So, even though you’re having a declutter and getting your “stuff” organised, now is also the time to make sure you’re surrounded by things you love. All those things, texture and colours which trigger happy memories. So, keep out those family photos, and make sure you find a spot on the shelf for the drawing your niece sent you, or the shells you collected from the beach. It’s those things that remind us of the happy times, and keep us connected with what’s important. So whatever it is, if it makes you smile then make sure it’s where you can see it.
3/ LICK OF PAINT
Although my business clearly depends on people wanting to rush out and fully redecorate their homes, for many people now isn’t the time to be making drastic interior changes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t repaint the walls of a bedroom for a change of colour. Or that you can’t freshen-up a chipped door with a lick of paint. Or what about painting a fireplace to add a pop of colour to a room? Or changing the colour of your front door? Finding a small-ish interior job to set your mind to might help you feel proactive in creating a happy space for the winter. Or perhaps it would just feel like another job on your list to-do; in which case, put the paint brush down and don’t think about it again!
3/ COSY UP
Layer-up the textiles. Now’s the time to make your home feel cosy, warm and inviting. Get out the blankets, invest in some new ones. Make sure your sofas look and feel like you’ll want to stay snuggled there until Spring. Blankets are a great way to add colour and pattern to a room too. Just changing the cushions and throws on a sofa can give it a whole new look; simple changes but maximum impact.
And, I know, it sounds rather cliched, but lighting candles completely changes the feeling of a space. It makes it feel warm, and inviting. It softens the light, making the room feel cosy and relaxing. Indulge in your favourite scented candles and light them for an hour or so during the day. Basically, you want to try and make your home feel so cosy and cocoon like that even if someone told you you could go to a party with all of your friends and family, you’d still choose to stay on the sofa in front of the fire!!
5/ OUTSIDE-IN INSIDE-OUT
Our relationship with the outside is so important, especially during periods of lockdown. Bringing a little bit of the outside in can really help with wellbeing; they are known to help purify air, boost mood and increase productivity. You don’t need to go crazy (unless you want to!) but just a couple of plants around the house can make you feel connected with the outside world. Open doors and windows whenever you can, even just for a few minutes. It improves air circulation and ventilation and just gives you a little boost of fresh air. Perhaps treat yourself and try one of the botanical subscription boxes.
And don’t forget your outside space. Whilst this is usually the time we’re clearing away our gardens until the Spring, this year our outdoor space is potentially one of the only places we can hopefully (in time) start to entertain others (however informal and socially distanced!). So clear-up the garden and make your seating into an Autumn-friendly space. Have a basket with blankets ready for outside. Add fairy lights. Perhaps you could create a cosy corner which you could use as a morning coffee spot on dry, crisp days?
We’re definitely in strange times but we are at least in control of our immediate surroundings at home and in the garden, so making just a few changes to make them more enjoyable for the months ahead can only be a good thing. I’d love to know how you feel about the transition into Autumn this year…
There’s nothing better than a good book. And call me old fashioned but, in this digital age, I think there’s nothing more comforting than curling up with a cup of tea and an ACTUAL book. I’m especially fond of a good design or interiors book – the ones that look so beautiful, styled up on your coffee table. Anything that has the potential to combine my two loves; reading and styling has to be a winner.
I have to confess though that since having kids my reading credentials are pretty feeble. Time poor and now with the attention span of a goldfish, I’ve recently been more likely to turn to my phone and scroll through some pretty pictures on Instagram or Pinterest.
But no longer! I’ve made a conscious effort during my time away from project work, and during lockdown, to ditch the phone and pick up a book. I’ve made a start with my pile of barely-read interior books I’d bought over the past few months, and with Autumn already here I thought I’d get comfy on the sofa, get reading and do some mini book-review posts.
So, if you need some reading recommendations or are addicted to buying interior books but never have time to get further than the first chapter, then hopefully you’ll enjoy these posts.
First up is the very beautiful Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker (@me_and_orla). More creative that interior design specific, but an appropriate starting point given my recent return after an impromptu instagram-break. There are so many books and courses offering advice on how to do Instagram, but honestly Sara is one to listen to!
Full of substance, advice and stunning photography, this book was a joy to read. Essentially written to offer guidance on how to find creativity and build a community on Instagram, the book goes much further. For me, this book takes Instagram right back to where it should be; all about creating authentic content which means something to you.
Yes, there’s chat about the app itself, how to use Stories to their full potential, thoughts on planning your gallery and tips on caption creation. But there’s so much more. This is book that explores creativity; quietly, calmly and confidently. It’s a reminder to create with integrity rather than create for the likes.
It’s a book that made me want to slow down, and start to enjoy the process again. A book that made me want to stop looking for quick fixes.
As you’d expect, the photography is divine. Whilst I love playing with my camera, I have a lot to learn, so the really detailed chapters on composition as well as how to make the most of your smart phone, were perfect for me. Packed with technical information and practical ways to consider your photographic style, and all presented in an informative but non-patronising manner.
Despite being a creative, I often forget I need to take a step back to breathe, to look around me. But if I don’t, it’s so easy to feel creative burn out. I loved reading Sara’s tips and exercises for stimulating creativity and for taking time out to explore.
To be honest, I have sometimes struggled with a sense of am-I-just-doing-this-for-instagram. But Sara’s explanation of this really resonated. She believes we should all afford ourselves the time and space to do “Instgramable” things. But that we should do them because we want to fill our lives with the kind of moments we are seeking to document. Not because we want to create a certain image, and certainly not just for the likes and followers.
A book that stimulates and guides, all combined with stunning photography. It’s definitely a book I’ll continue to dip in and out of. A big thumbs up from me. Thanks Sara!
Sara Tasker – @orla_and_me
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.