I don’t normally write about trends. Don’t get me wrong, trends are fun, and they can bring unexpected inspiration. And as a designer, it’s part of my job to be aware of emerging trends. It’s just I don’t think people should be led by trends, and I think too many new-year-new-trend posts can perpetuate this. So this post isn’t one of those. I won’t be telling you what colour I think will be hot this year, or what material you should be sourcing for your kitchen island unit. Instead, I’ll be talking about how I think 2021 is an important one for interior design. After 2020, the year we stayed at home, our relationship with our homes has changed dramatically, and even when (hopefully) covid is a distant memory, I’m sure lockdown living will have a lasting impact on our homes.
So here’s how I think the pandemic has changed how we design our homes, and the general trends we might see as a result in 2021…
More Multifunctional Spaces
Staying at home means working from home, learning from home and teaching from home. And most of us have compromised with our space in some way, at some point. The kitchen table has seen it all. It has been a craft table, school table, office and breakfast spot. Many a spare room has become a make-shift office. But even after the pandemic eases, the reality will be more working-from-home, and more learning-from-home than before. So it makes sense that we’ll be looking to create stylish work and learning zones within our homes, and often they’ll be within rooms or spaces that already have a function. Homes will need hard-working, multifunctional spaces and in the long-term these have every right to be as beautiful as the rest of the home.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to focus our mind on health and wellbeing. There’s also nothing quite like lockdown restrictions to make us crave the great outdoors. Biophilic design has becoming increasingly popular but expect to see more in the coming year. It’s all about connecting with the natural world through design, and is aimed at promoting wellbeing. Adding plants is a good start but there’s also so much more. Think natural patterns, organic shapes and designs that work with, and maximise natural light and space.
Online shopping has been a saviour throughout lockdowns. But let’s be honest, it’s not the same as browsing the shops in person, and I’m sure most people at some point have found it hard to get hold of exactly what they want or need. Many people have also found themselves with more time (although with 4 children at home all day during lockdown I can confirm I am not one of those people!) so it’s not surprising that people are becoming more creative, and more resourceful. With more time to craft, knit, draw, paint and generally DIY, 2021 could see a much more imaginative and inventive approach to making a home. And that’s before we discuss the increasing financial hardship faced by many which means that being resourceful and reworking your home with what you have already got will be here to stay for a while.
The shopping that we are doing has become more considered. It’s not as easy to pop into a showroom, fall in love with a piece and hand over our credit card. Instead, there’s a greater need (and opportunity) to research, to think, to consider. Its been a thought-provoking year in other ways too; diversity, sustainability and environmental issues have all been under the spotlight. I suspect (or hope) as a result there’ll be a shift in shopping patterns; that there’ll be a move towards sustainable materials, support for local and independent brands, and a move to promote and support a more diverse range of artists, designers and brands.
Keep it personal
Having spent so much time at home, having really lived in our homes, my hope is that people start designing for themselves. Not for visitors, not for trends and not for resale. People have spent more time than ever within their homes and I’m sure, as a result, now really get what works, and what doesn’t. We’ve all realised the impact out home has on our mood and our wellbeing; we’ve experienced the impact our surroundings have on us. It may be as simple as changing a layout, or decluttering and improving storage. Or it may be taking your maximalist styling to the next level, or embracing a few more minimalist clean lines. I think we’re moving away from needing a perfect home to wanting a home that reflects our family life, that lets us tell our story.
And don’t forget the children
I’ve had so many new enquiries about childrens’ bedrooms, and in the main it’s prompted by a feeling that kids are spending so much more time at home, in their rooms, learning, playing and sleeping that they need (and deserve) and functional happy space to do this. Interior design can have such an impact on mental wellbeing and we shouldn’t forget that this applies to children too. Making sure they have a safe, creative space to play, work and sleep is so important. I think there’ll be some fun childrens’ room designs this year!
2020! The year we stayed at home. The year our doors were closed to guests, and our dining table was used for family mealtimes only. The year we entertained in the garden (when permitted) and our homes had to work harder than ever to fulfil our family, working and social lives. Guest bedrooms became offices, dining rooms became home-schools and living rooms became gyms (thanks to Joe Wicks!).
And here we are just a week into 2021, doing it all again – all elements of our lives merged into one space. This post was meant to be a review-of-last-year post but it seems my observations of how 2020 changed our homes are just as relevant now as we enter lockdown #3.
Obviously as a designer I am all too aware of the power a home has. Good interior design is far more than plumping cushions and hanging curtains; it can completely change the relationship someone has with their home. Our home should be a space we love. It should be our safe space; the place we kick off our shoes, put on our comfiest clothes and relax. It’s the place of laughter as well as tears and tantrums. It’s the place of intimate moments as well as the mundane. It’s where we let our guard down. It’s where life happens.
But our homes weren’t designed with a lockdown situation in mind, and never have they had to work quite as hard for us as they do now. So, how has the pandemic changed the way we use our homes?
It all happens at the kitchen table
The humble kitchen table has seen (and heard!) it all over the past year. It’s no longer reserved for mealtimes (and hasn’t seen a dinner party for nearly 12 months now!). Instead, it’s all things to all people; desk space, arts & craft table, homeschooling space, coffee & newspaper spot, snack-time spot (again!) as well as that sit-and-cry-that-the-world-has-gone-crazy spot. It’s still the place we come together at the end of the day, to share our stories – it’s just that this time, our adventures probably only happened in a different part of the house!
A space for kids to be kids
I do believe that children are more resilient than we necessarily give them credit for. However I also truly believe we need to support and nourish their mental health, especially during these difficult and anxious times. A child’s bedroom is the one place that is truly theirs. A space they should absolutely feel safe in. A space they can be themselves in. And whilst they may now also double as a school-room space (especially for older children), I think it’s even more important that their rooms retain a sense of fun and creativity. Kids need to be able to switch off from school-work, hide away from the reality of the pandemic and play!
Bathrooms providing sanctuary
I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that there are times I’ve wanted to scream for this to all be over. The anxiety, the fear, the noise, the mess, the snacks, the juggling. It can all feel too much, and the bathroom is my go-to, have-a-moment place! Admittedly with a toddler I’m usually not alone for long, but the bathroom is much more than a functional space to shower. It’s an escape. And increasingly over lockdown, it’s a sanctuary for escapism and self-care. Whether it’s a full-on pampering night or just a hot shower to wash away some stress of the day, the bathroom has certainly been upgraded from its often just functional space.
The Outside In
Last year was certainly one of restriction and isolation. Whether lockdown, self-isolation or quarantining, it was easy to feel confined within the walls of your house. Only allowed to leave the house for an hour of exercise a day. Only allowed to leave for essential shopping. However much you love your home, it often felt tough, and it certainly made me crave the great outdoors even more. In summer it was easy, we could open the doors and windows and the house and garden kind of merged into one. This time round, in winter it’s a bit trickier. But (much to my husband’s horror) I still throw open doors and windows – not for long, but just long enough to let a blast of fresh air in. I’ve always been a fan of styling with plants but I’ve appreciated them even more over recent months. The house feels more alive, although you’ve got to remember to water them – dead plants don’t have quite the safe effect!!!
And the Inside Out
Speaking of the outside, we’ve certainly all used our garden space even more than ever. I even looked at buying new garden furniture in October to prolong my use of our outdoor space; usually I’d be covering everything up for the winter. But our outdoor spaces have become even more important to us, to help combat that feeling of confinement, and to give us the breathing space away from a busy household. When permitted, outside has been our only entertaining spot. I’ve kept our garden filled with fairy lights and I’m hoping that when restrictions ease we may be able to have a socially distanced hot chocolate with relatives around a fire-pit. Isn’t it funny how the things we crave have changed over the past year?!
The Heart of the Home
Whether you’re baking banana bread (again!) or handing out the millionth snack of the day, the kitchen really is the heart of the home. Whether you’ve had the energy or time for cooking, or not, there have most definitely been more family meals prepared and served up in kitchens around the country (even if sometimes they are just takeaways). Our cupboards have been stocked, our cupboard space challenged. It’s where we gather to make our morning coffee and listen to the day’s news, or when it all gets too much switch on some feel-good tunes to distract us from what’s going on in the outside world.
But at some point our kitchens will be the hub of the party again. At some point our front door will be open to family and friends and our kitchen tables will see new faces pull up a chair to join us for dinner again. Until then our homes will remain our sanctuary, our safe place away from the world. Our place to turn off the news when we need to, and focus on our family. The reality of that may mean noise, mess and a few tears from time-to-time but we’ll have memories of our 2020/21 homes like no others!
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…
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!).
I wrote a blog post a while ago for Nrth Lass which started “Working from home is such a joy”. I wonder how many people will say the same right now?! I’ve run my business from home for the past 4 years and I love working from home. Admittedly though, the current working-from-home-during-lockdown situation has its challenges, and isn’t quite what I had in mind when I wrote my original post.
But the sentiment of making sure you don’t neglect your home office space is probably even more relevant today than it was then. Obviously we’re all having to make-do at the moment. Especially with schools closed, more people are working in each house than was ever envisaged, and it’s impossible to think that every working space will be perfect. I’m sure dining tables around the country are groaning at the constant multi-functioning demanded of them (as well as under the weight of all the school books, laptops, crafts and coffee cups piled onto them!).
But with our family, working and social lives all merged under one roof, it’s probably more important than ever that we carve out a space for the working part of our life right now. So, how can you make your working space work harder for you whilst you’re slogging it out at home?
1/ ALLOCATE A SPACE
This sounds obvious, and it’s not always easy when there are numerous demands for office space, but try and have a space assigned for working. A space that is yours. This is probably even more important if you aren’t able to dedicate a separate room to it. So whether its a little nook, a space on the landing or a spare table set up somewhere, make sure you claim it for your own. It ensures you have a proper space to focus in, and is at least an attempt to prevent the work/home blur!
2/ INVEST IF YOU CAN
I like to be optimistic, but the reality is that many of us will be working from home, in some capacity, for some time to come. It’s likely that this pandemic will change working patterns forever, and that many people will work from home even for part of the week going forwards. So, if you can, it might be worth thinking about investing in the important pieces. A comfy office chair is essential. Your back will thank you for it. But don’t feel that you have to compromise on style and restrict yourself to conventional office furniture. There’s some great options around and as long as it offers the comfort and support you need to sit there for long periods, be as creative as you like.
3/ ITS ALL ABOUT STORAGE
No-one works well surrounded by stuff. If your working space was an impromptu set-up doing lockdown its likely storage wasn’t planned as part of the design! Now’s the time to take a look, be realistic about what you need, and get those papers filed into a drawer. Good storage doesn’t need to be expensive, or boring. Be creative; add some wooden shelving, buy some colourful drawers. You’re not in the corporate office now, so you can make it as personal and interesting as you like!
4/ LIGHT & BRIGHT
Good ambient and task lighting is essential for work spaces, and this can be tricky if you’re working in a temporary set-up, or can’t make electrical changes right now. But a good plug-in desk light will go a long way to improving the situation. If you have very limited desk space, think about a floor standing lamp next to it. Just make sure you think about the height and direction of the light.
5/ ADD TEXTURE; MAKE IT COSY
It’s no secret that I love sheepskins but there’s no easier way to add softness, warmth and texture to a space. And even if you’re using a spare dining chair, add a throw and it’ll make it that little bit more inviting. I can’t promise you’ll never want to leave your desk, but it’ll help make it a little more cosy!
6/ MAKE IT YOURS; STYLE IT UP
No one does their best work in a sterile space (well, unless you’re a surgeon I guess). Make it personal; style it up. Add a photo gallery wall or frame a couple of those pictures your little one brought back from school (remember those days?!). Or, if lockdown means you’ve seen far too much of your immediate family, perhaps add some photos of your former office buddies!! Buy that cool stationary and add some plants. It’ll brighten up your office, and your day. And if it helps to justify it, remember it’s for work!