It’s better to be brave than bashful - your design dilemmas solved
11 min read
Published 28 Jul 2021
In my last newsletter, I asked you, my lovely readers, to share your design dilemmas with me, so I could offer up my thoughts and suggestions on how to solve them. I’ve gathered up a few of your questions, and will do my best to answer as many as I can in this post (there were a few I couldn't get to, so I'll do another post soon).
The first one is probably something we’ve all come across and will have had us all scratching our heads at some point -
How do I add interest to a room without adding a feature wall?
|Feature walls have got a bad reputation at the moment, as there’s a lot of talk about how they have become a ‘design crime’ and are just not the done thing anymore. I think feature walls can work when done well, and nothing is off limits if you truly love it, but a feature wall doesn't have to be your first or only choice when decorating a room.|
First of all, I’d suggest thinking about why you are tempted to add a feature wall - is it because you really love that paint colour or wallpaper you’ve found but are just worried about it being ‘too much’ if you use it all around the room? If that’s your concern, I would always say, if you love it, go for it, and use it on every wall. The results will be far more satisfying than if you had restricted your favourite pattern or colour to one wall only, and the room will feel more cohesive because of it. The trick is to balance the ‘busyness’ of the pattern or the strength of the colour with other calmer elements in the room, like a plain sofa or a beautiful wood floor. Don’t try to fill the room with too many different pieces and too much decor, as it will compete with the main element - that superstar wallpaper or wall colour. If you leave a calm corner empty of furniture, or the walls free of decorative pieces like art, it allows the room to breathe and the pattern or wall colour won’t feel so overwhelming. Of course, some people really love the maximalist look, where everything decorative is thrown into a room all together, but I personally don’t find these spaces relaxing or restful to use. It’s all about balance, and if the room is very visually busy, it won’t be comfortable to spend time in.
But what do you do if you’ve fallen in love with a colour or pattern and really don’t want it all the way around the room? I’d suggest using it in small doses and dotted around the space, like a pattern in a lampshade, in a cushion or on a rug. I’d also suggest standing back and taking a good look at the room itself before doing anything to it. Look at all the surfaces which are available to you to add interest - it’s not just the walls. I’ve mentioned it before, but the ceiling and the floor are there for us to decorate and have fun with, and are often referred to as the fifth and sixth walls. Adding some colour and pattern here is an opportunity to give you the interest you’d like but without overwhelming the space.
If you can’t change your flooring or aren’t keen on using the ceiling, then I would think about all the other surfaces in a room. We have the window frames, door frames, skirting boards, coving, and sometimes other trims like picture or dado rails to play with. These give us a chance to make the room unique to us, and there are lots of ways to decorate them. We often assume we need to decorate in a certain way, because that’s the way everyone else does it, but skirting boards and picture rails don’t have to be white. What if you painted the skirting boards and door frame in a lovely shade of blue, and kept your walls neutral? You can even add a second row of paint in another shade of blue (or a contrasting colour) above the skirting boards to emphasise the shape of them. Suddenly your walls have got life and are far from boring.
You can also divide up your walls with paint in interesting ways. There’s been a trend around for a few years now for painting the bottom half of your walls in one colour (usually a darker shade) and the top half in a lighter colour. It's not actually a new trend, as many institutions such as hospitals have been decorated in this way for decades. It's much easier and more cost effective to repaint the bottom half of a wall when the inevitable wear and tear starts to show, than having to redo the whole space. Aside from the practical benefits, this can work really well, as it gives you an opportunity to use more than one colour in a room without it being overbearing. If you choose to decorate in this way, bear in mind though that you will be visually cutting the walls in half, so if your ceilings are a bit on the low side, this might not be the effect you want. If that’s the case, I’d consider dividing your walls vertically, to elongate them instead.
Of course, you don’t have to use paint or wallpaper to add interest to a room. You can add any type of art to your walls, and you don’t have to stick to original paintings or prints. You can frame a piece of wallpaper or fabric which you love to look at, or hang a rug on the wall. You could hang a collection of clocks or plates, or any grouping of pieces which you like the look of together. Anything can be art, including the items which you might think of as more useful than decorative. Some well chosen wall lights with an interesting shape can look like art, or adding some shelves can make an artistic statement. You could also choose to dress and style the built in shelving in your alcoves to add colour and pattern, which then feels like a more subtle feature wall in itself.
|these sculptural lights add interest to this blank wall, and will also create a different type of wall art when it's dark and they are switched on|
If you feel that your bare room needs that something extra, but you don’t want to add interest with paint, you can do it with texture instead. A neutral space can be livened up with a sisal rug, a rattan sideboard, a velvet sofa, or by using some lovely rich wood tones in your furniture pieces. If you fill a room with plenty of items which feel nice to the touch it will never look boring, as the textural and physical elements in a room create a contrast and tension with each other, making it visually exciting to look at.
Which brings me onto the next one of your design dilemmas -
How do you mix different types of wood in a room, and if you have a wooden floor, should you ignore it or make it part of the design?
If you are lucky enough to have original wooden floorboards or an original parquet floor, then you already have a large amount of wood in your room before you even begin adding furniture. I would try to work with it, rather than ignore it, as a floor will always be seen as part of the whole room (less so than a high ceiling for example) and it’s pretty hard to hide it. I’d begin by looking at the underlying tones of the wood (or wood stain) colour, and start by deciding if those tones look cool or warm. If you have a warm rich wood like oak for your floor, then I would choose other wooden pieces for the room which share the same warm tones, such as pine, mango wood, mahogany, or walnut. For example, you could add a Mid Century chest of drawers made from warm toned eucalyptus to a room scheme decorated in warmer colours like ochre and aubergine. The tone of the oak flooring will work in harmony with your new furniture, even if you are mixing up the woods used, and will add to the overall feeling of cohesion.
On the opposite side of the coin, if you have flooring made with cool toned wood such as ash, or any wood that has been washed with a grey or white stain, then I’d suggest going for lighter woods such as maple, poplar, untreated pine, or even plywood. Beech is a classic wood used in Scandinavian design, as it is widely grown in the Nordic countries - just think of the typical lighter, cooler toned woods used in Ikea furniture. Any type of cool toned wood can be mixed in my opinion, and can be grounded by using some black or darker tones such as forest greens in the scheme.
the ash grey (cool) tones of the herringbone flooring are mixed with untreated pine at the back of the seating,
which was washed with a grey based stain
Mixing woods seems to be less of a worry for us than mixing metals. This is another question I received, and it's one I get asked a lot by my clients -
How can you mix hardware metals in a home (such as door handles, metals in a bathroom or kitchen, plug sockets and switches etc)?
I remember watching a home renovation show (I can’t remember which one it was) several years ago. The presenter and architect was telling us how he hated to see a mix of chrome and brass metals used in a home, and how we should all be changing everything over so that it matched. I wasn’t so sure about that, as I’m not keen on the matchy matchy look, and it can also be very expensive to change all your door handles and sockets and switches over in one go. Fast forward to today, and it's become cool and acceptable to mix metals in a space again. We see photos of bathrooms and kitchens with mixed fixtures and fittings all over Instagram, but exactly which metals we can mix still seems to cause confusion.
The first thing to consider when choosing metal finishes for a room is the style of the fixtures themselves, which is more important than the colour of the metal. If you go for a traditional shaker look for your kitchen, and choose a curved, streamlined tap like the one in the picture below, then the styles are already getting confused. If you then add in sleek stainless steel appliances, a black sink and chrome LED pendant lighting , you can see why it would start to look messy quite quickly.
A painted wooden shaker style kitchen is not a sleek contemporary look, so an aga style oven with a traditional swan neck tap is more in keeping with the style. If you look at the picture of one of my kitchen projects below, you can see how the style of the units is reflected in the tap, the Belfast sink, the large cooking range and even the plug sockets. I didn’t stick with completely traditional style lighting when designing this kitchen, but that’s because I wanted to mix it up a little bit to add interest, which is perfectly fine to do - the trick is to start with a solid base and then not take the mixing too far.
Once you have considered the styles of the pieces you are choosing, then the undertone of the metals is also important, just like it is with mixing woods. Warm based metals like brass and bronze will always look good together, whilst cooler based metals such as stainless steel and aluminium work well. But if you want to mix up your metals a la Instagram, or to create a timeless interior that isn’t following the trends, then the key is to consider the finish of the metal (i.e. how shiny or polished it is). Shiny brass mixes well with shiny steel, polished chrome is a friend of polished copper, and satin brass (somewhere between shiny and matt) loves being with satin nickel. When you are searching for your hardware, look at the names and descriptions of the finishes. If you buy brushed brass taps with brushed steel handles, the finishes are similar enough to look good next to each other, even though the colours are different. My rule of thumb is that if the metals are similar in undertone (i.e. both cool toned) and the finishes are not the same, the mix will look accidental rather than an intentional design decision. Think of brushed nickel (cool undertone, a more matt finish) paired with chrome (cool undertone but a polished or shiny finish), and you can see that they don’t create enough of a contrast to look great together.
Looking back over the design dilemmas you sent to me, the one thing that seems to be a common thread is that people are scared to make a mistake with their design choices. They are looking for a set of design rules to avoid getting it ‘wrong’. As I’ve said before, there really is no wrong - if you want a feature wall then have one, and if you love the way you’ve decorated your home, it can never be wrong. Don’t be afraid - as one of the neighbours interviewed on George Clarke’s Ugly House to Lovely House said - It’s better to be brave than bashful.
Welcome to my design blog, where you'll see posts about anything from my current interiors obsession, to the latest fabric and wallpaper collections, and 'how to' guides for all things interiors related. I love colour and pattern, architecture and old buildings, and I especially love the moment when you see something so beautiful it makes you take a sharp intake of breath. Happy reading, and if you have any questions, or would like to chat about anything interiors related, please use the contact form to get in touch. Thank you, Louise
A new home collection from Paloma Faith
28 Aug 2021
|British singer songwriter Paloma Faith has recently launched her first collection for the home. It includes wallpapers, fabrics, cushions and bedding, and she describes the look as 'faded grandeur and retro maximalism'. The prints are everything I love - dramatic, colourful and fun, and you can see more of the collection here.|
It's all about soft yellows
28 Jul 2021
|I was watching an Instagram live post from The Little Greene Paint Company last week, and they were discussing a comeback for yellow. Now, as you know, I don't think you have to follow the trends but yellow hasn't been fashionable for a long time, so this sunny, uplifting shade is often overlooked. A warm yellow like Little Green's Carys (above) is perfect for cheering us all up, and you can buy it here.|
The cushion that gives back
28 Jun 2021
|Introducing the cushion that gives back, from homewares company Oka. They have produced this cushion in partnership with The Trussell Trust who support two thirds of the UK's food banks, and 100% of the proceeds from sales of this lovely green velvet cushion will be donated by Oka to The Trussell Trust. It comes in a range of other colours too, and you can buy the cushion here.|
A beautiful new tile collection inspired by the National Trust
28 May 2021
|Just launched, Ca Pietra a new tile collection in collaboration with the National Trust. Every tile has been inspired by one of the historic properties, gardens or coastlines looked after by the Trust, and a minimum of £10,000 from sales of the tiles will be given to the National Trust to help them continue their important work. You can see the collection here.|
Yummy new switch & socket colours
28 Apr 2021
|Did you ever think that your light switches were good enough to eat? I'm guessing the answer is no, until now. You can now buy switches and sockets in these gorgeous colours from the new Dowsing & Reynolds Cafe Culture collection. They come in luscious shades like Cinnamon, Caramel Latte and Whipped Cream, so you can tone, coordinate or contrast with your wall colours and make every part of your interior scheme look delicious. You can buy the gorgeousness from here.|
A sustainable fabric choice
29 Mar 2021
|A beautiful new sustainable fabric range from Clarke and Clarke has just been launched. It's made entirely from recycled materials so you can refresh your home with a clear conscience. You can have a look at the fabric here. Get in touch with me if you'd like to buy any of this fabric.|
Sought & Styled - Preloved items given new life
28 Feb 2021
|This month I want to highlight a business run by a very talented lady I met a few years ago (remember when we could meet people?) Not only is she a creative interior designer, she also runs an online shop where she reuses and repurposes anything from soft furnishings to larger furniture items. Everything sold is bespoke and unique, and is effortlessly waste conscious because it's being used again. You can visit her shop here.|
Do kitchen worktops bore you?
27 Jan 2021
|Thanks to a genius idea from kings of pattern Blackpop, you can now have one of their colourful designs on your kitchen worktop. They will put any of their funky fabric or wallpaper designs onto waterproof MDF to make you a unique worktop, or they can even make a design just for you. Chopping will never look the same again! You can buy the worktops from their website here.|
A Fresh Take - Cardiff Life feature
18 Dec 2020
|This month's issue of Cardiff Life Magazine is out today, and features an interiors special, because one thing this past year has made us do is take a new look at our homes and how we'd like to live in them. To see what I and other local interiors experts have to say on the subject, including a round up of the trends for 2021, have a flick through the digital mag here.|
An enchanting inaugural wallpaper collection from Tom Baker
26 Nov 2020
|This opulent and atmospheric wallpaper from Tom Baker immerses you in a world of tropical flora, fauna and exotic animals. With soft cool tones and hints of pink floral detailing, this is the perfect wallpaper to add a relaxing and exciting edge to your home. Find this enchanting collection here.|
A new shady collaboration between Matthew Williamson and Pooky
20 Oct 2020
|The humble lampshade is often overlooked, but with the new collaboration between Pooky and Matthew Williamson they won't be for much longer! Matthew Williamson has applied his talent to design a new range of Pooky lampshades. Whatever your taste, colour scheme or budget you will find the perfect lampshade for your home in this new collection which is now available. This spectacular new collection can be found here.|
Felt covered curtain poles
17 Sep 2020
Now you can add some texture to your window dressing with these Walcot House felt covered poles. The pure wool coverings come with a option for bronze or steel fittings and wide spans up to six metres. The curtain track is cleverly hidden within the wooden curtain pole and there's a choice of nearly 50 colours and textures. You can find out more here.
Please vote for my blog
11 Aug 2020
|I'm really thrilled to have been nominated for an Amara Interiors Blog Award this year! If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to vote for me, I'm nominated in the Best Interior Designer Blog category, and you can vote for me here.|
Upcoming interiors trends from Love Rugs
10 Jul 2020
|Love Rugs, the people who know about all things rugs have just published a feature on the upcoming interiors trends for 2020. They asked six of the UK's top interior designers (including me!) to tell them what the upcoming trends are, and in particular the changes we will be making to their homes. The article can be read here, and if you'd like to have a look at the huge range of rugs they offer, click here.|
A new fabric collection from Linwood Fabrics
15 Jun 2020
|I love Linwood fabrics - they have a fab way of mixing colour and pattern into something really special, producing fabrics and wallpapers that make me want to coo. This new collection, available at the end of June, is just as gorgeous. It's called Kami, with the pattern inspired by a 19th Century document. The collection is a range of printed velvets, so perfect for upholstery and accessories like cushions.|
An easy way to update your kitchen
16 Apr 2020
|If you are looking to update your existing Ikea kitchen rather than replace it, Stockholm based company Superfront are here to help. They sell a range of fronts, handles, legs and tops to fit not just the Faktum kitchen range but also the Besta, Metod and Pax ranges - so you can customise anything from your sideboard to your wardrobe. These super cute round handles are part of their new birch collection, and the whole range can be found here|
Move over boring taps - colour is the new black
13 Mar 2020
|Colour has been taking over our kitchens and bathrooms for a while now (yay!), and has slowly been creeping into sanitaryware and fittings. These perfectly coloured mint green and pastel pink taps from the new Miami Colour Pop Collection from amazing homeware brand Dowsing & Reynolds are spot on and would look gorgeous in any kitchen or bathroom to add a shot of colour without overwhelming with sugary sweetness. You can learn more about this new collection here.|
Who knew a door stop could look this good?
19 Feb 2020
|Door stops are one of those little annoying things that we all need, but are not the prettiest to look at. Now London based Buster & Punch have turned their attention to the problem and transformed the humble door stop into something cool and covetable. They might cost more than your average one from a DIY store, but as you're going to see it every day, why not look at something beautiful? here.|
Wallpaper made of cork?
29 Oct 2019
|Sustainability and concern for our environment are key in the interiors world right now (as they should be). So when I saw that Monkey Puzzle Tree (a brand I admire for their sense of style and creativity) had produced this wallpaper made of cork, I was blown away. Cork is great for so many reasons - it can be harvested every nine years without harming the tree, is grown without the need for pesticides or fertilisers, has excellent sound and heat insulation properties, and is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal. This wallpaper has an A+ rating for emissions so it creates a healthy environment wherever it is hung. Add to this that the design was produced in collaboration with the talented Drew Millward who lives in my home county of West Yorkshire, and that it's called 'Hit The North', I was bound to fall in love with it. You can buy the wallpaper here.|
I'm in Cardiff Life magazine - again!
17 Sep 2019
Now that the summer is officially over and our thoughts turn to cosying up our homes for winter, I'm here to help. If you're in need of some inspiration, you can read all about the interiors trends for Autumn and how to work them into your home in this month's Cardiff Life magazine. Hear what I and other interiors experts have to say on pages 18-22. You can read the digital version of the magazine here.
I've been nominated for an Amara Interiors blog award!
6 Sep 2019
|Exciting news! My little blog (Design Insider) has been nominated for an Amara Interiors Blog award! I'm so chuffed to be included at all, and not expecting to win, but if you enjoy reading my blog posts then please vote for me. I'm nominated for the Best Interior Designer blog category. Voting is open until the 11th of September and you can vote for me here.|
My kitchen project featured on the Artifact Lighting blog!
1 Aug 2019
When I designed the contemporary copper kitchen, I wanted to use some copper elements to add warmth and also to tone in with the pink walls and pale grey units. I found these pendant lights from a company called Artifact Lighting, and they are perfect because they add to the 'warm glow' I wanted to acheive. They also have a vintage look which contrasts nicely with the sleek look of the kitchen units. When the kitchen was finished I sent some pictures to Artifact Lighting, and they liked the kitchen so much they featured it on the blog page of their website.
You can read the blog page here
House of Hackney's first outdoor fabric
26 Jun 2019
One of my favourite interiors brands, House of Hackney, who are known for their daring and quirky prints, have just released a new fabric which is suitable for our door use. They took one of their designs, Palmeral, and reimagined it in a fresh colour palette of off white and green. This colour fast and water resistant fabric can be used for anything from outdoor cushions to furnishing yachts (if you are lucky enough to have one!)
My thoughts on the colour Living Coral in Cardiff Life Magazine
31 May 2019
|Hear what I and my fellow designers have got to say about Pantone's colour of the year, Living Coral, and how to use it, in this month's Cardiff Life magazine. The article is on pages 84-86, and you can read it here. Do you think you could use it in your home?|
Sustainability in furniture design
7 May 2019
|Sustainability is something that is becoming more and more important in interior design - not just where we buy items from and how far they've travelled to get to us, but also the materials that they are made from. Kartell, one of Italy's best known design brands, have just released the world's first piece of furniture made from a bioplastic called Bio-On. It's a fully sustainable version of one of their best selling items - the Componibili modular unit, and it comes in four delicious pastel shades. They may be 100% sustainable, but they are also super cute and bang on trend with this seasons colours. You can buy them here|
The latest trend in shutters
24 Feb 2019
Forget painted shutters - the new style direction for window shutters is bare wood. These full height shutters made from sustainably sourced ash are the newest product from California Shutters, and are set to be big this year.
My new favourite tile!
7 Feb 2019
I was searching for some tiles for a client's splashback recently and came across these beauties from Topps Tiles. There's long been a trend for patterned tiles, with lots of geometric shapes and bold colours going on, but I've begun to see more and more tiles with a pattern in the surface of the tile itself. These ones are a lovely example, and the deep blue colour is just stunning. To get a closer look at them, follow the link below.
Pantone announce their colour of the year 2019
11 Dec 2018
Leading colour experts Pantone have annouced the shade which they think will be the colour of the year for next year - Coral pink. It might look very bright and scary, but it's actually quite easy to use. I wouldn't suggest painting a whole room in it, as that might be a bit overwhelming, but I would use it in small doses, such as on cushions or in artwork, to liven up a shceme. Pantone say that the colour is meant to 'embrace us with warmth and nourishment and provide comfort and bouyancy in our continually shifting envirnoment', which basically means it's a happy, uplifting colour, and might just cheer us all up!
My work featured on Homify
8 Oct 2018
My work has been featured in an article on Homify - one of the leading online ideas platforms for all things interiors. My project is in an article on how to avoid common mistakes when designing a bedroom. The article mentions how important it is to block out light for a good nights sleep - something I addressed by adding blackout lining to the curtains and adding an extra layer of window dressing with the wooden Venetian blinds. To see the article, please use the link below.