Country House or City Mouse?

At what point does a collection define your lifestyle? And how does a lifestyle dictate what you collect? Is it life imitating art or the reverse? When you have a passion for something, it’s hard to hide. And when you’re passionate about something, you want to know more, you become obsessed with what it is that attracts you to it, you start a quest to find the perfect additions to your collection – objects that really describe your passions.

Soane Museum At the Soane Museum, the collection of classical masonry simply explodes off the walls. It’s very much worth the visit, but it is clear that this passion for classical objects overtook Sir John Soane’s reason for collecting them, that of providing teaching aids for his students.

But how does this translate to a home – and a very small one at that?

Exuberant and whole hearted are the words that spring to mind when I think of my cousin’s home. His flat is the raised ground floor of a Georgian house and occupies all of three rooms leading off his vibrant, red hallway, featured several weeks ago in the post ‘Enter Here.’

Luckily he has large windows and unobstructed natural light to both the front room and bedroom. He has considered the proportions of his flat – and then tossed them out the window. In what can only be described as a small space, he should have been working to the mantra of less is more. He should have kept the furniture to a minimum and curated his artworks to keep a sense of spaciousness. Rather, he has embraced the style he wanted to live in and then set about achieving that look – wholeheartedly and with exuberance.

country house style

It takes confidence and an ability to trust one’s instincts, two qualities that are often lacking in new homeowners. So let’s look at why this organic approach to an interior space works, when by all accounts, it should feel overwhelming!

In both the front room and bedroom, he has used a calming, soft shade for the wall colour. This is used to anchor the decorative objects and acts as a leveller – the colours in the front room continue at the same level of intensity – with many faded earthy tones in the fabrics used. This is then echoed in the canvases and papers of the artworks.

kitchen space

And here’s the big surprise – the kitchen is at right angles to the sofa. But it too disappears into the scheme, because he has continued the collection into that area as well. Yes, there is no extractor and yes, there is no dishwasher (gasp) but he has decided what is important to his lifestyle – and these items were not. This is the ultimate of invisible work areas and it hasn’t been achieved by clever cabinetry or expensive finishes – he has simply treated the kitchen as if it were his front room and not just a part of it.

The room is too small for zoning, but that is what he has achieved by placing the furniture in the classic arrangement of a fireplace grouping – the sofa is opposite the fireplace, the armchairs flank it, the table is between the windows and when not in use, houses a canteen of cutlery and drinks decanters. Scale is important here. The furniture isn’t out sized or chunky, it fits the space because it is more classically proportioned. And this is where a more modern style would have to work harder to fit the space. With a corner unit, for example, less really would have to be more.

fireplace grouping

window wall

The walls are the real clincher – Country House style is all about flaunting what you have, so to define his knowledge of the style, every inch of wall space is used to embrace the look he wanted to achieve. It should feel busy and cluttered, but the space is welcoming and gentle and because the art works are of different sizes they don’t compete with each other, they complement the grouping and add a sense of unity. Oddly, it’s very relaxing too, like visiting a much loved relative.

So how would you achieve a more modern look in the same space? This is where that confidence and instinct I was talking about come in. You can have whatever style you want, but you have to work to the space you’ve got. If you can’t make alterations to the space, you have to be strict with yourself and limit the ‘wish-list.’

As a designer, working within boundaries is much more satisfying than simply throwing it all in there. To achieve an harmonious space that functions the way you want is the ultimate goal.

So, if your rooms are classically proportioned as Georgian buildings are, then the furniture will feel more harmonious if you work to simple proportions – narrow legs of metal or wood and sofas that stand above the floor. Using a more chunky look would at once feel too heavy for the space – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use solid pieces of wooden furniture, it just needs to be in proportion and neither too large for the space or for the other pieces in the room.

This is where my cousin has excelled. He has used furniture that relates to each other. Regardless of your taste, the unity of the room can’t be denied. I know he has created this room over time and each piece was found and purchased with consideration to how it would work within the room. This is what I mean by organic design. Everything in the room is designed to enhance the style he wanted to achieve and yes, some of the objects in his collection are barmy!

candle bearer

He’s used a couple of devices to link the areas – candle sconces, polished wood furniture – and humour. Again, this is someone confident in his taste, but using a repeating item ties the space together and allows the different areas to be incorporated into the whole effortlessly.

This is the Country House in miniature. Every wall may have its candle sconce and the staff have been given the night off, but there is only one place that I know of that has a stuffed baby croc to spice up your life!

ready set go

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Temporary Measures

When you move house, it can often take some time to decide what you want to do with it. You may want to move rooms to different areas of the house, you may want to take walls down, you may want to improve functionality. All these things are worthy of reflection and you would be commended for taking time to consider all the implications – building work is not for everyone!

If you really don’t like disruption, mess and above all dust, you are going to find having the builders in very stressful, especially because they won’t be able to give you an accurate idea of what they’re going to find behind your bathroom walls until they start pulling things apart.

bathroom refurb

On this job, a ‘simple bathroom refurbishment’ the contractors discovered that the tiles had been applied on top of other tiles and that the ‘bonding’ underneath (the method used to seal the plaster or brickwork) hadn’t been suitable for bathrooms, so they had to hack out all the old plaster and start again. It was a mess and no-one could have for-seen it – or that the previous contractors had flung all their takeaway wrappers into the cavity under the bath! Uggh.

Sorting out problems adds to the cost, of that there is no doubt, but it can’t be avoided without giving a substandard finish to the new fit-out. On the plus side, we reclaimed 50mm of space which meant we didn’t need to move the bathroom door to accommodate the bath! So sometimes there is a silver lining.

bathroom from hall

You can see from the above that building work is very invasive. The whole upstairs landing has been taken over by the contractors kit and materials. And that’s the thing – everything coming into the refurb has to be stored somewhere until it is needed. This bit can be very unsettling as your bedroom will become overflow storage, because its handy for the bathroom. But, if you have good contractors, the results are always worth it and provided you don’t over specify the materials being used, you will see a return on the money you spend.

What do I mean by not over-specifying? If the value of your property is £500,000, spending £30,000 on your bathroom isn’t going to increase the value of your home by the same amount. You need to take into consideration the area you live and think about what potential buyers will be looking for when you decide to move on. If you have your heart set on mosaic tiles, for example, deciding to fit Bissazza at £380 per square metre would be very unrealistic if there is no appreciation for that level of taste – or expense – in your area and besides, there are other types of mosaic that will give the look, for a fraction of the cost. So, do your homework and don’t allow your heart to rule your budget!

But if you don’t have the money to do the work straight away, what then?

I moved to my current house two years ago and knew instantly that I didn’t like the layout of the kitchen – it had an oversized cooker, but no drawer space, it had two awkward corner cupboards and was totally unsuited for preparing meals for more than four or five people, even though the oven was enormous – so I started planning what I would do when I had the money to make changes. In the meantime though, I decided I didn’t want to live with it as it was. The wood colour wasn’t to my taste and the depth of tone made the room darker than it needed to be. So out came the paint charts.

queensville kitchen 1

I took my references from the tiles – again not to my taste, but the colour was ‘inoffensive’, (a fairly damning word, but my focus was creating a unity between the space and the rest of the decor) so staying within that colour family seemed to be a good starting point. I gave the units a good scrub with soapy water – to remove any fat splashes – and then sanded the surfaces lightly with a fine grade sandpaper.

After that I applied two coats of emulsion paint (yes, that’s right, I didn’t bother to use eggshell. I wanted the drying time to be much quicker because I wanted the job finished in a weekend) and top coated it with my favourite decorators glaze in a satin finish. Et viola!

queensville kitchen2

The kitchen still doesn’t function as I would like, but it’s much more inviting to be in and it complements the rest of the living space. For the price of 2.5 litres of paint and decorators glaze, I’ve got a space that I can live with until such a time as I can afford to rip out a wall and completely reconfigure the downstairs space.

And that decorators glaze has stood up to the knocks too, no chipped paint or scuff marks after nearly two years of wear and tear!

Enter Here

Hallways are difficult spaces, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They’re traffic areas, people need to get in and out easily, coats need to be stored, the bin bags often get carried through and they have to cope with fluctuating temperatures – as well as mucky shoes and possibly bicycles. And yet this is the first part of your home that anyone sees. So how do you make an impact when there are so many things to consider?

display corner

This is the perfect place to let your interests reflect your style. Often hallways are very narrow and as a result, the walls need to take centre stage. If you have a collection of any kind then think about turning your hallway into a gallery space – the floor will still be clear for movement, but all your favourite things are on clear view as illustrated in this tiny hallway that four doorways feed onto.

bold colour to under pin a collection

This little gem of a flat is owned by my cousin and he hasn’t allowed size to in any way restrict what he wanted to achieve from his home – we’ll look at it in more detail another day. What he has used to advantage is the height of his ceilings and because the doors opening onto his hall all allow light in, the deep red of the walls enhances the wood of his collected pieces, which in a sense alludes to wood paneling, so appropriate in a house the age of his.

Taking little clues from your house is also a way of balancing decorative style with original features. There is such a difference of opinion about period properties, but my personal feeling is that original features should, where possible, be saved and enhanced. However, there are some decorative styles that are so pared back and minimal that a room heavy with ornate cornicing simply wouldn’t work. But, this depth of detail can act as a frame and can be used to link more modern additions to the building, so don’t start ripping things out until you’ve given thought to how you might create that harmony between the old and the new!

stair carpet linking garden colours

In this entrance hall the owner has used the stair runner to create a visual link to the garden. It draws the eye forward and surrounds the new kitchen-diner extension, so that this is immediately included visually with the older part of the house. Colour is used here to unite both period features and modern additions, but it is more subtle than simply painting the walls – or the kitchen units – and offers a really interesting alternative to introducing impact within a scheme.

Linking visual texture within an interior space is also a good way of introducing the decorative references that feature throughout the house. The colours can be alluded to in the hallway and then flow from there into the different aspects of the scheme.

hallway with paint effects

The starting point of this scheme was the family photographs on the wall. The homeowner wanted to include them somewhere that they would be seen. I felt that we needed to make more of the grouping as that stair wall could have overwhelmed a small collection. So, the striped paintwork was suggested to make a feature of the wall and as a way of linking her interest in Art Deco style, which then allowed us to make a bolder choice for the stair runner.

We then went on to use these colours in the front room and the kitchen. This layering of style allowed us to enhance the age of the building and showcase the owners interests by simply thinking about how we would feature colour in other common areas of the house. It makes for a very personal interior space that offers a narrative about this home.

papered ceiling

Breaking from the terraced style of buildings for a moment, this Arts and Crafts house has a wealth of period features which needed both enhancement and refurbishment. Unlike many terraced houses, this hallway already had a strong decorative feature, but it allowed little scope for the owners to introduce their personality. They wanted to create a more decorative impact and so I suggested putting a paper on the ceiling and introducing a feature light fitting.

contemporary lighting

To soften the solidity of the paneling, which had over time become very dry and mottled with old varnish, we continued the lilac tones of the ceiling paper in the curtains for the landing and the rear of the hall.

In some hallways a piece of furniture dictates the space as here with this church pew. This piece had come from a church clearance that had family connections and held sentimental value for the owner. The dark wood suggested more moody tones for the wall behind, but not wanting to lose too much light, the owner decided on a sludgey green which then enhanced the collection of family photographs snaking up the wall.

wall colour enhances church pew

To ensure the light was maximised the owner then placed another mirror on the opposite wall – and left this wall painted white. This relaxed approach further enhances a space that is a busy family home as paintwork can be touched up with a minimum of effort.

mirror to reflect feature wall

Remember though, although your hallway is the first thing to be seen, it should be the last to be decorated if you’re having work done. Because of the traffic coming through – and any items being removed – any decorating will inevitable get damaged, so be patient. Use the time that the contractors are on site to plan what you want in the hallway!

And once the decorating is done, we all like the upkeep to be straightforward, so here’s the absolute best trick for increasing the longevity of your paintwork in a hallway – coat it up decorators glaze. If you use a matt texture glaze, you won’t be able to tell it’s there – and you’ll be able to wipe your walls clean!

Now doesn’t that sound like a good idea?