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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!