Television Personalities

I admit it, I love watching tv and films and going to the theatre. It must be something to do with the visual spectacle and the response it inspires in me. But it’s not just the script that I’m relating to, the setting and costumes are just as important. In any production this is the visual aspect that helps an actor to develop his character. I love this part of story telling because people seem to be largely oblivious to the role of the production designer, it’s always about the director’s vision. But let’s not forget, designers work to a brief.

Two such productions spring to mind from the last few weeks – Sherlock ‘The Sign of Three’ and Death Comes to Pemberley – both BBC crime dramas and as different from each other as night is to day, but both in their own way creating a visual spectacle. (For those who don’t know ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ is a sequel to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. Written by P D James, it centres around a crime on the Pemberley estate six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice.)

Sherlock - The Sign of Three

Sherlock – The Sign of Three

Castle Howard - The Turquoise Room

Castle Howard – The Turquoise Room

The Drawing Room - Death Comes to Pemberley

The Drawing Room – Death Comes to Pemberley

So how did I come to compare the two productions? What inspired me about these two sets? The unashamed use of colour. Most television dramas seem to require more neutral backdrops or such tight shots that the background is simply blurred and thus rendered neutral. Not these two productions. In every sequence shot on these two sets, the colour was lovingly placed between the characters. The dialogue was delivered across a background that had as much presence as the actors did. But here’s the trick, instead of fading away, those backgrounds were chosen to support the action, to underpin the dialogue of the characters in such a way as to visually assert that these people are strong, individual and passionate.

But they’re period interiors, I hear you say, the taste of the Georgian era is different to our own and it’s not how we live today. Very true, but colour is just colour and neither of these sets is alien to our current understanding of the characters; Sherlock we know to be eccentric, wildly intelligent and disarming, Elizabeth and Darcy from the beloved book Pride and Prejudice, we know to be principled, caring and outspoken. They look at home on the sets they were given, if either production had presented us with a room that was shell pink for example, we might not have noticed the set at all. These dramas are about strong personalities and the production designers gave us strong sets to support them.

book covers

Perhaps that’s an assumption on my part but somehow, I don’t think so and it worked didn’t it? The wedding venue on Sherlock is far prettier than many I’ve seen on television and I took from it that the happy couple were confident and empowered by their union – because the characters wouldn’t choose to make a statement with their chosen venue if they were feeling hesitant. The drawing room in Death Comes to Pemberley is tranquil despite the strength of colour and gives our heroine added clout in her exchanges with Lady Catherine. What it really told us was that no shrinking violet would choose such a colour for her room. In using these strong colours, the production designers have allowed the occasion of entertaining – and the environment in which that takes place – to be a player in the drama. The set gives us a clue to the personality of the characters and how they present themselves to the wider world – including their television audience.

So, what’s the point I’m trying to make? We know ourselves better than any production designer will ever know a character and yet we don’t think about how our homes support us. Not only that, we create strong opinions about our world but then insist on a neutral (and sometimes bland, let’s be honest) interior at home. Is that a good balance? We don’t often consider that our environment has an impact on our wellbeing yet we all know that the ‘drama’ of life is stressful. We know that colour creates an emotional response but don’t explore the emotions we feel for our homes. If we don’t like where we live, how can it make us feel content or connected to the life we lead? We talk about life imitating art, well maybe it’s time that it did!



Shouldn’t we use our homes the way a production designer does a set, after all our ‘action’ is played out on the ‘set’ of our homes? This ‘set’ is part of the action of our lives and the ‘background’ that we choose for our ‘real life drama.’ If a film set creates the illusion of reality, our homes are the embodiment of imagination. If we’re prepared to allow someone else’s vision to move us, why would we not have the courage to act on our own?

And what would I do to follow my own advice? This…

Raphael wallpaper

style shot - Sandberg

It’s destined for my dining area – when the kitchen is reconfigured!

There’s a wonderful line in the film ‘the Holiday’ – “you’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life.” Shouldn’t we feel like we have the visual support of our ‘set’ to be one?

images taken from BBC, de Gournay and Sandberg – with thanks


Trinket Strings

Is it just me, or does the New Year begin with a real need to declutter and put things away – and dare I say it – spring clean? It must be the effect of taking the Christmas decorations down, but somehow I can’t quite get away from it – what do I do with the influx of little bits and pieces from Christmas Crackers? They’re all still sitting around, but I’m not yet ‘allowed to throw them out’ and they don’t have homes – so what do I do with them?? The thing is I have to confess to having trunks full of little bits of lace and buttons and fabric and trinkets that I can’t bear to part with! Being creative is alas, very messy, but they at least are put away. The downside of that is I don’t get the pleasure of seeing them on display, which got me to thinking…

I happened to be in Barnes last weekend and visited the lovely Tobias and the Angel, (68 White Hart Lane London SW13 0PZ, who create an enchanting collection of homewares comprising of quilts, chairs, lampshades, bags to name a few, using vintage, antique and custom fabrics. Combined with lamp bases of patinated woods and kitchen accessories from by-gone eras, you could almost imagine that you were visiting an eccentric granny – one with very fashionable tastes! There is a warmth and mystery to the shop which is a bit like being in a treasure trove, you never quite know what you will find. And so it was, when I came across these lampshades.

embellished lampshade

close up

Suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to do with all my little bits of mess – and I couldn’t wait to get home to dig everything out and see what I could create from them! Next stop was my favourite car boot sale…luckily it wasn’t raining and I came away with some really great bits of junk to add to my collection!

carboot finds

I’m quite a believer in design copyright, so even though I got the inspiration for my idea from Tobias and the Angel, I’ve used a very different method to create my ‘strings’. To start with, I couldn’t be bothered with drilling holes in things and suspending them from loops of wire. I’ve used glue to add brooch backs to some of the items that I couldn’t quite see how to stitch on, but for the most part, I’ve simply used a needle and thread to create this look, which is why I thought it’d make a lovely craft project for a wintery Sunday afternoon. It’s the kind of thing you could do with a tray on your knee, sitting in a comfy chair by a fire!

grouping the trinkets

You will need:

Suede thong – available from haberdashery shops
Needlenose pliers
Sequin glue
Brooch backs
Needle and thread
an assortment of trinkets, buttons, beads, crystals, keys, jewellery
Tape measure

Wash any very dusty items with a little warm water and gently pat them dry. Glue brooch backs onto plastic figures or trim and allow to dry. Pull apart any bits of jewellery that you want to have as smaller clusters. Use the needle nose pliers to secure any ends that are loose. Do any repairs to things that are loose or more broken than you want them to be.
Measure your chosen lampshade around the circumference, about 5cm up from the base of the shade, add 40cm to this to allow a tie at either end of the string. Cut this length of suede thong and working from the centre, place a trinket every few centimetres along the thong.

I worked to 6cm for the cream shade and 8cm on the black. Play with the placement until you feel happy with the order of the trinkets, add or take things away and introduce buttons or trim to increase the variety of interest. Keep in mind that the centre will be the front of the shade and the ends by the tie will be the back – unless you want to use the bow as part of the decorative effect.

You can also use ribbon instead of thong, but I found that it doesn’t sit quite as neatly on the lampshade, the thong seems to ‘stick’ to it because of the pile of the suede.

attaching the trinkets

attaching the trinkets

When you’re happy with the balance of the trinkets, decide which measurement works for this string and keeping this distance between each trinket, start to stitch things in place. Make sure that the thong is flat without any twists in it! Work with a thread that is close in colour to the thong. When it is complete, carefully lift it – the string will spin with the weight – and arrange the string on your shade. You will find that this looks so sweet when the light is off – who knew that lighting could add such an impact when it isn’t even on?

*Sloping shades work best as the weight of the trinkets will cause the string to slide down slightly and a drum shade has nothing to stop the string from falling off.

black string

ivory string

All of my collections of little things – and I know I’m not alone – now have a purpose and really look great together. It seems the more random the better because they become talking points. How nice to be able to create interest with a simple adornment to a lampshade. It’s very easy to personalise and to make one as a gift and best of all, the tangle of lovely things that you didn’t know what to do with now have a home – and you can see them every time you walk past that lamp.

trinket ribbon

Samples Make it Simple

When you start to plan your decorating ideas, what do you do? Do you have a bulging folder of pictures torn from magazines that each have something ‘like this but with the walls tiled’ to help you define the look you want? Do you get paint samples and check that the colour works in the room you want to use it in? Do you get tile/carpet/wood samples so that you can check what it looks like with the other floorings in your home? Do you have lighting catalogues to check that the fitting you want is suitable for the room you want it in? It’s so exciting to be getting the project underway, but from this selection of ideas, would anyone else understand what you meant if they looked at it?

tear sheets

So often this grab bag of ideas – which is also subject to change – is the presentation that a contractor is expected to work from. How is he to know that ‘this finish needs to be matt not gloss’ or that the extractor position ‘is like the picture with the green door and not the one that shows the extractor.’Let’s be quite blunt, contractors, no matter how good they are, are not mind readers. If you aren’t sure exactly what you want, no one else will be either.

So let’s get down to basics. Getting your ideas into to a usable format will help you to understand why some finishes don’t work and others do. But what’s even more important is using the space you have to incorporate what you want.

So, buy a graph paper pad and scale rule. And a retractable tape measure! Of course you can do this on the pc or mac, but the first time you do a space planning exercise, there is nothing like being in the room as you draw it out. It will improve your understanding of the space about a 1000 times beyond what you initially knew. I bet you can’t actually say how many lights sockets you have in your front room, or what type of lighting you have (halogen, low energy, up lighters, task or spot.) But these are important things to consider, especially if you plan to work from home and want to house a desk in there. If there aren’t enough sockets to service your desk and especially to plug in a desk lamp, you may find this a very poor work environment.

helpful tools

So with your pad and scale rule, decide on what scale you will draw at. 1:20 is the size most interior designers use. Its not so big that you need a massive piece of paper and not so small that the furniture size looks lost. Decide on your starting point and then move clockwise around the room, taking measurements and drawing them down, noting things like sockets, window sills and frames and wall lights. Make sure to show anything that projects from the wall like cable trunking or boxed in pipework. Then look up and in a dotted line (to show that it isn’t attached to the floor) make a note and draw any wall fixtures. You can also use a dotted line to show the positioning of ceiling lights or any decorative features like cornicing and ceiling roses. And look at the ceiling height. Is is different to the room next door or the hallway? People have various reasons for dropping ceiling heights, but most are done out of laziness. Wiring can be chased in and will give a much better finish than reducing the proportions of the room. If you think this has been done to any of your rooms, raise the subject with your contractor, it may not be as costly as you think to return the room to it’s previous glory.

Note the position of any radiators and for a bathroom take special care to note where the WC is as the waste pipework (soilstack) outside is likely to be close by.

Also note your door swing and if there is any switching outside that relates to the room (bathrooms often have a switch outside the bathroom door.) This is important because if you decide you want to move the door, the electrics will have to move too.

Now to the furniture placement. When I put a scheme together for a client, I spend a lot of time thinking about how they will use the space and how much room they will need to get around the furniture. There are various professional sites that have calculations to show exactly how much space is required for a human to move around an interior space, but you don’t have to be scientific to understand that we all have personal ‘space.’ We know when we feel crowded and enclosed and without thinking about the ergonomics of a room, it will be hard to get that sense of flow to your space. Without that, a room will feel clumsy, ill considered and ‘just not quite right.’

floor plans

There are different measurements for different rooms too, in a bathroom allow at least 500mm between objects as a circulation space because this is an area where water can create hazards and an awkward space is much more likely to cause an accident. Obviously, if you have more space, don’t crowd things together, allow them to have room and even scale the size of your furniture up to enhance the proportions of the room. In kitchens it is much more likely that you will work to the dimensions of the units being fitted. Most appliances are 600mm wide and this has become a standard measurement for circulation – but remember, dishwasher door generally open downward and are about 800mm high, so you will need to allow at least this – or more – between runs (a line of of base units) if you plan a galley kitchen or want to fit an island unit.

So, measure your existing furniture and cut out shapes from the graph paper in those measurements. Do the same for any proposed furniture and then pop a bit of tape on the back. So, now you can move them around the drawing to see where they fit best and how they relate to each other. It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle, but as the pieces are life-size, you need to shrink them to see how they work best. Try out a couple of layouts and consider what additional work will need to be done to achieve that scheme. Sometimes cost will dictate how you plan a room and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you use this as a part of the brief – and not as a limitation to it!

And can I just say, having a tight budget shouldn’t be a stumbling block, it should inspire you to be creative with the design, to really do your homework. It is perfectly possible to fit a kitchen for under £7000 – including appliances and the contractors fee – you just have to shop around and use the internet discounts that many companies now offer. This type of approach is much more time consuming, but if your pockets aren’t quite as deep as you’d like, the time you put in will be rewarded. And you’ll really feel like you’ve achieved something!

Now we come to the finishes, the colours and textures of everything you plan to put in the room and this is where you put that grab bag of ideas into some sort of scheme. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, get one. Any picture you see online you can save and upload to your decorating board, this will help you keep the ideas current and easy to find. As an additional tool, create a sample board of the hard finishes, samples of wallpaper and fabric, wood, tile and paint colours that you want to try out. Seeing them all together – in the rough proportions that they will be used in the room – will help you edit your choices.

bedroom sample board

bedroom sample board

When you see your ‘wish list’ laid out, it becomes obvious that you can’t have everything you want in one space. Colour, texture and shape all have to be considered and this is the place to make your mistakes! It is much less costly for you to reject something you think you absolutely have to have when you discover you won’t be able to fit it in your room on paper than it is to get it on site and discover your error. The same is true of finishes like tiles and carpet, if they don’t harmonise with the other finishes you want to use in the room, look at alternatives. There will be some items that are deal breakers, though, so it is best to work out which is the ‘key piece’ and to use that as the starting point for the scheme. If you do it the other way round, you’ll find that the scheme looks unbalanced and as if everything is fighting for attention.

bathroom sample board

bathroom sample board

So, how do you know that the end result will look like it does on the sample board? If you’ve got the proportions right on the board, you’ll be able to see what is the dominant item in the scheme, you’ll know that there are areas that need balancing and that some of the items you wanted to use, just don’t pull their weight. The sample board is another jigsaw puzzle only on this one, the pieces that don’t fit can be replaced with something else. And that’s the exciting bit, you eliminate the things that don’t work and get to search for something else that might!

shower room samples

shower room samples

shower room

Power to the Flower

Christmas is over – happy 2014 – and I’m now starting to think about putting all the decorations away and getting on with ‘the new year.’ But I’m still not quite ready to say goodbye to the flowers I used to decorate my table and mantlepiece!

all is calm, all is bright

all is calm, all is bright

For me the fresh flowers I use (and I include my Christmas wreath in that) are the centrepiece of my festive decorations. I think it harks back to the fact that my grandmother always used to have flowers in her house. They smelled beautiful and I imagine that’s why I’ve often thought that a house feels just a little bit unloved without a vase of flowers. Even a single bud or flower adds its magic and at this time of the year, when it is dark early and the weather is grim, I like to take the time to appreciate just how divine something fresh and delicate looks sitting in my front room.

…   …   …

… … …

Given that they bring so much pleasure, I wonder why flowers are often considered simply something for special occasions? Of course they enhance a celebration – but why stop there? Why not add a touch of nature to your every day environment? The freshness of a bouquet (even those from the supermarket) as you place the blooms in a vase is uplifting and because they don’t last long your pleasure is all about that moment, that particular season and that specific flower. In a way that small gesture is about the wider world we live in, those flowers are like a visitor to your home. They bring with them a greeting from the outdoors, they fleetingly open our eyes to what is happening outside and beyond our world of work and school runs.

garden ornament

garden ornament

This connection is something that wallpaper and fabric designers have long understood. We need a dose of the outdoors to feel balanced. Introducing a floral aspect to your interior will subconsciously allow you to relax, to breathe ‘fresh air’ and to ground your decorative schemes with nature. Even the most ardent minimalists would agree that fresh flowers add visual impact to their homes! A patterned wallpaper used cleverly does the same thing.

So why are we nervous to use pattern if there is so much to be gained from introducing a natural element to our homes? As I’ve been investigating today, I think I’ve come up with a theory. The big furnishing companies like Designers Guild and Osborne and Little advertise their collections on a grand scale. The room sets are vast and the furniture is almost dwarfed by palatial surroundings, the lighting is dramatic and theatrical which doesn’t feel aspirational – only intimidating. It’s hard to visualise how this type of styling will work in our own homes and into this void of not being able to see what our homes will look like when a different style is introduced, comes the fear of trying something new.

floral wallpapers

There doesn’t seem to a stepping on point for someone who wants ideas but doesn’t want to make expensive mistakes – unless you consider the room sets at Ikea, which again are limited by colour palette and styling. (But first let me say there are many fantastic ideas to be taken from Ikea. Many of their individual items are well designed, clever pieces that make a statement and on their own, create a focal point – but used en masse, the impact is lost.) And this leads me to the opposite end of the decorating spectrum Homebase and Brewers, who somehow create such a bland environment (even though Brewer’s do stock fabrics and wallpapers from the above brands) that decorating your own home simply doesn’t give you any sense of excitement. Why would you even bother, if the end result isn’t going to excite you?

And that’s my point. We’re all savvy consumers these days. We have an interest in making our homes comfortable and we’re prepared to make the effort to instil personality into them. In doing so, we go through upheaval and uncertainty. To experience that – and still not know if what we’re going to achieve is what we want – we have to feel confident that the ‘journey’ is worth it. With a sense of nervousness and doubt about our own taste, we settle for decorating ideas that are safe and not a true reflection of what we actually want our homes to look like – we end up disappointed with the results. If the images portrayed by the ‘home design’ companies alienate us – because they’re either too aspirational to be real or they use sales figures to guide the style of their home decor collections (they only stock what they know will sell to the largest market) – we are simply settling for someone else’s idea of who we are. How frustrating – how boring.

floral backdrop

And being prepared to use a floral wallpaper or fabric is going to give us a better sense of who we are?? Well, actually YES. The human eye loves pattern. It loves to follow lines and curves and to connect them up, to see new pattern within the print. It is the same thing that we do when looking at clouds. We look for shapes and images that we can relate to, something from nature that reflects our human-ness. Introducing even a small touch of nature as a permanent feature of our home decor does the same thing. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming – though I am a fan of statement wallpaper!

statement wallpaper

wallpaper and fabric

wallpaper and fabric

Using a floral motif as a backdrop doesn’t limit a scheme and neither does it ‘date’ it. The images above all have contemporary or mid-century pieces of furniture, they’re family friendly and individual. Because they have a patterned element, they are relaxed and ‘down-to-earth’ – pattern is great for hiding wear and tear. In that sense, it is very easy to live with and the other features such as paint colour can be changed to inject new life – even adding a feeling of drama can have a playful side to it.

floral simplicity

So, let’s start this new year being bold and taking a few chances with how we want our homes to look. Pattern is about expression and vibrancy. It enhances a simple scheme and increases the usability of a room. Like nature, pattern isn’t something to be afraid of, use it to make you feel good, be empowered by flowers. Happy 2014.

wallpaper sample images – osborne and little
roomset images – sandberg
with thanks