Have you noticed how many brands/companies are jumping on the grey train at the moment? Don’t get me wrong, I really like grey as a colour but getting the right shade is as hard as finding the right pink – some are so pigmented that the intensity becomes overwhelming. Grey is the same. If a shade of grey is too intense it absorbs all the light from a scheme and becomes oppressive – to pull that off the lighting, both natural and artificial has to be fabulous – and you need to be very confident in your handling of it.

informal and confident

Most of us are a little more circumspect when it comes to a colour choice and after watching The Great Interior Design Challenge ( I was interested to see that almost all of the amateur designers chose grey as the base of the colour palette for their projects. Because grey is a very fashionable colour right now I imagine this choice was to show that they understood the current trends, but many clients are not interested in trends in interiors – or fashion for that matter – and in a programme where the competitors are putting a scheme together for a client, understanding what they want is more important than fashion. This programme also set a budget of £1000 per scheme and I can’t imagine any homeowner limiting themselves to this amount if they were going to change the curtaining, fireplace or furniture to achieve the look they wanted. In real homes putting a scheme together is much more organic than that – if you can’t have what you want immediately, you do what you can and wait until finances allow for it to be completed. It’s really disappointing that the BBC have yet again given us a programme that doesn’t represent the true role of an interior designer… And what is that I hear you ask?

The role of an interior designer is to interpret your lifestyle and your taste and turn that into a vision for your home that reflects your personality and needs. Sometimes this involves structural changes and a reconfiguration of the space and yes, there are times when a designer will try and push you to extend that vision – usually because the client can’t quite visualise the end result – but never have I met an interior designer who assumes that the client will ‘bend to their will’ and accept a scheme that they’re unsure of. In the real world, the client is paying for this, after all!

fired earth greys

So, back to the task at hand, choosing grey as the base colour of your palette. Never, ever choose a colour because it’s trendy. You have to love the colour that you’re about to put on your walls, it has to uplift, soothe or excite you otherwise when the next big trend is unveiled you’ll feel dissatisfied that you somehow got it wrong – and there is nothing wrong in creating a scheme around something that you love. Though a word of advice, if you do like to redecorate regularly and you’ve based all the accessories around a certain colour scheme, then every time you see something you like you’ll either have to start again or end up with a scheme that is a jumble of colour and styles. That room will cease to have any cohesion and more importantly it will make you feel unsettled.

We all know the phrase less is more and in the search for a home that has a sense of order and serenity, editing your possessions is as much a part of creating the scheme as choosing the colour. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean it will work with all the other things you like as well! I’m thinking of those wardrobe dramas we all go through – some clothes just don’t go with each other – and the same is true in our homes. The trick here is to choose items and colours from the selection of things you do like that work with each other and put the ones that don’t to one side. You have to be tough on yourself sometimes and grey is a colour that suggests restraint! To use it successfully, you have to observe some unconscious rules.

modern simplicity

Grey is thought to be a formal, no nonsense colour; it’s also considered middle of the road and not particularly exciting – and it’s still linked with battleships and depression! With all these weighty associations, grey works best, in whatever intensity, if it is allowed to be a feature, which is why I’ve mentioned editing your possessions. It will cast a quiet spell over a room and soothe your surroundings, but it needs space and light to achieve this. Putting it somewhere that it isn’t allowed to create a sense of calm will make you feel on edge. And choose a shade that works with your possessions, don’t assume that because it’s a mix of black and white that it will go with everything. As with all modern paint mixes, there are other pigments added to the composition and greys can be warm (mixed with tones from the red,orange, yellow end of the colour wheel) or cool (mixed with tones from the green,blue,purple end of the colour wheel) which is why some greys feel frosty and others murky.

various grey shades

So, when you’re selecting a paint colour, do not simply look at a colour chart and say ‘this is it’, get several tester pots and deliberately select some that are lighter or darker than you think you want to go. Get a roll of lining paper and paint up some large rectangles of colour. Pin them in various parts of the room to see how the light affects them. Why? Because you can’t tell how a colour will look on the wall in your home; the lighting is different to the showroom and the direction your room faces will affect the quality of natural light that enters the room during the day. In the Northern hemisphere, rooms that face north have a colder visual tone than do south facing rooms. The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere, obviously. Some colours are completely different at night and the corners of a room give an intensity to a colour that you might not be expecting. This is where you’ll notice if a colour is going to overwhelm you because ‘the walls feel like they’re coming in’ so often a lighter shade will be more suitable for the space. And don’t forget, if you’re looking for a colour that is moody and dramatic, you’ll need to really embrace that depth of colour and almost over emphasise it by balancing the other components in the scheme.

dramatic wall colour

Sometimes it’s more practical to use grey as an accent colour, which sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me. If you’ve already selected furniture and curtaining that doesn’t quite work with grey (other neutrals are especially difficult this way), you may feel that the colour change is unsettling – so introduce things like lamp bases and vases, paint some shelves or even put a rug on the floor that will give a bit of ‘tonal clash.’ This will accentuate the other colours in the scheme. It’s a more subtle way of getting a colour to pop and allows you to use grey as the anchor. It’s also less labour intensive and if you really do have to be totally ‘on trend’ (ridiculous phrase) you can do the same thing with a different colour next season!

painted furniture

certain images – with thanks

Glass Half Full

It wasn’t many years ago that glass was considered to be a difficult and limiting material to work with, but that really isn’t the case any longer. Given that the options available to homeowners who want to extend their properties or to improve the windows, doors and general light source in their homes are enormous, it would seem that people are completely willing to try ‘new’ materials.

glass extension

It’s obvious that technology has played its part – and we are much more knowledgeable as customers – because of it. But it isn’t just the internet that has improved the credentials of glass as a material; it is now a highly technical product. New gasses inside sealed unit double glazing has improved thermal efficiency and made heat loss through the window almost a thing of the past (if the same double glazed windows are fitted throughout the property.) ‘Low e’ glass bounces back UV light in the summer and retains warmth in the winter. Suddenly conservatory roofs keep a snow cover and can even clean themselves! The advent of motorised window blinds that are installed inside the double glazing also enables you to completely block out light – without having to maintain the fabric of the blind because it never comes in contact with any dust or grubby finger tips. For a roof light, that is a real step forward!

window blinds

And there are structural uses too that have crept across to domestic usage from the commercial world.

Glass, which has been used as splash backs and work surfaces for quite some time, is now being used as balustrading, flooring and as stair treads, cheating the eye into thinking that the building is without boundary. Because of its simplicity, glass has an uncluttered look and is now high up the list of ‘must have’ features when considering the options of new fit outs.

glass stair treads and bannister

glass stair treads and bannister

So apart from its good looks, what makes it a desirable material to work with in a domestic interior? It’s rigid, it’s very precise, it’s easy to clean, it doesn’t harbour bacteria, it can be recycled, it can be decorated – painted, sandblasted or etched – but it has to be admitted, it really throws up problems in production!

It has to be templated to get the accuracy of fit precise. For many specialist uses, it has to be toughened and any cuts, or drill holes have to be done before the toughening process. If something is forgotten, the whole job has to be done again! Even toughened glass is still vulnerable to stress, if something presses a constant weight onto one small area of the glass, it can blow and shatter into a thousand tiny cube like pieces. It’s heavy! And has to be supported.

work surface splash back

work surface splash back

In smaller pieces, say a metre or less in height, the up stand of a work surface will do that job nicely, but if you’ve opted for a glass ‘splash back’ in your shower instead of the more conventional tile, it has to have a solid base. If you’ve decided to tank the room and do away with a shower tray, what then? A mechanical support will have to be inserted. This can be quite simple and involve the inclusion of a right angle trim to support the lower edge. It’s virtually invisible when the glass is in place, but in fitting it the the wall, the fixings will pierce the tanking membrane and that too will have to be sealed otherwise the warranty on your method of tanking will be void. (The reason this is so important is that water finds its way and is the cause of so much accidental damage within the home that documentation supporting your work is vital to protect you against any variation to your insurance policy.)

full height shower splash back

full height shower splash back

Getting the glass fitted is another stressful business. Because of its weight, many hands are required to manoeuvre it into place. Sometimes a bracing system will have to be employed until the mastic used as an adhesive is set and this can take a number of days to go off.

There is more to consider than just how it looks! But that’s not to suggest you should avoid using it. Glass delivers a high impact solution. In being so simple it gives a major WOW factor – but the process involved to achieve that is not for the faint hearted which means homework is required – even for people who have worked with it before.

inspiration for replacement balustrade

I’m currently involved in replacing a rather nasty wooden balustrade on a first floor landing with two glass panels and a wooden ‘hand-cap’. That doesn’t sound terribly difficult, BUT how do you support it? In a vertical sheet, glass has a flex to it that is anything but rigid. We investigated channels in the floor and a brace at one end that would return to the wall. It all sounded completely doable, but the supplier arrived on site and totally backtracked on everything that he’d quoted for. Back to the drawing board! We investigated taking the glass lower and attaching it to the cover board of the floor joists, again that sounded completely doable. But the templating team failed to turn up! So, because the client has paid a deposit, we are committed and will have to follow through.

My lesson in this? Do not EVER let your client’s enthusiasm drive the project. I should have said ‘we go no further until all the quotes are in’. Usually that’s what I would do, but this job was already nearing completion and if the workmen had pulled off site, we’d have had problems rescheduling this portion of the job. In hindsight (oh how I hate that phrase – I should know better!) the whole landing refurb should have been scheduled for a later date! Ah well. Pictures will follow when the balustrade is complete and, I digress!

If you feel you are able to take on a project that has glass as a major component, remember:

Access – how will the glass be fitted, can it be lifted into place easily?
Support – what will it sit on, can the floor take the additional weight?
Type of glass and thickness – is it to be toughened, do you want it to have a green tint or not?
Details – drill holes and cuts – note this on the order sheet and check the locations.
Decoration – include any paint references or embellishments on the job sheet.
Precise instructions – make sure the glass supplier has a site visit and templates the area that the glass is cladding.
Waterproofing – seal all the joins and any mechanical support used.

A local glass merchant might not be up to the level of specification you need for something like this – but there is no harm in asking and it helps to know that the costs can be vastly different from one supplier to another.

verre eglomise treatment on reverse of glass

verre eglomise treatment on reverse of glass

But this is where specialist knowledge does pay off. If you are nervous of taking responsibility for this type of project, use someone who can supply and fit and deliver the whole project from start to finish. What this means is if anything goes wrong at any point of the process, you can come back to them. It is their risk, not yours, because you have paid them to take the responsibility for every aspect of the job.

And once you’ve got over the trauma of the fitting, you will love it so much that you’ll forget how stressful the process was!

Detective Work

Let’s be honest, some houses get mucked about and others don’t. When all the period features have been removed, a house doesn’t look ‘modern’ it looks unloved. And I’d go so far as to say its a violation, like ripping out someone fingernails! In any era of building, there are signature features that give you clues to how the blank canvas of your home should look. If you have a hankering for a period fireplace, or replacing cornicing or even doors to return some of the character it once, finding a starting point is not as difficult as you might think.

victorian features

There will always be someone in your street who hasn’t done a thing to their house in all the time they’ve lived there! I was lucky enough to live in a house like that a few years ago; every room had a fireplace, all the ceiling roses were intact, all the panelled door were in place, every window was a sash window, even the hallway ceiling had its corbels and bosses. We felt very lucky to have so much of the original fabric of our home intact – and we had neighbours traipsing through to see what their homes should have had! It was a real talking point, we got to know a lot more people in our street and it was fun to know that they too, wanted to look after the history of their home, while creating a functional interior suitable for twenty-first century life.

ceiling rose, cornicing, picture rail and skirting

ceiling rose, cornicing, picture rail and skirting

The two are not mutually exclusive. Any home can be a state of the art example of modernity, but why should it lose its history to become one? What I’m talking about is placing our modern life within a frame of the past. It’s a bit like the saying ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints,’ we can choose to tread lightly on our homes and to leave them with the sense of identity that they had when they were created. Having that sort of respect for our built environment doesn’t stop us creating a modern home, but is does preserve our architectural heritage – and reduces the amount of waste destined for landfill – because there are builders out there who have no interest in sharing the ‘wealth’ and will simply jettison anything removed from a site regardless of its value to other homeowners.

1 cornicing, 2 picture rail, 3 dado rail, 4 skirting, 5 panelled door

1 cornicing, 2 picture rail, 3 dado rail, 4 skirting, 5 panelled door

So what clues can you find simply by looking around your home? Does the wall have ridges at waist height? If it does, then at some point in its history, it had a dado rail. If the wall has ridges higher up, above the door frame, then it probably had a picture rail. Are there ridges lower down, just above the skirting board? If there are, then the skirting board has been replaced with something of a narrower width.

Have the doors got a thin layer of hardboard tacked to the face of them? At some point someone might have decided that they didn’t like the panelled doors and covered them over.

Does the ceiling have ridges running around the edges of the room? If it does then at some point your room had cornicing. If there’s a circular ridge in the centre of the ceiling, then it had a ceiling rose too.

Does the carpet sit unevenly in front of the chimney breast (the shallow ‘boxed’ area that comes forward from the main wall) then you may have an original hearth underneath, letting you know that there was once a fireplace in this area. If the wall sounds ‘hollow’ when you tap it above the hearth, you probably still have the fireplace opening intact as well. Does the surface of the hall floor feel very ‘hard’ under the carpet? You may have a tessellated tile floor underneath.

half glazed internal doors, corbels and parquet flooring

half glazed internal doors, corbels and parquet flooring

None of these features may be to your taste, but they can provide you with the evidence of the period details that your home should have – and within that remit, you’ll probably find a style that will be to your taste – and give you a lead to follow.

So, if an interior had a dado and a picture rail, panelled doors, cornicing, ceiling roses and tessellated tile floors, you wouldn’t be too far off the money to think you should start looking for Victorian period details.

As it’s a very common era for buildings in the UK, this is where social history starts to overlap with the identity of our homes. The Victorians were becoming more prosperous and wanted to display their status in the decoration of their dwellings. And happily replacement pieces can be found in a myriad of places – ebay for one, but the downside of ebay is having to collect the items from the vendor! Most will insist on collection only and that puts the pressure on you (I wrote a post last summer about reclaimed radiators that we sold on ebay, watching those buyers manhandle the rads into their cars – and we had builders on site to help out – was not a thing of beauty), also most people selling domestic salvage know very little about the items in practical terms, so if you want to know about its ‘working order’ they will only be able to give you superficial information. In most cases this isn’t a problem, but with anything electrical, I would always suggest you have a purchase checked over for compliance to the current regulations and rewire as necessary.

Generally you will find the prices more reasonable out of town too, so when you consider reintroducing period details, take a trip to the country – Suffolk and Nottinghamshire are two areas in easy distance of London that have a wealth of small dealers and also junky type places that you will have a wonderful time hunting through – and they’ll arrange the carriage of any big pieces!

stained glass door using original central roundel with a modern setting

stained glass door using original central roundel with a modern setting

Refurbishment, like any new interest or passion, can take over your life! And it’ll influence the choices you make for your home. Watching any television restoration programme will show you that.

Channel 4 the Restoration Man

Channel 4 the Restoration Man

On The Restoration Man, every episode, George Clark shows a homeowner that is so passionate about their building that they can’t quite balance practicality with affection, or finance. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as this and in reality, it usually isn’t – so don’t be put off – breaking your project down into smaller chunks is a good way to get used to the refurbishment process.

The important thing to remember is how you will live in that space. There is no point being a slave to your home if you will find the care and attention you’ve paid to it limits the way you now use the interior. For example, a period bathroom is not going to measure up to our current ideas of comfort and efficiency – after a trip to Burgh Island some years ago (the Art Deco island hotel off the coast of Devon – stunning place) I quickly decided that period bathrooms were less than fabulous, and for that to be my lasting memory of a wonderful weekend is a shame.

some images from – with thanks