Something’s Afoot

We all like to have something nice underfoot, don’t we? Something soft and level, something warm and easy to move about on. It’s a completely subconscious thing this checking to make sure we’re walking on even ground. We don’t even realise it but our feet act as warning systems to stop us from injuring ourselves. If we feel off balance, we stop or throw our arms out. Around the home we take for granted that we’re on level footing, but when carpet gets a bit old and threadbare, you’re not on safe ground. Suddenly ‘watch your step’ and ‘mind how you go’ have a real meaning other than the catch phrase of the overly cautious. I bet you never really took notice of those platitudes before, but when your home is a building site and the floor in particular is affected, being cautious and looking at your feet become essential for staying safe. When your home is in that state, (the space under your floorboards is a real eye opener and not in a good way) it’s really hard to imagine it all being complete and back to normal again, but part of the process is having to plan for the finish, to get the area measured and to select the flooring that will most suit your space.

flooring textures

In bedrooms I have to admit carpet feels lovely underfoot. And my most recent project the master bedroom and ensuite wanted something that ‘did not look like a hotel.’ Both of them work abroad regularly and this aversion to hotels has become a defining voice throughout the job. Not only did they want the ensuite to be luxurious – because they’ve spent so much time in hotels – they wanted it to be more specific to their home (hence the sloping ceiling). So how we treated the bedroom suite was a very personal process. They wanted a more understated feel, something comfortable and welcoming, but ultimately of good quality and a high level of finish. And we decided that carpet in the bedroom and dressing area was one way to achieve that.

Most often when I’m looking for carpets I go the wool route and plan a high woollen content. But recently I’ve seen carpet that’s been attacked by moths because it has a high wool content! London seems to have had a few years where moth larvae have been out of control and not only do they attack clothing, in a dimly lit corner your carpet will also provide many happy hours of munching! How depressing. If it’s a dimly lit corner its likely to be somewhere you don’t disturb very often – like under the bed or other furniture, or around the cupboards and because of that when you do decide to move things round you’re left with an unsightly bald patch. It also appears that household insurance doesn’t cover this type of damage because moths come under the heading of vermin. So with this level of information I decided to start afresh and find a product that would look good and be unattractive to insects.

No, I didn’t even consider a nylon carpet.

final selection

But the samples that caught my eye were man made! Polypropylene carpet has come a long way since I first saw it on the market. This time round, the fibre is soft and tactile. The pile is dense and luxurious. So much so I first thought it was a silk based product because the fibres have a lustre to them. It feels nice and doesn’t create static, it’s naturally repellent to stains – and to insects – and it’s about 30% cheaper than a wool carpet! That’s one way to get my attention… Very interesting indeed. And when I put the wool velvet carpet beside the Luxelle as its called, the wool looked much less expensive – and uninteresting.

carpet choices

One of the last pieces of the design puzzle is the carpet. So getting down to this choice happened while the space was in a complete uproar, but it’s important to get the room measured professionally – even if it’s a building site – and to be guided by their findings, because it is a specialist trade and mistakes can be made.

Especially if the fitters misunderstand the brief.

If your quote has been written for a carpet join in a specific area, stick with that – don’t vary from the arrangements. This is what we had happen and the carpet – surprise surprise – is having to be replaced! Carpet comes in 4 metre and 5 metre widths (what is known as broadloom) so the calculations for the space are tabulated on the area that most easily fits within either of those widths. If the room is wider than that as our bedroom/dressing area space is, a join has to be factored in. I’d signed off on the quote to have the joins in the chimney breast alcoves, but the carpet fitters came to me and said they could hide the join at the wardrobe end because the wardrobes would cover it.

alcove units

Firstly, if the carpet measure had shown that this was possible, that is what the quote would have provided for, secondly the carpet fitters had plucked a wardrobe measurement out of the air (it wasn’t on the quote and they did not ask me) so now we have a join that can not be hidden 5cm in front of the wardrobes. Do I need to tell you that the clients aren’t happy?? It’s a mystery to me how something like this can happen but what I do know is that there are now so many versions of the story that it really is impossible to work out who is to blame. This is the true meaning of ‘too late to change your mind’ and for that I have to take some of the responsibility. Thinking about it, it’s a case of over complicating a situation that wasn’t actually a problem – and in the process making things a lot worse!

By the way if you’ve ever had any moth damage in your home, apparently May is the time they lay their eggs, so get hoovering now, pull out all the furniture, shake up the lavender bags in your drawers, declutter and freshen the dark corners with a lavender spray.

E-Design the Boho-Glam Way

In my last post I had a bit of a moan about Pinterest, but don’t get me wrong, there are many great ways that an online mood board can really make life easier for you. If you have a wealth of ideas, or have seen so many things that you like and just can’t narrow down the selection, having someone shine a spotlight on one specific style and create a scheme for you that allows you to do the shopping as and when you want, could be a real lifesaver.

One of my blogging friends, Kimberly, who’s been really insightful and offered great advice to me over the last year has recently set up an online design service via her blog Swoonworthy. She will put together a design scheme for you remotely by creating a mood board with all the component details for your room, including the where to buy links and contact information. All you have to do is fill out her key points questionnaire, supply her with photographs of the space you need help with and she’ll do her magic to help you transform the room into something you can be proud of.

Swoon Worthy bathroom redesign v2

The beauty of this idea is that you have a complete guide to how the room will look, but you can put things into action at your own pace as time and funds allow. And even better, if you struggle to come up with the ideas, this could be a great way to kick start your design inspiration. Sometimes having one room decided upon is the catalyst for everything else – its the getting started that seems the hardest part.

refining the look

As Kimberly has recently stepped down as the editor of AO at Home – the blog for AO – she has a wealth of product information at her fingertips and a real interest in what is current and on trend to create the look. I’ve been following Swoonworthy for the last year and have really enjoyed reading about the DIY escapades that Kimberly and Wayne get up to – its fun to see someone else’s home take shape when you’re pausing between projects yourself. Kimberly calls her style Boho Glam; it’s exuberant, colourful and well styled. It’s a balanced approach to the home with each piece being considered and then offset by a companion piece. So there’s lots to look at and plenty of texture. What I love is that it embraces the idea of creating a look that is personal – if you love gold details, go gold with everything, be bold, be loud, have fun. It’s all about self expression – so not really for the minimalists amongst us. But the other thing it does is allow you to see how things fit together without having to commit to the purchases in advance and as a tool that can be very reassuring.

kimberly's dining room

Designing an interior space can be hard work and with so much choice available to us, it’s very easy to be side tracked. Keeping sight of your original inspiration is important if you want to pull a scheme together that says something about your personality and style. So it’s very important to edit ideas, to evaluate each new piece that catches your eye. Does it take you away from the look you want to achieve or work in harmony with the other choices you’ve made? Also, remember the constraints of the space, you’ll have to be strict with yourself. If you forget that the tiles can only be so thick and fall for something that will mean the floor has to be replaced to allow for the extra thickness, you’ve added to the cost, but not to the look. Having someone else put together the scheme for you will enable you to stay focused on the main elements of the space – it’ll keep you on track, a bit like SatNav for the home.

dressing room

So, when you give Kimberly your brief, remember to tell her if there are any limitations to the room that you can’t do anything about. Tell her how high the ceiling is and which way the room faces. Tell her how many sockets there are and if you’re planning on doing any additional work to the room as part of the refurbishment. Then you can put everything into action at your own pace – its going to look great!

swoonworthy landing page

Pinterest – the Site I Love to Hate

I do love Pinterest, I do. I love updating my boards and uploading new pictures of work I’ve done or places I’ve been. I love scrolling through all the images, its like a magazine of inspiration that I don’t have to recycle when I’m bored with it. Because images are constantly being uploaded, there is always something new to look at. I’ve had a Pinterest account since 2012, it was a New Years thing – must sign up for Pinterest – and in those days uploads took ages, sometimes they came in sideways and you never quite knew how much of the picture would be visible. Things are very different now and that is both good and bad.

vintage inspired pinterest board

To start with Pinterest was used by people who had an interest in design; it was first developed in 2009 as a closed community. It became a publicly accessible site in 2010. You had to ask for an invite to register and I think it still took a few weeks before mine was processed at the beginning of 2012. I remember being very excited when I could actually create a board for the first time! It was quite an arty site, with lots of vintage styling, lots of handcrafts, lots of DIY. That much hasn’t changed. Everyone was very proud of their posts and a bit shy to add information, its not like that anymore.

hand crafts board

Now the deluge of stored images in just about every category is mind boggling. And the way Pinterest refers to itself has changed too; its a BOOKMARKING site, a way to remember where you’ve seen something and to store it with other common images personal to your taste, so if you’re looking for hair styles for a party, you can scroll through pages and pages of styles and pin them to a board you’ve created called ‘Party Hairdo’s.’ You can access it anytime you visit Pinterest and if the pinner has linked it to a site, you can watch tutorials about how to create the look. That’s all quite exciting and user friendly. But what if you use it as a tool to research other peoples design choices, their wish lists, the absolute must haves for their new home?

home decor

Let’s say for example, that you’ve created a board called ‘New House.’ You’ve pinned wonderful images of all the things you’d like to incorporate in your new home. They give a really good feel of the look you want to achieve and the style you’ve fallen in love with. What happens, though if you’ve pinned images for a kitchen that you want to refurbish and what happens when you try to find out where the items of the fit out that you love come from? Its almost impossible to trace them. Unless they’ve been pinned by the supplier the process of re-pinning generally has no information about the actual image – because when you upload you’re invited to ‘say something about this image.’ No-one ever says, cooker by Smeg, lights by Mr Light, they say ‘love this idea, great retro look.’ Thanks.

my style

And that is why I hate Pinterest. My clients often have boards which they share with me. Its great to get the feel of what they want to achieve and the MOOD they’re trying to create. But then I have to find the items that they’ve seen; source the products that they’ve fallen in love with, there is no bigger haystack than the world wide web!

black taps

I’ve spent days sourcing black taps for a bathroom – and was very proud of the fact that I found some (all the metal-ware in fact, everything except the WC flush) – at an exorbitant price that I knew the client wouldn’t go for. And what about paint colours? ARGH. They never stay true, every computer has a slightly different colour screen, so sourcing the company that created that particular shade is especially daunting – when you don’t even know which country the image originated from. So how do I charge out for time spent tracking down a Pinterest wish list?


As my last three jobs have involved a Pinterest board, this is becoming more regularly a part of my job. It gives me a very good idea of what I’m looking for – but it doesn’t speed up the process. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s quicker for me to guess what the client might like and visit showrooms for actual product information! And here’s the thing I can’t control, the disappointment the client feels when I say that the look they want is staggeringly expensive to recreate – I had it happen so many times on one job that they became quite defensive when I suggested we look at a local supplier instead.

And this is my point, Pinterest is about the pictures but there’s less information with them than in a magazine. It isn’t a selling medium, there’s no shopping basket and although some images are linked to selling pages, for the most part the reason they look so enticing is because they still retain that sense of mystery. “Whose house is this, who took the pictures, what does the rest of the house look like?” They’re just that little bit out of reach, goading you into defining how you want your home to look, but like a fairy tale, the minute you try and get closer, you find it’s all smoke and mirrors.

By the way, I’ve since been told about a Google image search that tracks the image to its original upload – I have a feeling I’ll be using that quite a lot!

homes and interiors

Animated Discussion

I don’t know about you, but winter always seems to inspire a more sophisticated approach to decoration and when the weather becomes joyous and sunny, I’m looking for something more light hearted and witty. Recently, I was asked if I would write an article for about decorating styles that would be suitable for a family home. I got to thinking about how animals feature so heavily in children’s literature, in films and in their toys. And when you pay attention, these same motifs are everywhere in home decor collections. And they’re not aimed at children.

So, let’s put the family category aside – because that’s not my focus on Putting the Love In – the same motifs have a charm and wit that may at first seem an unusual choice, especially if you live in an urban area, right? Wrong. By definition an animal motif is neither a floral nor a pattern nor a plain; they work with spots, stripes and checks. So, they don’t fight with any of the preconceived partners to pattern. Animal motifs can be teamed with any of these designs and instead of feeling out of place, add a general sense of whimsy to the scheme. They almost heighten the drama of the effect.

As a device to add character, the designers have pulled their punches, putting an animal – and I include birds and fish in this genre – on a cushion or a wallpaper is an instant focal point. And the good thing about that is that the design style of the animal motif can lead you into the scheme – if the cushions are linen with a ‘hand painted’ motif, then right away you can favour plaid and tweed in the fabric choices – suddenly you’re in the heart of the countryside. Or if the motif is more stylised, you can opt for a more urban look or pared back feel and team them with leather, sheepskin and metal.

country fabric textures

In the planning phase of a scheme, when you are surrounded by a sea of fabric and paint samples, something that helps you narrow the decision is a good thing. Often the starting point is the absolute hardest choice. So, I want you to be analytical, if when you’re looking at your array of samples you have a number of different patterns that you can’t decide between, will you feel happy if you only choose one? And do they fight with each other because they’re all on a similar scale size-wise? Introducing an animal motif will allow you to unite different patterns, it will give you the scale and you will then be able to see what needs to be smaller and what can be larger. It’s also a good way of trying out a style that you’re nervous about (by that I mean a sofa style that seems very grown up or is a statement piece), an animal motif makes the scheme less serious, more exuberant and more approachable – no-one is going to feel reluctant to sit on a sofa that has a dog cushion in residence!

Ok, so cushions and accessories are fine but wallpaper is an expensive way to add character, I hear you say. Is it, if it allows you to introduce other patterns and styles as part of the scheme? Anything that adds a witty edge is going to be a talking point and something that allows you to downplay – or feature – other things within your scheme will really prove its worth. This is the way to enhance a space that has flaws and as with all wallpaper, it will wear better than a paint colour, hiding the knocks and bumps of every day life quite successfully for much longer. If your furniture tastes are for the simple and chunky then an animal motif will balance that solidity because the unusual nature of the design will offer a visual contrast. And while I appreciate that not everyone is as captivated by florals as I am, a scheme that is simply based on plains will feel very impersonal – clinical even – so the design houses have been quite astute creating a genre that allows their clients the scope to incorporate a motif that doesn’t restrict the use of other pattern.

What I’m saying is that no home is perfect and knowing you can use a device like a visual motif to deflect attention from the weak points is going to give you back a sense of control and reduce your sleepless nights quite considerably! In a funny way an animal motif will actually help you define your direction – without limiting the scheme by period or style – because they’re as at home with vintage finds as they are with Scandi-modern.

dog felted cushion

Sometimes when a project takes a long time to come together, it is easy to forget that your interior is supposed to be a reflection of your personality. Even the most serious minded of us will find a certain humour in life and who said that interior design is supposed to be a serious matter? There is always room for wit and charm, something that makes you smile, something that lifts the heart. Finding a style that gives you so much back is worth exploring and embracing.

The thing is, animal motifs are a bold choice and perhaps that might be where the reservations stem from because a scheme that is witty, has charm, is a talking point and allows you to add other pattern and design to it, sounds just about the perfect way to enhance your living space – and for the wannabe pet owner, it’s certainly a cheaper alternative to the real thing.

That Lightbulb Moment

Ever since the regulations changed to phase out the old style tungsten and halogen light bulbs, lighting has become something of a minefield. I can’t remember the times that I’ve bought a replacement bulb to find that the quality of light it provides is pitiful. And the real irony is that I’m not looking for anything special, just a nice ambient light for a table lamp. Instead I get something that takes time to heat up (please, who can wait until the light is bright enough to be actually able to see?) is gloomy and really not up to the task of lighting an interior space – garden shed maybe, but I don’t intend to read, knit or sew out there!

We all understand the reasoning behind it – energy efficient bulbs create less heat output, use less energy, create less CO2, cost less to run and they last longer, what’s not to like? It is one area of green technology that is easy to use and offers a reduction (albeit small) on household bills that makes you feel like you’re ‘doing your bit.’ However, the first wave of efficiency was really anything but impressive and as so often happens with new technology, everyone jumped on the bandwagon only to discover that they didn’t really like the product. So please do yourself a favour and discard any of those appalling coiled bulbs that you still have hidden at home. They are now outdated! You can replace them for something MUCH better and still be green.

compact fluorescent light

compact fluorescent light

Lighting output is measured in lumens. This is the amount of light a bulb produces. We’ve all be educated to buy bulbs by wattage, which is the amount of energy a bulb consumes! We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing ever since domestic electrical supply was established! It seems bizarre to think that anyone would ever have lit their home based on how much energy they were using. Perhaps that was when each room had one light fitting? So, forget watts and energy consumption – the new lighting technologies have reduced that completely – and think about how much light you want in your room! To replace a 60watt bulb you need about 800 lumens, the higher the quantity of lumens, the more light you’ll have, so an old style 100watt bulb will need a bulb that produces about 1600 lumens and a 40watt bulb will require about 450 lumens.

lighting label

lighting label

The new bulbs also have mysterious codes like E27 – this is the diameter of the fitting they’re designed for! A standard screw fitting is 27mm wide and the small ones are 14mm – or E14, a bayonet fitting is a B22 and 22mm wide. You’d think there’d be a bit more information about changes made to the fittings we all think of as standard, considering the number of people involved in DIY!

When it comes to halogen bulbs, or what we call halogen – the bulbs needed for down lighters – many are now LED fittings. LED or Light Emitting Diodes are fittings made up of many tiny bulbs. Each tiny bulb lights in one direct only and creates a narrow beam; en masse they create what we call an LED bulb. They don’t have filaments – so don’t burn out or generate heat and they do have long lifetimes – this is the reason they have found such favour in recent years. The quality of light LED fittings now produce has improved greatly too – another area that the initial product didn’t quite deliver the goods. Because each fitting has loads of tiny bulbs, the light is created by bulbs of different colours, or a coloured reflector, resulting in fittings that are much closer to a natural tone. Many are now of a warm colour temperature and thus suitable for domestic use. You will need to shop around though as the lumen rating will be the best guide to the light output an LED fitting can give.

What is colour temperature? The visual quality of the light produced is either warm or cool and is categorised on the Kelvin scale in the same way as celsius and centigrade heat measurements are. It’s why the lighting in some rooms has an inviting feel and others are more harsh and unwelcoming. Colour Temperature is also linked to something called the Colour Rendering Index which is a scale of how true to natural a colour appears under different lighting sources. In the home we tend to favour warmer lighting, so knowing what the light output of a bulb is will make a difference to the quality of light you will have at home.

Finding the right colour of light is as annoying as discovering that the output is too low to be practical for anything other than a night light and this is why those hours spent standing in front of the lighting department at your local hardware store is frustrating beyond belief. So, to aid you in your mission to improve the lighting quality of your home, I am here to tell you that it is confusing making a decision on which bulb to choose. You are not alone!

The thing is we have all used light bulbs in our homes for the best part of a century and we are used to paying to replace them, why do we now worry about the cost of the individual bulb when it is going to last us for years? Our concern should be for the quality of light it will provide! There are 8,750 hours in a year and many bulbs are guaranteed to last 10,000 hours, so if you have your lighting on 24 hours a day, you’ll still only have to buy replacement bulbs once a year. Of course, the reality is more measured than that. In the winter, you may have your lighting on for 6-8 hours a day, that one light bulb will last you nearly three years! Putting up with a light quality you don’t like is going to be very annoying over that length of time, can you see what I’m getting at?

This bulb is called an Energy Saving Halogen, it is fully dimmable, has a lifetime of between 5000-10,000 hours and is a warm white in colour. These are the bulbs that I feel are most successful in a domestic environment for table lamps and pendant fittings because they have an attractive appearance as well. Call me old fashioned but I like a light bulb to be discreet, I don’t want it to look space age, I don’t want it to stand out, I just want it to provide light.

Unless of course, you want a bulb that is a feature in its own right – like this one.

Warm and Toasty

I know mid summer isn’t really the time that people think about their radiators, but when you’re doing up a property on a shoe-string, believe me, now is the time to look! And where better to start the search than a refurbishment that is removing items that don’t suit their taste?

reclaimed Edwardian radiator P1010278

Richard removed six of these Edwardian column radiators from a bungalow in South London and I know what you’re thinking – why?? They have so much more character than the modern panel rads, but for all their charm, these old rads are not as energy efficient. They were made before BTu’s were even considered and as a result, they can be fairly random in their heat output, which means you might not be able to rely on them as your main heat source. They also take up more space and refinishing them can be a real labour of love.

For all that, I think they really add something to a room, especially if you like a sculptural, industrial feel to you fittings. And Richard says that rubbing these back with a wire brush would be enough to give you a good surface for repainting in something like Hammerite, for a gunmetal appearance. If you want them professionally dipped, then obviously the costs are much higher, but this too, can be lower than buying off-the-peg modern column radiators, so it pays to do your homework. And that’s where eBay comes in! These are listed on eBay under Edwardian Column Radiators. The auction ends on the 11th August, so tell your friends, if they’re hunting for radiators that you have the perfect ‘find’ for them!