What Colour is Grey, Really?

When I was stripping wallpaper back in May, I discovered that the plaster walls in the master bedroom were pretty well intact, I really loved the subtle grey-toned colour and the wallpaper was very willing to come off and be disposed of. Just as well, because it was ‘not to my taste’!! One thing I did find though was that there had been an alteration made to the rear wall at some point. A door had been put in and then taken out – and made good rather badly. So I had this scarred surface very clearly visible in my bedroom and it was even more obvious after the decorators had sanded it back and filled the worst of it.

In the back of my mind I was thinking I could play around with some paint and see if I could disguise it at all.

Because the rewiring still has to be done in that part of the house, I didn’t want to go as far as getting the room fully redecorated. And because of that, I’m reconciled to the idea that I may not be able to keep the plaster walls, it’ll depend on how much making good needs to be done after the re-wiring happens. So this idea of disguising the worst of the imperfections has been simmering away and I woke up on Saturday deciding that today was the day…

First things first these walls look grey, don’t they? I thought I’d analysed the colour quite carefully, I could definitely see tiny particles of red oxide and burnt umber, but the overall impression was grey. A stone grey, so earthy toned, but a grey none-the-less. They so aren’t!! My grey whites – and I have so many tester pots I thought this’d be the easy part – were all way too sooty, or blue/green. So I added a grey-pink, too purple. Then I got out the colour charts and did a proper assessment and the overwhelming result was that the walls are almost apricot in tone! I was totally off beam with this… Suddenly you understand how tiny particles of seemingly unrelated colour contribute to the shade one can see – and grey is the most deceptive of all!.

A quick trip to the decorators merchants and I had a supply of colours delighting in the names of Clay, Portland Stone, Roman Plaster, Julie’s Dreams and Hollyhock. (https://www.littlegreene.com)

I started with the mid tones of Portland Stone – a grubby, sludge beige and Clay an ochre, yellow beige. These were my base. I cut a bath sponge into pieces about 3cm square and I sponged the colours on and mottled them together. Them I did the same with Julie’s Dreams, but leaving areas where it was much lighter in tone so that the effect was more open and then stippled in the Roman Plaster – a red oxide, to add depth and help it blend with the walls. Over this I stippled Hollyhock, a soft white.

I really had to work at this. If an area was too uniformly one colour, it looked flat and not at all like the walls surrounding it, if I overdid the blending it looked cloud-like.

In the end the layering of colour was totally random and it’s really just a happy accident that it looks the way it does! What I did discover when I repaired some other areas where there were patches of plaster (the chimney breast wall, which is now partially obscured by my wardrobe and some repairs around the door frame) is that I had made it much more difficult for myself with having used the grey paints before I assessed what colours I actually needed!

The pink plaster was much easier to disguise than the grey paint I had already used. Hmmm. So the paint effect on the exposed pink plaster was much quicker to achieve and looks much closer to the surrounding walls. When the wardrobe is pulled out at some stage I will do all of the area where the fireplace was removed and hopefully remember this!!

What I have now decided is that if the bedroom does have to be re-plastered in areas after the re-wiring is done, I don’t have to necessarily get rid of my plaster walls. I’m happy enough with my paint patching that I could do this again if required. Best buy more paint then…

Planning a Space

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to have your interior space work for you. Not only does it have to house all your belongings, it has to accommodate you, your family and visitors too and if you live in a period property the way it functions now will be very different to how it functioned when it was built.

A house I’m working on at the moment had a raft of alterations done to it about 16 years ago that modernised the property. The clients signed off on the plans and liked the work, but considering my brief, I’m not sure they were ever particularly happy with the function of the space afterwards. So it’s been an interesting task because what those improvements did has actually created problems that in rectifying, I’ve had to decide not to do anything with. I know, that sounds mad, but where steels have been put in, I’m leaving them; where windows have been fitted, I’m leaving them; where ceiling heights have been reduced, I’m leaving them and where soil stacks have been installed, I’m leaving them too.

Yes, I am actually planning on doing things to the house – in fact we’ve finished the first two phases and the final, most invasive scheme was kicked off at the end of January. The clients gave me the go-ahead to radically update the downstairs by putting back in a wall – a glazed wall – early in December. But more on that another time, the space just finished is a master bedroom suite and so far, it seems to be a success.

miranda bedroom

We started out with two adjacent rooms – the bedroom which was the full width of the house and overlooked the street and the ensuite which had been created by borrowing from and reconfiguring the bedroom behind it. The ensuite was also able to be accessed from the bedroom behind and I think when the family first moved in would have been a practical nursery for their new born son. But times have changed, the rear room is now a study and both parents have said how they wanted to have their room back – privacy was definitely a motivating factor in this redesign.

existing layout

At first I approached the layout in a very conventional way, left the ensuite where it was and just closed in the door to the rear bedroom/study, but the issues surrounding this were largely of storage and whichever way I looked at it, I couldn’t get enough wardrobe space by leaving it in the bedroom. It just didn’t feel very exciting, the bedroom would still be long and dominated by a wall of wardrobes. Yes, I do put together schemes that are simple and don’t involve a lot of building work – but they usually happen when the space is good to start with – and when the client wants a lot from a space, sometimes there is no choice but to spin it on its head.


That’s when I started to think about this annoying soil stack that had been installed from the upper floor and came down on the party wall through the master bedroom and the front entrance way! It wasn’t at all noticeable but it couldn’t be moved, so why not use it?? Why not spin the layout round and put the ensuite at the far end of the bedroom? That’d mean the old ensuite would become the dressing room and we could double the amount of wardrobe space, the mess would be out of the bedroom and the whole space would have a more intimate and enclosed feel to it.

new layout

I re-drew the space to see if it worked and it really did!

Usually there’s a point where all the thinking and the drawing comes to a natural conclusion – and I know I’ve got it right because I get all excited about it – I can see it in my mind. In this case, I wouldn’t have suggested putting in a new soil stack but because it was already there, I was able to take advantage of the location it was in – and in making that decision the whole scheme fit together like puzzle pieces.

creating the ensuite

creating the ensuite

creating the dressing room

creating the dressing room

Yes, it has created a smaller bedroom, but it is one that is focused solely on sleep and relaxation. It has a serenity to it; a sense of calmness. There used to be two entrances to the bedroom before, now there is only one. It’s become a destination instead of a corridor and each piece of furniture in there enhances that feeling of peace. The ensuite has that same sense of tranquility too – and this really is a small space. These are all issues to consider when you’re planning a bedroom suite. How much time do you really spend in your bedroom as an adult? In your own home, not that much! So the important function is to promote rest and allow you to start the new day refreshed. It’s worth considering the surrounding rooms if you want to get the space right, but most importantly, take advantage of what you already have. Don’t make something that can’t be moved a negative, instead make the things you can’t change a ‘feature’ or at the very least the pivot for changing the way you think about the room.

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard


miranda's bedroom

A Kitchen/Diner conversion

It’s the moment of truth. The kitchen has arrived! My clients placed the order back in March and finally, after a 10 week lead time, it is here. The space was created from two rooms – a small, unimaginative kitchen and a larger more conventional dining room. We’ve taken the wall out between the two and squeezed in a downstairs WC too, but it hasn’t been the most straightforward of processes – even though there was nothing to really cause concern. We knew we needed structural support because we also removed the old chimney breast to allow for a continuous run of units on the long wall. We knew that we needed to support a door opening we moved and we also removed the whole back wall to fit bifold doors, but all of these jobs are standard procedures in todays kitchen conversion.

the wall is out but not the chimney breast

the wall is out but not the chimney breast

the chimney is out and the stud work for the WC is in

the chimney is out and the stud work for the WC is in

And yet we had the council (Lambeth at its absolute finest yet again) jumping up and down about substack drains and not signing off the steel work because the DS hadn’t seen the drawings. Considering I’d taken in the drawings at the time of applying for building control, it was all farcical – especially when I found out that the inspector assigned to this job had been on holiday and it was someone else covering his jobs. I spent a week on hold with Building Control to speak to the right person and when we finally got the right guy on site, he was totally in agreement that we’d been asked to do things that weren’t necessary – and were wasting his, ours and the clients time!

the substack drain - that we didn't need

the substack drain – that we didn’t need

That was Easter – so much has changed since then! The kitchen company have taken the plans for the space and created something which will look wonderful. I haven’t specified the kitchen on this job; I’ve been devil’s advocate, because I’ve continued to work on the rest of the house while the kitchen has gone through the design process. It’s actually been interesting being one step removed; there are so many little things that have had to be decided because the kitchen company have simply said ‘it has to be like this.’ My usual position is that the building will throw up problems that you have to work with – and in agreement with the clients – that defines the space. As none of this job has been new build – it’s all within the footprint of the existing house – we haven’t had the luxury of increasing ceiling heights or extending rooms to accommodate the kitchen. It has all had to be designed around what we had to work with. And I’ve been pretty happy with how the drawings shaped up. With the bifold doors framing the garden, the space has such a connection with the outside, it has a 3D effect somehow. But of course this space is about the kitchen and inevitably the conversations were more to do with the problems of shoehorning an appliance into the room than how much space we’d created.

the opening for the bifold doors

the opening for the bifold doors

the bifold doors are in

the bifold doors are in

This has been a collaborative process too, with the clients actively involved in the choice of everything from appliances to sockets to door handles. Very often I include this type of detail on the sample boards and the client simply approves what I’ve suggested. On this job it’s all been sourced and signed off after many discussions, so there has been extra time involved and there have also been a few moments when things didn’t get discussed with the right person.

the bathroom kitchen

the bathroom kitchen

new space temporary kitchen

new space temporary kitchen

But for the most part the project has gone well – if not straightforward. Why do I say that? Because the scope of the project has grown and become the entire house. We knew that the clients wanted to do this but scheduling that amount of work is always difficult when you have the clients living in the building. The space they have to live in gets taken over by the need to store items away from the build area and any temporary fit out is constantly moving to allow for any work needing to be done in that area. This creates additional work for the team – for example the clients have needed a temporary kitchen throughout the process – the first was in the old kitchen, the second was in the hall, the third was in the first floor bathroom, the fourth was in the new kitchen, the fifth is currently in the front room. That means the old cooker, fridge and washing machine have been carted up and down stairs as have all the pans, utensils and crockery. This is a lot of work. And don’t get me wrong the results will be fabulous, but what it means in real terms is that our time on site is spent trying to co-ordinate the arrival of deliveries so as not to overwhelm a space that is already bursting at the seams.

the kitchen arrives

the kitchen arrives


So, it became apparent yesterday when the kitchen arrived that our team would not be able to carry on working downstairs. They can’t go into or through the kitchen because it is piled high with boxed up units and appliances. Right now there is plenty to do on the first floor, but not being able to get the rear of the house or the patio finished is an added annoyance because any waste will now have to be carried through the brand new kitchen. Grrr.

Anyway, it is what it is. The work will soon be finished and the irritation will fade because the one thing you learn in this industry is that there will always be glitches and changes to plans – and it won’t in any way affect the finished product. It just might take longer.

A Sense of Calm

Ensuite bedrooms have to work hard, which is a strange thing to say about a room that largely revolves around the unconscious state. But, think about it. Because they’re often used by two people, the space has to function for both of them as well as providing a quiet place to sleep and easy access to the bathroom. When you add a dressing room function as well, the space has to prove itself up to the job. And that means there’s a lot at stake for the client. They have an equal share in the restorative value of the room – so they both need to feel at ease in the space. The level of comfort has to be suitable for both of them and it needs to reflect their combined taste and lifestyle. There’s a lot to consider in a master bedroom.

master bedroom

The last master bedroom suite I worked on was not without its problems as a project – delays in deliveries, carpet cut to the wrong size and a work force who didn’t quite feel any time pressure. In a bid to be efficient, Rich and I used a second team – he was having surgery on his ankle – but this was a big learning experience for us, because they did not work the way we did. We had communication issues, builders losing their temper and yelling at other members of the team, threatening to pull off the job and asking for more money. It was more soap opera than refurb project and it was hard work. It really made me realise just how lucky I am to work with a good contractor, one who thinks things through and is good at problem solving. You would think that these would be qualities all building contractors would possess – I can tell you, they do not!

through to the bedroom

Eight months on, the pain has been forgotten and the bedroom suite has a sense of gentle luxury. It’s quiet, both in colour and in sound. It’s uncomplicated, the furniture all matches (so not my choice, but in this space, I have to agree) the simplicity of the decor is what gives it that sense of calm. The bathroom takes advantage of the sloping ceiling and has a much more dramatic feel because of its location. The dressing room is streamlined and accentuates the ceiling height with full height wardrobe doors.

dressing room

The pendant ceiling lights at two different levels add a more glamorous element and provide a layered lighting plan that works according to the time of day or task required.

pendant lighting

It was a collaborative process, this space and I feel really pleased with how much of the clients’ taste is present in the suite. I was the guiding hand – and at times I did insist on following a certain direction – but largely speaking I suggested a type of fitting and the clients then researched what they would like and we arrived at a choice according to price and availability.

ensuite bathroom

There are two things I would say about this type of process: it takes forever and this was a first project. The clients had never had any building work done before and didn’t really know ‘exactly’ what they wanted. So, the sourcing was slow – there is a lot of choice out there, we looked at maybe twenty wallpaper samples (I would normally give a choice of three) and at times we couldn’t dovetail the lead-times, so the clients didn’t move into the space for several months after the building work finished. But overall the project has built their confidence. It looks great and it works the way they want it to. And that really, is what you want at the end of project. After all if you plan on spending money on a bedroom ensuite, the result should be what you want – a space that works for both of you.

shower enclosure