The End of An Era

Last week was a very busy week. My ex husband moved house. I thought I was just lending a hand but it turns out I was actively – and emotionally – involved in the process.

wilfs house move

We moved in as a married couple with a one year old son in 1999. We did a loft conversion and created a six bedroom house, three and a half bathroom house. We had another child, a little girl. We redid two of the bathrooms and the kitchen. We replaced missing cornicing and two missing fireplaces. We added stained glass to the front door – and to the back door. We redecorated throughout, refinished floorboards and replaced the carpet. It was during this process that I retrained as an interior designer and throughout my coursework Wilf was my ‘client’ – I used his requirements to act as my brief.

fanlight

Both of our children started school and developed a wide range of interests. We made wonderful friends in our neighbours. We had lots of parties and many guests from abroad – some staying for months at a time. It was a busy family life in a home that answered the needs of its inhabitants.

I’ve been separated and then divorced from Wilf for nearly eight years and since then I’ve been in and out of that house countless times – my favourite arrivals have always been on Christmas morning with bags of presents, in my pjs (I don’t even own a onesie, but Christmas morning is a tradition: I arrive in pyjama’s.)

Christmas carnage

After I left, I never felt particularly attached to my old home. It was Wilf’s house, the kids were there three nights a week, it was just a part of the scenery, so to speak. But last week packing up, I’ve been in tears countless times. I felt the love that we’d put into it over the years. I saw for the first time, stripped bare, all the work we had done. Without the furniture, the house was still beautiful, a little grubby where picture frames had rubbed the paintwork and where furniture had scuffed the floor but its bones were good; spacious and light and welcoming.

megan's mural

So what was it that caused me to get so upset? I was really surprised at myself. When you start unpacking a home, you unravel the history of the time that you’ve spent there. All of the events that surround the furnishings – the carpet from Turkey, the mirror from Stow-on-the-Wold, the clock from Newark, the painting from New Zealand, all come back to you and the trip down memory lane as you remove them becomes a part of the leaving of that building. It also brings up the milestone memories, the bathtub filled with toys by my son for my daughters first bath; the murals painted for the children by my mother; the measuring wall under the stairs – even the dog was measured on that wall; the first day at school; the birthday parties. It goes very quickly from a family home to simply four walls and looks incredibly unloved. It had no personality, it didn’t look like ‘ours’ anymore – I found that the hardest part. Somehow I wanted the house to know it had done nothing wrong and in thinking that, I found that the memories of living there were also enriched.

wilf's bathroom

the little room

It’s really important to understand how much a part of you your home is. I say so often that you can’t under estimate the impact your surroundings have on you and I suppose because I haven’t lived in that house for eight years I didn’t regard it as my surroundings, but seeing each room undressed made me analyse the progression we had made through that environment as a family. The room that was the catalyst for this was my son’s room. Full to the gunnels of models planes and books about trains, space and birds (it took me two days to box up all the models, destined for deep storage – likely not to be unpacked until he is a father himself!) you would be forgiven for thinking he was 10 years old. He’s nearly eighteen! He’s reading Whitman and Donne not Tintin and Biggles. That room hasn’t grown with him. He was still living surrounded by his childhood – not with the kit of his youth; guitars and amps and computer gadgets. I felt in a way that we had let him down, to look at that room we hadn’t let him grow up, which isn’t the truth at all, but then looks are deceiving and that was what got me thinking. If our homes are to meet our needs they need to be flexible enough to grow with us. They need to accommodate not only the inhabitants but the possessions that hold our memories. And if that’s not possible, it means we need to be brave enough to let go.

railways poster

My final task as Wilf gave back the keys was to put up replacement lampshades. It’s fanciful I know, but when I looked around the naked rooms I got a real sense of the house enduring, of shaking herself off and moving on, ready to receive her new family. I hope they will be very happy there and love the things about her that we loved.

front door

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Rest your Weary Head

Now that the Nativity season is here, I got to thinking about the Innkeeper’s refrain, ‘No room, no room.’ With so much socialising, finding the time to sleep – and having a comfortable place to wind down – is very important to how well we cope with the Festive whirl. And it is this time of year that we like to laze in bed and take advantage of the winter darkness. Bedrooms are the most intimate of rooms – they say a lot about their owners – and yet just thinking about the millions of forgettable hotel rooms around the world, people often find them hard to decorate. Put most simply, bedrooms have to inspire sleep. They have to ‘invite’ us to relax.

masculine colours create glamour

They need decent storage for clothes and personal items, they need good curtains to block out the light and they need good lighting to enhance the space gently when they curtains are closed. That should be enough to consider but then it gets complicated, because the ‘bedroom suite’ incorporating a dressing room and bathroom is high on the wish list, even when space is at a premium.

It appears that ensuite bathrooms are still very popular, though I can’t quite understand why. Back to the forgettable hotel room, if your partner needs the WC in the middle of the night, on goes the light (which casts its beam straight across the bed) and bathroom extractor fan and wham, you’re awake too! Why on earth would you choose that for your own home? An ensuite after all, is a bathroom by another name, it doesn’t stop it being fabulous.

utilising small spaces

Perhaps the ensuite is a subconscious milestone for putting your mark on a property, but if you share your home with your partner, surely when you plan the space the quality of sleep you’re going to get from the bedroom of your dreams is of paramount importance? Having a bathroom door open directly into your bedroom is going to be invasive. And ensuites so often create plumbing issues, but that’s another story.

When you plan your bedroom, consider if this is a space you are going to spend time in other than at night. For example, I chose to have a smaller bedroom than those of my children. As its my home, it is my private space, but for the children, they want a room away from adult company. So, this was part of my brief, it was clear that I wouldn’t spend time in my bedroom other than when I was in bed and I planned the space accordingly. Deciding how you will use the space allows you to consider the furniture that will be appropriate for your needs.

Storage is always a big issue and when you define what you need, the furniture chosen will allow you to create the ‘theme’ of your room. As wardrobes and headboards can be expensive items, this is worth researching – and if you’re creatively minded – worth personalising, that way you’ll really get what you want. And then from there you can choose how you want to decorate the space.

bedroom storage

It is worth remembering that bold colours stimulate the senses, if you need to be calm at night, a vibrant orange bedroom might not help you to wind down. So how do you strike that balance between personality and function? If you are totally sold on vibrant colours for your bedroom perhaps use them as accent shades to highlight the theme, instead of using the colour as the most dominant feature.

accent colour

Incorporating colour into your bed linen also layers the intensity and creates visual texture. It lets you change your mind too. In this room the headboard gives the reference to the Eastern theme and this dark wood is then picked up in the other furniture. Using colour this way allows you to play with a variety of shades and changes the look of the room every time the sheets are changed. It’s a great way to have a neutral colour palette and experiment with how colour makes you feel at different times of the year.

zesty bed linen

gentle soothing tones

This image also has a neutral colour palette, but with a very different feel. There is a soothing quality to the space, the soft neutrals are only broken by the furniture – painted French country antiques. This space has a gentleness about it, there are few distractions. It is quiet and serene in a way that seems almost timeless. This is another way of achieving restfulness, paring back the elements of the room so that each contributes gently to the scheme.

And darker shades can be used in bedrooms to great effect. They create a moodiness, a sense of mystery and instead of feeling gloomy, the deep tones are inviting and cosy. The contrast with white bed linen contributes a lightness to the space and as the bed is usually the biggest object in the room, this acts as a reflective element.

deep tones add mystery

To make a ‘theme’ work, you really have to embrace it. All the elements have to be considered, they have to work together and contribute to the final effect. One of my favourite bedrooms belongs to a dear friend of mine. She has redecorated this space a number of times and each incarnation has been more confident, exploring her interests and tastes to great effect.

chalet glamour

She has added a sense of warehouse glamour with the ‘exposed brick’. This is a wall covering and has a raised texture but isn’t harsh against the skin as raw bricks would be. It works beautifully in her room because she has used it sparingly as a feature in the apex of the roofline and because of the steep pitch, it looks appropriate. Placing the picture above the bed at an angle offers a tromp l’oeil effect and gives the impression of a window. Choosing to mix in the faux fur throw and knitted cushion she gives the scheme a chalet feel, which balances the industrial feel of the brick incredibly well. It is wonderfully cosy, individual and glamourous in a way that warehouse styling sometimes is not.

industrial chalet

Because our bedrooms are such private places, it is easy to think that spending money on them isn’t as important as that spent on the kitchen or bathroom. But considering how important sleep is to our health and well being, having a bedroom that contributes to our rest is enormously impactful. Getting the space to function the way you want will allow you to relax, it will allow you to rest, it will allow you to dream.

detail

certain images from housetohome.co.uk – with thanks