Recent years have seen a huge increase in the popularity of interior design. There has been a whole series of reality television programmes on the subject; Changing Rooms, Grand Designs, and The Great Interior Design Challenge, to name but a few. But what is interior design? What differentiates one building’s interior from another, albeit it a grand concert hall, or our own homes?
From my perspective a lot of commercial buildings’ interiors are dictated by their purpose and budget constraints. Some elements of the interior design will be incorporated into the fabric of the building for the neatest and most effective results. For instance, communication networks, building management systems, and acoustic treatments. In this respect it is essential for the interior designer to be appointed at the concept stage of the building as all of these elements will impact on the final look, feel, and functionality of the space.
The same could be said when building a new home, whether it be by a commercial developer or by an ambitious self-builder. It is certainly worth considering involving an interior designer from the outset.
For those of us with a home of our own, and all that comes with it, interior design is still relevant at a conscious or sub-conscious level.
At a conscious level one might consider anything from engaging a professional designer, to thumbing through numerous house and home magazines, or enrolling on a design course ourselves. All of these options are readily available.
At a sub-conscious level the whole process is a lot less formal. The starting point might be acquiring the requisite amount of furniture, carpets, white goods, and other essential items that meets one’s own needs. Colour, scale, style, and accessories might not be considered until much later in the process. Nonetheless, home-making almost certainly involves an element of “interior design” regardless of budget.
The excitement at the prospect of having a home of your own often leaves little or no head space to plan the interior as a whole. Impulsive purchases could lead to expensive mistakes in the longer term. To address this issue and to provide a simple guide here is a short Q&A which will not only help the first time home owner, but also offer practical advice to anyone who loves their home.
Ownership or rental?
Home ownership allows far more freedom to decorate and furnish. Rental is likely to be subject to approval by a landlord and permission should be sought.
Investment in a home of your own is far more tangible than money spent on a rental property, so try to determine from the outset how long the landlord is prepared to let you stay.
A great phrase used by Kirsty Allsopp in TV’s Love It or List It is “future proofing”. Will the property provide adequate accommodation off into the future? Will it provide sufficient space for a growing family whether that be the arrival of children or the need to house an older or infirm relative?
If this isn’t going to be a “forever home” then careful consideration should be given as to how much money is going to be invested and how personalised it should become.
If it is only a stepping stone, then only spend money that will add value, and keep the backdrop neutral to ensure an easy exit.
If you have acquired a property that suits your needs from day one then this is not relevant. However, if changes to the internal layout are required ensure that you engage a professional to guide you through the legalities and practicalities before embarking on any DIY projects.
Condition of construction including wiring and plumbing?
A Homebuyers’ Survey will often highlight any obvious problems prior to purchase and it is therefore advisable to have one carried out. The best advise I was offered was to try and attend the survey in person. This way you may learn about matters that aren’t necessarily part of the written report. Always ask the surveyor’s permission to do so otherwise they might not be as forthcoming as you would wish.
Once the property has been acquired if any remedial work is required seek the advise of a professional before undertaking any DIY. They should be able to advise you on health and safety, building regulations, and planning consents, that might need to be taken into consideration.
Age and style of building?
It maybe that you have acquired a building that is of a particular era or style. If Listed, permission may be needed to make changes to the interior and/or exterior. Advice should be sought, in the first instance, from your Local Authority.
If, of a particular style, this is something to be considered before choosing furniture and finishes for the interior. Ultimately, the decision should come down to personal preference as, unless restricted by some form of preservation order, there are no hard and fast rules.
Nowadays there are some great software packages that can be downloaded from the internet for free which will assist in planning room layouts. It is certainly worth taking the time and trouble to measure an item of furniture before committing.
In the absence of a computer a good old-fashioned way of working out whether a piece of furniture would fit would be to use newspaper to create its footprint. Measure the dimensions of the object in question and, using the newspaper, lay this out on the proposed floor area. This will give an indication as to fit , but remember to measure height as well, as this is equally important when furnishing a room.
Apart from fit, choosing furniture that is the correct scale for a space is important. Too big and it will dominate the space; too small and it will look completely lost. If a cohesive look is required choose items of a similar scale.
Personally, I think colour is one of the trickiest elements to address in an interior scheme. That said there is a huge amount of information available in printed form and on the internet.
One of the most important things to consider is that the type of light will change how the colour looks. A painted wall will look completely different in daylight as does in artificial light. I have quite a funny/embarrassing story to prove this point.
In my home I had one wall painted in F&B‘s Churlish Green. To update the scheme I asked my partner to repaint the wall in Neptune‘s Sage Green. Having bought the new colour I left it in the hall. After several days the can of paint remained in the hall and I was beginning to feel a little impatient. I decided not to complain as I thought that would be counter-productive and, as they say, patience is a virtue, so I remained quiet. This paid off as the next day I noticed that the can of paint, despite still being in the hall, had evidence of being used. I quickly went into the living room and to my great joy the wall had indeed been painted Sage Green. Overjoyed I rang my partner to say “thank you”. He didn’t seem to share my elation. As it turned out he had painted the wall several days beforehand and had deliberately turned the can of paint around so that I would eventually notice that it had been used. My only defence, was that I had not been in the living room in daylight since the wall had been painted and I really hadn’t been able to tell in the subdued artificial lamplight!
Going back to the matter in hand, to trial a paint colour, used at least an A3 piece of lining paper painted in the colour(s) of choice and put it in the room that you intend to decorate. Look at it in bright light, dull light, artificial light, and any other combination of light that might be relevant in that room. Move it around the room and do the same. Hopefully, this will aid your decision.
If you have a room with little natural light, contrary to belief, using a dark colour will enhance the space more than a light colour. F&B have many examples of this in books and on their website.
If you are decorating a home for resale, standard advice is to use a neutral shade. This is also a great, non-contentious, backdrop for furniture, fittings, carpets, accessories, and pictures of choice.
Lastly, on the subject of colour, it is very fashionable to have a cohesive scheme throughout. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the same colour but using the same weight or depth of colour. I think the easiest way to achieve this is to use either the same brand of paint throughout, or to use ones with similar qualities.
When I think of contemporary pattern, I immediately think about the beautiful fabrics and wallpapers designed by Bluebell Gray. Stunning, colourful florals to hang as curtains, to upholster furniture, or to paper walls. Add to this a collection of their china and scatter cushions and you would have a truly colourful home.
The use of clashing patterns is also in vogue at the present time and the clever use of several different prints can provide a truly unique look.
In my opinion, patterns, like furnishings, are best when scaled to the object, or to the room, where they are to be used. Too big and they can be overwhelming; too small and they become insignificant.
I firmly believe a house should be a home. Furnished with love, hand-me-downs, and the odd extravagance. There are guidelines that can be followed, but to my mind a home should be comfortable and practical. Personal touches are what makes a home unique and these can’t be bought or prescribed. Fashion is a money making industry and should only be looked to for inspiration not to be a slave to. Life is too short to be in debt for the latest style sofa!
I live and work in the UK and have been awarded a Diploma with Distinction in Interior Design & Decoration by Rhodec International and a Diploma of Higher Education in Interior Design by London Metropolitan University . The content of this blog is written with knowledge gained from my studies and life experiences.