Design for use

Well, today was going to be a post about Eltham Palace. But, it was not to be. When I took out English Heritage membership last August, visiting there was top of my list of places to use it for. Scroll forward to today and I still haven’t managed it. Real life always seems to get in the way (and it being shut on Saturdays doesn’t help). One weekend we planned to go we ended up ‘having’ to move house, and then this weekend the flat turned into a plague house and we were both too sick.

Next weekend we’ll make it. Or have an even more outlandish excuse anyway.

So, I went to work in a slight mood, and one of the things that annoys me about our office seemed like a good thing to mention… It’s a brand new office, the layout is exactly as planned still. And it REALLY doesn’t work. I’m sure it worked really well for walkarounds when it was being set up, but it fails at actually being good to work in. Spaces to get through to get to desks are just odd and awkward. This is best exemplified by the meeting rooms. They have doors, perfectly lined up with the gap between two desks. I’m sure when no one was working there you could get in and out great. Sadly, when people are actually working at the desks, they sit in chairs, which then take up more space than they did neatly tucked in. You’re left with three choices: Squeeze between people’s backs, making them uncomfortable. Squeeze yourself between the wall of the meeting room and the desk – a space of about three inches – making yourself uncomfortable if you even fit through or finally stay trapped in the meeting room until the end of the day or they all leave for lunch.

Great.

It’s extreme, I know, but I get the same feel in some show homes I saw when looking for a flat. They looked lovely (well, some of them did), but they didn’t look like they would actually work for real people really living there. For me, the primary function of the space (to live in, cook in, work in) has to be met and met well before you think about the aesthetics. If you can’t do that, you’re failing as a designer. Sounds basic, but I think people forget…

The Sofa Saga

Well, when we moved in to the flat, there were a few essentials we knew we needed as soon as possible. A bed. A wardrobe. A sofa. If you’ve ever bought a sofa and found it easy, I mostly don’t believe you. Or you’re very very unfussy, and probably bought it alone.

We did, I freely admit, make things harder for ourselves with the colour scheme. We’d decided on an amazing combination of teal and yellow. It sounds odd when I tell people about this, but honestly it looks amazing. A lovely sunshiny, bright, cheerful yellow for the walls and then vibrant yet calming teal. http://www.pinterest.com/chariscroft/sunshiny-front-room/ – my pinterest board for inspirations for the room demonstrates where I’m coming from I think.

Anyway, what with us being enamoured of this colour scheme, and teal being pretty much both of our favourite colour, we really weren’t willing to compromise on sofa colour. It had to be teal. Now, if you’ve ever looked for a sofa, they’re mostly brown. Dark brown, light brown, beige, cream. Something along that spectrum. Most of the rest are in other neutral colours – blacks and greys. Which leaves a small proportion for every other colour under the sun. Red was fairly popular, a few pinks and greens and royal blues. Not so many teals – though there were some around.

So, colour wise we were pretty clear what we wanted. And we wanted an L-shaped sofa. Tricky, but not impossible. Harder though, when you were trying to do it on a budget – we had a bed and a wardrobe to buy as well. Even harder when you’re trying to reconcile two very different ideas of sofa use. I wanted something supportive and quite firm – something I could sit on to eat dinner and use my laptop. My lady wanted something squishy and soft and good for lying or lounging around on. It felt almost impossible to suit everything we wanted.

And so it turned out. We traipsed through Ikea what felt like 100 times, even though we’d sworn not to buy a sofa or a bed there after previous bad experiences. We looked online through what felt like every place that sells sofas and pored endlessly over catalogues. We visited showrooms, dutifully sitting on endless brown sofas. Eventually, it looked like we’d found something possibly ok in DFS, and we went to our local store to test it out. When we arrived, we happened to park outside a Sofaworks on the same site, and figuring we had nothing to lose, we went in.

Worth saying now, the shopping experience at Sofaworks was fantastic. We were allowed to try a few sofas before a salesperson came over ask if needed help. We said we were ok, and they melted away, with a soft reassurance that if we needed them, we could find them. I hate pushy salespeople, it tends to make me leave, so this was great. And, even more stunningly, we found a sofa! The Aphrodite sofa was velvety, came in teal and we were both happy sitting on it. It even had a little L shape. The price was reasonable too, and we were incredibly happy. As a final precaution, we decided to go back and measure up the room again, just to be sure where it would go.

And it was a very good job we did too. The sofa would have fit in the room, but never have got into the room. I think I mentioned the narrow doors and staircase. The sofa couldn’t go through any of them. We became depressed. We discussed asking if it could be broken down, but we were covered in gloom. The only sofa in the whole world (we thought) that met our needs and we couldn’t get it in the house.

At this point, I hit stubborn mode. Sometimes, when I hit an apparently insoluble problem, I just refuse to accept defeat and keep at it until eventually something gives way. I started Googling. I think the relevant search was ‘sofa narrow door stairs teal’ when we hit upon a little company who let you design your own sofa. They had a range of colours and a GUARANTEE it would fit up any stairs, through any door. Illustrated by some spiral staircases to attics they had managed to navigate.

It seemed too good to be true, and I was morbidly convinced that the sofa would be the most uncomfortable thing I’d ever sat on (even including the broken Ikea one we were moving away from), so it wasn’t with high hopes that I drove to their tiny showroom in Uxbridge. But I was utterly confounded.

Nabru was hidden away on an industrial estate, but once inside you could test all the different sofas, with the same excellent customer service that had characterised Sofaworks. You could take free samples of all their fabrics, including a gorgeous chenille teal. You could design a sofa to exactly meet your needs, and have different softnesses of seat cushion. Testing the sofas out, they were the most comfortable we’d tried in the whole experience. WE immediately went to the computers there and started designing our dream sofa. Armed with the exact measurements, we put together a 5 seater, L-shaped sofa in our dream colour. With storage under every seat. That would fit through the doors. For LESS than the Aphrodite 3 seater. They were even able to deliver and assemble that week.

Essentially, the sofa comes flat pack, which is why it fits everywhere. But it doesn’t feel flatpack now it’s in one piece, and in fact I adore the sofa. It might be my favourite thing. I can’t say enough how brilliant I think it is. And when we get round to finally painting the walls behind it, it will look so spectacular. I almost can’t wait….

My flat – the description

Slightly dull as this may be, I think it’s important to describe the new flat so you have an idea of the rooms and issues with it…as there are some issues!

You enter through a very narrow front door to a small porch. Our front door is in front of your nose, a dark wood door that doesn’t quite fit perfectly into the frame. Opening it you find immediately in front you a narrow, steep staircase. This is only lit by the light in the ceiling of the landing up above, making it shadowy and gloomy.

As you reach the top, you can see into the living room – a square room with one window opposite the door. When you go in, you see it’s really a kitchen diner – the long kitchen space taking up one side of the room and extending. In the far corner is the sink and washing machine in a strange little nook.

The next room down the landing is a large room with a bay window, incongruously viewed through a narrow window. The end of the landing opens into a small room – big enough for a single bed but no additional furniture. Also, as (we’re pretty sure) this used to be the bathroom, it has no plug sockets. Interesting.

Another set of stairs – less narrow and gloomy than the previous ones – leads up to the bathroom and a loft room. Both have very low ceilings – and of course one half of the loft room as a sloping eave ceiling coming down to some inexpertly blocked off under-eave storage.

There are awkwardnesses in this arrangement, but definitely also possibilities….hopefully to be realised in the future!

Colour and contrast

I had a quick demonstration of the effects colours have on each other today.

I’ve just come back from a sunshiny holiday. Today a colleague commented that I looked much more tanned than I had yesterday. Today I was wearing a spring green top with a white collar. Yesterday a black top with dark coffee neckline.

The white collar contrasted and made me look more tanned – same principles apply in rooms – colour combinations are key, not just colours in themselves.

Welcome to my world

So earlier this year, I bought my first house (Ok, flat. Half a house). Which, I know, makes me incredibly lucky.

It was immensely exciting for so many reasons. A massive investment, a place to call our own, the responsibility of maintaining a building all ourselves. But, to be honest, my partner and I were most excited about choosing paints and curtains. Oh yes, after years in rented accommodation done out in magnolia and pale neutrals, we were intoxicated by the prospect of colour.

We started developing colour schemes as soon as our offer was accepted. We made mood boards, cleared local DIY shops of their paint swatches (thank you Dulux for having so many, so freely available!). I enrolled in an online interior design course to make sure we got everything as right as possible

And now, some months after finally moving in, it turns out that I’m still intoxicated by colour and design. I adore colours, I love my course, pulling together schemes and concepts. We’ve turned some of our ideas into reality and walking into – or even past – those rooms gives me such a lot of joy. So too does reading about, thinking about, looking at, other people’s ideas and concepts. Too much joy to keep to myself, so this is my place to share that with whatever proportion of the world wants to share it.

Expect tales of my flat redecoration, places I’ve seen, colours and styles and thoughts and everything else. And, I hope, enjoy it!