First things first

Been a busy week – lots of time wandering posh parts of London on my way to a couple of Proms. Wandering around in Westminster is a delight if you like architecture and look up above the first storey. Some examples I took on my way are below – dodgy photo quality is down to my iPhone, sorry!

Just look at the contrast between the red and white buildings (sorry about the photo quality! Had to take it from the middle of the road)

Just look at the contrast between the red and white buildings (sorry about the photo quality! Had to take it from the middle of the road)

Beautiful red brick buildings

Now an amazing bar...

Now an amazing bar…

A lovely grey hotel

A lovely grey hotel

And I walked down Walton St which has a vast quantity of lovely little interior shops. One day I’ll take a day and explore. Especially the hidden cavern of lamps and lighting. (you get some of of the charm from this picture but not all of it!)

A cave of delights

One thing that struck me though, was that there were quite a few with truly wonderful door handles. One in the shape of a rope swag and one held in place by silver hands. Honestly, just perfect for your first impression of an interior shop.

Hand door handleRope swag handle

It reminded me of something I learned in my first job. This was a summer job, cleaning in Cambridge colleges that were being used as conference hotels. Not glamorous, but still quite strict in criteria. All of us summer cleaners were made to do a test clean of a room, and the housekeeper – Ann – pointed out that most of us had missed cleaning the light switch. As she said, everyone touches it (so it gets dirty) and it’s the first thing people touch in the room, and as such it’s critical to get right.

That was…..several years ago, but it stuck in my mind. And I guess the same is true for door handles. They’re the first thing anyone touches – even before they enter the shop or the room – and so they are what makes the first impression. And if your business is lovely interiors, then that impression of beautiful details is critical. (and keep them clean! Thanks Ann for the tip).


Going to the dark side

One of my favourite interior designers at the moment is Abigail Ahern. Interestingly, I agree with almost everything she says, but actually don’t like some of the finished products.

Anyway, her big point of difference in terms of design is her enthusiasm for the dark side – or at least dark paints. She’s been enthusiastically pointing out how dark paint doesn’t actually make a space feel smaller (if it’s small, it’s small!) and that it does make it warmer and all the items in front of it look infinitely more glamorous. As a credo, it makes sense to me. Not least because I’ve never been in love with the white ‘spacious’ look. I think it too often looks clinical. Not to mention that my way of life would never work with that look. I’m messy and white would scuff too easily…

So, all in all, I’ve been pretty keen to try it out in one of our rooms. So far though, the closest was the loft room. And while that orange/red has a lot of the same qualities, it’s not really a dark colour. But with the blue tiles in the kitchen, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to see if we could match that colour and paint the space that dark blue.

It’s a little bit cheating (or safe perhaps might be a better way of saying it), seeing as the room is open plan with the living room so you wouldn’t get the full effect of the dark paint, and also seeing as the cabinets cover a lot of the walls. But, if playing it safe at first meant I got agreement, no worries there.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we had some real struggles finding the right blue. Endless navy blues. Endless lighter blues. Nothing that worked with the glorious tiles. In the end Little Greene Thai Sapphire was the closest. We were slightly worried as it was a perfect match with one coat, but a bit dark with two – and we’d need two coats to get it even a little bit even. But I went for it.

Two coats later, and I’m in love. The finish is a touch messy – I should have used the masking tape my lady thoughtfully provided me with – but the colour is wonderful. The dark blue really shows up the cabinets so they look like a more glowing wood, and makes the whole space look that bit more glamorous and finished. Even the enclosed corner doesn’t look too dark, but just rich and luxurious. Like walking into a temple of lapis lazuli. Shame that’s the washing corner and we currently store the ironing board there. (Anyone know where to get glamorous ironing board covers?)

Our blue corner

Also, just look at this sweet little snowflake print we hang in the kitchen. On a white wall….and on the blue wall. On the white wall, it looks nice enough. On the blue wall, the frame gleams. The flowers stand out and overall I think it looks about ten times better.

Snowdrops on white wall Snowdrops against blue wall

The same can be said of these flowers we have on the windowsill. Against white – a nice, maybe a bit stark, colour pop. Against blue – a glowing warm feature.

Flowers against blue Flowers against white

With the lights on, the blue walls look expensive and warm and the kitchen looks amazing. In daylight, the effect isn’t quite as dramatic, but it still looks finished beyond anything you could have imagined when we moved in.

Amazing what a lick of paint can do!


So I became an interior designer at the weekend.

Only kidding! I’m far too risk averse to change career for something so uncertain and the hard work involved in becoming self-employed doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs.

But I did pass the final exam in my online course. It would be more surprising if I hadn’t – a 35 question multiple choice exam, where you have 100 attempts and they tell you the answers after the first attempt? Anyone should pass that. But, to boast just a little, I did pass with 91% on my first attempt.

The questions were somewhat random, I have to say. Of the 35 there were three on candles. They’re important, sure, but 10% of the whole trade of an interior designer? One of them was asking if it was true that putting candles in the fridge makes them burn longer (it does). Which was interesting, but it didn’t feel like it really tested how well I’d absorbed the course.

Anyway. 91%. Qualified. Seems like a time to reflect on what I did learn.

·         I genuinely love interior design

·         Drawing things is hard. But possible, even for someone as naturally bad as me.

·         The history of buildings and design is fascinating – understanding why people choose things to look the way they did, how fashion and technology combine? It’s brilliant.

·         I love soft looking sofas, preferably velvet.

·         Putting together mood boards/designs for rooms is such good fun, and I’m really proud of some of the concepts I came up with. (maybe a future post on my home cinema is in order)

·         There’s a lot of terminology involved in design

·         There’s a lot of complicated maths – calculating costs, especially for things like soft furnishings. Plus the business model for a designer is so complex! (and I couldn’t make it pay, not matter how unfeasibly I set my sales targets)

·         Rules and concepts (progression, rhythm, colour matching, patterns etc) are mostly there for breaking. Except when they’re not

·         Understanding rules and concepts helps you figure out what’s wrong with a room – I knew there was something off with a room I was visiting, but until  I’d read about it, I couldn’t pin down that the room was unbalanced.

·         Almost everything you can imagine exists for sale somewhere. Isn’t that exciting?

·         Candles burn longer if you freeze them first

·         The only way to make a funky interior is to add pouffes. Lots of pouffes. (course in-joke. Sorry).

So I’m going to take all of this learning, and the reading and googling that went with it to continue to turn my little, dodgy flat into a place of beauty. But I’m not going to take this on as a career. Not yet, at least.

More on the kitchen

Times have been busy. The kitchen renovation took up an awful lot of time, and my new job kind of went up a gear as well.

So a quick update on the kitchen. Our Wickes design was the winner, and we got it installed. Part way through, we were persuaded into getting tiles round the walls. It wasn’t a hard sell, as we’d been struggling with finding paint in a particular shade of blue we were hankering after that only comes in tiles and glassware.

So we bought the tiles, got them put up and they are stunning. I will never regret getting them in the slightestThose gorgeous blue tiles, they’re just beautiful. See? Gorgeous. (and we did get that electrical socket put in properly, and the foam off the hob too. Promise)

The tiling subcontractors said they’d never put up tiles that colour – at least not as a solid block – before and they loved it too. Not that it matters what they think as long as we’re happy, but it was nice to get that validation.More kitchen joy

Next steps – sorting out the dodgy plasterwork where the coving came down and the old extractor fan was taken out and painting the walls. We’ve had a few debates about the wall colour, but I’ve won that battle, and the kitchen will be dark blue paint as well as tiles. I KNOW it’s going to look just amazing, but it’s hard to explain why. Pictures when I finally get round to doing it.

I’m also pretty keen on changing out the handles. The current ones are too big, and a bit too square as well. Something a bit less chunky would be good. This is for practical reasons as well as aesthetic – currently we can’t open the dishwasher fully due to the handle on one of the drawers….

 Lighting – we need new lighting. The current flowery pendant looks all wrong in the room. It’s the wrong colours – being cream and gold. The flowery, rustic, shabby chic look doesn’t work with the style of the room, and it doesn’t shed enough light. I’m thinking a bar light with LED bulbs that we can angle around the kitchen to make sure all the corners get light. I’d quite like something dramatic and modern looking, but I think a big shade is just going to be impractical. The beam across the ceiling doesn’t help either.

 And that’s just in the kitchen!

Ceilings – underused areas

Honestly – who thinks much about ceilings except as something to hang lights from? A huge, flat space in our rooms that we basically ignore…

I love going round stately homes and one of the first things I do in each room is look up. I love those grand old ceilings with mouldings and patterns. And often murals and paintings too. They really used the space. But when I look around rooms of most people, they do nothing with the ceiling. So here are some options that I think look stunning and a bit more modern than murals of goddesses and fat cherubs!

Well there’s this lovely gold ceiling. I think this would be a really good way of reflecting light in a small space, while also looking really glamorous. Might be a bit overpowering in a big room perhaps.

Gold ceiling in a small vanity sink areaa

Gold ceiling in a small vanity sink area

Next this lovely study with a map ceiling. I’m actually genuinely slightly tempted by putting this in our (much smaller) study. It’s just so cool! And all the cream background means it still feels high and spacious.

Map ceiling

Or you could just go bold and colourful. This look probably does go best with a white or pale wall (so a bit unlike my standard approach). I love how in this room the ceiling is echoed in the rug too.

Teal ceiling

And finally, back to that old school moulding? Well, here’s a modern take on it. I absolutely adore this ceiling. Doesn’t it look special? Would be amazing in my bedroom with it’s bower theme or the hallway (which will be a winter woodland when it’s finally done)

Vine ceiling

Kitchen planning update

I never updated after the kitchen planner visit!

Well, we ended up having four kitchen planning sessions. Two were disappointing and one was a waste of time. One, however was brilliant. The companies were: John Lewis, Wickes, Homebase and a local independent contractor. I wonder if you can guess who fell in each category? (Disclaimer – in all cases I think that the service was largely dependent on the individual we worked with and may well not be representative of the company as a whole)

John Lewis in store were a bit pushy and didn’t understand that we were coming at it as newbies – limited patience for us not understanding the terminology. To be fair, the actual kitchen planner who came to visit was extremely professional. He measured, chatted, and was generally fine. He explained his thinking while he measured, and generally helped with our learning curve. He sent through his pictures and quote on time. Moderately expensive, but within budget. Missing a feature we wanted – the dishwasher – but we’d expected that. However the design overall was just blah. It didn’t make us want that kitchen – even given how desperate we were for a new one. Upgrading any of the features would have cost more than we could afford. It wasn’t great. As our first appointment, we were back in the space of wondering if we even wanted to do this.

Homebase were appalling. Genuinely awful. We went in with some suggestions of what we wanted. The planner was excessively pushy and effectively told us what we wanted without even listening to us. With some people maybe this would be helpful – but we’d put a lot of thought in to this and I didn’t appreciate that not counting. We then told her our budget…..and the plan she put together cost nearly 50% more! (she’d used our budget as the cost of materials and then added installation on top). When we pointed this out, she got stressed, as if it was our fault that we couldn’t afford some of the things she thought every kitchen should have. She then came and measured our kitchen. Again, when things didn’t quite add up, we were made to feel as if the imperfections of the space were our fault, that it was a huge drag to have to re-plan the kitchen. Maybe it is a hassle, but it’s the job! Between that and an exorbitant cost for the real planner to come out, we very quickly discarded them as an option.

The independent contractor was the waste of time. He didn’t come up with anything the big stores didn’t, the cost wasn’t that different, and I’d have had to put a lot more work in to sourcing materials and managing the job. No criticism of him, or that approach at all, but it didn’t work for us. (as an aside, my boss at work is using a local independent contractor to do her kitchen and is getting an incredible deal on bespoke units that match her needs better than anyone larger could do and will look incredible. It all depends on what’s local to you as well as your circumstances and pickiness).

So we’re left with Wickes. Who were outstanding from start to finish. When we went in, we were allowed to browse for a bit, and then a very friendly consultant sat us down to talk to us and give us coffee. Actually, that’s a good point. The coffee wasn’t great – massively over brewed and so strong that it nearly caused my partner to faint. However, as we sipped the coffee, Ameesh took plenty of time to listen to us and what we wanted, and acted like he genuinely cared what we wanted from a kitchen, not just fitting some off the shelf solution into our space. He came, measured up, and planned. When he found he couldn’t fit everything we wanted in using the cheapest range, he did a second plan in a more expensive range and let us choose between them. Given that even that option was within budget, we chose to get everything fitted in… We kept adding requirements, and he kept meeting them. One thing he couldn’t fit in, but we were sitting with him at the time and could see that he made quite literally every effort to do what we wanted and was genuinely disappointed when he couldn’t make it work. Given that we’d expected our list of requirements (washing machine, tumble dryer AND dishwasher) to have something crossed off, missing a glass fronted display cabinet for glasses seemed like a relatively minor problem. Not to Ameesh though!

You can guess who we picked. And I do not regret it. The Wickes installers were really friendly, helpful and professional, and although the fitting took a while (a week! Without either kitchen or front room) we quite enjoyed camping out in the half finished loft room….

A little bit of upcycling…

Well, maybe it’s not really upcycling. The chandelier in the front room was the one that came with the flat. It’s quite pretty, in it’s way. Or was. A sort of pale green, distressed to see the brassy metal beneath.

I’m not a fan of shabby chic anyway – I think that distressed stuff tends to look uncared for, almost dirty and messy. It’s worse with wood, which I always think looks mouldy and like the paint is peeling. But what felt bad for the chandelier is that it really rather blended in to the walls. Surely the whole point of a chandelier is that it’s a statement? And of course the pale green/brass didn’t go with the proposed yellow and teal theme for the front room.

So I bought a teal enamel paint and set to work.

Of course, I did it the wrong way. I didn’t properly detach the chandelier so I was painting over my head. And, being stupid, I did the first coat at night so I was staring at the lit bulbs. Yes, stupid stupid! I got teal paint on the table, the remote control and my hair.

Worth it though. I think the result looks stunning. Hope you agree!

Now just wondering what to do with the rest of the tin of paint….