I like to think of sunny days for decorating and reorganizing my main rooms. Obviously there are limitations as to where one puts that overly large 4 seater settee and matching oversized armchair . . . you need one very long wall, preferably unemcumbered by radiators or windows. As I have a feature fireplace along the only other long wall, then I have to place these exactly where they are now. My neighbour however two shorter sofas, giving her the same amount of seating but she can place one across the width of the room, causing a sort of divider effect and the other sofa takes up only half the long wall space. We have discussed the merits of each design and actually agree that although very fixed, my scenario is preferable as it doesn’t break up the room – if I want to show off a long, 22ft total from bay window to patio doors the other end, I just open the interlinking glazed double doors between the two rooms. It does look and feel impressively spacious.
Interiors are so fundamental. You open the front door and you in an interior. How you decorate and manage one is so individual though. I sometimes get to see inside the neighbouring houses, not often as we’re all very busy people. To describe the difference would take ages, suffice to say mine is decorated in early 2000s modern, some scandi minimal and a little bit of comfort. One neighbour has gone for the vintage 1970s look – very stark streamlined sofa and matching armchair. No arms on either, both items look like public amenity seating in fact. Not for them an oak sideboard – no, they have bold shelving units with everything neatly positioned, colour coded books and vinyl albums – these alone tell me that someone in that house may have a problem loosening up occasionally! Brutally unattractive at first thought but everything works well. The other neighbour is quite the opposite – it’s all pretty chinzy and romantic frills. Each bedroom has a hand made roman blind to match the bedding and the lounge could be a little country cottage. Fantastic contasts!
I was round at a neighbour’s house the other week – my first viewing of theirs since they finished decorating. In fact it’s been a very long project over the last 2 years. The whole of the back of the downstairs has been knocked down and rebuilt to make one massive kitchen, dining, sitting room with lare patio doors out to the garden and utility room along the side wall. It is a fabulous and very modern design concept which their builder came up with. The finished product is so much more spacious and easy to live with than their own ideas, they are thrilled to bits with the transformation. To finish off all that expense and effort, they have also decorated the original sitting room. Each side wall have been made to look lie a spacious alcove – it’s unbelievably just wallpaper. It is designed and painted in such a clever way that incorporated open panels, it looks so much bigger than how it did beforehand. I’ve never seen wallpaper like it.
I’ve been to some rather nice old houses under the historic houses membership scheme. The beauty of this heritage site is that the homes/properties must still be living homes. Unlike the major trust which is quite the opposite – one’s property can only be accepted onto their list if it is unlived in and likely to become seriously unloved. Many of the trust’s places are not all pretty, but all need to have something seriously interesting that the nation needs to safeguard. They hang on to the best example of some back to back terraced houses for example. Nothing even vaguely romantic or beautiful there but the design and interiors are critical to our understanding of how the very poorest members of society had to live. They also own a 1905 house in the East Midlands which has remained little changed from the day it was built – from when a particular family member bought it back. No one embelished it from 1932 onwards. So again, the design and interiors have been truly influential in the way we view the Edwardian family house.
We live very comfortably, there is no doubt of that. Our country does have a superb safety record with buldings and industry in general. We invented health and safety and our unions are excellent in ensuring companies incorporate the safest methods for their members to work within. When I visit my very best friend who lives abroad, in a very sunny Mediterranean isle, I really appreciate just how safety focused our building indusry has become. I see their home grown builders working on village projects – it leaves a huge amount to be desired too. Although the island ha been a member of the EC in it’s own right for nearly two decades, they are quick to take the monetary hand outs but very slow at implementing the rulings. House building is a bit better now with influences from foreign money but if they can cut corners, they certainly do. The plumbing is still awful so you can’t flush away toilet paper – even in this day and age. The more affluent islanders have homes in the UK and can’t fail to see how ropey the island builds are. Design comes slowly there!
It’s amazing tot hink back to the days of the 1920s and ’30s – the housing was beginning to improve slightly for the average family. The shock of the first world war caused ripples through the nation and cheaper well built houses began to replace the dire tenament blocks and back to back housing with their lack of space, privacy and sanitation. The gradually more affluent of society could now afford to have a semi detached house with three spacious bedrooms, a sculler kitchen and a lounge plus ‘drawing room’. Bathooms were still not automatically added, but an outisde toilet was brick built out the back in the yard. My own grandparents were a little more affluent in 1933 and managed to buy themselves a three beroomed semi which did include the luxury of the bathroom. I don’t recall a lot about that room apart from it was always freeezing cold. The sculler however does still tingle my memory cells. Equally tiny, dark and grim – no fitted cupboards or luxuriously easy to clean sink!
There is one aspect of moving house that I used to love when we were children – being able to pick the colour of our bedroom decor. We moved often because of father’s occupation and as a famly we just grew up being very organised whenever the next move was mooted. Sharing a room with a sibling dented any great ambitions for outlandish personal fancies, jazzy walls or curtains. We were polar opposites and so much scrapping and arguing ensued before our parents entered the fray and played the common sense card! We were always allowed to choose the colour of the walls – within a fairly slender range of colours. Today it’s rare for teens to share a room so they probably dont have the same constraints. Parents though have the difficult task of navigating the demands for ensuites and double sized storage, extra space for huge tvs and gaming areas. It’s all down to good interior design and literally reshaping and building on what’s there. How to make a room version of a silk purse out of sow’s ear in fact!
Some of the loveliest days out for me have been to heritage and historic houses. Those lofty interiors with furniture of the day, the silk wall coverings and bed hangings. I like the hought that so many families have passed through those corridors and slept in those rooms. I wallow in the age of the kitchens, overlooking completely the lack of workspace, or hygiene for that matter. It’s only after you take in several such buildings, of any age, they do become much of a muchness with perhaps the same regency wall paper, Chippendale furiture, massive velvet window drapes and hand made carpets, that you realise that’s exactly how we live in this day and age. All the lovely new housing developments springing up about us will h ave the same sized kitchens with the same design of cabinets, give or take the odd colour choice. But we can engage the services of design and interior experts and have the chane to strike a note of individualism !
When we discuss design, it’s rather like asking a group of people ‘what’s your favourite meal’ . . . it’s so open ended and has no right or wrong answers. Design of a house obviously depends rather on the land available and the amount of money the owner and builder have to produce it. Design of an interior, well that’s entirely a new kettle of fish. I often look over the online presentaitons of houses for sale near me. Some of the design and decor leaves me almost staggering with disbelief – mostly ghastly to my taste of course. A few years ago one of the local houses went on the market with a great blaze of publicity. They’re a loud family anyway and their presence in the road since moving in has not gone unnoticed. To say their decor and style matched this over exhuberance is the greatest understaement ever! Black and grey, black grey & silver, black, grey, silver and red throughout the entire house with bold paisley patterns.
One of the more rewarding aspects of spending an afternoon looking through property and lifestyle magazines is finding out what the latest colour trends are going to be for the next year or so. For a few years we wer blighted with the most ghastly phase of grey, grey & black, grey, red & black, oh and with large chunks of chrome for good measure. Pictures of houses with this style of decor were generally ridiculed by ‘those in the know’ but somehow it didn’t stop them from promoting the same whenever houses needed dressing for an article or editorial. There’s a large house up the road from mine. They are still in the grey & chrome time wharp. Every year the famuly put this house on the market – we see it advertised online and in the agent window but no for sale sign ever outside. After a few fruitless months, they take it off again. The decor hasn’t been changed or 4 years and it looks dated. Let’s hope the agent persuades them to make changes before next year’s effort!