Decorating is a word that tends to illicit very strong responses at both ends of the emotional spectrum from joy to abject horror. People either love, or hate getting busy with rollers, ladders, paste and paper. Then there’s the subjective mire of what ‘decorative’ even means. For some these words connote colour, flowers, flounces and vivacity galore, for others simplicity, wood and white throughout.
How we choose to pretty, perfect or camouflage our homes is a profoundly personal decision, a tangible expression of something going on inside. Alternatively, a declaration of how we wish to be perceived. The two are sometimes different. Overlay over the top the various winds of fashionable change, rights and so thought wrongs, not to mention the individual likes and dislikes of family members and it’s not surprising many find it daunting. But, whether prompted by need or desire, decorating is how you make your home your own, so however you ultimately do it is right, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Having said that, beyond questions of style, there are practical issues to consider, so herewith my personal shortlist of technique dos and don’ts…
My 10 Dos and Don’ts of Decorating
1. Start with the envelope of your home (walls, ceilings, floors etc) before buying any new furniture. It’s important to determine where you feel big pieces should go but your foundation must come first.
2. Contemplate your electrics to the point of obsession (and put in more sockets and switches than you ever think you need, you will need them), chase all the wires into the walls and re-plaster to a perfect finish, and then and only then, consider painting or papering. You need a good quality base to get a good quality finish. And there is absolutely nothing worse in my book than exposed cables or trunking!
3. Spend the most you can afford on your floor and kitchen countertop. Two horizontal surfaces you will spend a long time, consciously or not, observing. And particularly in the case of your floor, it underpins everything. Don’t go cheap here. Wait until you can get what you really want. In the interim, depending on the finish, a good floor paint and some rugs can conceal a multitude of sins.
4. On window walls, if you go for colour, paint the window frame in the same shade so you effectively frame the view. Unless your window casing is fantastically ornate, do not make a feature of it. Likewise dado rails. Doors too: frames et al, paint them the same as the surround; it’s about planes of colour not punctuated surfaces. The exception is cornicing, which should, I believe, be the same colour as the ceiling.
5. Do consider using gloss paint on the ceiling. I’ve used it throughout my home and love the way it subtly reflects light, from sunlight to artificial light. And don’t automatically default to white either. (Farrow&Ball’s “Blackened” gloss is glorious on a ceiling, it’s like an indoor sky!)
6. Do use tiles anywhere you please, and mix materials with abandon too. I’ve even used them for headboards, cheerfully combining marble off-cuts with oversize ceramic tiles.
7. Don’t be afraid to use black. Gloss finishes (lacquer, paint or tiles) are brightening rather than dark as they bounce light around. And if you combine a multitude of textures in one space, the overall effect can be very sophisticated and sleek, not remotely gloomy.
8. Why not collage different runs of wallpaper together, no-one says you have to use one print per wall. See it as vertical bands of pattern instead.
9. Do check out Anaglypta’s textured wall coverings. Instant three-dimensional pattern you can colour as you wish! And if you really want to go to town, go for Lincrusta, a super thick, deeply embossed “wallpaper” that comes as panels and friezes. So brilliant it’s even been used in The White House.
10. Choose your lights last. Think of them as the jewellery of your home. It’s really hard to plan a whole outfit around some earrings, same deal for a room. They are your finishing touches.
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the April 2015 edition of ELLE Decoration UK