Decorating: some people’s pleasure, others’ pain – for me, joy! I absolutely love the transformative possibilities of decoration. It never ceases to amaze me how colour, pattern and texture can completely alter your experience of a space. It can cool rooms down or warm them up; make spaces feel larger and more airy, or snug, cosy and den-like. It’s also the bit of the home-making process that gets to be fun! After all of the expensive, boring-yet-important stuff you can’t see (plumbing, re-wiring, plastering etc), this is where you get to prettify and see instant change.
As such, I like to think of my walls as large canvases on which I can play. For example, in a previous home I combined colour-coordinated but different vertical lengths of wallpaper to make a rather grand full-height panorama in a bedroom – a device repeated in the lounge. In my current home, a headboard has been made using ‘Period Embossed’ ceramic tiles from H&E Smith, the 90-year-old company that makes the tiles that line London Underground stations. What’s great about this range is it includes matching curved corners, skirting and dado tiles so that you can create wonderful patterns and seamless corners. But it’ll be no surprise to any regular reader that I love tiles, especially mixing shapes, sizes and materials. For years I’ve held in my memory an image of a wall covered entirely in white tiles, but arranged so that every column was a different profile or size because the homeowners had used only inexpensive remaindered tiles from wherever they could find them. Containing the different shapes and patterns in blocks was the genius bit; frankly, an idea I’m desperate to rip off should the right surface present itself – I’m thinking the back garden wall might do nicely. And I’ve always been a huge fan of Anagylpta textured, paintable wallcoverings. After all, why have flat walls when you can have surfaces that thrill your fingertips? And which can be coloured exactly the shade you want them, too!
My top five decorating tips
1. Define your palette (materials and colours) and stick to it. You can always extend it, but do so consistently. In other words, if you decide that you’re going to use both brass and chrome in your home, don’t then suddenly throw in copper, unless you do it in more than one room.
2. When using colour I advocate using it in planes (ie paint entire walls from architrave to skirtings). I’m not a fan of picking out the detailing in contrasting colours. It feels terribly old-fashioned and a touch pedantic to me.
3. Consider gloss for ceilings! I love super-shiny ceilings. It’s unexpected and really helps to bounce light around a room. Also, don’t auto default to white. I’ve used Farrow & Ball’s ‘Blackened’, which is an extremely pale blue-grey, in my home.
4. Spend as much as you can afford on your floor. For you can sit on a box on a beautiful floor and be happy, but nothing will ever improve a cheap floor. Flooring underpins everything, and is not easy to change. As I write this I am literally days away from finally installing the parquet floor of my dreams, from the ethically-conscious brand Ecora. It’s involved five years of increasingly impatient anticipation; getting other stuff done first (the floor should always be done last), saving up again, then deciding the pattern and the colour (a dark Jacobean oak), installing the underfloor heating and so on. I will cry with happiness when it’s done.
5. Have no qualms about instantly firing bad tradespeople. They will only cost you more money in the long run, as you will more than likely have to get everything they did badly re-done. There is always another plumber, electrician, carpenter to be found. Always. And you’re the client. Most seem to forget this: that they’re there to help you, not the other way round.
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the April 2016 edition of ELLE Decoration UK