Friday, 16 November 2012

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?*

That’s easy - I’d be 33. For. Ever. 

When searching the WorldWide Interweb for a source of inspiration for today’s blog I stumbled across the images below – I thought that they were rather apt given that it is my birthday this weekend and for little people birthdays = ice cream (with jelly). Obviously, these days for me, birthdays = (fizz + posh dinners) + (presents x lots). Importantly, what these images also demonstrate is that any kind of picture can be the inspiration for a room… 

(Images from Lime Love Mud and Atlanta Homes)

I think I mentioned it in a previous blog, but we are hopefully about to commence the complete renovation of our home (after months, if not years of deliberating, pontificating and planning). However, it struck me this morning that we have been so focused on the architectural aspects of the build, I haven’t really begun to think about colour schemes. So, I anticipate that during the next few weeks (as the destruction of our current home gets underway and we sit freezing in the loft with a fan heater and trangia stove) I will be spending an increasing amount of time focusing on the fun bits of the design, including the colour scheme… and my starting point for all this (and remaining consistent with my mantra from a number of previous blogs) – finding a few concept images like the one below that provide me (and my husband) with clear direction on the look and feel of our future home… well, as long as we don’t run out of money during the build... but I hear that unpainted skimmed walls and exposed flooring is very popular these days…

*Satchel Paige

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Oh, what a feeling… when we’re dancing on the ceiling!*

…but it doesn’t have to be a white ceiling. And that’s helpful if you are planning to dance on it fairly regularly. 

This week I thought I would share some tips for painting your home to create a natural flow within the entirety of the space and to make your home feel bigger… operative word being ‘feel’ – paint cannot actually make your house bigger. In fact, logically, it will make your house millimeters smaller.

There are three ways that you can paint your walls and woodwork.

1. The traditional (and therefore most common/standard) way of painting our homes is to have coloured walls and white gloss on the woodwork – this is ok and a safe option, but it’s pretty boring…

2. A trend that is becoming increasingly popular (which interior designers use a lot) is to swap this around and put the light colour on the walls and the darker stronger colour on the woodwork. By doing this you will create a more impressive impact and the house will feel bigger (and finished to a higher standard)

3. Alternatively, another technique that interior designers use is to paint the entire room the same colour (including the skirting boards, dado rail and picture rail) – in the right space this can be very effective and make the room feel even bigger. You have to bear in mind that you may need different types of paint for different surfaces and the accuracy of colour matching is absolutely critical

With respect to the ceiling, there are again three ways in which it can be painted.

1. Lots of people ignore the ceiling and just paint it white – it makes a very clear distinction with the walls and highlights where the ceiling starts, which unfortunately has the effect of lowering the ceiling – by softening this transition by using a tone of white you will instantly create the illusion of more height

2. An effective way of creating the illusion of more height is to consider taking the wall colour over the cornice and onto the ceiling

3. A further alternative it to paint the cornice the same colour as the woodwork and then paint the ceiling the same colour as the walls – again, in the right space this can be very effective and creates an impact

If you are renovating your home or simply redecorating a room, choosing the paints can be a daunting task. There are no rights and wrongs (other than hideous taste), but hopefully these tips and decorative styles may help with your choices.

*Lionel Richie

(Image from John Lewis - Sanderson Paint)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.*

Well, Design Week is over and my liver (read ‘alcohol processing plant’) is now in full on recovery mode - far too many school nights out on the town in London and Monaco! – enough fizz to sink a ship, never mind launch one… Not great preparation for my imminent half marathon…

For me, the real highlight during the past few weeks was spending time on the super yacht that I have been working on for the past 18 months while it was showcased at the Monaco Boat show… and, most importantly, for it to be the talk of the show (you can’t really miss it – it’s huge and the interior is quite spectacular). It was so rewarding to see the yacht looking supreme amongst all the other craft and for it to receive so much high praise (from designers and billionaires alike). Unfortunately I am unable to share any images or tell you what it’s called, which is truly gutting… I can’t even drop any obvious hints…

So, given that I can’t show you any images of the yacht, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite finds from design week. Such a super simple idea (the best ideas always are), but such a great concept for displaying artwork and images from books and magazines.

(Image from

The box has malleable foam rubber balls inside it that push the pages of a magazine or book or piece of art against the Perspex front to display the image as if it were floating in the box and on the wall …and the wonderful thing about it is that if you get bored with the images you can simply open the lid and change to another page or publication – you can actually curate your own art collection!

Can’t wait for these to go on sale – I think they would be a great addition to my studio to display inspirational and concept images – and maybe the odd picture of a super yacht… By the way, if you are in the process of commissioning a super yacht and need a designer, please do give me a shout (although I don’t really do anything less than 70m…).

*David Lee Roth

Monday, 17 September 2012

London Calling...

Right then… Very excited, as London Design Festival is finally upon us - it comprises a rich variety of exhibitions, installations, talks, events and parties (read ‘fizz!’). Of course, amongst that heady mix of stuff, a number of larger destination exhibitions punctuate one's list of must-visit events - 100% Design and Decorex in the West, Design Junction in Central London and Super Brands and Tent London in the East. Each destination could be a day out in itself, so leave plenty of time to get around; some of the finest new products are launched… from talented independent designers all the way through to renowned international brands (and there are numerous features to enjoy, including; installations, seminars, debates, pop-up shops, restaurants and bars – read ‘fizz’…). You should be aware that the ‘Design Destinations’ (DDs for short) don't all share the same dates during the festival, so be sure to check their individual websites when planning your visit. It is also advised to register to attend in advance (yawn… boring).

I thought that you might be interested to learn about some of the main events (most are on through this coming weekend), as many of them are open to the general public on selected days.

1) Tent London

Now in its sixth year, the ‘multi-faceted’ design event Tent London returns to the Old Truman Brewery in the lively Brick Lane area of east London. Both established and emerging independent designers and brands co-exist here - however for me Tent London is mainly about up and coming designers who are exhibiting their prototype interior products with the aim of being spotted and to get their work into the mainstream. I really love this event as you get to see what ‘new blood’ coming into the design world are thinking – really inspirational. Visitors can expect to see more than 200 local and international exhibitors from over 26 countries showing a mix of contemporary furniture, lighting, digital and interior products.

When: 20-23rd September 2012 
Where: Old Truman Brewery (E1)
Entry: £10 admission fee

2) Super Brands

Following its successful debut last year, the sister show to tent Super Brands London is returning in 2012 and is more than double its original size. Over 40 furniture, lighting and interiors brands are presenting new concepts and products. 

When: 20-23rd September 2012
Where: Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR
Entry: £8 in advance / £10 on the door

3) Shoreditch Design Triangle

To celebrate this year's London Design Festival, thirty one local galleries, shops, studios, cafés and restaurants in and around the Shoreditch Triangle have joined forces to bring you a week of special design events. Starting on the 14th of September, each location will be holding events to launch individual exhibitions and to celebrate and showcase exciting new work. I love this aspect of the week… wandering around the back streets of Shoreditch and stumbling across the most amazing galleries have just popped up for the duration of the festival – truly inspirational. 

When: 14th – 23rd September 2012
Where: Shoreditch
Entry: Free

4) 100% Design

This is one of the biggest events during the festival with over 21,000 trade visitors. The focus is contemporary interior design and there will be four new areas; 100% Interiors, 100% Office, 100% Kitchen & Bathrooms, 100% Eco, Design & Build. Each area will have a dedicated hub space with engaging seminars and networking capabilities. The Emerging Brands section will be showcasing the best in emerging design talent and providing a hands‐up to the next generation from the UK and overseas. 

When: 19-22nd September 2012 (Saturday 22nd General Public)
Where: Earls Court
Entry: Tickets on the door for £15

5) Decorex International

This year, Decorex celebrates its 35th anniversary making it the longest-standing design and interior show during the London Design Festival. Located in the grounds of The Royal Hospital Chelsea, the organisers are marking this milestone with a review of the event’s heritage, honouring iconic moments, key design pieces and the people and influences the industry has harnessed. Over 250 exhibitors are showing, ranging from contemporary, traditional and bespoke furniture to lighting, floor coverings, fabrics and wall coverings, accessories and bespoke services. 

When: 23-26 September 2012
Where: Royal Hospital Chelsea
Entry: Only Trade Visitors

6) Design Junction

Bringing together a stellar line-up of leading UK and international lighting and furniture brands, this event is set to excite, inspire and challenge anyone with a passion for design. Designjunction instantly made a name for itself when it debuted at last year’s Festival with a select showcase of UK and international design brands. This year, the organisers have significantly upped their ambitions by taking on the voluminous old 1960s Royal Mail sorting office as their venue. Spread over three floors and 10,000 sqm, the space offers an industrial backdrop against which a strong line-up of design brands, small labels, creative enterprises, pop-up shops, large-scale installations, temporary restaurants, bars and cafes, working flash factories, live entertainment and seminars are housed.

When: 19-23rd September 2012 from 11am to 6pm
Where: The Sorting Office, 21-31 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BA
Entry: Free

In addition to the London Design Fesitval, the Monaco Yacht Show is taking place this week, so tomorrow morning I am jetting off to Monaco for three days to see the Super yacht I have been working on for the past year (and to a have a little party with billionaires – read ‘fizz’)… Bye.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The only paradise is paradise lost*

We have literally just landed from what has to be the most awesome vacation I have ever been on – we have been to the Maldives (a destination not on our list, but the villa, stiltly, water thing is something that has to be done…). Firstly, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking – I have never seen colours so vividly – the turquoise of the lagoon in contrast to the dark blue of the ocean was out of this world…. it was wonderful to see how the appearance of light driven by geography and topography has such an impact on how you perceive colours.

One thing you learn as an interior designer is that colours look very different and work very differently in different types of light and, as a consequence, you have to appreciate how different colours work in different types of environment. This was illustrated supremely in the Maldives where the light from the sea, which has a slight but significant blue to it, had a huge impact on the vividness of the colours everywhere else and, more importantly, on the colours that work. In contrast, here in London the city light is slightly grey and hence, the colours that work in the Maldives won’t necessarily work in city light… furthermore, in the countryside, the light is slightly green and unsurprisingly a totally different colour palette typically works in this environment. It made me realise that as a consequence of the fact I have spent a lot of time designing in London (and hence lots of my schemes have an undertone of grey to work with the light) is was so refreshing to see bold bright colours working so well in the natural sea light of the Maldives.

The Six Senses was beautifully designed and its colour scheme was based on a standard and neutral base colour, to complement the wood from which all the Ocean and Lagoon villas were built - this was then fused with a tropical colour palette of bright turquoises, oranges, pinks, yellows and lime greens… which may well have been inspired by the coral reef that surrounded this private island. These vivacious and bright colours are ideal for locations by the sea where bold decoration looks fantastic and gives natural vigor to an interior. In this instance they had to tastefully reach the appropriate balance between the neutrals and tropical colours to ensure it didn’t look garish or over the top…

(Image from Wonders of Creation and Six Senses Laamu)

One very practical and unglamorous tip that you can take from this blog is the importance of never trusting the lighting in the store in which are purchasing your paint and fabrics – either purchase a sample pot or request a fabric cutting and check that your chosen paint and fabric work in the lighting of your home – it can be hugely shocking how different they actually look in the location… In addition, if you are lucky enough to own a place in the city, in the country or by the sea, make sure you consider the type of lighting that you use as it will have implications on the success of your scheme.

*Marcel Proust

Friday, 17 August 2012

Good evening, Mr Bond…*

What an absolutely amazing two weeks to have been in Great Britain and, if you were really lucky, in London – other than the deeply unsettling, verging on post-apocalyptic, emptiness around tourist hotspots, west end shopping streets and across the entire public transport network (read ‘free seats on trains’), the buzz around the city was infectious and the weather was uncharacteristically amazing. Actually, based on that rather bold opening statement, I am now deeply suspicious that we were in fact transported through space and time to an alternate universe (where London is a lovely place) or, for those of you who remember it first time round with ‘I’ll be back Ar-nie…’, experienced something vaguely resembling the storyline of Total Recall. Anyway, I thought The Olympics were truly outstanding and that we did an absolutely fantastic job of hosting the games (even if it was just an alternate universe or a deeply implanted fictitious memory). Also, following last week’s blog (where I slated her chances of winning), I also wanted to take the opportunity to say a huge congratulations to Jessica Ennis. I was lucky enough to see her on the first night of the heptathlon at the Olympic Stadium and she took it all in her stride (literally and figuratively) – in fact, she was a true inspiration… she dealt with all the pressure of being the poster girl for the London Games and still came away with gold and an absolutely phenomenal performance.

So, having managed to do absolutely no work for the best part of two weeks, either because I was at the events or glued to the TV watching everything from Athletics to the Modern Pentathlon (???), I was absolutely gutted when it all came to an end… in fact, I even shed a tear when the flame was extinguished… and that’s not because I was really, really confused about whether the closing ceremony was absolutely hopeless or the defining work of a mad genius… Anyway, the Olympics (part one) is over and it’s back to the humdrum of everyday existence… well, that’s what I thought… until Davy told me he had booked us a last minute summer holiday to the Maldives. And believe me gentlemen, that’s the sort of earth shattering announcement that gets women everywhere thinking about clothes shopping… So, as the long forgotten cauldron slowly cools, I have been frantically looking for inspiration for my summer ‘water villa on stilts’ wardrobe – whilst looking on the Worldwide Interweb I came across the image below and I just loved the vibrancy of the colours… and, as this wonderful find coincided with thinking about a topic for my blog, I thought I would take the opportunity to share it with you.

From time to time I come back to a design fundamental – concept images. It has been a few months since I last got on my soapbox about them, but given that they are such an important element of the design process I wanted to remind you about them one more time (well, until the next time…). It’s super simple… if you find an image that you love, explore whether you could apply the colour palette to create a space that works in your home. I can guarantee you that if the colours work in the image they will almost certainly be able to provide the necessary inspiration and basis for the design of an interior space in your home…

(Images from Vogue and,uk)

*HRH Queen Elizabeth II

Friday, 3 August 2012

Only an idiot hangs the Union Flag upside down. Shame on you!*

Right then. Where to start… well, the Opening Ceremony was truly awesome (well done Sir Danny Boyle) and, unbelievable as it might seem, we are almost half way through the Games – that said, excitement builds again from today as the athletics commences in the main auditorium later this morning (I hope they have managed to remove the grassy knoll and the smoke stacks). 

Yesterday I went to my very first Olympic event… the beach volleyball at Horseguards Parade (obviously my husband’s choice) – in short, I absolutely loved it. The buzz in the absolutely superb temporary stadium they have created (in what is effectively a litter tray for posh horses) was truly brilliant. Supposedly we were the best supporters they have had thus far – we managed a world beating 26 Mexican waves around the stadium I’ll have you know (but I bet they say that to the supporters at all the sessions and by 11pm last night I am sure it was up to more than 30 drunken Mexican waves…). There is also an amazing vibe in the city, with Olympic volunteers smiling and greeting you all the way from the train stations to the event venues (Davy hated this unnecessary demonstration of enthusiasm and had to be restrained at 7.46am yesterday morning). I have to say the whole thing made me very proud to be British and we are definitely putting on a super games that is showcasing our country and our capital in the best possible light.

After a fairly slow start, momentum has built and there have been a flurry of medals, from Bradley Wiggins in the Time Trial (who should be Knighted along with Danny, if for no other reason than he seems to be a decent bloke, likes Scooters, has great taste in music and unashamedly got drunk on vodka tonics after his victory) to successes in the track cycling (good work Sir Chris, with help from that German bloke who said all the wrong things in the post medal ceremony interview), rowing, canoeing and shooting (to name but a few). I can’t wait to go to the Olympic Stadium later this evening to see Jessica Ennis, our poster girl of the London 2012 Olympics, do her stuff… and inevitably win Silver…

2012 has undoubtedly been a year where as a nation we feel confident saying that we are proud to be British – and given that the Union Jack** has had a spectacular revival as a brand (and distanced itself from imagery associated with football hooliganism and other distasteful groups), I thought I would share a few images of how Union Jack furniture can add s stylish twist to the home…

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* Dr Who…

** The current design of the Union Flag dates from the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. The flag consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), edged in white and superimposed on the cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which is superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). So, begs the question, where’s the Welsh bit? Answers on a postcard please… also, there are competing theories on why it is referred to as the Union Jack… you can Google that on your own time…

Friday, 20 July 2012

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves*

However, before I start, a general word of caution around predicting the British weather (and by default getting our hopes up due to our pervasive and misplaced meteorological optimism…);

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rung the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't…” (Michael Fish).

It’s one of the most famously misattributed quotes in Met Office history (I know that makes it sound terrific but I suspect there aren’t actually many others)… you may need to ‘Google it’ to get the point – put simply, don’t believe everything you hear on the weather forecast – the meteorological boffins won’t actually admit it, but they don’t really know where the jet stream is going wander off to next…

Anyway, and don’t quote me on this, with the weather supposedly set to improve during the course of the next week (just in time for the Olympics, although rumour has it they are also going to seed the clouds with silver iodide in advance of the opening ceremony like they did in Beijing to make it rain and clear the skies), we might all finally get to use our waterlogged outside space and BBQs. This will be a huge relief for my husband who bought an absolutely spectacular Weber BBQ two months ago (which is so big it casts a shadow over our house) and it hasn’t stopped raining since. I and most of our friends have been blaming him almost exclusively for the truly awful summer to date…

Now I know it’s an oft used cliché, but the whole concept of ‘inside out’ – taking your home/living space to your garden – is becoming even more important (and super cool). In short, what’s the point of having a nicely designed home if your garden lets the whole scheme down? Gardens and patios are becoming another important space in the home (particularly in Londinium, where space is always at a premium), with more and more people wanting it to act properly as an additional room in the house – a space that functions as an additional living room, a dining room and a kitchen (but preferably not as a bathroom)… As a consequence, outdoor furniture has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Now you will typically find that lots of outdoor furniture is barely distinguishable from items that you might find inside your home (but also worth bearing in mind that this stuff needs the care and attention that we associate with traditional outdoor furniture – very easy to forget when it looks like a sofa). More and more furniture is being designed to meet the design brief of ‘an outdoor living room’ and as a consequence the furniture is becoming more comfortable and with higher quality upholstery/finishes (refer once again to the important point on care and attention…). For many clients, the most important factors when it comes to outdoor furniture are comfort and durability. So, forget cheap rattan and painted metal – these are being replaced by more technologically advanced and durable materials and, with the development of synthetic fibers, new sun and weather resistant materials and new advanced molding techniques, the possibilities are almost endless… Just a few years ago, the number of attractive outdoor fabrics was also hugely restricted – again, these have come on leaps and bounds. There are now a number of fabric houses that produce outdoor fabrics that are so fantastic I have on occasion considered using them inside…. in fact, I actually did on the design of a super yacht I have just completed.

Here are just a few images of gardens that I would love to be chillaxing in during the next few days – the days between when the Met Office says that the weather is actually supposed to improve and the artificial downpours created by the silver iodide in the clouds over London… As for the sun, I’ll genuinely believe it when I see it…

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(Image from blissblog via aubrey road)

*Marcel Proust (yet another French novelist…)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Tala íslensku? No, didn’t think so…

We have just returned from a much needed long weekend in Iceland, which was genuinely wonderful – it is a truly amazing and inspirational country. The landscape is out of this world (literally – I have no doubt it’s where they filmed the Apollo moon landings and are currently scouting locations for the missions to Mars)… from the huge contrasts of inhospitable black lava fields to the glistening white glaciers – it’s just breathtaking…. In addition to the wondrous landscape there was one piece of architecture the really blew me away – a new Icelandic landmark – the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall, which opened in 2011 and sparkles in the Icelandic sun (which at this time of year shines 24 hours a day, which is pretty awesome in itself – it also makes you freak out a bit so it’s no wonder they’re all mad…).

The initial concept design was developed in 2004 and it is clearly a product of Iceland's recent past… a product of the years of ‘magic money’ rather than the new normal - it definitely arrived late for the party. And in a town where the standard building type is a two-storey house clad in corrugated steel, it really stands out.

When the bank financing the development crashed during the global financial crisis many, if not all, Icelanders took an obvious position – with people losing their homes and jobs and industries across the country dying, an expensive oversized concert hall was not a priority. But its structure was already four storeys out of the ground and, faced with the alternative of abandoning it as an unfinished build and symbol of failure, the government pressed on towards completion. Now the official blurb declares Harpa ‘a symbol of Iceland's renewed dynamism’… Marketing. Bless.

The facade of Harpa is actually the work of an artist, the Icelandic-Dane, Olafur Eliasson (who gets more attention than the architects, Henning Larsen). Olafur Eliasson came up with a tilted cliff face made of multiple hexagonal glass tubes, which he calls quasi bricks – these are stackable twelve sided modules manufactured in steel and glass, with coloured and mirrored panes inserted here and there to break things up and to add contrast. Unsurprisingly, he was inspired by shapes and patterns made by nature - Iceland is rich in unique natural phenomena, such as the crystallised basalt columns, which the quasi brick resembles.

The exterior wall of the opera house is a double wall of glass ‘cells’ – the hexagonal tubes have glass at the back as well as the front, which provides natural depth. It means that light inhabits the facade rather than just bouncing off it. Eliasson's crystals filter, reflect and fragment the light very effectively – they catch it, play with it, animate it and make it move.

Unlike the Sydney Opera House, Harpa is as impressive from the inside as it is from the exterior. Inside, the hexagons continue, forming a faceted and mirrored ceiling to the foyer. Between Eliasson's light and the main auditorium, which apparently has ‘a clarity of acoustic that has reportedly moved performers to tears of joy’ comes the architecture of Henning Larsen, and an inner core of dark concrete (the colour of Iceland's lava fields), which acts as a foil for the exterior and a container for the interior. This inner core stands inside the glass box, and forms the basis for the inner walls, balconies and stairs of the foyer.

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Love it or hate it (many local people think that the Harpa is misplaced and looks like ‘a 64-inch TV inside a caravan’), I personally thought it was an absolutely astonishing piece of architecture… and don’t get me started on the cathedral…

Friday, 22 June 2012

Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass.*

I can’t quite believe the summer solstice was yesterday (it only seems like 177 days since Christmas…**) – given that the weather has been so unpredictable (read ‘shocking’) over the past few months, I do believe that we all need to be super prepared for alfresco dining when we are fortunately enough to enjoy some summer sun (and that will be in the third week of September if the last few years are anything to go by… and only for one day… typically a Tuesday… and it will end with a spectacular thunderstorm at about 7pm, just when everyone leaves work to go and sit in a beer garden…).

So, in a brief departure from interior design, I thought I would pull together some inspirational images of alfresco dining to inspire you, whether it’s for a fully fledged summer garden party or simply for a lazy breakfast, a tasty lunch or a relaxing dinner…

(Image from photographed by Jill Thomas)
(Image from Style Files)
Although both these images are set in lush greenery (and in an outside space that we can only dream of within Zone 2 in London), they comprise of a few simple and consistent elements that make them work very effectively and help to create an enticing place to eat – elements that you can easily and cheaply recreate in your own garden. In both images the stylists have focused on statement tablecloths, complemented with brightly coloured tableware, chairs, lanterns, garlands and vases (with flowers in – yep, even in a garden…) – both schemes also include candles to make the setting more atmospheric as the natural light deteriorates later in the day…

I also love this idea for keeping your wine cool - a trough for ice running down the centre of the table. Super simple and truly brilliant, but maybe only cost effective if you actually own the vineyard… and live in a climate where the ice doesn’t melt every five minutes…

(Image from Dwell)

Anyway, last night I dreamt about a long, hot summer… balmy days with a gentle westerly breeze in the evening to take the edge off the heat… then I woke up and realised it was the dog breathing on my face. Well, even if it doesn’t come to pass and we don’t get the weather we deserve, we should still make preparations for our one day Indian summer at the back end of September…

* William Shakespeare – On the Summer Solstice… A Midsummer Night’s Dream

**By my reckoning, it’s 178 days since Christmas Day…

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Any subject can be made interesting, and therefore any subject can be made boring…*

A palette of neutrals might strike you as irrelevant and boring, but these colours can in fact be the hardest colours to get right.

Before we begin, a quick educational supplement… Neutral colors are colours that lack hue; usually they are very light colors such as gray, beige and taupe (brownish-gray). Neutral colours are usually dusky in nature and may be called “achromatic”.

Defining true neutral shades is tricky because a large number of colours we know as neutrals have undertones of other colours like red, blue or green. However, neutrals are a colour family in their own right and are now extremely popular in interior and fashion design.

Neutrals have become so well loved due to their amazing versatility and flexibility in making spaces look more contemporary or classic, chic or cosy – delete as appropriate. They are easy to live with and provide the perfect canvas for all the things that you love. Neutrals are often used because of their ability to provide a relaxed atmosphere in your home – based on everything I have described above, by default they are undemanding and very easy to live with shades.

Neutrals are often split into two types; warm neutrals, such as brown, tan and beige, and cool neutrals like white, silver and grey.

Decorating entirely in neutral colors can create a space that is soothing, sophisticated and warm, but only if it is done really well. A lot of people are afraid to use bolder colours because they are worried that they will get it wrong so, as a consequence, they end up with all neutral colors by default. But, when I say done well, what I mean is that it takes more than a lack of colour in a space to create a successfully executed neutral palette.

Some people claim that any neutral colors work together, but I don't actually think that's true. Here are a few points to be aware of when you create a neutral color scheme in your home; 

1. Use many different shades of your neutral colour

2. Use multiple textures that contrast well

3. Use high-quality texture

4. Use beautiful and interesting shapes

5. Use a combination of interesting materials and surfaces

6. Incorporate pattern

7. You can mix your neutrals

8. Add black (or almost-black) for punctuation

9. Include elements from nature for interest and warmth

10. Don't be afraid to add a little bit of colour to your neutral palette in small doses

A neutral color combination can look pretty boring and monotone if there is not enough contrast. You might want to use some really crisp, bright accent colours to keep the look fresh. For example, white gloss paint on window frames and baseboard, milk-white walls, or curtains and cushions in a light neutral color, or a crisp light pattern on a darker ground.

I think most people equate neutral with beige, and that’s no surprise. Neutral seems to suggest for most “void of colour”, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Below are a number of a soft, low-key colours that when mixed together could create a neutral palette while actually using expressive colours.

Neutrals go with most colors, but success is made easier if you stick to one colour family. 'All-white' schemes often look great with just a hint of colour, such as a mix of pale grey/blue/green. Colours look their most vibrant against a background of white. Even a little color will have a significant impact.

(Image from Benjamin Moore paint colors)

A neutral colour palette creates a great unifying element in a home. Every room can have its own selection of added colour, but the neutrals anchor the overall look. And if you believe Belloc, anything can be made to look interesting, even neutrals…

*Hilaire Belloc (Anglo-French writer. Dead at time of writing.)

Friday, 25 May 2012

Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts*

Today is my favourite event of the year, The RHS Chelsea Flower Show - a day where I get to spend quality time with my Mum, sip ridiculously expensive champagne, eat seafood platters and wander around looking at the fabulous displays of flowers, all of which both relax and inspire me. It is always fascinating to see what colour trends are being used in the gardens at Chelsea as there is usually a fairly consistent theme that emerges… a theme that may pervade into other aspects of design.

On Monday this week I also went to the launch party of Kasthalls new rug collection, created by their chief designer, Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg – like Chelsea, this is also an event that involved imbibing copious amounts of champagne (I think I will have blown my units allowance for the next month by the end of today)…. Now I know I always bang on about concept images, but this collection was truly beautiful and is inspired by Gunilla’s interest in flowers and gardens. She has created a series of images using flowers that she had collected herself, pressed and arranged in multiple layers to create kaleidoscopic geometric patterns.

(Image from Kasthall - Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg)
(Image from Kasthall - Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg)
(Image from Kasthall - Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg)

It is a truly classic example of the power of concept images in providing direction in the colours and textures that are applied in the work of a designer.

So, ready for a solid dose of relaxation and inspiration I am off to Chelsea for my lovely day of the year. Perhaps if I drink enough champagne I will begin to see geometric and kaleidoscopic concept images of blooms in the award winning gardens... and if I do, maybe it’s time to drink some water.

*Sigmund Freud

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Money for nothing…*

In the current economic climate it’s hard to make money (unless you are a hedge fund and/or speculate aggressively around the volatility in the markets), but what if you could make even the most basic financial thingamajig, for example, a ten pound note into something that has intrinsic and sustainable value. That is the essence of design. It may also be the way to sort out Greece and the rest of the Eurozone, but we’ll need lots and lots of paper.

(Image from Agrablewski)

Origami is simple, it’s intricate and it uses the most basic of materials to create spectacular and desirable outcomes – in 3D – and let’s be clear, 3D seems to be a hot trend at the moment...

A supreme example of design excellence from basic principles is how origami was used at the heart of NASA's space programme – it was used to help structure and engineer the unfoldy, solar panel bits (the bits that make satellites look like pretty flowers)… There is nothing more cutting edge or enduring in design than a satellite that is up in space for up to 30 years with these superbly simple unfoldy bits…

So, what’s the point of my blog this week? – It’s simply to say that design is about more than just having lots of money to splash out on the latest designer stuff - the best design is about focusing on the detail, the intricacy, the effort, the beauty and the intrinsic value of the finished product... or you could just make a paper plane…

* Dire Straits

Friday, 27 April 2012

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that…*

Lighting can have a huge impact on the ambience of a space, both positive and negative – effective lighting can open up a space, make it a welcoming space (or not…), emphasise key features (both architectural and furniture/artwork) and, ultimately, bring an entire design to life. That said, many designs do not capitalise fully on the role that natural and artificial lighting can play as part of the overall design. Of course, there are many, many different ways that you can light up a space – in this blog I am going to focus on one of my favourites… One way to create a dramatic statement within your home is by using pendant lighting. These days there a huge number of pendant lights available, from what can be simply described as ‘the standard’ to the weird and wonderful – it’s those that fall into the latter category that can be used to make a design statement. And, just to be clear, I am not talking about attaching a pendant to the light fitting over the bed (i.e. in the centre of the room) – the fitting that builders typically wire a building to be able to support – this is about thinking cleverly and more creatively about how you can use pendant lighting within a space as part of an overall design. It’s worth bearing in mind that just because you have preexisting light fittings within a space, you don’t necessarily have to be constrained by them…

(Image from Marie Claire Maison)
(Image from

These images illustrate that you can break the deeply ingrained and accepted rules about lighting and achieve a fantastic and impactful outcome - whether it’s asymmetric ceiling pendants in the bedroom, feature lighting in the kitchen or multiple ceiling lights in the living room…

*Martin Luther King (used completely out of context in this blog… sorry.)

Monday, 16 April 2012

The new high tea – take it at 2pm instead of 4pm. Cake for lunch, basically….*

A Design for Life (my blogging adventure) is a year old this month and to celebrate I thought I would go for Low Tea at one of the many fabulous hotels around central London – it transpires that, according to the Sunday Times Style Magazine, the New High Tea is Low Tea and it is to be taken at ‘2pm instead of 4pm – cake for lunch basically’ – and apparently it’s super cool again… loving it! The image below might not accurately represent the somewhat rarefied experience of tea at the Dorchester or the Ritz, but it is a wonderfully glamorous illustration and the colours are amazing…

(Images from French by Design and Lushush via The Reluctant Fitness Princess)

On several occasions during the past year I have highlighted the importance of concept images when either selecting the colour scheme for a home or as the inspiration for the overarching style of the space. At the moment I am designing several houses and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t stress more the importance of having a clear understanding of the concept behind the design – the concept that is the basis for how you want the entire space to look and feel and to ensure that there is a flow between all the rooms. And, most importantly, so you and your clients have a clear understanding of and consensus around the design ambition you are trying to achieve.

It can sometimes be quite scary to play with colour schemes when designing a space, particularly when you are dealing with some of the bolder statement colours – but the above images prove that by rooting the design in a concept image you can actually demonstrate how the colours will work together (which will hopefully give you confidence to be braver when combining them…). Now, I’m not saying that every concept image works… practical design sensibilities still apply in all circumstances… but a concept image that you love and one that really works can be the basis for a very successful design… a design that may help to push the boundaries of your comfort zone as a designer.

*Sunday Times, Style

Friday, 6 April 2012

“I am the Resurrection…”* - well I’m not, but you get the idea…

It’s Easter and the start of new beginnings for all of us (unless of course you were ‘the big JC’). This time last year was the birth of my blog, ‘A Design for Life’, which is now one year old and still going from strength to strength (although in recent months I have decided to write shorter more punchy articles rather than the huge tomes that were a characteristic of the blog during its early days). I recall the nervous anticipation when I sat down to put pen to paper (or ‘fingers to keys’) for the first time – after quite some effort, redrafting, editing and polishing, the first blog was published/uploaded on the 11th April – and a year on, I still love doing it…. Not only does it force me to proactively keep abreast of what is going on in the industry, it also keeps my mind and brain switched on – these babies don’t write themselves – they involve quite a bit of research, particularly when searching for images to support the subject matter (this blog possibly excluded).

The past year has absolutely flown by and my blog has gone from very humble beginnings to being selected as a finalist in the Decorex Bloggers competition and then becoming the official blog for UK Interiors. Not only has it received recognition as a blog in its own right, it has also resulted in several large projects that have kept me busy during the course of the past year.

(Image from

I personally think Easter is a great time in the year to start something new, so why not set yourself a challenge for the year ahead and get cracking next week. You never know what it could lead to… I couldn’t have imagined the success of my blog when I came up with the idea… all part of my ongoing quest for global domination.

Wishing you all a wonderful Easter break…

* I am the Resurrection, The Stone Roses

Friday, 30 March 2012

“I have tried to be as eclectic as I possibly can with my professional life, and so far it's been pretty fun.”*

Eclectic design can be quite daunting and overwhelming, particularly when you take into consideration all the discrete elements that contribute to an eclectic scheme. Although it can often look like it has been thrown together (which it sometimes has, depending on the experience of the designer), it actually takes considerable skill to create something that works really well in practice. The core skill at the heart of eclectic design is being able to understand how a completely different and diverse variety of stuff can be mixed together to deliver a cohesive scheme.

There genuinely is no right or wrong when it comes to eclectic design, but there are a number of basic design principles that you can take into consideration when creating an eclectic scheme to make sure that it works as a whole… or, from a theoretical Gestalt perspective, to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts…

Fundamental to achieving a successful and effective eclectic scheme is understanding the visual relationship between elements in a space. These guidelines provide a sense of order that aid the design – they are not intended to restrict it. Two really basic principles that are very powerful and effective are symmetry and asymmetry in a room.

(Image from Elle Decor)
Also, by organizing dissimilar (and sometimes very different) design elements in close proximity they are viewed together in the scheme as a group.

(Image from Living Room Decorating)
Finally, the repetition of colour, pattern, shape, texture, etc. causes the viewer’s eyes to see a rhythmic continuity of movement within a space…

(Image from Living Room Decorating)

So, there you go – a beginners guide to eclectic design. If you have always wanted to create an eclectic scheme but haven’t really been sure where to start, just think about using these really simple principles... and then go and buy a book about Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of Visual Perception... no, not really...

*Roland Barthes (dead French literary theorist/intellectual – don’t worry, I had to Google it...)

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