Monthly Archives: February 2015

Give your bathroom the Midas touch

Forget being an interior designer. This week I am mostly shivering. Or making cups of tea. Or stomping about the house in a bad mood. Yes the builders are back. I’ve got plumbers ripping out the upstairs bathroom and leaving dusty damp footprints everywhere. I’ve got roofers tearing the roof off the downstairs wet room to fix the leaks and replace the skylight. The electrician popped in at lunch time to drill some more channels in the bathroom because he probably thought there wasn’t enough dust in the house. Knowing my luck the joiner will turn up tomorrow a few weeks early just to get in on the mess.They weren’t all supposed to be here at the same time but if you’ve ever had to wait to get your roof fixed you’ll know why I didn’t turn them away when they rocked up at 7.45am this morning. The word elusive was invented for roofers.

I’m trying to ignore the disruption though and focus on what my lovely new bathroom will look like when it’s finished. As a nation we seem to be stuck in a chrome rut when it comes to bathroom fixtures. You go online and browse any of the major bathroom stockists ranges and if they do have any gold fittings they are limited. Admittedly gold bathroom taps used to have an association with avocado baths and rose pink carpets but I think enough water has passed down the plug hole for us to re-embrace gold fittings. I did start scouring eBay and salvage yards to see if I could get some lovely old antique brass fittings but what I could find was in poor condition and I would have ended up with a very mismatched suite of taps, cistern levers and plug holes. So in the end I decided to give the bathroom the Midas touch and go with bright polished gold, and I think with the soft grey colour palette and the victorian floor tiles it’s going to look gorgeous, particularly if it looks as good as some of these bathrooms…

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This is what started my gold obsession off. I also love the matt blue hexagon mosaic floor tiles

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The fittings may be chrome but the mustard bath is to die for and the moorish arch and tiles are perfect

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I love this 1920’s look – very chic and manhattan

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This helped convince me polished gold with grey was the way to go.

The bathroom should have been a one week job but they need to reinforce the floor joists to hold the new cast iron bath, and re-plaster the walls because they’re too wonky to tile as they are. So it’s turned into a two week job. But hopefully the roofers will finish tomorrow and become elusive once more so I can get a hot shower – with a view of the stars through my new mahoosive skylight!

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Fancy a night out on the tiles?

In my old life I spent a lot of nights in exotic places, in exotic bars, drinking exotic cocktails and avoiding exotic men. These days I spend most of my nights either watching Scandal (totally addicted), or searching for fixtures and fittings for projects I am working on. The last few nights have been spent on (the) tiles and I am starting to develop a fettish on a par with my love of wood and stone flooring. I wanted to share 5 absolute beauties with you to see if it’s just me or if you also find them so lovely you want to build an extension just so you’ll have somewhere to lay them.

#1 Rovere parquet wood effect porcelain floor tiles

These are so realistic its amazing. If I don’t find a customer for them this year I may have to dig up my wet room floor. They measure just under 50cm x 50cm and cost as much as wood flooring (£50 Sqm) but look how beautiful they look…..

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#2 Gosford victorian unglazed clay tiles

I am a sucker for victorian tiling, and just came across the Gosford range. The squares are a little smaller than your standard tiles which gives them that old fashioned feel, and the colours are just right; the white not too bright and the black like coal. The corners, borders and geometric patterns come ready to lay and you buy the plain squares individually. They also have coloured ones. If you have a large room or hallway it can be quite pricey once you’ve added all the squares, borders and corners you need but they are timeless. I bought mine from Walls & Floors who beat a competitors price by 5% after I brought it to their attention. Great company BTW, huge range, good prices, quick delivery, great customer service and they promise to beat any competitor by 5% – what’s not to like.

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#3 Moresque encaustic effect ceramic tiles by Envy

Encaustic painting involves adding coloured pigment to heated beeswax and then applying it to the surface you want to paint. I’ve never seen the results so I’m not sure if these tiles are technically realistic I just know they’re gorgeous. The grey ones competed with the victorians for my bathroom but dropped into second place at the last minute. There are a lot of Moroccan tiles around at the moment but these are a little different with a medieval hint about them. They also come in brighter colours.

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#4 Marble effect ceramic tiles by Vyne in gloss or matt

Marble tiles like the ones pictured below left are beautiful but they can be expensive so these marble effect tiles below right are a more affordable alternative (51p each / £45 Sqm). I came across them when I was considering matching them to a marble topped vanity unit. I didn’t use them in the end because next to real marble the veining is more black than grey but I am thinking about using them in a kitchen next to black granite, possibly in a herringbone pattern. They are only 150mm x 75mm and are not bevelled so have a lovely vintage look.

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#5 Blue gloss hexagonal ceramic tiles from Bejewelled

Just in case you thought I lived in a world of monochrome my last beauty is a bright blue gloss hexagon tile that comes in 300mm x 260mm sheets (£4 a sheet / £52 Sqm). I was actually searching for a dark blue matt hexagon tile like the one in the picture below when I came across these and we are about to fit them in a customers bathroom. The picture below doesn’t really do them justice, the blue is like a caribbean sky and I managed to find some Christy towels that are exactly the same colour – result!

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So that’s enough tiles for the night, time to catch up on Scandal…..

Small business, big job

This week I stray from my usual topic of interior design to share a personal epiphany in the interest of helping others who might be considering going it alone and entering the world of  small business.

I have recently realised that my 20 years working for a big international corporation taught me a lot, but it also shielded me from some very everyday stuff. Yes, I can  write weighty business plans, lead big teams and run multi-million dollar projects across multiple countries, but until last summer I had never bought a mobile phone. I have only ever bought one car, which was back in 1997, and to be honest that day I went out to get a hairdryer…..Broken blackberry, printer not working, new business cards, expenses, etc all handled by the amazing Lindsey who I now miss and not just because she mollycoddled me. I tell you all this not so I can say “ooh look what an amazing job I had and how important I was” but to confess how inept I am compared to my peers in the land of small business owners. But I’m learning, fast.

I have always respected anyone who started their own business but I hadn’t really appreciated how much work is needed, and most of it is not even trade related. You need to separate your finances and buy insurance. You need a system for tracking all your business expenses, storing receipts and invoicing customers. It’s all well and good having a strong business plan but you need to find the time to develop the website and social media presence and execute the marketing plan, and track the results of all this effort. And that’s alongside actually delivering the services to your new customers. Yes the Government and other organisations provide advice and guidance but it’s still down to you to do something with that advice. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining. I’m actually loving the fact that at 41 I’m learning so much.

So to keep me focused on Interior Design (and out of jail) I’ve made some new friends like Mark the accountant and Josephine the lawyer. I had a lovely chat with Patrick from yell.com the other day after setting up a free listing. He showed me some very interesting stats on the number of people who had searched for an Interior Designer in the areas I am targeting. He was gutted we had to end our call before he could sell me any services because Mr W needed the phone line for a conference call. But I suspect he’ll call back tomorrow and we might become friends 🙂

So what have I learned that I can pass on to others that might want to start a business?

  1. Talk to other small business owners about how they got started. They will have already been through the pain of sorting out their finances, website, stationary etc so their advice could save you time and money.
  2. Write a business plan which includes a marketing plan that will bring you customers, but that you can realistically execute. You also don’t want to be turning customers away or letting them down because you went overboard on the marketing efforts.
  3. Get yourself an accountant early on and figure out your admin system so that you don’t have to play catch up
  4. Make the new bank account and credit cards a priority in case you have any problems with pin numbers and setting up online banking (grrr Barclays, sort it out!)
  5. Ironically I am now grateful to my former employers shockingly poor systems and IT department because it has made me pretty good at IT so I’m making good headway with the website and social media stuff. But from talking to other small business owners it seems I’m not the norm. So if you are the norm then get some help but don’t spend a lot and make sure you will be able to maintain it yourself or for little extra cost.

My final piece of advice only applies to those who left a job that was perhaps full on and paid well to pursue their passion. Remember why you left that job. Don’t work so hard that you’re just as stressed as you were before, but with less money to pay for the wine you’ll need to relax at the weekend. And if you do find yourself getting a little stressed now and again, get yourself some chickens. There’s nothing like a little chicken watching to bring down the blood pressure, I promise.

What’s your bum to cushion ratio?

No self-respecting interior designer wants to be branded a cushion scatterer but when major retailers are allocating significant percentages of valuable floor space to cushions, and more and more hobbyists appear on Etsy selling their handmade ones you can’t ignore their place in our hearts and homes. The number on our sofas has increased, and they now pop up anywhere else you might park your derriere; the bed, a window seat, a kitchen bench, in the garden. It’s a miracle we’ve not succumbed to softly furnished toilet seats.

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The number, size, shape and colour of cushions appears to be one of those gender specific obsessions. Why is it that football, beer and car shows tend to attract more male than female fans? And why do most men do their best to avoid shoe shopping, spa days and musical theatre? I often wonder if this unofficial segregation is the result of nature, nurture or just plain peer pressure. Mr W actually likes a bit of shoe shopping (see last weeks post on the number of pairs of brown shoes he owns…), a spa day (if there’s a gym) and a show (I swear). But I suspect he would deny all 3 if questioned by his friends. A picture I posted on Facebook of a newly decorated bedroom (not my personal page I hasten to add, it was on my decorators business page) prompted the post from a male friend “what is it with women and cushions” which supports my theory that cushions reside in the female camp. So at the risk of killing a career that has barely started, and in the interest of trying to engage more men in the topic of cushions I introduce to you my cushion playbook!

Playbooks are used by American football coaches to document their strategies and plays. In my old life we used to create sales playbooks to help brokers sell our products. The senior management team was literally obsessed with creating these things. They thought they were the holy grail that would deliver our new business budgets. So my old boss will be proud as hell if he reads this, and I’m hoping the sports metaphor will win me some male readers.

1. You can have too many cushions. In the living room I use the following bum to cushion ratio. Armchair = 1 cushion, two-seater = 2, three-seater = 4, four-seater = 5/6.

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 Pretty but where would you sit?

2. Size matters. For slim armchairs a single boudoir cushion is often best (30cm x 40cm. For armchairs and two-seaters, stick to maximum of 40cm x 40cm. Once you get to a three-seater you can introduce larger cushions, say a 50cm x 50cm paired with a 40cm x 40cm at each end. On my four-seaters I also have a single 60cm x 40cm in the centre but a row of same size smaller cushions can look stylish, or a selection of random shapes and sizes, particularly if you mix and match fabrics, patterns and colours. Just remember you need to leave enough space for people to actually sit down.

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3. Remember cushions are meant to add comfort, so avoid scratchy wool, sequins and beads however pretty they are. I’d also favour natural versus man made fabrics to avoid static, and down filled versus man made fibres unless someone in the house is allergic. Cheap feather cushions can be a nuisance if the quills poke through so check the quality of the material used for the inner.

4. Cushions are a great way of getting accent colour into your room. If you’re mixing patterns I tend to use a big pattern with a small one if the patterns are very different, and the same size if they are similar. Think big floral with small spots, or similar size geometrics together.

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5. There are occasions when cushions should be avoided (cue gasps from the women readers). For example, when you have a particularly bulky cushioned leather sofa or armchair. Cushions would stop you from nestling into the leather cushions and they’d probably slide off anyway. A customer and friend recently showed me the sofa below that she was considering purchasing. I’m not sure what caused her to sit on it in the showroom as pretty it is not (remind you of flying?), but her bum has been driving the need to have it ever since. Apparently it’s the comfiest thing she has ever sat on, and unfortunately we can’t hide it behind cushions because of its bulk. I’m looking into throws instead…If she buys it she may feel the need to point out the nearest emergency exits when guests sit down.

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6. Apply a similar bum to cushion ratio in the bedroom. Assuming two pillows per sleeper, add 1 cushion to a single, 2 to a double, or 4 if two of them are small, and 4 to a king size bed. When stacked up they shouldn’t cover more than 50% of the bed. You also have to consider what you’ll do with them at night. If you don’t have room at the foot or sides of your bed for the decorative ones keep it simple.

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7. I have a kingsize bed and I’m a fan of the 2-4-2 formation. 2 large square pillows at the back in a bold print or a colour that compliments the bedding. Great for people that read or watch TV in bed. Plus 4 regular pillows in either housewife or oxford pillow cases. Finished with 2 medium sized cushions. If your bedding and curtains aren’t an exact match having cushions that match the curtains brings the room together.

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8. My friend Phil goes for comfort 100% over aesthetics and deploys the straight 8 formation. All the same size and fabrics but different levels of comfort. Apparently pillow cuddling is something we all do to relax ourselves before drifting off to sleep. I haven’t asked him but perhaps he favours different ones depending on how stressed he is.

9. I don’t need to tell you where to buy cushions as they’re literally everywhere these days, but I would say shop around. You don’t need to go to John Lewis for quality, you can pick up great cushions in Dunelm, Matalan and the supermarkets. If you don’t want the same as all your neighbours then Notonthehighstreet and Etsy are a great source. If you have something in mind Google the colour and type of print you want. These days many retailers have photos of most if not all their stock online. This is how I found the geometric print and the green fern printed cushions I needed for a customers bedrooms, and if you can’t find the right cushion find the fabric and get them made by a local seamstress. The wonderful Dianne Roffey of Di’s Soft Furnishings in Keswick has made 75% of the cushions in my house.

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10. Finally, if you see something unusual that really catches your eye, get it. You might not have the room for it yet but you might one day and will kick yourself if you didn’t. This is what drove me to buy these beauties in Spitalfields Market yesterday. They’re made by The Cushion Studio. Some of their cushions are available in John Lewis and on Etsy but Spitalfields is the only place you can get all of their designs. I love Frieda Kahlo, even if she does look a little bit like Lilly Allen. They’ll be going in summer house when the weather improves.

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Author: Amelia Wilson, Interior Designer and Cushion Scatterer……

Working your wardrobe space – tips from a former clothes and shoe junkie

Last week when I wasn’t checking on my sick chicken (Margo this time) or maintaining my flood defences (more on that later) I was thinking about wardrobe space, because my customer decided she trusts me enough to design the interior of her new fitted wardrobes without her input. Talk about pressure. As a former clothes and shoe junkie I am well qualified for the task but I get this wrong and she’ll never forgive me, and neither will her husband because it will be him that suffers. Everyone knows the whole equal partnership thing goes out of the window when it comes to clothes space. The wife automatically gets 70% – its practically the law.

I have asked them about their clothes, (amount hung versus folded, number of long coats or dresses etc.), but I’m expecting wild inaccuracies in their answers. Women always say not that much, and the men immediately disagree. Everyone forgets how many coats they own as most are seasonal purchases, never mind the new holiday clothes we buy each year. Men are worse than women at acknowledging how many pairs of shoes they own. Mr W must have at least 5 pairs of brown casual shoes which all look identical to me, 2-3 pairs of work shoes, at least 2 pairs of boots, 3-4 pairs of trainers, plus walking and cycling shoes. The list goes on…but if you ask him he will say he has 6 pairs. So I asked the clothes questions but also probed about the activities they pursue, and rummaged in their current wardrobes! So if you ever find yourself in my position or want to design your own space here are my tips:

1. Start with the hanging space. Limit the amount of full height hanging space to what you think they need and then double up everywhere else. I’d always recommend side mounted rails. It doesn’t matter how well lit your wardrobe is you can never see what’s at the back, and if you’re like me, if you can’t see it you forget you have it. If I’m honest I also don’t quite understand the point of the rails you pull down with a hook, unless you are really short or have mobility issues. All the images I’ve ever seen of them feature average height agile looking women, its a mystery to me….

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2. Unless you’re stuck in the 80’s and still wearing shoulder pads, cropped tops and bolero jackets you need a minimum depth of 600mm and at least 1050mm height, including 50-100mm above the rail so you can get hangers on and off easily.

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3. Next think about shoes; work wear, evening wear, casual wear, summer sandals, winter boots and sports shoes. Unless your house will always be 100% female use mens shoes to calculate your requirements. The average mens shoes are approx. 240mm wide and 300mm long (if you live with a giant measure their shoes…). So in a wardrobe 750mm wide and 600 deep you could get 6 pairs on a flat side mounted pull out rack. If you have a small footwear collection or a walk in closet the back-lit cubby holes look great but they take up a lot of space. Bookshelf type arrangements are great if you’ve got a narrow hallway, shallow alcove, or room behind a door. You can also put these on the inside of your wardrobe doors if you deep wardrobe space (add 300mm onto the 600mm min depth) If you’re Imelda Marcos you might want to consider the multiple tier pull out racks, or the racks with poles you hang your shoes on.

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4. Next is shelf space. This will differ based on the climate you live in. Obviously folded knitwear takes up a hell of a lot more room than t-shirts and vests. If you are going for boxes then they need to be at least 300mm by 300mm each. If you go for open shelves then calculate the width based on multiples of 300mm so you don’t have dead space you can’t use. I went for 600mm deep shelves in my own wardrobes so that I can rotate my folded clothes based on weather.

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5. Drawers are also an option for folded clothes, but are essential if you need to store underwear in your wardrobes. For drawers I would go wider and deeper than shelves. We may start with the best intentions but most people are not neat freaks and simply stuff our underwear and socks in our drawers. If you’re going to be rummaging anyway no point wasting space on too many dividers. I would also recommend solid versus wire baskets which can look untidy.

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6. There seems to have been a boom in accessories in the last 5 years, and I would wager that most men and women have a healthy selection these days which could include hats, belts, scarves, gloves, ties and you may even need to find a solution for costume jewellery. There are lots of rack solutions available online, including pull out and over door. Hat boxes are only really necessary if you’re a fan of Ascot or fascinators!

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7. If you’re an early riser and your partner isn’t. I would highly recommend lighting if you don’t want to wind up single. Mr W went through a stint of taking 5am flights and started leaving his clothes in another room to avoid the abuse I would give him for turning on lights. Spot lights can work but only if the space below is uninterrupted. If you have a wide space then strip lighting can be better than spots. Personally I think the best thing for wardrobes are the flexible strips of LED lights you can now get. They’re relatively cheap (£5 or £6 a meter) and your electrician can cut them to fit. They also come in a range of colours if you’re so inclined.

In the end I wasn’t brave enough to give the joiner the designs without my customer seeing them (probably room for a chicken pun there), but she loved them so we’re good to go and I can go back to checking on Margo. For the last week she has barely left the coop and I’m having to put her on the perch with the others every night. I’m starting to think she’s being picked (pecked?) on when I’m not there and am considering installing a chicken cam…..As for maintaining flood defences I think I’ll get this week off as the rain has turned to snow so hopefully my streams will freeze instead of overflowing every day. My business cards should say Interior Designer, Chicken Whisperer and Drain Doctor.