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.

All the best parties end up in the kitchen

So my personal interior design challenge continues and after 11 weeks my kitchen is finished. Being such an old house a lot of decisions could only be made as went along. We didn’t know what we’d find behind the chimney breast. We didn’t know what would be under the floor that had to be dug up for the underfloor heating. We uncovered original features we didn’t know we had and we had to alter multiple units to make them fit my misshapen, wonky walls. Consequently my plan always had multiple options for certain features so not even I knew exactly what it would look like when it was finished. It’s been frustrating, filthy and sometimes freezing but it has all been worth it. I LOVE my new kitchen. It’s where I eat all my meals, it’s become my new favourite spot to work and it’s where we always end up if we have visitors. It’s like having a brand new room in the house.

The feedback I’ve had has also been very rewarding. Every single contractor that has been involved (and there has been a lot) has commented that they had been unsure about my colour choices, the size of the island and some elements of the layout but once they saw it completed they were sold. So as promised here are some photo’s.

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The kitchen is from a shaker style range called 1909, and I had it painted in Farrow & Ball Rectory Red and Ringwold Ground. The mantelpiece is oak as is the 10cm thick custom made butchers block top on the island. This butchers block is like a magnet when people come into the room, you just can’t stop yourself from running your hands over it because it’s such a piece of craftsmanship. It’s had 5 coats of Osmo oil so far and will probably need a few more yet. We finally have a dishwasher and an in cupboard bin, and I love the pull out wooden trays under the sink. For years I’ve been exasperated by having to store trays on top of cupboards or down the side of a unit. Why has it taken until now for kitchen companies to introduce these into their ranges!

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We made room for the island by digging a hole in the chimney breast to fit a 90cm wide SMEG oven. It was a tight fit and getting an extractor small enough to fit above it and remain hidden was a challenge but the builders came through for me. We even had to quickly source a steel plate one afternoon from a local scrap merchants to ensure there was enough support in it for the wall above. The space above the mantelpiece was perfect for another localised timezone clock (see my post on Murray’s man cave), some vintage ginger beer bottles a good friend of mine bought me when she came to stay, some antique pewter tankards and an hour glass I picked up in Heals years ago and love.

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The island itself houses an 18 bottle wine chiller and a 2 drawer fridge which is fantastically spacious and means you’re not always bending down to peer into the back of the fridge. On the wall behind the island next to the back door is a unit which houses a custom made wine glass rack – no more cramming wine glasses into cupboards or having to store them in the garage!

I bought two pewter finished adjustable height stools from a company called Steel Magnolias for seating, although we have brought another 4 stools in from the summer house a couple of times when we’ve had visitors so we can all sit around the island. It’s also great to finally have enough lighting. The old kitchen was so dingy and now I have multiple options. The pewter lights above the island and the sink are from Industville and are one of my favourite features. It looks so cosy when all the other lights are off.

So with the kitchen complete I am now finishing off the bedrooms and have started the plan for the upstairs bathroom. Another two months and I might actually be finished here…..

So now we have a habitable house we can have visitors again and this weekend Mr W’s entire family descended on us, so many of them that additional accommodation had to be booked in Cockermouth. They normally come in December but as the house was a bomb site we postponed until January which also meant we could celebrate Burns night together. The Trout Hotel in Cockermouth held a fantastic dinner on Friday night, with six courses, a piper and of course the traditional “address to a haggis”. The kilts were out, a few wee drams of whisky were consumed and the minibus home was very rowdy…..

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The host reciting the “address to a haggis” by the famous Robert Burns

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On Saturday night the party was back at Holly Cottage. We’d bought a Serrano ham at Christmas but had been too sick to eat it so we brought it out for the party and created our own alternative to Burns night with the “address to a ham” skilfully delivered by Chris my step-daughters boyfriend. My sister-in-law plays a mean air bagpipe….

And where did all this occur? But in the kitchen of course – where the best parties always end up and this interior designer is happiest.

 

My 2015 interior design predictions

Forgive me readers and fellow interior design enthusiasts but it has been 3 weeks since my last post. Holly Cottage was converted into a Hospice for the sick and dying just before Christmas and has only just re-opened as a residence. 3 weeks with Mr W, both sick and no visitors to mediate, you can imagine the sniping and bickering that went on. Even the chickens got more visitors than we did..

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To make matters worse we were without a phone line or wifi for most of that period as BT have decided to upgrade the cabling in our area, which does mean we will have faster broadband but in the process they damaged my existing connections. Ironically we don’t know when we lost the service as we were too sick to notice until the 29th….

All that lying in bed did give me plenty of opportunity to think about what we might see in the interior design world in 2015. To me there were three standout additions to 2014 interiors; geometric prints, copper accessories and an explosion of industrial lighting. So here are my predictions for 2015. These are probably as reliable as mystic meg on the basis that my <100 twitter following is too small to have any influence on trends, and I am still an unknown designer that has yet to formally launch her business. But humour me,

1. Geometric prints will disappear by summer. I think they are the pinstriped jeans of interior design (this will probably mean nothing if you were born after 1975). They are bold, can look great if the rest of the styling is good, but I think they will go out of fashion very quickly. If we’re lucky all we’ll be left with will be a handful of monochrome arabic motif cushions. But if the population truly embraced this trend as I suspect we may see a surge in wallpaper and bedding sales by September.

2. I predict bold geometric will be replaced by subtle colour layering. Think Jennifer Anniston heading out for coffee on Sunday with her latest beau. Dark grey jeans, a white long sleeved T, a couple of layers of jersey in different shades of grey, maybe a charcoal beanie and/or jacket. The walking equivalent of 50 shades of grey. Nobody does colour layering quite like Jen, and with the enormous array of paint colours available to us and interiors shows on TV showing us how to use colour to create visual effects I predict a greater use of shades of the same colour versus the 70% primary colour. 20% secondary colour, 10% accent colour palette that is traditionally used.

3. Copper will remain a stylish alternative to chrome and brass. I like to think of myself as an early adopter when it comes to copper. Check out below the copper tube vases I bought for a London flat in 2008, and the copper plate framed maps and copper coal bucket I have in Holly Cottage. I was delighted to see this trend in 2014. I just hope this extends to light switches, plug sockets, bathroom and kitchen fittings etc. and we start seeing them in retailers like B&Q, Wickes at affordable prices, even if they’re copper effect as opposed to actual copper.

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3. The industrial style revolution will continue. The range and diversity of products is already huge but much needed. I predict we will see more innovation and greater use in traditional settings. I myself have added industrial items to Holly Cottage (which was built in 1756), sourcing products from companies like Industville and Steel Magnolias.

So thats enough predictions as I want to show you Murray’s man cave now its finished. Murray aka Mr W still spends 4 days a week in London or overseas so we needed to downsize the place we rented together after selling our last flat to a more practical 1 bed place. I found him a place walking distance from Blackheath village and the style brief was more manly and homely. He particularly wanted to use some of the mirrors and pictures we’d had to store because our last landlord wouldn’t let us hang anything on the walls.

First the lounge; it has this cool portal into the kitchen which I knew would look fab with a large circular mirror and low circular coffee table I had in storage. Our tan couches fitted perfectly and there was a spare wall for the painting of St Pauls we bought after a drunken Christmas lunch which he loves. I then complimented this with union jack and black soft furnishings and accessories including a couple of British bulldogs. The result – a London look man pad.

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Next the bedroom; we have a suite of dark mahogany bedroom furniture and there is great shelving in the bedroom so I went for a sort of gentleman’s club/library look. I got the landlord to re-paint the walls in Dulux Shadow Chic (pale grey) and dyed our existing bedding grey, then added gold and grey accessories. TKMaxx had some beautiful dark grey glass vases and I was able to bring out some of the knick knacks from our travels. We had a grey, gold and red persian style rug which used to be in Holly Cottage which just finished it off.

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There wasn’t a lot I could do in the bathroom but he always liked a ‘keep calm’ poster we used to have in a bathroom so I took this down to London and bought teal accessories and towels to give the room some colour.

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There was also little I could do with the kitchen, but I did manage to find space for a range of aubergine accessories.

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Same situation in the hall, but there was space for some pictures we bought in Cuba a few years ago and a New York, Cockermouth, Paris time zone clock to remind him of home

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The good news is he is delighted with his new place which is a relief for me. He used to hate going back to London on Sunday night as the last place was cold and uninviting but his new place feels like a second home. So with that taken care of and Holly Cottage close to completion I can now focus on my new business. I predict a spring launch of Amelia Wilson Interiors!

 

Insomnia and Murrays man cave

It is just after 6am and I am blogging and thinking about interior design ideas because I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake most of the night but finally realised that staying in bed was futile. My mind was racing, Mr W was making bodily noises that were irritating me and there’s always something to be done around here so I decided I might as well make use of my insomnia. Actually it isn’t insomnia, it’s all the caffeine in the flu medication I’ve been on for the last 5 days, which to someone who hasn’t consumed caffeine in any form for 10+ years other than by accident, is like taking cocaine. Not that I’ve ever had cocaine, but I’ve seen enough movies to know I’m probably doing a great impression right now. On reflection, probably not the best time to be blogging but in the words of Magus Magnusson “I’ve started so I’ll finish”.

FYI I cut out caffeine because I already have significantly higher energy levels than the average person, and talk at a million miles an hour so you can imagine how unbearable I must have been when I was drinking 1-2 litres of diet coke a day, plus the odd coffee….and I was getting palpitations….

So if you read my last post I’m sure you’re wondering if the kitchen was finished for Christmas. Short answer, no. I’m missing 2 cupboard doors, a wine rack, a bin, a cutlery drawer, and most importantly the 100mm thick butchers block top for my island – the focal point of my dream kitchen. So no photos just yet I’m afraid. The kitchen fitters bless them hung around as long as they could on the 23rd just in case the butchers block turned up but in the end they had to leave me with a sheet of plywood to tide me over until it escapes Christmas courier limbo (that place where nobody is reachable and even if they were they wouldn’t know where your goods were).

We weren’t destined to have the perfect Christmas day anyway. Unfinished kitchen aside, me and Mr W both have hacking coughs and flu symptoms, and 20 minutes into cooking the chicken neither of us were that hungry for the new oven packed up. Well it didn’t actually pack up but there seems to be a fault with the electrics somewhere in the kitchen which means all the sockets now go off when I turn on the main oven. Thankfully 87 year old neighbour Nora let me finish the chicken in her oven, and the hob and side oven still worked so I could manage everything else. I wouldn’t have asked her but she did have a vested interest as I had promised her ‘meals on wheels’ on boxing day and she wouldn’t be getting anything if the chicken didn’t get cooked.

So anyway back to my insomnia/caffeine high. I made good use of the last 2-3 hours designing Mr W’s new London pad (now known as Murray’s man cave) in my head. Ever since I moved to Cumbria he has been unhappy in the place we were renting in London. We sold our flat in Greenwich a year ago and had struggled to find another flat big enough to take all our stuff so we’d ended up renting a 3 bed house. The commute to the city was excellent, but as we soon found out that was all it really had going for it. It was cold, the transition from open plan living to traditional rooms didn’t work for us or our furniture, the landlord wasn’t happy about us hanging pictures, and once me and the cat were gone it couldn’t have felt less like home for him. So earlier this month I found him a new 1 bed place which is smaller but better proportioned so all our furniture fits, it’s a short walk from Blackheath village and all the sky sports and beer he could ask for mid week, and I’ve promised to turn it into a homely man pad.

I plan to restore the London look we had in our own flat in the living area (which he loved), and re-hang a beautiful painting we have of St Pauls Cathedral. The bedroom will get a boy makeover with darker soft furnishings and lots of pictures and accessories to remind him of me and Cumbria. There is room for his bike in the hallway but I’m working on some ideas for hanging it to make best use of the space, and I am on the look out for quirky cycling accessories that will make him smile. This will be my first male focused interior design work so I’m enjoying the brief – functional, homely, cool and stylish.

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These vintage Lake District railway posters make great wall art and will remind him of Cumbria. You can find them on ebay starting from £4.99. You can get posters of other areas around the UK

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We’ve been visiting Cumbria together for almost 20 years so I have lots to choose from when it comes to adding personal photos

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This hall solution is along the lines of what I’m thinking. I love this bathroom idea but I’m not sure our landlord would!

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I also like these vintage cycling posters and I know he’ll like these coasters which I could make myself

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Mr W is a walker not a rock climber and I’m not sure our landlord would appreciate me putting up wall stickers but I did think these were pretty cool

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So its pitch black outside and Mr W is still sleeping so I may as well carry on working. Perhaps I should reintroduce caffeine into my diet if it makes me this productive as an interior designer!

More is more for this interior designer

It’s been 2 weeks since my last post because quite frankly I’ve been busier than a barmaid in Soho working the New Year’s Eve shift alone. I had completely given up any form of cleaning, myself included, as the house has been so dusty thanks to the army of tradesmen stampeding through the house. I think I’ve coped with the disruption pretty well all things considered. But I did lose the plot a little about a week ago over the state of the bathrooms which resulted in this….

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I’m not complaining though, Kevin, Barry, Darren, Gary, Gary, Mike, Jim, Andrew and the many more that work for them have been absolute stars. They’ve been on and offsite to work around each other, turned up last minute when I needed them to and stayed late when I didn’t ask them to. It’s reminded me a little of my old life; a big team all pulling together, overcoming obstacles and putting in the hours to get things done. I think I would have missed that part of my life if I’d not had this house project and chosen a new career that will always involve team work.

So it’s the 20th of December and with the exception of the kitchen, everything I wanted to get done by Christmas has been done. The house is clean (and you don’t know how good that feels), and the decorations are up. Steve is back on Monday 22nd to finish tiling the kitchen, Andrew and Craig are back on Tuesday 23rd to install the kitchen island complete with fridge and wine cooler. Barry is coming that afternoon to fit the electrics on the island and install the pendant lights above. This leaves me Tuesday eve to clean up so that I can finally buy a fridge full of food on Christmas Eve so that we can eat a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas day. Talk about cutting it fine………But the results are stunning, even if I do say so myself. The kitchen is looking spectacular. Photos to follow next week when it’s finished….

In the meantime I have a few words to say on the subject of Christmas decorations. As you would expect of an interior designer I like great decorations. Depending on where I have been living I’ve explored different styles; modern, traditional, monochrome, colourful etc. but on no occasion have I gone minimalistic. In my view when it comes to Christmas less is not more. More is more. Tasteful yes, but plentiful with a capital P. I wouldn’t do it myself, mainly because I can’t be bothered, but I absolutely love those people who go to town on the exterior of their home. When I lived in Yorkshire we had a neighbour that did this and it cheered me up every single time I pulled into our cul de sac and saw their illuminations. I am testing the water this year though. We have a single glowing reindeer in the garden, and tomorrow I will be adding twinkly lights to the front door and Cluckingham Palace…..next year Holly Cottage may draw crowds if this years pilot goes well…..

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Inside I have gone a little mad but  I haven’t yet bought pictures or accessories for much of the house so thought I may as we’ll dress it up a little. Now, I suspect this is where I differ from many interior designers as I don’t believe you need to spend a lot to make your house look good at Christmas. Wilkinsons and T K Maxx are actually my go to places when it comes to decorations. Wilkos have a great selection of the basics, plus a few quirky extras like this years stags head tree ornaments. They also sell packs of cones, cinnamon sticks and berries that you can add to garlands, trees and wreaths. T K Maxx are best for unusual items, this year being great for recycled wood decorations. I also bought bags of cones, dried oranges and orange slices from Amazon for next to nothing. Maybe I’m disillusioned and my house looks like a train wreck. Maybe I should be a little more Martha Stewart but I know I’ve got a good eye and I think I’ve got it right. Take a look at my pics and make up your own mind whether I deserve to call myself an interior designer or not!

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I’m an Interior Designer – don’t get me out of here!

Yesterday I completed my first project in my official capacity as an interior designer, and it felt really good. I’ve been styling and decorating my own homes for more than 20 years but this is the first time I’ve delivered a look in someone else’s home and the satisfaction far outweighed anything I felt after delivering projects in my former life. I think one of the reasons is that in the insurance industry you rarely deliver anything tangible, the closest I ever got was an app or marketing materials. To see your completed product and the smile on the customers face is amazing.

The customer (my step-daughter Kim) has a two bedroom house in Leeds, with a good size living room and kitchen but no dining room, just a breakfast bar in the kitchen. So the brief was to create a dining space in the practically unused conservatory. The room is only 2.4m x 2.6m and has doors from the kitchen and into the garden, so to coin a phrase that was vastly overused in the recent series of The Great Interior Design Challenge (which I loved BTW), spatial planning was key.

I’d given her 3 options in terms of a look and she went for my favourite, the relaxed coffee shop style. With this as the theme her conservatory now includes an L shaped bench seat to maximise space, with a table, 2 dining chairs and a carver so that she can comfortably seat 6, with room for more for the pizza parties she likes to hold since she installed her pizza oven in the garden.

When a room is half empty and rarely used it becomes a bit of a dumping ground for things that don’t have a place elsewhere. So I included storage in the bench seat (which my neighbour Harold made) to remove all the clutter, and a wine rack which holds glasses and bottles which frees up space in the kitchen.

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Lighting was also poor, with just two small wall lights high up on the back wall. So we added a floor lamp and two of these cool clip on LED lights from IKEA which have flexible stems so you can reposition the lights at any time.

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The key element of the coffee shop theme was the use of recycled coffee sacks to upholster the bench seat. Now, I can sew a little but when it comes to deep seat pads I need a little assistance unless you are prepared to compromise on quality….Luckily I know a very talented seamstress call Dianne Roffey who runs Di’s Soft Furnishings in Keswick. Talent aside I feel a bond to Di as she also escaped the rat race some years ago to move to Cumbria with her husband so they could be near to the fells which they love to climb. Di did an amazing job with the coffee sacks I bought from a company in Lancashire which runs a small chain of coffee shops. I then matched the rest of the soft furnishings to the orange and green print on many of the sacks, and used some of the spare sacks to cover a foot stool and the shade for the floor lamp, and make a rug for under the wine rack.

To keep with the coffee theme I picked up various canisters and teacups in T K Maxx and IKEA to use as candle holders (she loves candlelight). But my favourite accessory was probably the ‘selfie’ coasters I’ve shown in a previous post.

I replaced the flooring with engineered wood floor in a dark walnut colour and stained the bench seat and the table and chairs I got from IKEA to match it. The blinds are still to be installed (Hillarys if you pick this up please please install before Chistmas 🙂 ) and are a deep charcoal grey. This might sound like a lot of dark colour but remember the conservatory has a white frame, deep white window sills and lots of light so it looks anything but dingy.

I am delighted with the final result. It is practical, cosy but not cluttered, warm and inviting and a little edgy, just like Kim!

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Now onto my next project. I am officially an Interior Designer – how exciting!

The mucky business of interior design

I’ve never been as grubby and whatever the opposite of house proud is (slovenly?) this week. The only relatively clean room in the house is my bedroom and I’m not sure it would pass the test if Aggie and Kim from “How clean is your house” turned up. It’s my own fault. I decided we would get all the mess out of the way in one swoop. So the kitchen has been ripped out and the floor dug up to accommodate a wet underfloor heating system. The plaster has been bashed (literally) off the walls in 3 rooms to replace the ineffective tanking system needed to damp proof my house. The naff pine skirting boards and window sills have been torn out in every room so they can be replaced with oak ones. The electrician has drilled channels in the stone walls all over the house so we can hide the cables the previous owners were too lazy and/or cheapskate to fit properly. Oh and I’ve been sanding the beams and lintels that we discovered when we removed the plaster. The result is a bombsite. And did I mention there is scaffolding in the back yard and debris all over the place because the elusive roofers finally turned up to re-render the leaking chimneys…….The upside is the house should be beautiful by Christmas even if I do look like a troll. Mr W found me covered from head to toe in brown dust last weekend after the first bout of sanding and promptly suggested a spa day for his birthday on 1st December. I think he’s worried that the ‘glamorous, groomed’ wife he used to have is slowly disappearing so he staged an intervention. I’m not going to argue, I’ll go anywhere clean and warm right now, especially if they serve food without the ‘ding’ of a microwave preceding it.

Dust selfie
Dust selfie

Not content with all the work going on at home I’m also getting stuck into the project for the clients I met with last week. They really liked the new layout I proposed for upstairs so I spent the day at their house yesterday to meet with builders and window and door specialists to validate my plans and get estimates for the work. We also brought in Hillarys to price for plantation shutters throughout which the homeowners want. Before I left we went through the mood boards I’d prepared for each of the bedrooms and bathrooms. I was a little nervous as I knew the look she wanted and I know I can deliver it but there’s always a little doubt at the back of your mind that maybe you’ve misunderstood the brief or that you’ve been too bold or creative with something. Thankfully they loved my ideas and we just needed to make a few tweaks to some of the furniture and fittings. We’ve also agreed on the overall budget so I can now put together a plan to allocate this as soon as I get all the quotes in from the builders etc. It’s going to be a great project as it covers the whole house and the homeowners have great taste and want to do the job properly. An interior designers dream!

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Master bedroom and ensuite – New England with a touch of elegance

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Guest bedroom which will also serve as the homeowners dressing room and a place for them to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling window at the rear of their property. The idea here was to bring the outside in using a botanical theme alongside the crisp white New England look

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Glamorous second guest bedroom and the new juliette bathroom which will serve both guest bedrooms. The bathroom has a touch of Victorian styling complete with coal scuttle toilet roll caddy!

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It’s going to be manic in the run up to Christmas to complete the work on my house but I’m really looking forward to some time off with Mr W to enjoy our newly decorated home, and being an old cottage it always looks so festive when its decorated for Christmas. I’ll just need to keep the painter loaded up with caffeine as I’d like him done before the 18th so I can get the decorations up before Mr W comes home for the holidays. We had a visitor this morning that reminded me I should probably start thinking about food too. One of the local farms breeds pheasants on his land so that he can host shoots and one is hiding out in our garden. I caught him in the chicken coop this morning tucking into their feed. Maybe I should let him and fatten him up for Christmas dinner. Or maybe I should just stick to interior design, I’ve got enough on without working out how to shoot, pluck and prepare a pheasant….

Christmas dinner?
Christmas dinner?