Come dine with me

One interior design trend predicted for 2016 is the return of the formal dining room. Now I’m not sure if that means rebuilding the walls in your ‘so new the paint has only just dried’ open spaces, or if you’ll be adding extensions so that you can be greedy uber fashionable and have an additional formal dining room. Or maybe it just means that all of us with unfashionable walls between our rooms have a chance to become fashionable again.

Contemporary dining room in Paris by ALFA

Glass could be an option if you want to make the transition back from open to enclosed – contemporary dining room in Paris by ALFA, image via Houzz

I have a dining room but it’s far from formal. It’s not even room shaped as one wall is external and bends round the house making it sort of trapezium shaped. Technically it seats seven, which might seem an odd number but you’d be surprised how many parties of seven we have. This seating miracle is only achieved by having a church pew that I carried on my back across a French market on one side, and narrow church chairs on two sides. There isn’t a fourth side, there isn’t room and it really is trapezium shaped.

You wouldn’t want to eat dinner at my house at the moment though Unless of course you’re a huge fan of kale, as we’re on the Sirtfood diet. Now I’ve never been one for fad diets, I’m of the ‘eat less, exercise more’ school of thought. But this has been harder to practice of late and it guaranteed a loss of 7lb in the first seven days and positively encouraged red wine and chocolate so I thought what the hell I’m in. Five days and £200 later (cost of juicer and lots of ingredients I didn’t have) and I’m actually quite enjoying it. I’ve lost 6lbs, I’m not hungry or fantasising about food 24/7 and I’m feeling pretty good. This might stick.

Cosy dining room with vintage church furniture by Amelia Wilson Interiors

My trapezium shaped exceptionally bijou dining room

Anyway back to dining rooms…..I love a formal dining room, particularly one with bold colour. Dining rooms don’t need calming colour schemes, unless the only diners you’re entertaining are under 5’s. In which case something neutral, and wipeable, might be a good idea. But if you want lively dinner parties then go for something dramatic to get your dinner guests talking.

Dramatic red dining room by Contemporary Gem

Dramatic red dining room by Contemporary Gem, image via Houzz

OK, perhaps all that red is a bit much for the average household but hopefully you get my point.

If you’ve been lusting after all the lovely dark greys people are putting on their walls but haven’t been brave enough to take the plunge yourself why not try it in your dining room. You probably won’t be in there every day so you can gradually get used to it. And chances are you only use your dining room at night, and dark painted rooms look great in the evening with soft lighting. Perfect way to wean yourself in.

Dark grey dining room by Heather Garrett Design

Dining room by Heather Garrett Design, image via Houzz

I’ve been reading The Kinfolk Home recently (a fabulous gift from recent house guests). It’s all about slow living, which the author describes as ‘cultivating community, simplifying our lives and reclaiming time for what matters most’. It includes photographs from 35 homes which reflect this concept. Unsurprisingly many of them are Danish. Anyway, it included a phrase which I instantly    connected to and love, ‘longer tables for longer evenings’. Nothing keeps a party together like a long dining table which comfortably seats everyone. And I love it when people move around during the evening, and not just because the people to their left and right are boring. I know I know, not everybody has the space but wouldn’t it be nice if we did.

Contemporary dining room with 16 seater glass table

Contemporary dining room with table for 16 – lucky buggers

Which brings me neatly to a personal bug bear – comfy chairs. I’m a midget with a damaged coccyx (caused by an accident during my one and only attempt at windsurfing). So I’m like a pensioner with piles if you give me a hard chair to sit on. You gotta give me a little cushioning if you want me to stay seated. Again, I know fabric isn’t practical if you’ve got little’uns but seat pads and removable covers are always an option. I’d be putting armchairs at my dining table if I had room.

I love these blue velvet chairs . I’ve got a new customer who is lucky enough to have room for a breakfast table and chairs in her bedroom (I know – total luxury), and I’m thinking of suggesting navy blue velvet to bring some colour to her currently very neutral scheme.

Dark grey living room with navy blue velvet chairs

Blue velvet dining chairs in dining room by Atmosphere Interior Design Inc, image via Houzz

If you’re got room round your table give your guests somewhere to rest their arms. Armrests encourage people to sit back. Makes them better for your posture, and it easier for chatting with the hot guy two seats down if your neighbours are boring…..

Scandinavian style dining room

Moulded plastic carver chairs in Scandinavian style living/dining room, image via Houzz

One of the best things about a dining room is it doesn’t matter how low your ceiling is you can still have a pendant ceiling light, or even better pendant lights. The dining table will conveniently stop people from banging their head. Hurrah, potentially no need for recessed spotlights. But don’t forget the other lighting rules:

  1. Aim for three sources of light – in a dining room this is probably ceiling and wall lights, and a couple of lamps if you have room for a sideboard
  2. Always have your lights on separate switches
  3. Use dimmers

One of my customers has a Georgian farm house with a huge dining room like the one below. We’ve got lots of practical stuff to do first like fixing the roof, restoring the sash windows and re-plastering walls, but I’m itching to start the interior designs. I’m liking this olive green but I would throw in some deep red accents to warm it up a bit. She already has a huge table so the hunt is on for comfy chairs.

Traditional Georgian dining room with green walls, ceiling and wall lights

Traditional dining room by CRISP Architects, image via Houzz

So those green walls just reminded me I’m due another delicious and nutritious sirt juice so I’m off to pulp kale. But I’d love to see what you’ve done with your dining rooms, send me pics if you’ve got a minute.

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!

A 50’s style diner and my new pewter addiction

Autumn has arrived in Cumbria….Yesterday mornings rain and 70mph winds kept me firmly indoors, apart from a mad dash to the wood store to re-stock. It wasn’t a bad thing as I have a new client who wants their conservatory turning into a dining area so I spent the morning researching. She’s a bit of an Americanophile (I promise this is an actual word), crazy about Florida, Disney and NFL, so one of the options I’m putting forward is a 50’s style diner with checkerboard floor and retro furniture. I’m secretly (well now publicly) hoping she likes this idea as it would be really fun to do. I have a contact that can make a customised bench seat and I found these great swivel stools on www.whatever.co.uk. Coloured faux leather and formica is easily sourced, as are the retro accessories. Fingers crossed she goes for the idea!

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I also spent time searching online for kitchen fittings. I was getting concerned that my new kitchen design might be getting a little too traditional. I mean I want it to be in keeping with a period house but I don’t want to go all out country cottage. I think the answer is pewter. Chrome is too modern, brass is to twee, but pewter has just the right amount of class with a hint of edginess. And the great news is its everywhere right now. The style of tap I was looking is also available in Pewter (Bayenne duel lever bridge mixer). Second Nature has a great range of solid pewter and pewter finish knobs and handles. And I found these lights and stools online by Industville, a supplier of vintage, retro, antique and industrial furniture and lighting.

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If only I knew what had happened to my Dads pewter tankards after he passed away. He was a morris man and a pewter tankard clipped to the belt was mandatory. I bet I could find a few in my local charity shops, or is this turning into an addiction…..

Perspective is everything

6 weeks in and I’m starting to see the positive impact Cumbrian life is having on me. When I lived in London I had an unhealthy relationship with food and obsessed about my weight and body shape. When you’re in meetings and presenting at conferences you’re constantly being scrutinised by other women, and I’m not criticising as I’ve caught myself doing it, but its not surprising you spend a lot of time judging yourself in the mirror. I was also unfulfilled at work so sought comfort in food and would be planning what I was going to eat hours (and sometimes days if I had dinner plans) ahead of schedule. I was never satisfied with what was in my fridge, which resulted in multiple supermarket trips, takeaways or eating out which meant more drinking…it was exhausting. Now subconsciously I have stopped thinking about food so much. I eat what’s available in the fridge and only visit the supermarket weekly when I pick Mr W up from the station. I don’t own a pair or scales or a full length mirror. Its totally liberating. Don’t get me wrong I still love food and a loving having the time to cook again, its just not such a dominant feature in my life. I think I am a little thinner as my clothes are looser in places, but I just see that as a positive side effect, I am not going to diet. If I want butter I’m having butter!

I also have a reputation for being highly competitive, and I used to put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to be the best at everything and to complete everything in record time. I’ve not lost these traits post move, but they’re less obvious. My neighbour Sharon would probably disagree as she thinks I’m keeping myself far too busy and trying to do to much too soon, but I know what I was like so I know this is a healthy work ethic and not as a result of pressure. Take my new career as an interior designer. It was always the plan to set this up next year when I’ve completed the house renovations and my studies and that’s still the plan even though people regularly ask me how the new business is coming along. Old me would have felt pressured to start sooner to avoid being seen as a failure. New me is just enjoying herself. I’m even happy in the slow lane at the swimming pool where I’ve started swimming lengths – this would never have been me in London, I’d have pulled muscles in the fast lane to try and keep up with the crawlers (I can only do breast stroke….) rather than admit I’m no Rebecca Addlington.

This week has been the usual scrum of contractors in the house as the joiners and electricians teamed up to board out the ceilings downstairs and install new lighting. To remain close enough to supervise without being under their feet I took advantage of the sunshine and did a little furniture restoration in the garden. Our dining room is tiny and oddly shaped which requires non-standard furniture if you want to seat more than 4. I bought a dining table on eBay 4 years ago which was narrower than a standard table which I stripped and stained, and since then I’ve been looking for the right seating solution. In Lille I found one half of this when I spotted a lovely narrow church pew. I then picked up 4 matching church chairs in an antiques mill in Manchester. For some reason church furniture is much narrower than standard furniture these days – must have been to make room for those massive altars and organs! The pew and the chairs were in pretty good nick but required a light sand to remove stains, paint chips and chewing gum….ugh. I then re-stained the pew seat and oiled everything with my trusty osmo oil. The result is stunning as the chairs are maple and the bench is oak and pine and the oil has brought out the grain and given them a lovely warm glow.

They are now installed in my dining room which is not yet ready (radiator, plastering, painting and window dressing still to be done) but already the room has been transformed just with the restored beams, new ceiling boards and lights and now the new furniture. The pendant lights are from Fritz & Fryer who I recently discovered online. I suspect I will be making a few more purchases from them.

Below is an old photo of the room which I took when I viewed the house so you can see how cluttered it was. The previous owner used it as his office, in fact it was called the Station Masters Office as he kept his train set in another room (FYI he was 65 not 12).

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Before I leave you a quick chuck update. Phyllis is not sick she is ‘clocking’ as they call it in Cumbria. The silly bird is broody and trying too hatch her unfertilised eggs. I think I need to send Harold in to teach her the facts of life. No cockerel, no chicks, chuck.