Interior designers rarely get free rein on a project (or an unlimited budget). Or maybe they do in London, but not in Cumbria. If we did I’d have a lot more competition that’s for sure.
Most of my clients fall into 1 of 3 camps. I’ve worked with some that don’t know what they want only what they don’t want. At the opposite end of the scale I’ve worked with clients that know exactly what they want but value a second opinion or a fresh pair of eyes. And with some clients it has been a very collaborative process. Typically these clients have an interest in interior design, and want to get into the details of how things would look or work. As I’m an annoying extrovert that gets their energy from interacting with other people I love working with clients like this because they want to bounce around ideas and look at options together. Not everyone wants to talk about skirting board profiles and tile laying patterns apparently…. Continue reading “The Open Plan Kitchen Dining Space”
Interior design is not the cushion scattering, accessorising, walk around IKEA I’m sure some people think it is. There are definite highs and lows. Lows being the early Monday morning site visits, dealing with difficult suppliers when you need to return faulty goods, and tracking down trades that have gone AWOL. Seriously sometimes I feel like the worlds biggest nag when I have to ask for the millionth time that week, “When will you be there? And what time roughly?” But the highs definitely make up for it, and my favourite high has to be when I get to show people before and afters of my projects. So are you ready for part III of this Victorian terrace renovation project? Continue reading “Future Proofing in Interior Design – Part III”
Are you ready for some more before and afters? Part I of this house tour was all about the kitchen transformation, (if you missed it you can catch up here). Next up is the bathroom, and like the kitchen some of what we did was future proofing, i.e. getting it ‘old age ready’. But some of it was just about introducing the practical stuff old bathrooms never have, like decent lighting, storage, etc.
People often ask me what happens when I have to decorate a house in a style I don’t like, and how do I manage not to force my own style on people. The simple answer to both is that I actually enjoy working with different styles. And although I sometimes need to include things in my designs that I perhaps wouldn’t put in my own home, I’ve never designed something I didn’t like. Continue reading “Future Proofing In Interior Design – Part I”
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the bathroom lately, and I can’t blame my old lady bladder. I’ve got four new bathrooms in progress, have just started designing another, and I’ve got four more in the pipeline. That’s a lotta loo’s. And they all have one thing in common. Size. Or should I say lack of it. Continue reading “How to design a beautiful AND functional bathroom”
I can’t decide what’s better as an interior designer being given the blank canvas of a show home or new build, or transforming something that has become tired and dated. I suppose if I enjoy them both it doesn’t really matter. Similarly, I’ve loved the freedom I’ve been given to design this latest show home, (the brief was literally here’s the budget, make it look good, quickly). But then you can’t beat the feeling you get when you show a client your designs for their home and they love them, because you’ve managed to capture everything they told you they liked, plus a bunch of things they would never have thought of but love as well. I guess I’m just saying my job rocks.
Before I became an interior designer I would dread the inevitable ‘so what do you do for a living’ question when I met new people. My actual job title made no sense to anybody outside my organisation (or most of my colleagues for that matter), and ‘work for an insurance company’ just sounds soooo dull. And if the person asking did look interested it was only because they were about to bore me senseless with the scintillating story of their last insurance claim, or ask me how they could get cheaper car insurance. Don’t care, don’t know, being my responses to both if I’d had too many sav blancs. When I became an interior designer I thought, at last a sexy job title I can be proud of! But this has now created a new problem. Being put on the spot.
Interior Designer FAQ’s
There are 2 questions I get asked all the time. The first is “What colour should I paint my living room?” (It isn’t always a living room it can be any room in the house). People ask me this question without providing any other background information, such as room size, what the light is like, what colours they prefer or what furniture they have. And they look at me expectantly like I should have the answer. I’m an interior designer not a psychic mindreading magician.
The second FAQ is “I want to do up my house how much will it cost me?” My quick answer to this has become, “How much do you want to spend?” But I thought I would share my approach to the long answer with you as it’s actually a really good question.
What’s my budget?
Most of the people I work with really have no idea how much it’s going to cost them, and it’s not just the first time buyers. I met a lovely couple last week, and one of them was a minister. They had spent most of their lives living in church houses so they had never had to replace a kitchen or bathroom or do any major renovations so had come to me for guidance. Not spiritual obviously.
Whether I am doing a single room or a whole house the first thing I do with most new customers is estimate the cost of the project so that we can agree a budget. To do this I need the answers to three questions, which also shape the overall brief:
1. What work is needed?
This isn’t just how many rooms they have, and whether it includes a kitchen or bathroom, but also the state of things like the windows and doors and the plumbing and electrics, i.e. the things that can really eat into your budget.
2. What is the desired look?
This covers both style and level of quality. Are we talking top of the range German kitchen and solid wood flooring, or secondhand furniture and ready-made curtains, or a mixture of both?
3. What are the priorities?
What do we spend money on and where do we compromise in order to keep within budget?
I then give the customer a spreadsheet like this for every room so we can look at the figures together and agree a budget.
If we’re doing the whole house there will also be a summary that looks something like this:
The true cost of home improvements
I’ve found that when I work on whole houses we typically spend half the budget on labour, unless the customers can carry out work themselves. But I still do all of this early estimating before I bring any trades in to quote. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, I’ve been doing this long enough now to know roughly what things cost. Obviously there are things I can’t estimate, especially when you get into bespoke joinery and mysterious damp problems (for that I really need Damp Gary), but my estimates for most things are usually pretty accurate.
But more importantly I don’t like to waste peoples’ time. If we need to make compromises, and this means customers doing their own decorating, then I’d rather establish this before I bring a decorator in to price the job.
But the main reason for this early estimating is that in order to get an accurate overall cost for a room you need to have designed it. But you don’t want to design a room and go to the trouble of getting quotes from trades for a look that the customer will love but can’t afford. You need to manage your customers expectations and to do this you need to know what your budget is.
So what does it cost to do up a house?
So as you can see there isn’t a simple answer. But I will go out on a limb and say that if you have a two or three bedroom house which you want to completely redecorate and furnish, with a medium sized kitchen, an average sized bathroom, and one ensuite, then the figures in my examples above are pretty realistic for midrange in terms of quality. Obviously you can always spend more or less but I wanted to leave you with something to ponder now the Christmas decorations have come down leaving your rooms looking tired and bare.
And if you think you might want my help get in touch quickly as enquiries have been rolling in since I became a local media sensation…. (a customers words not mine after seeing my features in Cumbria Life and The Whitehaven News!)
If you read my post 10 things you might not expect from an Interior Designer (and thank you if you did) you’ll appreciate just how diverse the role of the interior designer can be. And the multi-tasking doesn’t stop there. As a small business owner I’m also Head of IT, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Chief Finance Officer, Operations Manager, Receptionist and Office Cleaner, i.e. it’s just me. When I worked in London I had a team to support me, access to expert resources, and I’m embarrassed to admit it…… an assistant. I realise now that I was proper pampered. But I’m also proud of how I’ve mastered a whole bunch of new skills. Well all but one that is.
Interiors Styling & Photography
One of the most important things when you’re an interior designer is being able to show people your work. Your website is your shop front so you need lots of images, and they need to be good. This isn’t as simple as you would think and it takes time. The rooms you see in magazines have been styled within an inch of their life. The stylist will have planned in advance how tidy or casual the room should look. Every accessory will have been carefully chosen from a stash which won’t all make it into the photographs. They will have been placed and then moved 3 or 4 times before the stylist was happy with the result. Greenery is a given, but the stylist will have thought carefully about what kind. And they will have played and played and then played some more with the lighting until it was just right.
Styling is an art which is why there is a whole industry behind it. But the greater skill in my view is the photography, which is where I fall down. Hard. Lighting regularly defeats me, but it’s also knowing which angle would be best, how wide to go on the perspectives, and how soft or sharp on the close ups. I’ve got a decent camera and editing software but it’s a bit ‘all the gear and no idea’. If I had the time I’d take a course. In fact maybe that should be my New Years resolution. Lets face it ‘lose a stone’ is getting a bit like Groundhog Day.
Which is why I’m chuffed to bits to see the holiday home I finished recently on the rental market with Cumbrian Cottages,. I’d taken some pics when it was finished but when I started editing I wasn’t happy with them and knew I would have to go back. But thankfully Cumbrian Cottages have done a much better job as I’m about to show you. But first things first people, the before pics!
The Lowther Project – Before
The property is grade II* listed and was built in the 1770’s for the workers of Lowther Castle. It’s like the tardis. From the outside it looks like an end terrace, but inside there are 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms a kitchen and living room spread over 3 floors.
The kitchen was very dated but big enough to make a comfortable kitchen-dining room.
The property had been heated by a boiler stove which we replaced with an electric boiler and a regular stove so that guests arriving late could have instant heating and hot water.
On the ground floor was the only bathroom with an electric over bath shower.
The stairs looked like something out of the ’70’s and not in a cool retro way.
The master bedroom on the first floor was very stark.
…and the single bedroom opposite wasn’t any cosier.
On the lower ground floor was this store room fitted out with cheap kitchen cupboards.
….and a third bedroom with a fake stone wall and castle mural.
The owners initially said they wanted a traditional look that reflected the age of the property, but after sharing images with them via Houzz I could see that they also liked vintage and industrial elements and weren’t afraid of going dark when it came to wall colour.
To give you an idea of how long a project like this can take, the homeowners first got in touch in March and I started work 3 weeks later. We need listed building consent from the Lake District National Park planning office before any work could start. So I completed the detailed designs and submitted the application at the end of May. We got the approval at the end of July and work started early August and completed mid October.
When you’re working to a budget it’s important to know where to spend and where to save. Using a mixture of new and secondhand furniture is a great way to save money, and old furniture is often better quality. It also adds character and makes a place look like it was furnished over a period of time.
Buying blinds from Blinds2Go and shopping around for lighting, cushions and throws meant we could splash out on Moon fabric to cover a footstool and lampshades.
I’m particularly proud of what we achieved with the budget for the kitchen. The units are from Howdens and we bought all the appliances online. The granite worktops were supplied and fitted by Lakeland Granite. They had some surplus stock they wanted shot of so we got a good price.
When you’re renovating a whole house there are a lot of moving parts to manage so if you can find a contractor that is multi-skilled it can really help. Almost all the work on this project was done by Ben Butler Kitchens & Bathrooms. The staircase was probably one of the simplest jobs on his very long list but it has made such a difference to how the property looks.
The dark blue wall in the master bedroom is Farrow & Ball Stiffkey Blue which I liked so much I recently painted my own bedroom the same colour. It goes beautifully with the antique pine and the burnt orange.
The third bedroom on the lower ground floor also looks fabulous but you’ll just have to take my word for it. The lighting in there is really poor and it seems the professional photographer struggled with it too, so I don’t feel quite so inadequate. But I will take some more pics when I go back and show you just how fab it looks.
Before I finish I just wanted to show you the difference between photography for interiors and photography for holiday rentals
Yes cheese. I won’t lie, when I saw this pic on the Cumbrian Cottages site I did think how nice it would be to curl up in front of that log burner with a glass of red and some stinky cheese. But if I put this pic on my website you’d think I was bonkers.
So if you’re looking for an uber cosy holiday home to rent in the Lake District head over to the Cumbrian Cottages website and get it booked. There’s a good pub close by and it’s walking distance from Lowther Castle where they hold Kendal Calling every year, just think no campsite toilets…..
Over the last few years Mr W has stopped raising concerns or objections over my decorating plans he just goes with the flow. It’s not that I didn’t get my way before, we wouldn’t be living in Holly Cottage if that was the case, or have a red kitchen, or exposed stone walls in the bathroom. In fact our house would look very different if I wasn’t so bossy persuasive. But now I don’t even have to argue with him, he just lets me get on with it. He tells me that I’ve proven I know what I’m doing and he now trusts my decisions. I think I’ve just worn him down. Either way – yay for me.
The Bedroom Makeover
Living with an interior designer is like a version of that Fat Boy Slim tune – Eat, Sleep, Paint, Repeat. And I’m not even going to bother defending myself. It is both a perk and a curse when it’s your job to seek out and create beautiful interiors. The latest room in my house to get a makeover is our bedroom, and if you follow my social media feeds you might remember the wallpapers I was considering, this one being top of my list.
In the end I decided I didn’t want to break up the room with one papered wall and wanted to keep it all one colour. And with my new found decorating freedom I wanted to go darker. A lot lot darker.
Dark interiors are a bit like marmite, you either love them or hate them, but even those who love them aren’t always brave enough to take the plunge at home.
Usually they’re concerned because there isn’t enough natural light in the room, or they think the room is too small to carry a dark tone. But if you have a small dark room, painting it white is probably going to make it look very stark, whereas going dark will make it cosy and a whole lot more interesting.
I’m a fan of dark interiors but unfortunately Mr W is not, and it’s the one battle I’ve never been able to win. Until now of course…..
The Bedroom Makeover – Phase I
So back to the bedroom. Before I show you in it all its lovely inky glory you have to see what it looked like before. And I’m going to take you way way back to the day I first viewed the house. I have to apologise for the very poor quality pics but this was 2010 when all I had was a blackberry, and if you see the pics you’ll understand why Mr W didn’t even want to buy the house.
FYI the homeowners didn’t have any small children…
The Bedroom Makeover – Phase II
So when I first decorated I was living in an uber modern flat in London. I was a bit giddy about owning an old house in the country and got carried away with the country slash vintage vibe.
Our entire flat in London was floor to ceiling white so the darkest I could get Mr W to agree to was a light mushroom, and that took some convincing…..
Now I liked it, but I felt we could do better.
The Bedroom Makeover – Final Reveal
When you’re taking a non-believer over to the dark side its all about breaking them in gently. So when I first mentioned navy blue to Mr W I told him we’d just paint one wall. This one.
And he loved it. Thank god. As I’d already bought the paint for the rest of the room.
The pics aren’t great as this is a dark room, but that was my rational for going dark. Its a bedroom, it’s usually dark outside when I’m in there, and you want it to be cosy.
All the furniture is the same, we just changed the curtains to a roman blind, bought new bedside lamp bases and shades, a new bedspread and pillow shams, and moved our existing artwork and accessories around. Total spend approx. £900.
Don’t the oak wardrobes and the gold sunburst mirror look amazing against the blue?
I absolutely love it. The colours are so rich, and its so warm looking.
I swear I’m sleeping better because it’s darker.
So what do you think? Could you be persuaded to go a few shades darker?
Throughout my career whatever job I was doing I always had a reputation for ‘getting stuff done’. And as an interior designer I continue to focus on doing things right, doing them on time, and always on or under budget. I am also a tad competitive (possibly the worlds greatest understatement…) So when the owner of the John Dalton Building in Cockermouth set me the challenge of turning one of their new apartments into a show home in just 4 weeks I set myself the goal of doing it in 3, and I did. So who is up for an exclusive sneak preview before open house this weekend? Continue reading “The Show Home Final Reveal”