Friday, 24 June 2011

What do you call the Living Room?

As we gracefully make our way around the home as part of the ‘beautifying your home both inside and out’ series, our next area of focus is the living room. The living room, as you can tell from its name, is probably one of the most important spaces in your home (some of you might argue that it’s actually the kitchen, but we won’t express that point of view until we cover it in a future article). In simple terms, the living room is where you and your family and friends spend the greatest amount of time - in fact, it’s second in the trusted estate agent ‘where do you spend your time at home’ league table after the bedroom (although I do sincerely hope that your friends sleep in their own beds rather than yours).

In the olden days (before FaceTweet), the living room/sitting room/lounge/drawing room/parlour/front room (delete as appropriate - your preferred name will provide an insight into your societal ranking, i.e. class...) had the straightforward purpose of communicating to visitors your status, wealth and (impeccable) taste - as a result, many of these rooms were hardly ever used, just in case anything got worn or broken. As society has changed over the years and we have evolved to communicate our status through cars, watches and Jimmy Choo shoes, the function of the living room has changed and, strangely enough, it is now a place to enjoy a book, read a newspaper, listen to relaxing music, watch TV or to entertain. Or, if you are lucky enough to have kids, to kill people and crash cars on your WiiStation 360.

When designing your living room, don’t get too preoccupied with what other people will think (no pressure, but if you get it right they are sure to like it anyway...) - this is your room and where you are going to spend a lot of time so make sure it reflects your personal style and preferences. In order to create your ideal living space, I always advise clients to tear images that they like out of magazines for inspiration; whether it is images of complete rooms or specific pieces of furniture, over time you will see a theme that emerges and this can be your point of reference when designing the room. It is important to try to adhere to this theme wherever possible and keep the ‘big picture’ in mind when designing the room (as this will really help in driving consistency and ensuring you create a space that incorporates furnishings that work together rather than against each other). Once you have a theme that you love it should make the process of choosing paint colours, sofas, fabrics, chairs and curtains much easier.

Within the living space the sofa is probably going to be the largest, most impactful and most used piece of furniture. As a consequence, I think it is absolutely crucial that careful consideration is given when choosing a sofa and you explore a range of options at different price points (so you can see how different they can be, both in terms of appearance and comfort) - a sofa can also represent a significant investment and something you have in the room for a relatively long period of time so it’s worth investing the time up front. Here are my top tips for choosing your perfect sofa...

  • STYLE: Stating the obvious as usual, but choose a style that complements your home and the overarching theme that you have chosen. If you have found it difficult to pin down your personal sofa style, either get some advice or go with something relatively neutral. From a design perspective, a sofa that reaches right down to the floor visually fills a larger room better than a sofa with defined legs and thinner arms, which may be better suited to a smaller room
  • SIZE: Size matters - how much of your room do you want your sofa to occupy? Do you actually want it to be the focal point of the entire space and dominate your living room? If so, you may want to go for a large L-shaped sofa... it’s brilliant for entertaining, but also practical for kids, watching TV, having a little doze, etc., etc. But always remember the consequences of buying a sofa that is too small - I pretty sure you will get fed up with it very quickly, particularly when you are tired and need comfort and space
  • FUNCTION: Decide on the job you want your sofa to do... It is important to consider your lifestyle and to understand honestly what you typically spend most of your time doing in the living room. This will have an impact on the spatial planning of your living room and the orientation of your sofa - it will also have a huge impact on whether you use the sofa (if you get it wrong) and, as a consequence, whether you use the space to its full potential 
  • MATERIAL: Aesthetic is important, but functionality is key when it comes to choosing a material for your sofa. I would love an off white sofa in my own home as they can look absolutely stunning, but they are so dangerous if, like me, you have a puppy that eats about three sofas a day and a cat with a superiority complex. Be careful when picking the material to upholster your sofa, particularly if you have pets, children or if it is going to be exposed to direct sunlight. For instance, leather is aesthetically pleasing but can be scratched and punctured easily (it also bleaches in the sun). Fabric on the other hand can be prone to staining and pilling. If you have an existing sofa that you love it may be worth considering re-upholstery, as it is a relatively inexpensive way of giving a new lease of life to a very comfortable old sofa. If you are buying a new sofa it is worth investing the extra few hundred quid to get it covered with a protective coating that will add to its lifetime - most of the higher end sofa retailers offer this as an option...
  • COST: It is also worth bearing in mind that you get what you pay for with a sofa. Expensive sofas made from hardwood, with dowelled joints and steel coil springs will last for many years, whereas cheaper models made from staples and lower cost materials cannot be expected to last long. Like a bed, a sofa is a worthwhile investment...
As usual my parting summary of where we have got to with this far we have increased the value of your home (front doors), made the world a happier place (hallways), determined what to ask someone if you need to find out where they sit on the societal class ladder (preferred name for living room) and had a nice little sit down on your fabulous week, who knows...

Below are a few images of sofas that I love...

(Image from Poliform)
(Image from B&B Italia)
(Image from Poliform)

Monday, 20 June 2011

The 'all important' entrance hall...

As part of the ‘beautifying your home both inside and out’ series, this week I am going to focus on the ‘all important’ entrance hall. After the ‘all important’ front door (you can see where I am going with this...), this is the first internal space in your home that you ‘interact’ with when you get past the front door (see last weeks blog on ‘front doors’ for first external aspect of the home) and where you welcome guests into your home (with champagne reception and canapés if appropriate).

As the first internal aspect of the home that you and others’ experience, the hallway needs to reflect, as far as possible, the overall feel that you are trying to create for your home. Findings (potentially from the ‘honest estate agents’) suggest that your attitude and mood are affected either positively or negatively when entering a property (clearly no room for ambivalence in this respect), depending on how well the entrance hallway has been designed. Stating the obvious again, but if your hallway is light, warm and welcoming, it will make your visitors instantly feel relaxed and at home; alternatively, if it is dark, dingy and cluttered it will create a negative impact, making the space feel much smaller and oppressive. It is worth pointing out that different combinations of the characteristics listed above can be made to work - so a hallway can be dark, but welcoming (but only if it is designed in the right way).

However, in reality and in most cases the hallway is a transient area of the home which traffic passes through en route to another space... as a consequence, it is often left as an afterthought from a design perspective, with simple décor and furnishing (or not) and it often becomes a dumping ground for shoes, brollies, wellies, pushchairs and coats (all the things you furiously tidy away when you know someone is coming round to visit...).

Here are my top tips for creating an entrance hall that makes an impact:

1. Ensuring your hallway flows seamlessly into other rooms

  • Your hallway design should not be considered in isolation, but in association with how it will work with other rooms which lead directly off the hallway (an important point, but often overlooked) - it should also be designed to be consistent with the overall look and feel of your home 
  • Also think about how the hall connects to the other areas in the home; if space allows, double doors can create a dramatic entrance to the rest of the house or directly into the main living area 
  • If your front door opens straight onto your living room, the most effective thing that you can do is to invent your own ‘hall zone’. This can be achieved simply using a well placed rug or by adding a shelf for hat ands gloves and coat hooks 
  • The staircase is typically a feature of most hallways (unless you live in a bungalow or a tent), so it needs to be visually appealing 

2. The importance of colour and light - dingy just won’t do...

  • There are two different but related ‘schools of thought’ when it comes to the colour of hallways; 
  • The first suggests that a dark hallway says all the wrong things about your home, and that you should use colour to make the entrance as light and appealing as possible. Hence, the general advice is to steer clear of dark or very bold colours 
  • The second suggests that a dark hallway won’t be made brighter by painting it a light colour. Hence, choosing darker shades will give the artificial illusion that the rooms beyond are much, much brighter and airier 
  • My personal view is that if your hallway is narrow or small, neutrals invariably work the best. In contrast, if your house is a large listed building or a grand period home (i.e. you have a cavernous hallway), a deep traditional red or green will add enormous impact 

3. Hallway floors must be able to stand up to wear and tear

  • The wrong choice of flooring for such a heavily used area will result in rapid deterioration and, as a consequence, a tired look (that may not reflect the rest of your home) 
  • A decent sized door mat is a must and, if possible, sink your mat into a shallow well as it prevents slipping (and will help accumulate doorway dust)

(Image from Home Building)

4. In the hallway less is most definitely more
  • A spacious hallway not only creates an important first impression it actually makes the house feel bigger (ask the honest estate agents if you don’t believe me)
  • Keep your hallway as clutter-free as possible. Only store the absolute essentials in your hallway. Stating the obvious once again, but the smaller the hallway, the clearer and less cluttered it should be kept (so hallway storage may be an important consideration)
  • Limit the number of coats hanging in the hall way to one per family member and try to do the same with shoes (very difficult for us ladies) 
  • A piece of furniture such as a narrow console will make a hall feel inhabited and somewhat distinct as a room in its own right. It can also provide a proper home for keys and phone chargers so they don’t go astray (but do remain conscious of security considerations). However, as a consequence of having a table just inside the front door, it can often become a convenient dumping ground for newspapers, pocket junk and morning post...
  • If your home is ‘shoe free’ (i.e. you have light coloured carpets and no pets...), make sure there’s plenty of storage next to the front door. A bench with built in storage is a good idea

(Image from Christina Fluegge)

5. Create a focal point in your hallway

  • It is essential in a hallway to create some sort of focal point. Floor space is for most people at a premium, but your walls are the perfect place to make a statement with a mirror or a provocative piece of art
  • Mirrors in general can make a huge difference, as they can help add to the illusion of more space by reflecting and bouncing light around
  • Also consider a statement lamp or pendant to add flattering and decorative ambient lighting to the space

    (Image from Christina Fluegge)

    So, that’s the front door and the hallway sorted - according to the honest estate agents you have increased the value of your home by 10% and made the world a happier place. Goodness knows what you will achieve when you get to the rest of the house...

    Monday, 13 June 2011

    First impressions count….

    I thought over the coming weeks I would explore the concept of ‘beautifying your home both inside and out’. This week I am going to focus on the outside of your home and, in particular, front doors...

    We often spend lots of time and money making the interior of our homes beautiful but, as a consequence, we sometimes tend to neglect the exterior. First impressions count and nowhere more than your front door. Not only it is it the first thing that greets you when you get home after a hard day at work, it’s the first thing that people see close up when they visit your pad. According to some estate agents (the honest ones), the finest front doors can add up to 10% to the value of a property! So, with that little stat in mind, it seems like it might be worth investing in making your front door a focal point of your home and as grand and welcoming as possible.

    (Image from The White Book)

    Here are my top tips for making a great first impression with a smart front door; 

    • When choosing a front door, it is necessary to consider the style and size of your home - stating the obvious here, but as an example, you are not going to put a traditional Victorian door on a modern house... 
    • Door colour is about personal preference, however it is worth considering colours that complement the existing exterior house colours and brickwork. You can really make a statement with your choice of colour, but it is worth bearing in mind that you need to choose something that you (and your neighbours) are going to see pretty much every day. So, while bright luminescent orange might seem like a great idea after a few glasses of wine (and you decide that it would be a great way to find your way home from the pub...), your love for your door might wear off pretty quickly. General rules are that glossy black looks great on a grand stucco building and on town houses, but is much less effective next to red brick or on smaller houses or cottages where soft grays work well. A soft green or blue can look beautiful on your country home (if you are lucky enough to have one!!!) because it fits well with the natural surroundings. If you live in a Victorian terrace it might also be worth having a look at door colours on other houses in your street and deciding whether you want to follow the prevailing trend. 
    • Irrespective of what colour you choose, your front door needs to provide protection against the elements, hence if it is being repainted it requires a primer and undercoat before the gloss (and for a more natural look, bare wood can be varnished or given a finish with a suitable wood preserve). Also, it is really worth spending the money on a very good quality paint to avoid cracking or flaking over time.
    • When you are choosing your door colour, you also need to think about your door furniture. This includes the door handle/knob, letterbox, eye hole, door knocker, locks, security chains and doorbell. A smart letterbox and door knob are, in my opinion, a must. In recent years polished and brushed chrome has taken over from brass as the discerning choice. However, it is worth bearing in mind that you may have to buy different bits and pieces of door furniture from a range of suppliers, so colour matching is important to ensure a consistent overall result. Also remember that door furniture will feature on the inside of your home as well so you may need to think about how well a finish complements, for example, your interior door handles and window latches.
    • If you have glass panels in your front door, also consider personalising them with a frosted film with your house name or number.

    (Images from Willow and Stone and Home Shopping Spy)

    • Also consider lighting your porch - this will make it more welcoming for guests on dark nights, but also make both yours and their approach safer. Lighting the path to your front door with floor level lights is another really effective way of creating a great first impression and placing an emphasis on your door 

    It amazing how a fresh coat of paint and new door furniture can work wonders on the exterior of your home. I recently refurbished my own front door, replacing all the door furniture with brushed chrome and painting it a lovely French Grey - a year on it still makes me smile when I put my key in the lock (my smile grows even wider when I also remember that I didn’t have to spend a load of money on a new door to achieve the result). So go on, give your front door a new lease of life and you never know, those honest estate agents with their stats might just be right...

    Monday, 6 June 2011

    Playrooms to stimulate a child’s imagination

    To complete the ‘work, rest and play’ theme, the focus for this week is play and, more specifically, playrooms for children. Play is a essential for the development of children, hence a playroom should stimulate a child’s imagination, allow them to explore and inspire them to learn in a safe environment.

    If you don’t have the space for a separate playroom, use their bedroom; little ones don’t seem to have a problem dissociating the space from a sleep environment after they wake up.

    As you might imagine, children’s rooms often have more of an adults’ stamp on them then the little person; this is particularly evident in themed nurseries or bedrooms. The main issue with rooms like these is that the ‘imagineering’ has been done on the child’s behalf and they aren’t always designed with play as the primary purpose. Also, from a practical perspective, most parents don’t have the time, inclination or budget to constantly redecorate and evolve the playroom or bedroom in line with the latest craze and/or as the child grows up and the nature of how their play changes.

    Here are my top tips for creating a children’s play areas that works for your kids:
    • It should be a place that is bright, in terms of both natural light and décor. However, the best strategy is to keep the walls, ceilings, floor and window coverings relatively plain and restrict expression to; colourful rugs, accessories, pin boards for art and wall stickers that can be easily removed and replaced to change the look and feel of the room. 
    • Storage is important; toys should be accessible and cupboards should be at the right height and easy to use, otherwise children will attempt feats of extreme mountaineering to reach toys and games
    • Toys used every day should be easily to hand and on open shelves.
    • Bins are a great way to store toys, with different coloured bins for each child so they always know where their toys are (and can help you tidy up)…
    • A playroom should be a space where a child can read, draw and partake in imaginative play.
    • Within the reading space consider accessible bookshelves, a comfortable seat and a good light.
    • Within the artwork space, consider blank canvases such as a chalk board wall or a long art table.

    (Image from Pottery Barn Kids)

    (Image from swiss-miss, by Shawn Soh)

    (Image from Fancyhouseroad)

    (Image from Martha Stewart)
    So, go ahead and create an environment that inspires your child to play and to use their imagination… they’ll love it so much that it might even give you the opportunity to relax.
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