Friday, 30 March 2012

“I have tried to be as eclectic as I possibly can with my professional life, and so far it's been pretty fun.”*

Eclectic design can be quite daunting and overwhelming, particularly when you take into consideration all the discrete elements that contribute to an eclectic scheme. Although it can often look like it has been thrown together (which it sometimes has, depending on the experience of the designer), it actually takes considerable skill to create something that works really well in practice. The core skill at the heart of eclectic design is being able to understand how a completely different and diverse variety of stuff can be mixed together to deliver a cohesive scheme.

There genuinely is no right or wrong when it comes to eclectic design, but there are a number of basic design principles that you can take into consideration when creating an eclectic scheme to make sure that it works as a whole… or, from a theoretical Gestalt perspective, to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts…

Fundamental to achieving a successful and effective eclectic scheme is understanding the visual relationship between elements in a space. These guidelines provide a sense of order that aid the design – they are not intended to restrict it. Two really basic principles that are very powerful and effective are symmetry and asymmetry in a room.

(Image from Elle Decor)
Also, by organizing dissimilar (and sometimes very different) design elements in close proximity they are viewed together in the scheme as a group.

(Image from Living Room Decorating)
Finally, the repetition of colour, pattern, shape, texture, etc. causes the viewer’s eyes to see a rhythmic continuity of movement within a space…

(Image from Living Room Decorating)

So, there you go – a beginners guide to eclectic design. If you have always wanted to create an eclectic scheme but haven’t really been sure where to start, just think about using these really simple principles... and then go and buy a book about Gestalt Psychology and the Theory of Visual Perception... no, not really...

*Roland Barthes (dead French literary theorist/intellectual – don’t worry, I had to Google it...)

Friday, 23 March 2012

“The spring has sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where dem birdies is?”…*

Spring has officially sprung (according to the BBC Breakfast weather forecast and this does not necessarily include Northern Ireland or Scotland) and I am loving the lighter, brighter mornings and longer evenings and the fact that the daffodils are out. Before the clocks go forward this Sunday and the stupidly bright retina burning mornings disappear again for a few weeks, I thought I would share some inspirational images of interiors that make me feel like spring has arrived, i.e. uplifted, fresh, new, virginal, full of hope, inspirational and all that nonsense. I love how fresh and bright these interiors feel – this has been achieved very simply by a completely neutral colour scheme injected with pastel colours – brilliantly fresh and uplifting.

(Image from French By Design of Vanessa Bruno's Home)
(Image from style files of Vanessa Bruno's Home)
(Image from style files of Vanessa Bruno's Home)
Why not consider whether you can rejuvenate your home for Spring by simply changing some accessories – for example, cushions, lighting and throws – to inject some bright and fresh colours.

* Winnie the Pooh

Friday, 16 March 2012

We went to a house. A very big house in the country…*

This time last week I was on my way to my romantic weekend getaway with the man that I love (my husband for avoidance of doubt) at Babington House, the country cousins of media hangouts, Soho House and Shoreditch House. When they took ownership in 1997, Babington single handedly kick-started the march of metropolitan cool into the countryside.

With all the hype surrounding Babington house and having wanted to go there for over 10 years, I was just a tad concerned that it wasn’t going to live up to my excruciatingly high expectations, but I needn’t have worried. After what has been an unbelievably busy year for us both it was fabulous to have the opportunity to simply relax is this super spectacular and calm space. It was a weekend of indulgence… drinking, eating, drinking, spa treatments, drinking, the odd swim in both the indoor and outdoor pool, drinking, Six Nations rugby (!?!?!?!). By ‘indulgence’ I do of course mean expensive, but it was worth every penny.

Its first cousin, Shoreditch House, is one of my favorite places in London to spend a Friday or Saturday night. Imagined by Tom Dixon’s design team, I just love the design of each of the areas; from the pool and outside eating areas on the roof, to the huge tables for communal eating, to the pink and black chairs in the sitting room and the amazing chandelier in the entrance hall (which I have actually just specified on a project – lucky, lucky people…).

(Image from
(Image from
(Image from
(Image from 

We had such an amazing and relaxational time, my husband has started to contemplate whether we should become ‘all house’ members of the Soho House group so we can access all the amazing spaces that are part of their portfolio – I am gently nudging him in the right direction in this respect. The only problem is that Shoreditch House is way over on the other side of London and unless a miracle happens and I manage to get my husband to leave the shire at the weekend (imagine a precise 150 metre radius around our front door), I think it might be an indulgence (read ‘expense’) that doesn’t get used as often as it should…. Unless of course we use Chiswick House, the Soho House first cousin in west London…

*Artistic licence applied to lyrics from a Blur track…

Friday, 9 March 2012

‘Flying isn’t particularly dangerous. It’s crashing that’s dangerous…’*

Helicopters maintain a precarious equilibrium when they are in the air – and it’s the most beautiful thing to look at when it works... when one of the elements that comprise this equilibrium changes it has an impact on all the other elements and either something changes (altitude, pitch, direction, speed) or you need to compensate to maintain the status quo or to make the entire system work more effectively. However, when just one thing goes disastrously wrong, the whole thing just comes crashing down. So, where am I going with this and why are helicopter crashes just like interior design? I’ll start at the beginning…

My husband and I are in the process of deciding whether to embark on a total refurbishment of our home – finally!!! So, as you might imagine, we are currently debating the upheaval this will potentially cause (particularly for our very large and stupid dog and our very large and eccentric cat), working out whether we have sufficient funds in the coffers to do the work and, ultimately, deciding whether we should move out of our home while the works are taking place.

Now, given that my husband is going to be my client on this project (and I suspect he may be a very demanding client), I think it is important that we decide early (i.e. before we commence work) what our priorities are in terms of cost, time and quality. This is where I was going with the helicopter bit. Bear with me.

So, as you might imagine;

The time refers to the amount of time available to complete a project 
The cost refers to the budgeted amount available to fund all aspects of the project 
The quality refers to the quality of the final build and finish

I have seen several projects where the client has not fully appreciated the significant interrelationship between these three fundamental elements of a project and therefore makes decisions relating to one without appreciating the consequential impact on the other two. The time cost quality triangle is a useful concept to bear in mind throughout your build and you’ll find that, once you are aware of it, it will pop into your head in all sorts of situations – because it illustrates in a very simple and practical way the inherent tradeoffs in any project.

(Image from

This triangle illustrates the fact that the three fundamental elements of a project are interrelated (one side of the triangle cannot be changed without impacting the others) and it is not possible to optimize all three – one will always suffer. In other words, you have three options;

1. Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap

2. Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of a high quality

3. Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time to either manufacture or install

It is generally accepted that it is only possible to achieve two of the elements at the same time, so you can have a high quality build and you can get it done quickly but it is going to cost you more. Ask any builder (and always add at least 50% on to the time estimated to complete the work – builders operate very naturally, yet consistently in their own space time continuum).

The triangle also works on the principle that as more emphasis is placed on one element less is placed on the others. These constraints are often competing, as a tight timeline typically means increased cost and reduced quality, a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced quality and increased quality typically means increased time and increased cost.

Pinning down your key objectives in relation to each of these elements is absolutely essential for the planning phase of a project. By having these opportunities, constraints and compromises/tradeoffs in mind during the course of a project it allows for better project decisions and will ensure alignment between the build team and the client.

Having said all the above, I personally think that instead of viewing the time, quality, cost triangle as a straight jacket that constrains a build, the best projects are those where the project manager not only uses one or more of the axes to shift the emphasis of the project, but juggles all three like hot potatoes and makes decisions every single day to manage the trade offs and the precarious balance that must be maintained to deliver the project successfully… time vs. quality vs. cost.

So, during the course of this weekend, my husband and I will be defining and agreeing the priorities for our build - fingers crossed his priorities are the same as mine…

*Helicopter pilot that my hubby flew with. Name unknown. Now deceased. RIP…

Friday, 2 March 2012

There is no such word as can’t…

…well, actually, there is and it works quite effectively in statements such as ‘I can’t possibly kill that person’ – anyway, you’ll understand what I mean by the title when you read the blog…

The Roca showroom (which is right on my doorstep – not literally as that would be impractical for all parties – it’s quite near our house) designed by Zaha Hadid Architects recently opened and on Tuesday evening I had the opportunity to be part of a guided tour hosted by the architects and the construction company – and, in summary, it is quite simply a magnificent thing. During the course of the evening I heard about their fascinating journey from the original concept, through the design process and into the practical realities of constructing this cutting edge space.

The overarching concept for the space is the movement of water – and, as a consequence, it looks like water erosion has created the internal cave like formations throughout the building. In fact, it looks as though water has sculpted and defined each and every detail in the space, from the lights, which look like droplets of water, to the reception and meeting desks, to the tiles on the floor, which look like rippling waves (there are 1200 unique tile shapes!).

In terms of the space itself, it is a jigsaw puzzle of epic proportions. The whole thing is formed of glass reinforced concrete and gypsium elements – 272 unique panels in total – these all slot against one another with visible seams. Interesting factoid – the original 3D design model had no seams – this meant that the entire team of architects, designers and construction engineers had to work together to determine how to make the space buildable.

The size of the concrete panels and hence the position of the seams was also restricted by transportation and installation issues – straightforward practicalities such as getting them onto a truck and into the building… hence, the panels used to construct the space had to be restricted in size to 4m x 2.2m. It was also amazing to hear them talk about the detailed design process that was required before any of the concrete panels could be produced – the position of every light fitting, electrical socket and display blot had to be determined so they could be drilled in to the concrete panels before they arrived on site.

It was also fascinating to hear them talk about the beginning of the project, when no one really knew how to achieve the desired design (as it was quite simply pushing the boundaries of design and everyone’s capabilities and knowledge). As a team they worked together to find solution after solution and created what is a truly magnificent space and one that you should make an effort to visit. Through this space they have demonstrated that there is ‘no such word as can’t…’ (well, actually, there is… but you get the point…).

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