Which parts of your home have been irritating you over the party season? We find solutions to seven common gripes, from quick fixes to space-saving makeovers
We love our homes, of course we do, but they drive us crackers at times. Cooped up in prolonged proximity to all its flaws over the holidays, didn’t you want to take a baseball bat to some aspects of your decor? The kitchen cupboard door that won’t stay shut, the vampiric paint colour in the hallway that makes everyone resemble the undead, the way your partner’s paperwork creeps from his or her desk to invade every flat surface in the house?
Deep breath. Violence is rarely the answer in interior design, and there’s no quickie divorce between householder and property, so now is the time to seek specialist counselling. Whatever grievances we’ve been nursing against our living spaces during the winter break, there are experts who hear the same old stories every day. However exotic or seemingly intractable our gripes, there will be an architect, designer or decorator who can repair the relationship.
So what are the usual grounds for decorative discord? “Space is important for our clients,” says Claire Sa, the architect who created a home office in a cupboard (3). “We quite often work on these tight London houses, and we are obsessed with storage and designing solutions that make living in compact spaces work better.”
Other common complaints include kitchens made claustrophobic and lightless by old-fashioned eye-level cabinets. “Putting wall cupboards next to windows is something people often do, and it’s such a big mistake,” says Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL Kitchens. You can see her answer (6) below.
The sitting room with its atmosphere extracted by a gigantic, attention-seeking TV screen is another classic decorative nuisance. Hiding screens behind fake antique cabinetry hasn’t been an option in a decade, but nor has a single smart fix presented itself. Emma Deterding, director of Kelling Designs, has developed a clever camouflage technique. “Large TVs don’t have to ruin a room,” she says. “Float the screen, to hide all wires, on a wall with a dark background, then hang a striking piece of art above or to one side. This will draw the eye away from the television.”
The feature most often cited as depressing and distressing, yet the element of a room most easily improved, is colour, says Marianne Shillingford, creative director of Dulux. She suggests kicking the pallid palette habit and substituting some of the velvety darks in the new season’s paint charts. “We love those pale neutrals because they’re so easy to use,” she says. “But easy isn’t always exciting, and pale neutral interiors can often end up looking flat and characterless.”
Fear not. When you switch to darks, you can still weave in some of your precious pale neutrals. “In a small space, bold colours need to be lifted by lighter elements such as an off-white painted floor,” Shillingford says. “Wood softens the look and adds balance and contrast.” Not only that, the combination of smoky darks and natural wood is serene and calming — allowing an aggravated homeowner to step away from the sporting equipment and relax.
1 Dark thoughts
Use paint to add drama to a mantelpieceBland colours pall in winter light, and old paintwork looks at its most tired. “This year, I recommend experimenting with a gutsier palette of richer colours,” Shillingford says. “And have faith — a bit of bravery always pays off.”
The kitchen picture, top, features Dulux MixLab, Grey Splendour, matt; and Chiffon White 1, matt. The mantelpiece picture, above, shows Dulux MixLab, Mysterious Teal, matt. All £24.30 for 2.5 litres; dulux.co.uk
2 Boot camp
Give untidy wellies the bootYour property doesn’t have a mud room with a customised shower fitting to hose off dogs and boots? How terribly tiresome. Alternative ways to keep dirt at bay include this welly garage from Store: a miniature spruce wood hut (W120cm) with a pitched roof. £165; aplaceforeverything.co.uk
Slot an office into a corner
3 Home office
There is nothing more vexing than home-office creep. Here’s the answer: a self-contained office/cubby by Claire Sa, of De Rosee Sa, set neatly in the corner of the kitchen. Once closed, its function is undetectable. The stroke of genius lies in the doors: “There’s a mechanism where you can open the doors and slide them into pockets. You can be sitting at the desk, and you don’t have the doors swinging round, then you pull them out of their niches and completely close the office when you’ve finished.” This was the most expensive element of the design, coming in at about £1,500. With the rest of the cabinetry, in hand-painted MDF, the office added about £3,000 to the home project. deroseesa.com
Turn a bike into a bookshelf
Does anyone keep a bicycle outdoors nowadays? Certainly, no urban sitting room is complete unless it contains one of those skinny-tyred road racers with razor saddles, and despite their slenderness, they are infuriating space hogs.
Fortunately, the modern bike is an attractive piece of kit, and designers have devised ways in which it can be displayed to advantage.
Among the prettiest is this solution from the San Franciscan designer-maker Chris Brigham, who has combined a wall mount and a bookshelf. It’s available in black walnut or hickory. $299, plus $85 for shipping; theknifeandsaw.com
Emma Sims Hilditch built a book wall to display her library (Polly Eltes)
5 Speaking volumes
The interior designer Emma Sims Hilditch says her clients often want imaginative storage for unruly stacks of books.
She describes this book wall, built to display her own library, as “a drama moment. It wasn’t 100% about book storage — it was also a solution to a really boring wall. I said, let’s pinch 35cm extra from the room behind the wall, then you get a huge volume of storage for just the depth of a ruler.”
The shelving is Pembroke adjustable shelving, from Neptune; the relatively simple design added about £5,000 to the project. simshilditch.com
6 Hel’s kitchen
Clever storage ideas mean you don’t have to box in kitchen windows with wall cupboardsHelen Parker, creative director at deVOL, has designed an alternative to wall-hung cabinets in this kitchen: a capacious glazed dresser-style cupboard, a window seat with storage, and minimal shelving. “If you worked out the volume of storage, it’s the same capacity, but preferable to having rows and rows of wall cupboards,” she says. The Real Shaker Kitchen, with birch-ply carcasses and hardwood fronts, finished in the firm’s new Lead colour, starts at £8,000. devolkitchens.co.uk
7 Bath in a bedroom
Sims Hilditch’s bath stands on sisal flooring in her bedroom (Polly Eltes)We all know showers are the modern way to wash, and many homes now have “bathrooms” devoid of tubs. What if you still wish to loiter and luxuriate? Emma Sims Hilditch has put a bath in her bedroom, on sisal flooring, with taps emerging from a plain lime-plastered wall. “It’s almost like having a sofa in the bedroom in terms of relaxing,” she says. “There’s nothing like putting on my music and getting in the bath. My husband is lying in bed, reading — it’s really sociable.”
She warns that such luxury is not for everyone. “If you’re bathing three children, it wouldn’t be advisable. Water and sisal don’t mix well. If you have a family, you can always put the bath onto planks of wood or porcelain floor tiles.” A freestanding tub like Emma’s starts at £750; allow at least £300 for the taps. Plumbing costs would depend on your existing waste and water supply. simshilditch.com