Crafting a forever home: “There had to be some zing” | Interiors

VSChange is slowly happening in the world of interiors. But even this leisurely-paced sector has woken up to the demand for online learning that began during the pandemic. From project management to kitchen layout, from deft paint schemes to strategic lighting, you can now glean expert ideas from top-flight architects, planners and designers from the comfort of your couch.

Sandra Harris can attest to their usefulness. Recently retired from a career in human resources, Harris has had time to redesign her ‘golden age home’ in north London. With a granular understanding of the details and processes, she wanted to manage the “back to brick” project herself. This included bolting in a loft extension and knocking down the rear of the Victorian house. Obviously, professional help was needed. “Not just for planning, but also for all 1,001 other aspects of doing a great build: the costs involved and how to allocate my budget; how to find the right architect, the right contractors and the right suppliers “, she says.

Living with the blues: A one-hour virtual session with a paint consultant led to the selection of a six-color palette throughout the house. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

The first lesson was in the art of compromise. Visions of a bespoke kitchen faded when Harris realized she and her husband would have to save their money for the prosaic but more important details: “The floor, the glazing, the walk-in shower…” She learned all of this during a course led by Riba-trained architects Jane Middlehurst and Amy Poulsom of HomeNotes. Spread over four weeks, the sessions (also recorded) were eye-opening: “So many projects get derailed because of money. The architect thinks you have X amount to spend. The builder too. You have to be upfront about your budget,” says Harris, who interviewed 13 builders for her project (she says years of working in HR helped in the vetting process).

“During the course, we discussed what we wanted to achieve and how to work with an architect, and what qualities he needed for our project. I planned how we wanted the space to work for us. It’s our forever home, so the bathrooms had to be upgradable, the living rooms friendly. There were tips on storage design – there can never be enough in these old houses.

Then it was time to get rid of chromophobia. “I’ve always been a fan of grey, with shades of white.” This house is different. “There had to be some zing, so it didn’t feel like a 60-year-old couple were living here.”

Most paint companies, such as eco-specialist Edward Bulmer, Little Greene or Paint & Paper Library, offer advice. A one-hour virtual session with a Farrow & Ball consultant was enough to define the palette. Only six colors were used. Small touches tie the four-story interior together: for example, a celestial blue wash on the bedroom panels echoes in the adjoining bathroom. “Everything seems consistent.”

Games of patterns and scales: blue paneling and complementary accessories in the bedroom.
Games of patterns and scales: blue paneling and complementary accessories in the bedroom. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

Then the fun stuff: buying sofas, rugs, lamps. During a series of 20-minute sessions with a designer from the Create Academy, where they also run kitchen, garden design and upholstery tutorials, Harris “extracted the principles of interior design”. There were tips for navigating auctions and plotting rooms. She learned how to plan lighting circuits and “energize an ordinary room” with a thoughtful touch of pattern and be bold with scale. “I used to pick up random pieces without thinking about their size and how they would work in the room.” Now a tape measure is a prerequisite for shopping. “A few bigger pieces work better than a lot of little things.”

The most encouraging lesson was the easiest. “It’s good to mix your old vintage stuff with new pieces,” she says, pointing to the Ikea wardrobe and mid-century lights. “I’ve always been interested in interiors, but I would never get rid of a sofa just because curves are in. I don’t follow trends. I like many styles. »

“I've always been a fan of grey”: the living room where mid-century pieces mix with more modern elements.
“I’ve always been a fan of grey”: the living room where mid-century pieces mix with more modern elements. Photograph: Rachael Smith/The Observer

The kitchen is another exercise in high-low ingenuity (she tells me they went over budget by £1500). Harris designed it herself using downloadable templates from DIY Kitchens, who then fabricated the units. These were installed by HL Workshops builders, chosen for their carpentry skills. Harris used Google images to track down the vibrant 1960s pendant lights on the island. “I uploaded a photo of the light I wanted and it came up with a list of dealers who had them.” A chichi site offered the lights at £1,000 a piece. “I paid £400 for three.”

The Socially Long Dining Table is a customizable design from Heal’s where you can specify size and finish.

She views her virtual education as part of a larger movement to democratize interior design. “The price of materials has exploded. Finding contractors is getting harder and harder. But access to inspiring design – via social media – has never been easier. Many of us want our homes to look good and reflect our style.

Zoom learning will not make you a designer. It’s a skill – and a talent. “But it will inspire you to approach things differently and become more resourceful. It’s empowering.