Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

Not all of us have the luxury of a large house with plenty of space to spread out in, meaning that we have to be clever with the space that we do have.   Here are some design tricks you can try to get the most out of your space:

LOOK AT A FLOORPLAN

I always start off working on a design for a client by looking at the floor plan.  This gives a great overview of the size and proportions of the rooms, and allows you to see what direction they face, so that you can work out if the rooms are in the right places.  Just because someone is using a room as a living room doesn’t mean that’s what it has to be.  When I did my own side-return extension, rather than turning the room that led out onto the garden into a kitchen / diner, and keeping the living room at the front of the house, I decided that I wanted the room that led out onto the garden to be my living room.  You really need to think about your layout, how often you use each room, and what you are using it for.

Floor plan

I also look at how doors open, as in many cases additional space can be carved out of a room simply by changing the way a door swings.  One point to note, however, is that if you change a door swing, you’ll likely need to move the light switch too.

SELECT FURNITURE WITH SCALE IN MIND

The next thing to consider is what furniture you need in each room.  For your living room, for example, you might want enough seating for eight people on a regular basis.  This can be achieved through a range of different options – 2 x 3 seater sofas and 2 chairs, or a large corner sofa and a selection of chairs, etc.  Make a note of the dimensions of the furniture that you like, and draw it to scale in your floorplan.  This way you’ll be able to work out how well it fits – if it’s too big or too small; does it obscure a window, or sit too close to another piece of furniture. 

It’s also important to consider ‘traffic flow’.  This will help you to create a space where you can easily navigate around the furniture unhindered which will help the room to feel more spacious.   Don’t automatically place your furniture against the walls either. Sometimes placing a piece at an angle or surrounded by open space, will make a room look bigger.

Symmetrical furniture arrangements are generally more harmonious than asymmetrical ones, so try arranging similar size chairs either side of the fireplace in a living room.  And if the architecture of your space doesn’t give you symmetry, you can create your own by defining a line that you use to place items either side of.

REDUCE VISUAL CLUTTER

Whether your space is light and airy, or dark and cosy, you can reduce visual clutter by painting the walls, skirting boards, window frames and door frames in the same colour.  Painting the ceiling can also work miracles in creating a cohesive space. 

The more floor that is visible, the more spacious your room will look.  Choose wall hung shelving, furniture with exposed legs, or see-through furniture such as glass tables or lucite chairs.  All of these options will fool the eye into thinking there is more space than there actually is.

Tiny bathroom

When it comes to accessories, remember that less is more.  Use fewer larger decorative pieces, and make sure you leave enough negative space around them.  Mirrors, especially large ones, create symmetry by reflecting the space back on itself, which also works to make the space feel larger!

CREATE A COHESIVE SCHEME

Creating a moodboard will helps you to see how the colours you like work together and whether furniture styles coordinate.  I usually start from a selection of images from magazines / Pinterest to sum up the feeling you want to create in the room.  From there I add fabric samples (feel and texture is as important as colour and scale of pattern, so it’s important to get actual samples) and then paint colours.  Try to make the main colour swatches bigger than the accent ones so you get a feel of the proportions.  And then add the furniture and accessory ideas to the moodboard too.  This allows you to see whether all of the items will work together in the one space, creating a cohesive scheme.

Happy planning, and please do share your ideas on your social media.  I’d love to see how you get on!

“A house is very much like a portrait: the thought of arrangement, the curves and straight lines. It gives an indication of the character at the heart of it.”
Christian Louboutin



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My front door is yellow.  I chose this colour because it’s a colour that says happy and optimistic and that’s the vibe that I want for my home so why not start with the front door!

If this COVID-19 outbreak has taught us one thing, it is the importance of home!  Last year The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published The Good Home Report 2019.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute talked to over 13,000 people about their home, and how happy they are in life. The survey included people from 10 different countries across Europe and from different cultures, age groups and social economic backgrounds.

The research answers the questions: What makes a house a home:  And what makes that home a happy one? 

“Our research shows that often we look for happiness in the wrong places. Sometimes what we think makes us happy and what really makes us happy are not the same. Our research builds on the belief that our homes shape our lives. Our homes are where we find comfort and safety. Where we let our guard down and connect with loved ones. In a world demanding more and more of our attention, our homes are where we can retreat to and seek refuge.”
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of best-selling book The Little Book of Hygge

 I am already aware of the fact that our homes have such a big impact on how we feel.  But the study highlighted that our homes actually account for 15% of our overall happiness, compared to only 6% from income, and 3% from our employment status.

We all have our personal preferences in style, colour and materials, but the study identified five core emotions related to happiness at home, no matter who we are or where we live – pride, identity, comfort, safety and control.

PRIDE

“First and foremost, we want a home we can feel proud of. Usually those feelings of pride come from our personal achievements, whether that’s a home improvement project we completed, or the time and energy we’ve invested to make a place feel like home. Pride is the core emotion that best explains happiness in general and happiness in the home.“

The research showed that having a home we feel proud of is the single most important thing when it comes to feeling happy at home, yet it’s also one of the emotions fewest of us feel!  So, what is it that makes us feel proud of our homes? The Happiness Research Institute found a strong link between how much pride people have in their homes and the time they spend improving their home.  Investing time and energy to create your own personal space, whether you are working with an interior designer, or ‘doing it yourself’, is proven to enhance pride and happiness.

And if we are proud of our homes then we are more likely to invite friends and family in to share our space, developing emotional connections, adding meaning and creating positive memories in the process.

COMFORT

“The world can be hectic, so it’s natural that we want our home to be a stress-free haven. A place where we can shut out the rest of the world, relax and unwind. Many of the people we spoke to talked about their home as a sanctuary or safe haven.”

One of the most important ways to create a sanctuary in our homes is to design our homes with a connection to nature.  Studies have shown that this, known as biophilic design, creates a space in which we can relax, physically and mentally, and recharge. Adding biophilia into our homes involves everything, from the layout and functionality of a space, to the colours and textures of the soft furnishings we surround ourselves with. 

IDENTITY

“It is important our home feels like an extension of ourselves. Somewhere we can express our own unique personality and sense of identity. Whether it’s the colour we paint the walls or the furniture we choose, we want to put our own stamp on the place we live.”

Personalising your home is one of my mantras, and I have blogged about this before.  It is important that our homes are a collection of our lives, who we are, and where we’ve been.  They should reflect the narrative of our lives, from the books on the shelves, to the treasures brought back from travels, to the furniture handed down through the generations – all of these things help to create a home that promotes that feeling of identity and belonging. 

SAFETY

“We want to feel safe and secure in our homes. That doesn’t just mean feeling safe from physical threats. It can also be about the condition of our home, such as whether the structure is sound or if the roof leaks.“

Safety is one of the most important human needs, as classified in Maslow’s 1943 paper on “A Theory of Human Motivation”.  His hierarchy of needs puts safety in second place, above our need for food, water and oxygen.

CONTROL

“Control is about the level to which we can decide what happens in our own home. This can be linked to things like budget or whether we rent or own the place we live in. It’s ultimately about whether or not we feel on top of things.”

Interestingly, the research found that home ownership, location, or size are not essential factors in our happiness. It is more important to people that their homes met their needs and that they are adaptable to life’s changes over time.  It is the perception of spaciousness that is more closely connected to happiness than simply having a big home.  Factors such as less clutter and more storage are key here, as well as rearranging our homes to create a greater sense of space.  Lack of space is cited as the single most common problem people experience, and that has the biggest impact on how we feel.

What to know more? You can read the full report here.

So how does your home rank in terms of your happiness?  We’d love to hear your thought on social media – and don’t forget to tag us!

“The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see.”
Mary Davis

Finding sanctuary in our homes has never been so important.  A global pandemic can do that.  Our homes are our safe places – where we are isolating and social distancing with our loved ones.  They should be somewhere where we enjoy spending time, and should help us to feel relaxed, calm and safe in these difficult times.

Shades of green and natural materials make this bedroom a relaxing sanctuary

Having a home is something that many of us have perhaps taken for granted in the past.  (I can’t imagine how it would feel not to have somewhere safe to live right now).  But when Covid-19 arrived, it was as if we all suddenly found ourselves shunted right down to the bottom of Maslow’s triangle as we’ve had to focus on much more fundamental needs – health, food, shelter, family and community.

Before Covid-19, our homes were often just a space we came back to at the end of the day, and so we were less concerned about what they looked like.  But during the last few weeks, many of us have started to look at our own four walls with a fresh eye. This unprecedented period in lockdown has fundamentally changed our relationship with our homes. Our focus has shifted away from going ‘out’ – to work and meeting up for social and leisure activities outside the home, and instead our lives have been concentrated inwards, to the confines of our own homes.

Splashes of red and orange encourage dinner time conversations whilst the pale blue inspires creativity in this room that doubles as a dining room and home office

We’ve been spending more time gardening and baking, finding new ways of meeting or socialising online and even doing DIY jobs around the house.  We’ve learnt new skills and become more self-reliant.  We’ve had to reorganise the existing spaces within our homes to accommodate our new found routines. As we emerge from the other side of this, many of us will be thinking about how we can maximise the available space in our homes through re-configuring or expanding them to accommodate activities such as working from home on a more permanent basis.

The turquoise tiles in this bathroom are the perfect pick-me-up to get you up and out in the mornings.

But before we rush headlong into these new projects, it’s important that we take our time to get things right.  We need to design a connection to nature into our spaces.  And we need to think about things like how different colours cause us to behave and feel.  These are both important elements if we want to design a space that is truly a sanctuary – giving us feeling of relaxation, calm and safety, but also in inspiring us creatively and helping us to be productive when and where we need to be. If you need help achieving this, then you know where to find me!

“A home is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a stronghold amid life’s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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