Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

The 21st March was the spring equinox – the day each year where day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet.  And it is this relationship between light and dark which also marks International Colour Day, because without light, there is no colour.

As Karen Haller says, colour “is around us all the time and influences everything we do – though we are barely aware that this is happening. In fact, we are only around 20 per cent conscious of the colour decisions that we make, though we are making them all the time: about what we wear, what we eat, what we buy, how we relax, right down to how we take our morning cup of coffee.”  The ability to see colour literally guides us through our lives, helping us in our decision-making processes.

As Swiss painter Johannes Itten says, “Colour is life; for a world without colours appears to us as dead.”

Image: David Hockney, “Garden,” 2015. Photo by Richard Schmidt

And in her book Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee observes that “the liveliest places and objects all have one thing in common: bright, vivid colour.”  Across every culture in the world, bright colours are universally understood to be associated with joy.

Image: Nicola Holden

These days we’re also very aware of the importance of incorporating biophilia – our innate connection to nature, into our homes.  Colour is everywhere in nature, from sunrise to sunset, in the flowers, birds and insects.  Colour here is a sign of the richness of our surroundings.

Image: Nicola Holden

So if colour really is such a powerful force of positivity and optimism, why don’t we use more of it in our homes?  Fetell Lee suggests that this is due to ‘chromophobia’ – a fear of colour.  It seems we automatically default to beige or grey rather than risk making the wrong choice about colour, and then having to live with it.

Image: Nicola Holden

As colour psychologist Haller says, “Colour is an increasingly important topic of consideration for neuroscientists, biologists, physicists, philosophers and psychologists; and research is continually expanding our knowledge of how we take colour in and how we emotionally respond to it.”  And at a time like this, when so many of us are feeling increased levels of anxiety due to the Covid pandemic, surrounding ourselves with colours that instil feelings of positivity and joy is now more important than ever.  It is time to put our own wellbeing at the forefront of how we design our homes, and to create spaces that nurture the feelings and behaviours that we want for ourselves and our families.

Colour is one of the elements that helps us to emotionally connect with our spaces.  It makes our homes feel alive.  After all, what are our homes, if not designed for us as human beings?  As an interior designer, I use colour to influence and impact the experience of home that people have in a positive way.  Using the right colour, or combination of colours, will have a positive impact on the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of the people who work, live and move through the spaces that I create.

Image: Fiona Walker-Arnott

If you suspect that you are suffering from chromophobia and have no idea what colours to choose, please get in touch and I would be happy to offer a colour consultation. Contact us to book your consultation with Nicola Holden Designs.

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Paint is one of the most transformative changes you can make to your home.  However, choosing paint for your home that is safe for your family and indoor air quality can seem like a mystifying quest.  And, if you choose the safest kind of paint, will it stand the test of time?

Like all products that are marketed as “environmentally friendly”, it’s important to understand exactly what it is you’re getting and whether or not the product is as “green” as it claims to be.  Choosing which paint to decorate your home with is no exception!

Although lead was phased out as an additive in ordinary paint meant for the general public in the 1960s, lead is not the only paint additive that is bad for your health.  Most paints today contain chemicals — known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — that can negatively affect your health.  When you enjoy that “new paint” smell, ironically you are inhaling dangerous VOCs. 

VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate into the air at room temperature.  They can include fungicides, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, and benzene.  Although the majority of VOCs leave the paint as the wall dries, not all of them do. In fact, paint can release VOCs into the air for years following the initial painting, a process known as off-gassing, putting your family at risk.

The end result is that the average indoor air quality of our homes becomes more contaminated than outdoor air, leading to a general decline in health and well-being.  Indoor air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental threats to public health. 

Harmful VOCs are not always acutely toxic, but they have compounding long-term health effects. 

They have been proven to contribute to conditions including cancer, breathing difficulties, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision. In addition, the VOC-rich air in your home over subsequent years can put you or a family member at a higher risk of developing asthma, sinusitis or allergies.  Pretty nasty stuff! 

Thankfully, due to stricter government regulation and more awareness on the part of the consumer, nearly all household paints are water-based meaning that they have lower VOCs.  This means that they off-gas much less than traditional paints.  The EU limit on VOCs in emulsion paint is 30g/L.  However, there are many paints available on the market today that contain lower, or no VOCs.  And from a health perspective, the fewer chemicals, the less off-gassing, the better!

Like many healthier alternatives, no- and low-VOC paint usually costs more than regular paint, but is definitely worth the added expense.  This additional cost is due to the increased content of natural pigments in the paint, which are more expensive to extract from the earth than petrochemicals.  But it is this increased pigment content that gives walls a real depth of colour, absorbing light so that the colour appears to glow from behind.  In addition, higher-quality paint will go on smoother, take longer to dry (meaning brush strokes are less visible), and last longer, demanding fewer retouches down the line. 

An inexpensive brand of paint might make sense in the short term, but we have to ask what is being sacrificed to produce this cheaper paint, and is it worth the so-called saving when our health and our planet is at stake?

Here are some of the paint companies whose products I specify for my client projects, based on their eco-friendly credentials.

(VOC figures extracted from the companies paint charts / websites)

One more tip – don’t overbuy! Paint can be difficult to dispose of properly and this ensures that you won’t end up with too much extra paint to get rid of.

I hope I have helped to clear up any confusion?  Happy painting!

“Colour is what gives jewels their worth”
Christian Dior

So, 2021 is here!  After a lovely Christmas with my family in Ireland (following a period in quarantine in a portacabin on my sister’s farm, and a negative Covid test), it was back to London and the New Year with a bump. 

So here we are, in yet another lockdown.  How are you all doing?  I definitely have my moments!  Towards the end of last year  The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published a report on Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute concluded that “It does not take big data and a team of happiness researchers to understand that the pandemic has undermined our wellbeing.”

Their report ended with a list of key activities to focus on to increase your wellbeing throughout the remainder of this pandemic.  I thought I’d share these with you, as well as ways to create a home environment that supports these activities.


Spending even just 15 minutes per day outside was associated with the largest positive impact on life satisfaction.  And for regular readers of my blog, this should be no surprise given how often I stress the importance of having a connection to nature on our mental and emotional health.  A previous blog post that I wrote outlined how to introduce this connection to nature, otherwise known as biophilic design, into your home.  You can read that post here.


The happiness report suggests that “Knitting, painting, baking, gardening, and renovating are all useful activities to try out during lockdown”.  I have certainly engaged in a lot of different DIY projects in my own home throughout lockdown, and it is very satisfying to look back and see what I have accomplished.  But not all of us are designed to do DIY (which I’m very grateful for, otherwise I might be out of a job!). 

I inlaid these Turkish tiles I bought 8 years ago into the top of a chest of drawers.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and remembered a quote by David Hume, who said that “Anticipation of pleasure is, in itself, a very considerable pleasure”.  Research has found that we enjoy an experience more when we wait for it, probably because we create detailed mental simulations filled with rich sensations and exciting possibilities.  Ingrid Fetell Lee says that “Anticipation lets us bring our future joy into the present, and the longer we plan ahead, the more time we have to enjoy it.”  So why not use this time during lockdown to start planning a future renovation of your home.  Renovations are always much less stressful if everything is decided up front, and I’m here to help you every step of the way!


Meditation practices, such as mindfulness, teach us to be present in the moment and meet challenges with openness, acceptance, and curiosity.  I have to admit that this is one thing I am not very good at!  Possibly because I don’t have anything purple in my house – the colour which is psychologically associated with contemplation and the search for higher truth.  But if meditation is your thing, then carving out a quiet space where you can practice this, and incorporating some purple, be it lilac, violet, aubergine lavender, mauve, or whatever shade takes your fancy, will help you to get in the zone.


This recommendation definitely goes without saying.  We all know that keeping fit is good for our health and wellbeing!  So, if you’re trying to carve out a space in your home for exercise, then red is a good colour to use in this space.  Red lies at the opposite end of the visible colour spectrum to purple, and having the longest wavelength, it is the colour that makes us pay attention.  Red affects us physically, raising our heart rate.  It is the colour associated with energy, excitement, physical strength and stamina, so is the perfect colour to get your fitness training off on the right foot!


The other recommendations from the Happiness Research Institute are to lend a helping hand to friends and family, and to keep in touch with those close to you.  If you would like to read the full report you can access it here.

Creating a home that makes these positive choices easy, natural and enjoyable is not frivolous.  It is fundamental to our health and happiness, and therefore to our wellbeing!  Get in touch if you need help creating your own personal sanctuary.

It seems like forever since I last blogged. I am pleased to say that my interior design projects have been keeping me very busy of late, but there seems to be a bit of a lull in the office today, so I am taking advantage of this to catch up on some much planned blogs.

So, before October is out, I thought I would start by telling you about Little Greene’s ‘Pink’ collection which they have launched to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month – October 2016.


Little Greene is one of my favourite brands of paint, and I often specify their colours in my projects. Their new ‘Pink’ collection comprises eight related pink shades, providing a delicious choice from soft delicate tones associated with femininity and sensitivity to bolder, seductive hues.


As a colour, pink comes across as being nurturing, caring, warm and romantic. Too much pink, however, can leave us feeling needy and physically weak. Soft pinks are soothing colours, and I have to say that my eyes are constantly drawn to the first image in this post – probably for exactly those reasons.


In keeping with Little Greene’s heritage links, ‘Pink’ has its roots in history. During the Renaissance period, pink was used in paintings for the flesh colour of the human body, the ‘skin’ colour being created from a combination of two pigments – ‘Sinopia’, also known as Venetian Red, and Lime White. Whilst pink colours had been used in artists’ work for centuries it was only during the 18th Century that pinks became popular in fashionable clothing and porcelain, with architecture following across Europe soon afterwards. The name ‘pink’ derived from the flower of the same name and was adopted in the late 17th.


Pink fell out of fashion in the 19th Century and only with the introduction of lightfast chemical dyes in the 20th Century creating bolder, brighter and more powerful pinks was there a resurgence in popularity. It was in the 1940s that pink truly became associated with girls; before that, pink had been for boys too.


Little Greene have also launched a new colourway of the Paradise (c1940) wallpaper design, re-coloured in a gentle pink, with a subtly shimmering mica ground. The English Heritage-owned document from which this paper is drawn is actually a 20th Century piece, but the subject – exotic flora and the familiar oriental ho-ho birds – is classic ancient Chinoiserie.


During the month of October, 15p of every can of paint and roll of wallpaper sold will be donated to Breast Cancer Haven, a charity providing one-to-one support to improve the quality of life of anyone affected by breast cancer.

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A while ago I was approached by Ronseal asking if I would be interested in collaborating in a DIY project. As I am in the middle of my own home renovation project, much of which I am doing myself, I said yes.

My husband had inherited a mid-century Swedish corner cabinet from his Swedish family that I thought would make a good project. A lot of Swedish furniture is painted but this was plain varnished pine, and the yellow tones and country-cottage feel of the piece didn’t work with the scheme in our home, so I was only too pleased to attack that with paint.


As with most projects, preparation is key. I could have just painted over the varnish but the paint probably wouldn’t have stuck very well and would have chipped off as we used the cupboard. So, the first steps were to give it a good clean with sugar soap and then to get rid of the varnish. I thought the varnish might just sand off but that was wishful thinking and I had to resort to Nitromorse which is not very pleasant to work with.


As part of the collaboration I needed to use a Ronseal product and as Ronseal don’t do a wide range of paint colours I decided to use their undercoat which I had had a good experience with on my office shelves. It is a one-coat undercoat which obviously saves time too!

Then it was time for the main paint colour. After much deliberation I had chosen to use Jazz Cafe from Fired Earth – a rich and gorgeous cobalt blue that will really ‘pop’ in the finished room scheme, and totally transform the corner cupboard from a very bland piece of furniture into something bright and fun. (My mother-in-law thinks the colour is very Swedish which is an added bonus!)

The penultimate step was to stencil a pattern into the panels in the doors. I have long been wanting to find an excuse to use a Royal Design Studio stencil, and this was the perfect opportunity. The pattern we selected is actually a traditional African pattern which links to my African heritage. I painted the white bits in some very matt ceiling paint that I had lying around. I wanted the matt finish to add texture to the unit. And then, to add a final layer of interest and texture, I sprayed on some Rust-Oleum Metallic Bright Gold paint to bits of the pattern to add a bit of pizazz.

After trawling the internet I came across some brass knobs whose size, shape and style worked with the African pattern on the Swedish mid-century unit. They’re a bit cheap and cheerful, but they will work fine until I see something else more suitable.


I have put together a video of the transformation process. Please be kind as being on camera is not my favourite thing to do!

So there you have it – a totally transformed piece of furniture! My still plaster pink dining room walls don’t do it quite justice but I have an image in my head as to how it will sit in the finished scheme, but you’ll have to wait a while for those photographs. But in my mind the colour of this unit will be an unexpected pop of colour, and I for one can’t wait to see the whole room come together!

Swedish Unit

What do you think? Do you love it or loathe it?

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, in partnership with Ronseal.

Back in September last year I posted about a mood board that I have recently put together for a petite flat in the West End. The couple wanted their interior to be modern and elegant, but with a homely feel to it.

Well, it has been a long time coming, but I have finally had the apartment photographed, and I am very pleased to say that I am absolutely delighted with the results. This apartment is a little bit of luxury, right in the heart of the West End.

Luxury West End Apartment

The apartment consists of an open plan living / dining / kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom and of course the entrance hall. My clients wanted a largely grey and silver colour scheme, but I have added pops of mulberry and lilac to lift the monochrome scheme.

Luxury West End Apartment

I have introduced interest into the scheme through texture – a beautiful watermarked gravure wallpaper, luxury velvets, silk curtains. The rugs in the living room and bedroom were made bespoke to my design. I chose clear Perspex curtain poles so as not to detract from the beautiful architectural shape of the living room window, and I introduced layers of light for effect.

Luxury West End Apartment

The kitchen units already existed, but I added a matching breakfast bar and stools to replace the oversize dining table that was there previously.

Luxury West End Apartment

I replaced the old worktop with a beautiful marbled composite stone.

Luxury West End Apartment

In the bedroom it was all about luxury – soft tactile velvets and shimmery silks and wallpapers, and Mongolian lamb cushions whilst retaining the modern, architectural elements through a pair of Tizio lamps on the antique mirrored bedside tables.

Luxury West End Apartment

Luxury West End Apartment

In keeping with the scheme, the bathroom is largely tiled in a beautiful warm grey marble, centred on an elegantly curvaceous basin. Antiqued glass tiles in the niches, sparkling crystal mirror lights and a delicate Moroccan mirror complete the look.

Luxury West End Apartment

More images of this project, and others, can be found on my website.

“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
Coco Chanel

Photographs © Fiona Walker-Arnott.

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It has been such a long time since my last blog post, and it’s not for lack of content. My head has been full of ideas, but I just haven’t been able to find the time to write. The end of March and beginning of April saw me incredibly busy finishing off a client’s project in Covent Garden (more on that to come) and then I had a much needed holiday in Morocco which I will share with you soon.

But, before things got so busy I was invited to a screen printing demonstration at Clarissa Hulse. I have long been a fan of Clarissa’s gorgeous fabrics, and have used them in my own home and on clients’ projects.

Clarissa Hulse Products

The evening started with a talk by Clarissa herself, explaining how she fell in love with painting on silk as a child, and the way that silk plays with light. Clarissa uses botanical patterns in her designs, and prints using opaque, matt colours. This ensures that the base colour doesn’t show through, allowing the printed colours to ‘zing off the silk’! Clarissa loves using clashing colours on the opposite side of the spectrum to dramatic effect.

Clarissa's talk

To create her designs, Clarissa gathers plants which she then presses and photographs, rather than sketch. I like that sort of art! The images are then manipulated slightly to get the finished design. Hundreds of swatches of different colours are then printed before the final combinations are selected.


Fabric by the meter is printed in India due to the lack of decent printers in UK, and because the hand printing process is more common in India, allowing smaller runs to be printed. The patchwork cushions are made up by an East End charity for people with mental health problems. Clarissa also sells bags made by upcycling the backing cloth from her print tables.

Fabric colour

After her talk we were all treated to a demonstration of the screen printing process. I wish we had been allowed to try our hand at screen printing. Maybe next time…

Screen printing

I think her products are a wonderful way of adding those splashes of colour to your scheme, and the zingy colours and botanical shapes will certainly add life to your design.

So are you, like me, a Clarissa Hulse convert, or do your tastes lie elsewhere?

“It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable colour to every object; beware of this stumbling block.”
Paul Gauguin

Images © Nicola Holden.

If you have enjoyed this post why don’t you head over to our Facebook page, or follow Nicola’s updates on Twitter or Pinterest. Full details of our Interior Design services can be found on our website.