Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

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.

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What a year 2020 has been, and it certainly doesn’t seem as if it’s ending quietly – in the UK at least.  For now I have spent the last week in quarantine in a portacabin in a muddy field on my sister’s farm in Ireland.  I am doing this so that I can spend Christmas with my family here, who I haven’t seen in more than a year.  And I have to say that having views over green fields and grazing sheep has been such a wonderful breath of fresh air after London.

One of the things I have really missed this year are the art and craft shows.  These shows are my happy place – giving me inspiration as I marvel at the creativity on display.  I have found myself seeking out artists on Instagram, many of whom post videos of them creating their work, which I find totally mesmerising!  So I thought I’d share with you my ‘advent calendar of artists’ (click on the images to go to their Instagram feeds)…

1 – Natasha Kumar – a UK based British-Indian artist who explores her heritage in her work.  I adore India, and I love the way that Natasha captures its vibrancy and spirituality through her art. I have one of Natasha’s pieces in my bedroom and it has such a calm vibe to it.

2 – Johnson Mugabe – I came across Johnson’s work on a visit to Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, and I was instantly captivated.  His work is mostly paper and fabric collage. His work is available through Nhaka Designs in the UK, and I have a couple of his pieces in my collection.

3 – Jazzy Westinghouse – it was Jazzy’s colourful horses that first captured my attention, but it’s by no means all she does.  She has a way with birds and ceramic pots too!

4 – Jack Penny – there is something about Jack’s quirky paintings, mostly of waiters or swimmers, that I look forward to seeing on my feed.

5 – Carla Kranendonk – Dutch-born Carla’s works are informed by her travels to West Africa and combine vivid brushwork with hand-embroidered paper collage, as well as photographic elements. I love the way she layering her patterns. She is represented by Rebecca Hossack Gallery in the UK.

6 – Holly Frean – if you’re a dog-lover then Holly is the artist for you.  I love the humour in her paintings. 

7 – Molly Lemon – a UK-based printmaker specialising in wood engraving.  Molly’s videos on her feed make it all look so easy! One of Molly’s pieces ended up in my collection this year.

8 – Diane Hill – Diane’s feed is filled with her creating her Chinoiserie watercolour and silk pieces.

9 – Natascha Maksimovic – she creates beautiful marble prints using the Japanese Art of Suminagashi ‘floating ink’ – celebrating and keeping an ancient craft alive.

10 – Ange Mullen-Bryan – Ange paints beautiful acrylic on aluminium landscapes.

11 – James Lai – this Sydney-based artist definitely has a unique perspective on his landscapes.

12 – Nadia Attura – Nadia’s work is a mix of photography and paint.  Most of her work is gently coloured, but this cactus print just hits you between the eyes with its vivacity! This piece has found its way into my Christmas stocking!

13 – Eileen van der Merwe – this South African artist has a way with a palette knife, creating works full of texture.

14 – Kate Mayes – Australian-based Kate is not shy when it comes to colour, and her pieces are definitely eye-catching in interior spaces.

15 – Claire Brewster – Claire’s work is a mix between intricate hand-cut pieces of flowers or birds, to ethereal paintings of women. One of her roses ended up in my collection this year.

16 – Sonal Nathwani – this image is of Sonal’s sketchbook. Oh, if only I could paint like that!!

17 – Jenny K of Living Pattern – this USA-based artist produces beautiful black-and-white and colour images of leaves mostly. I bought a couple of her small prints earlier this year, and she wasn’t shipping to the UK then, but she does appear to be now.

18 – Samantha Dennison – there is just something about this Australian still life painter that I find mesmerising. I love the simplicity, yet her attention to detail is amazing.

19 – Elizabeth Barnett – another Australian-based still life painter, but her work couldn’t be more different – full of bright colour and humour.

20 – Emma Studd – Emma creates original one-off screen prints of art. Using the screen as a drawing tool she explores the relationship between colour, shape and pattern. Another recent addition to my collection.

21 – Adam Robinson – my engineering background has instilled in me a fascination in the way items are laid out, which is what I love about Adam’s work – with stamps but more especially with vintage French seed packets.

22 – Natasha Mann – I was completely bowled over by Natasha’s work which is inspired by Moroccan patterns. She paints on wood using natural pigments and egg tempera.

23 – Isabel of Copperlight Studio – London-based Isabel uses a combination of embroidery and beadwork in her pieces, and I love art that is different, and uses different techniques.

24 – Roanna Wells – I love Roanna’s use of colour in her watercolour brushmark patterns.

And because I really struggled to whittle the list of artists down to just 24, there is one extra!

25 – Karina Petersen – Danish artist Karina uses ink and water to create her unique pieces. I love watching how the inks run into each other in her videos on Instagram.

Hmmm, it seems that quite a few pieces have slipped into my collection this year – I blame it on the Artists Support Pledge, set up in March to help out artists who were no longer able to sell their work at art exhibitions.

My husband, glancing through these images, said that there’s a clear theme of colour here.  Art is always such an easy way of introducing colour into your spaces.  And once you have that shot of colour, you can then pick out the colours to use elsewhere in your space to pull it all together into a cohesive whole. 

So there is my advent calendar of art for you to enjoy over Christmas.  May I wish you all a safe Christmas above everything else.  And I’ll be back next year with more interiors advice.

In the northern hemisphere, Christmas should be the time for twinkling lights and tinsel, the smell of mulled wine and mince pies, and social gatherings with friends and family. For some, the idea of Christmas can be overwhelming, particularly in these uncertain Covid times, but there are things that we can do to boost our well-being through this period, and into the New Year.  Here are my top tips:

Concentrate on the main rooms

Concentrate on decorating the main rooms of the house, leaving some respite in the bedrooms where the Christmas madness can be escaped! Focus on the entrance hall, living room and dining room. And don’t forget a natural wreath on your front door to welcome any guests and awaken the Christmas spirit in your neighbours.

Go green

Using greenery is a wonderful way to add to the festive feeling in a sustainable way.  Deck your halls, mantelpieces and sideboards / consoles with branches of conifers, holly, ferns and ivy to create a wonderfully festive environment. This will ensure a connection with nature during these short days.  The greenery can then either be composted at the end of the festive season, or put on the fire to release a beautiful scent.

Add candles

Candles fill the house with a soft flickering glow, and help to chase out the darkness.  The dynamic light that candles produce has been proven to boost our well-being.  Place candles amongst the mantelpiece foliage; and on the Christmas table; and in any dark corners.

Fragrance Matters

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity, so use reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils to create delicious smells wafting through the house.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.

Decorating a Christmas tree

There is nothing that says Christmas more than a decorated tree.  A real fir tree has that added Christmas smell, but even an arrangement of decorated sticks will create that Christmas feeling.  Whatever your tree, ensure you choose one that is in proportion to the size of the space and that it feels a part of it and not an incongruous add-on that is difficult to navigate around.

When decorating a tree, always start with the lights, and remember that you always need more lights than you think.  String the lights from the top down, alternating between pushing them in to the interior of the tree and back out to the branches.  Next, I like to add in tinsel as this fills in the tree, and catches the lights, giving added sparkle.

Then come the decorations.  This is my favourite part of Christmas as all of my decorations have been collected during my travels, and so are imbued with nostalgia and memories.  Having a collection of good quality decorations has the added benefit of being sustainable as these can be used time and again, and ensures that your tree tells a story.  Start with your largest decorations, and then fill in any gaps with the smallest, keeping the clear and frosted ornaments close to the lights to maximize your tree’s glow and glimmer.

Finally, cover the base of the tree and the stand in fur or a throw in colours to match your Christmas theme.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas!

One of my most regular requests for help from clients is to design their bathrooms.  Refurbishing your bathroom is one of the biggest home investments you are likely to make, as well as one of the most disruptive.  And, once it’s in, that’s it.  The space can’t just be swapped around, and so it’s important to get it right first time to avoid making expensive mistakes!

The bathroom is where we start and end every day.  From getting us going on a workday morning to being a place of calm, to relax and unwind each evening, bathrooms need to serve two very different purposes, so it’s worth ensuring that this room influences our behaviour in the right way.

It tends to be one of the smallest rooms in the house as well, so you need to cram a lot of functions into a tiny space. However, it is still a room in your house and so needs to look like it belongs to the rest of it.  It is just as important to ensure you incorporate your personality in this space!

  1. Introduce colour and pattern

Just because a bathroom needs certain areas to be waterproof doesn’t mean it has to be bland.  Adding colour and pattern is one of the easiest ways to add personality to this space, and there are thousands of tile options to choose from!  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you need to restrict your choice of tiles to a maximum of three.  Be creative with your tiling, layering in colour and pattern.  Listen to your heart as well as your head when it comes to choosing your tiles, and have fun!

Other ways to introduce colour and pattern is with a statement basin.  The London Basin Company have some fantastic options!  And West One Bathrooms sell a waterproof wallpaper which is suitable for use inside your shower cubicle. 

Brightly patterned basin
Image: London Basin Company
  1. Incorporate wooden elements

Being a natural material, wooden furniture is a great way to introduce biophilia to your bathroom.  The most obvious place to do this is with a basin vanity unit.  Wall hung vanity units do help to create the illusion of space if your bathroom is particularly small.  However, if your space is large enough, then you don’t need to restrict yourself to bathroom-specific furniture.  In my bathroom, I have installed a Chinese-style cabinet, but vintage pieces also work brilliantly, as they are imbued with nostalgia and memory, and add narrative.  Just ask your bathroom fitter to cut out a hole in the top for the plumbing.

Bathroom showing wooden Chinese-style cabinet
  1. Use curved shapes and soft materials to soften hard edges

Bathrooms have a tendency to be hard spaces, so choose shapes that are as round and soft as you can, and add in further softness through window dressings, fabric covered lampshades, rugs and lots of towels.

Curved bath and basin add softness
  1. Add art, accessories and plants

Not all your bathroom walls need to be tiled, so where possible leave some of them untiled to allow you to hang art.  Get your picture framer to foil back your art to protect it from steam.  To help your bathroom feel like just another room in your home, incorporate plants and accessories too. 

Art and plants help to create a homely atmosphere
  1. Layer in lighting

Fitting your lighting at different levels adds intrigue and ambience to any space, and the bathroom is no exception.  At the very least try you should have ceiling lights and wall lights either side of a mirror.  These lights should be on different circuits, and on a dimmer switch, so you can create a more relaxed atmosphere when you choose.  You can also incorporate lighting in niches, on shelves, under cabinets.  And, if the layout of your space allows, it can also be possible to incorporate a statement chandelier.  Just do be sure to check that your lighting plans comply with buildings regulations.

Bathroom mirror lights
Niche lighting
  1. Plan in plenty of storage

Try to think outside the box when planning in bathroom storage.  Can you incorporate a small cabinet within the wall cavity behind the mirror?  And think vertically too.  In the tiny bathroom below I had a bespoke wall-to-wall cabinet made to sit on the wall above the towel heater, which meant the client had more than enough storage space without taking up any floor space.

A bespoke cupboard above the radiator
  1. Don’t forget the practicalities

It’s easy to overlook the practicalities in your bathroom – after all there are so many other decisions to be made.  But you will always need somewhere to hang the loo roll, so think about this when you plan the position of your toilet.  You’ll want your towel to be close to hand when you’re stepping out of the shower or bath, and you’ll need a towel near the basin for hand washing. 

By following these tips, you should be able to create a bathroom that feels like a comfortable extension of your home.  A space in which you’ll want to start and end each day!

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The latest report from the Happiness Research Institute was released earlier this year.  Titled “Wellbeing Adjusted Life Years”, this report investigates how can we produce the greatest happiness return for humankind?  Interesting reading, especially in light of COVID-19.

In many countries around the world, including developed countries, average wellbeing levels have stagnated or even declined despite continued economic growth.  No matter where in the world we look, health is one of the most important determinants of wellbeing.  In both high and low income countries, physical and especially mental illness often pose a greater threat to quality of life than unemployment or poverty.  Depression is shown to be the most burdensome disease in Europe!

Couple this with the fact that humans today, and especially with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, are spending up to 90% of our lives indoors. 

So, how can we design our homes to ensure that they nurture our mental health, and not exacerbate mental health problems?  There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our spaces has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.

Here are four main things that you can change in your home to improve your state of wellbeing, and live your best life possible.

  1. Eliminate Clutter

Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has climbed bestseller lists all over the world as people have embraced the awareness that clutter has a negative effect on our state of mind.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  So, it goes without saying that the first thing we should do, when it comes to making improvements to our homes, is to de-clutter. 

One way to help achieve this is to have adequate storage for the possessions that we chose to hold on to.  Storage is the one thing that my clients consistently ask for as it is often distinctly lacking in homes, both new and old.  Storage ranges from having a stylish box on your coffee table to hide those ugly TV remotes, to a large bank of built-in cupboards, and everything in between!

A place for everything and everything in its place
  1. Introduce Elements of Nature

Since the beginning of human evolution, we have been connected to the natural world, observing the changing seasons, learning what foods grow when, and when we can celebrate earth’s bounty, or when we need to build up reserves for the leaner seasons.

The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why flickering flames and cascading waterfalls captivate us; why forest bathing is such a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world; and why having a pet has restorative, healing effects.

The use of biophilic design in our spaces has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and speed up healing.

Even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

Floral prints, textured surfaces, and fresh flowers bring nature into this bedroom
  1. Use Colour

Colour is an incredibly powerful tool to use in our homes.  As Karen Haller, author of The Little Book of Colour says, colour “… communicates feeling, creates a mood, affects our energy, our appetites, our sleep, and has a profound effect on our emotional wellbeing and on the behaviours of everyone we live with.” 

Colour has the power to positively support us emotionally, yet so often we chose to decorate with so called ‘neutral’ colours on behalf of the future buyer of our home, or because of what our friends and family will think if we don’t.  This results in us living in places we don’t really like, in the hope that others will.

However, it’s important to note that when choosing our colours, we need to be mindful to choose the right colour for how we want the space to feel, as well as picking the right shade for our own personalities. 

Pops of colour are incorporated in the art and the rug
  1. Add Personality

This is the final item that really turns a house into a home.  Stamping our own mark on our space restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.

Bringing personality into our homes involves layering in pattern and texture, and displaying art, decorative items and collections.  It is about choosing furnishings that play with scale or proportion, and adding in items with quirky, offbeat designs.  It’s the little things that make you smile.

Your home should always tell your unique story.

Layers of texture, books and a cherished childhood toy add personality

With these four tips, you can transform your space into one that nurtures you psychologically and physically, contributing to your overall health, happiness and well-being.

”Life deprived of beauty is not worthy of being called human.”
Louis Barragánhe

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In my last blog post I talked about the importance of Biophilic Design – adding that connection to nature to our interior spaces.  But so often, when I see examples of biophilic spaces, it is a sea of natural wood and indoor plants.  What is missing for me is those elements of joy.

Biophilic design with natural wood and indoor plants
Image: Hirouyki Oki

When I think of the photographs of nature that I have taken, they are more likely to be photographs of spectacular sunsets, bright splashes of colourful flowers, or eye-catching creatures.  It is the COLOURS of nature that make my heart sing! 

Bright oranges scenes from nature - hornbill bird, berries, sunset, mushrooms and a butterfly.

And so it should be with our homes too.  Incorporating certain tangible things into our homes can create that intangible feeling of joy.  Here are some of the ways that you can start crafting more joy in your home:


All over the world, bright vivid colours are associated with joyful occasions – from the Carnival in Brazil, to India’s Holi festival.  In Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, she says “Bright colour operates like a stimulant, a shot of caffeine for the eyes.  It stirs us out of complacency.”  Lively colours radiate optimism and sunshine and help us to marshal the energy we need.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to paint every wall of our homes in a bright colour, but we do need those bursts of colour in our indoor spaces, like flowers in a garden.

A pink chair


Along with colour, the layering of texture and pattern provides a sensorial richness, and a sense of abundance that is not only pleasurable, but vital to healthy neural development.  An environment that is too minimalistic acts as an anaesthetic, numbing our senses and emotions. 

I don’t know about you, but when I visit places such as Morocco, India, Barcelona, Turkey and Thailand, as a tourist taking in the architecture around me, it is the buildings that are the most gaudily decorated that grab my attention and make me want to pick up my camera and capture that feeling to bring home with me.

Layers of pattern and texture in a bedroom


Symmetry brings a sense of order and feeling of ease to a space.  It is the tangible manifestation of harmony through balance, rhythm and repetition.  Repeating colours, shapes or textures in different parts of a room helps us to view the room as a whole and brings structure to the complexity.  If your environment makes you feel stable, balanced and grounded you’re more likely to reflect these behaviours too.

Bedside tables arranged symmetrically either side of the bed


Circles and spheres are subconsciously associated with safety and positivity as there are no sharp angles to risk injury.  Round shapes are found everywhere in nature too – think bubbles and berries, and instinctively open us up to our playful impulses.  Think pom-poms sewn along the edge of a cushion, round side tables, or the Ball chair.

A round dining table creates a much more social dining experience, allowing guests to come together in a single conversation, and interact in a much more personal way.  And a spiral staircase brings a powerful kind of dynamism into a space.

A circular dining table creates a more intimate dining experience.


Negative space is the space around and between objects.  Having more space allows for a greater freedom of movement.  It also reduces the visual weight of a space, so objects with perforations will appear lighter than solid ones.  Think slender legs on furniture and translucent materials.


Drawing the eye up by highlighting the vertical dimensions of a room will create a space that feels uplifting, like painted ceilings in churches and mosques.  Think of your ceiling as the fifth wall and pay as much attention to its decoration as you would your walls.  If you have the ceiling height, incorporate decorative light fittings.

The height of a room can also be accentuated by using tall plants / sculptures, built-in bookshelves, full-length curtains, and wallpaper with a vertical pattern.

Full length curtains make a room appear taller


A mobile that sways gently on a breeze, prismatic glass that creates rainbow reflections, mirrors that create the illusion of a larger space, and mirror balls and surfaces that shimmer and sparkle all add a sense of magic to a space.

Shapes that burst out from the centre, like fireworks, have long been a part of celebrations around the world.  Think tassels and juju hats, a starburst mirror, or a chandelier that captures the bursting quality of light in static form.

Flowers are also a great of capturing so many of the elements listed above.  Flowers come in different colours, and their shapes vary too – from cups to cones, stars to clusters.  Floral forms are found on fabrics and wallpapers, and are also an important element of biophilic design, so tick both of these boxes!

A bright floral arrangement adds a sense of celebration to a space

Ingrid Fetell Lee sums it up so beautifully – “The problem is that without joy, we may be surviving, but we are not thriving.  If we rarely laugh or play, if we never have glimpses of magic … or bursts of celebration, then no matter how well fed and comfortable we are, we are not truly alive.”

And there has never been a more important time than now, with the uncertainty that lockdown and COVID-19 have brought, to ensure that our homes can inject joy into our lives!

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Since the beginning of human evolution, we have been connected to the natural world, observing the changing seasons, learning what foods grow when, and when we can celebrate earth’s bounty, or when we need to build up reserves for the leaner seasons.

The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why forest bathing is such a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world; and why animal companionship has restorative, healing effects.

The start of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s and into the early 1800s saw people moving to working in factories rather than outside, in the fields.  Industrialists, engineers and designers worked to make products as efficiently as possible and to get the greatest volume of goods to the largest number of people.  The result was huge economic growth and the growth of commerce, drawing people into office jobs, and into human created, artificial environments.

These days, we humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors – often highly controlled spaces, with even lighting, a constant temperature, and straight lines everywhere.  Add to this our growing addiction to our screens, and we are now very disconnected from the nature that used to be part of our everyday lives.  Stress, anxiety and depression are very real, modern day afflictions.

However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our indoor spaces has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.  The use of biophilic design in our spaces has been proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.  Even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

1. Reduces your stress
A professor at Chiba University in Japan, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, has found that forest walks yield a 12.4 per cent decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, compared with urban walks.

2. Improves your mood
Academics at Derby University have conducted a meta study of existing research which concludes that connecting to nature can be linked to happiness and mental well-being. Spending time in nature releases hormones that relate to the pursuit of joy.

3. Frees up your creativity
In one study by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, participants saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.

4. Reduces high blood pressure
A recent meta study in Japan reviewed 20 trials, involving 732 participants, which demonstrated that blood pressure levels in a forest environment were significantly lower than those in a non-forest environment.

Providing people with healthy places in which to live and work is vital if we want to maximise our well-being and improve our lifestyle.  Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.  Do get in touch if your home could do with some biophilic help?

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Homes that layer in pieces from different eras or cultures are dynamic and interesting. However, it’s important to follow a few simple rules to ensure you end up with a cohesive scheme, and not something where your eye doesn’t know where to land, and winds up confused and unhappy. Here are seven ways to successfully mix aesthetics:


Whether your scheme is monochrome or multi-coloured, using a consistent colour scheme will help your scheme hang together cohesively.  This doesn’t mean that every piece of furniture needs to be exactly the same colour though.  In fact I’d encourage you to mix and match colours, using accessories to pull all the colours together.

Image – Sophie Robinson


Don’t forget to consider the scale of your furniture in mind.  You don’t want a huge overstuffed chair sitting next to your grandmother’s dainty wooden carved loveseat.  And if you’re buying pieces whilst on your travels, then resist the temptation to buy something because it will fit in your luggage to get it home because the chances are it will be too small, and get lost in your scheme.


If you have totally different objects on either side of a bed, for example, they can create a balanced whole due to their symmetry within the space. However, it’s best to choose items with an equal visual weight to achieve this balance.

Image – Studio Ashby


Try to avoid having a confusing mix of solitary objects. When mixing in different styles, give each piece at least one ‘companion’ who shares the same characteristics (colour, era, culture, etc), and then distribute these items equally through the space.  This makes it easier for the eye to accept whilst adding interest to the scheme.

Image – Clarkson Potter


Choose pieces with complimentary lines and shapes. I find this easiest to do by creating a moodboard with all of the items together.  You should be able to quite easily tell if one item sticks out like a sore thumb this way.


Another way to unite a scheme is to have two contrasting styles in one object, for example an antique chair reupholstered in a modern fabric or pattern, or a traditional piece of brown furniture painted in a bright colour.

Image – Studio Ashby


It’s important to think about how you want you space to feel.  If your living room is a place to kick back and relax, don’t layer in overly formal furniture. Make all your choices equally informal, and your space will feel right.

Using these simple rules, you will be able to create a successful space, where everything finds a way to get along.  Having said that, I couldn’t agree more with Dorothy Draper  who says, “I always put in one controversial item. It makes people talk.”   After all, rules are there to be broken!

“For a house to be successful, the objects in it must communicate with one another, respond and balance one another.”
Andrée Putman

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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:


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.


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.


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!


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

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.


“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.


“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. 


“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. 


“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 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