Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

Yesterday was Nature Photography Day, and I celebrated this by posting some images of nature that I took on my break in Devon at the end of last month.  But it got me thinking – how nature inspires so much of what we have in our homes, from fabrics and wallpaper, to rugs and paint colours.  As well as marble, stone, wood and grass finishes on flooring, furniture, wall coverings and accessories.  And artists often reproduce what they see in nature in their work.  Look around your home and I’m sure you’ll find many items inspired by nature.

And if your home doesn’t contain many nature-inspired items, then it really should!  Having this connection to nature has been scientifically proven to be a vital element of creating a design that nurtures our wellbeing.  It is known as biophilic design, and is one of the elements of interior design that we use in our design process.

So let’s have a look at some of the product designers who look to nature to inspire their creations:

Tania Johnson takes much inspiration from nature to create her beautiful rugs.  For example, in her Waterlines rug she has captured a brief moment in time as swirling patterns of light dance on water.

Rug inspired by the swirling patterns of light dancing on water

Clarissa Hulse creates her stunning range of fabrics and home furnishings with designs that are based on her nature photography, which is just as likely to originate from a tropical rainforest as it is to feature leaves from a local London park. Grasses, seed heads, ferns and trailing vines feature heavily in the modern, silhouetted designs, often printed onto natural fabrics such as silk and linen.

Full length curtains make a room appear taller

The otherworldly wallpapers created by Badgers of Bohemia are inspired by the world around us: from verdant landscapes with lush green mosses, to capturing the magical, ethereal nature of clouds and light.  And in doing this they hope that they will inspire and cultivate a connection to the natural world and what we can do together to help protect the beautiful flora and fauna of this planet. 

Farrow & Ball released a new paint collection a few years ago called Colour by Nature, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, with colours ranging from Ash Grey (the colour of Flint), to Emerald Green (the colour of the Beauty Spot on the wing of a Teal Duck) and Dutch Orange (the colour of the Common Marigold).

Our connection to nature, and inspirations from nature, also occur in the shape of things, from the compound curve, ubiquitous among living things, particularly plants, to circles and hexagons.  And the spiral is also associated with growth, and found in elements such as spiral staircases, or a spiral rug.  In Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, she explains that “Organic forms bring the fluidity of the living world back into our space…  Organic forms taper, flare or coil at the ends.”

Hopefully this knowledge will steer you to think look twice at the products you choose to bring into your home, and to try to incorporate that connection to nature that is so good for our health and wellbeing.

“A Porsche will always look like a Porsche. My grandfather took these shapes from nature, so the head lamps of the 911 maybe look a little like the eyes of a frog, but it comes from nature, and the best shapes are from nature, so why change?”
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche   



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It’s more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and in that time we’ve all had to adapt and drastically change the way we live and work.  We’re all spending a lot more time at home together – cooking, eating, working, learning and relaxing and many of these activities are taking place in the open-plan kitchen/living area.  Kitchens are still the absolute heart of the home, possibly more than ever before. However, we have also realised the need for spaces dedicated to working from home, with more of an emphasis on sanctuary and a push towards privacy too.  The open-plan concept doesn’t work particularly well if more than one person is working from home or if the kids are being noisy!

Refurbishing your kitchen 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. So it’s important to get it right first time to avoid making expensive mistakes!  Flexibility in layout, and an emphasis on zoning is key, with space for eating, entertaining, kids’ homework or zoom calls all factored in.  Zoning ensures we don’t get under each other’s feet in this busiest of spaces.

A successful kitchen is not about how spacious it is – a large, badly planned kitchen is far worse than a well-planned smaller one.  And when it comes to planning your kitchen, it’s important to understand how you use your kitchen.  In order to create an effective working environment, we need to ensure that the entire food operation, from storage to the preparation, and right through to the actual cooking, dishing up, and cleaning up afterwards is catered for as conveniently and effectively as possible.  The idea is to design a kitchen that will be easy and efficient to use, cutting down on wasted steps.  My background in engineering and process flow has been very handy when it comes to designing kitchens!

How To Zone Your Kitchen: Seven Tips To Create The Perfect Layout

Kitchens can be broken up into 6 main zones as follows:

1. Storage

With our increasing awareness around diet, health and wellbeing, and more of us cooking fresh meals from scratch, we need storage for fresh ingredients and dry goods.  Our requirement for storage is becoming increasingly important, with a resulting surge in popularity for walk-in pantries.  We also need to consider the storage of pots, pans and cooking utensils, cutlery and crockery, the increasing array of kitchen gadgets, recipe books, work/ hobby / craft activities, and, of course, cleaning materials and rubbish (recycling, food waste and general waste).

2. Preparation

The preparation zone is the most important area in our kitchens, as this is where we spend the majority of our time when producing a meal. It should include sufficient work surface for completing tasks such as chopping, peeling, mixing, making a sandwich, etc.

Preferably, your storage units and fridge should be in close range of the prep zone, allowing easy access to ingredients, utensils, pots and pans. The kitchen bins should also be located within the prep zone, so you can easily dispose of peelings and packaging without having to cross the space and risk messy spills on the floor.

3. Cooking

The cooking zone typically contains the hob, extractor, oven, microwave, warming drawer(s) and any other cooking-related appliances. Ideally, the cooking zone should sit adjacent to, or opposite, the prep zone.

You should be able to easily move newly prepared food to the hob or the oven from your prep work surface. This will also mean there will be less distance for hot food to travel back to the worktop from the oven or hob.

4. Dining

If you have an open-plan living/ dining/ kitchen, then you’ll want to consider how you move your prepared meal from the preparation and cooking zones to the dining space, so you’ll want these two areas to be close to each other.

5. Washing

The wash zone primarily consists of your sink and dishwasher. However, it’s also good to have your bins nearby, so you can scrape, rinse, and then stack your plates in the dishwasher.  There’s no fun in this post-meal ritual, so it pays to plan an efficient setup, letting you finish up quickly and get back to relaxing.

It’s also a good idea to locate your storage for mugs, plates and glassware at arm’s reach to the dishwasher, making unloading faster, safer and easier.

6. Working

Often, your dining zone will double up as your work / homework / craft zone, but if you have the luxury of space then why not make this a separate, dedicated area giving you the option of working somewhere cosier and less shut-away?  And if planned carefully you can include storage space to hide things away at the end of the day when you ‘leave the office’.

7. Relaxing

Depending on how much space you have, it’s always nice to allocate space to a non-kitchen zone – a small sofa and coffee table, or an armchair and side table, where you can comfortably sit and read while something’s bubbling on the stove.

Ideally the main zones will flow in order of use:

fridge > prep zone > cook zone > serving zone or table > wash zone > clean items put away again. 

Think of even the simplest tasks that you perform in your kitchen, and plan for these.  It’s surprising how much of a difference little touches like this will make to your every day, and your kitchen will feel more designed!  There is loads of inspiration on my kitchen Pinterest board. And if you need any support, I’m always on hand to help.

“A place for everything, everything in its place.”
Benjamin Franklin

Tomorrow is Earth Day – the day when the world focuses on driving meaningful action for our planet.  I can remember a few years ago my husband’s Swedish family were visiting and wanted to take part in Earth Hour as a symbol of their commitment to the planet.  At the time, my mother lived in Zimbabwe, but was visiting me here in the UK.  At 8:30 we turned out all the lights and continued cooking our Swedish waffles by candlelight.  My mother commented how she was so sick and tired of having no lights as she lived with frequent power cuts in Zimbabwe, so to her, having electricity was something of a luxury!

So, whilst living with just candles for lighting is all wonderful for a short period of time, how can we design our interiors to be sustainable on an on-going basis?  Here are five ways that you can bring sustainability into your home:

1. Design for energy efficiency

Energy consumption is one of the major contributors to climate change.  Whether you’re refurbishing an existing building, or creating a new building, think about what you can do to improve your building’s energy efficiency by reducing the amount of energy and water needed.  Add window treatments that enable you to control the building’s temperature by opening and shutting them as needed.  Choose floor finishes that are cosier for cold climates (wooden floors, carpets), and cool for hot climates (tiles).  Ensure that your lighting scheme is energy efficient.  And finally look at installing home automation to enable heating and lighting systems to be controlled remotely.

2. Design for healthy environments

These days, humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors and 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.  It’s important to think of the bigger cost, aside from monetary value, when you purchase interiors products.

Public Health England attribute between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Indoor air pollution is over three times worse than outdoor air pollution, due to the number of air pollution particles trapped inside!  Indoor air pollution is largely caused by the invisible off-gassing of toxic emissions from products (furniture, carpets, paint, wallpaper, adhesives, etc).  So look for materials with low emissions of VOC (volatile organic compounds) and other air pollutants.  It’s also important that the air in a room can regularly circulate and remain fresh. Plants also act as natural air filters.

Biophilic design (designing a connection to nature) in our spaces has been proven to reduce the production of stress hormones, 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.  Exposure to natural light is another beneficial aspect for both physical and psychological health.

It’s also important to consider the acoustics in a space and ensure there are enough materials that will absorb sound vibrations.

3. Design for waste reduction

The mentality of discarding products as soon as they go out of style and replacing them with those that are currently trendy is no longer justifiable.  Instead of discarding ‘’old-fashioned’’ objects while they are still functional, try to come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Go through what you already have and repair or upcycle it before you buy something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  “Shop your house” to see if you can move items between rooms for a new look.

If you need to source additional items, start by looking in second-hand stores or flea markets.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.

Alternatively, try to look for items made from recycled waste or, for pieces that can be renewed/recycled at the end of their life cycle.  When waste becomes the raw material for new products, a circular loop of manufacturing is formed, effectively minimizing or even eliminating waste all together.

4. Design for low environmental impact

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Always ask yourself what has been sacrificed to get this product cheaply?

Do your research and find out what materials have been used and what is their environmental impact?  Is the wood FSC certified and comes from renewable bio-diverse forests?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is it produced and how are the producers treated?  Has child labour been used?  Is the cotton organic, or are farmers being forced to work with toxic chemicals to produce their cotton more cheaply?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last?  And finally, is the item repairable?  Be sure to check the certifications too.

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, and many companies are starting to implement processes that look after the environment – from resource management to the products they make and the way they make them.  Sustainability also considers the way companies manage their workshops and surroundings as well as how they look after their employees.

5. Design for longevity and flexibility

Consider the lifespan of any material you plan to use, especially for those elements that experience a lot of wear and tear (such as flooring).  Easy maintenance is an important part of designing for longevity; when spaces are hard to maintain, regular changes are inevitable and result in more resource consumption and waste creation.  Creating flexible spaces that can be easily adapted to fit the changing needs of people who are using them means there is no need to demolish and renovate it in its entirety.

Try to create timeless spaces by choosing quality over quantity, classics over trendy, and simplicity/functionality over embellishments.  Timeless, well-made pieces will last a long time, and can be recycled for future generations.  Less is definitely more!

“The best way to reduce any environmental impact is not to recycle more, but to produce and dispose of less.” 

Robert Lilienfeld and William Rathje, Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are

As the world embraces taking responsibility for the environment, interior design is finally starting to become more environmentally conscious.  And our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in!  And as a designer I try to make it my business to know which companies are striving to produce sustainably, and to work with those companies. 

Contact me if you would like help creating a more sustainable, safer home for you and your family.

When you start thinking about your interior design project, it is very easy to get excited about the colours and fabrics that you will choose, what home automation system will work for you, or what finishes you will have in your kitchen.  However, before you get caught up in those details, it is important to plan your layout.  This is the starting point of just about every interior design project. 

And, it is vital to get this stage right!  Because if you create a cloakroom, and then can’t open the door properly due to not having left enough space, or if you position the light switch a long way from where you’ll be standing when you want to turn that light on, these details will forever annoy you.  However, get them right and they won’t even cross your mind again!  The aim is to create an environment that is naturally easy and practical to live in, so that you can focus on spending your time doing the things that you enjoy. 

Like most things in life, there is often more than one way to plan your room scheme, but today I am going to share with you the approach that I have honed through many years of experience.

The importance of space planning

First of all, decide which room you’d like to design, and then write a list of all of the things that room will be used for, i.e. what tasks will be carried out within the space. If it’s a living room, will it be used for entertaining, watching TV, playing board games, or curling up somewhere to read a book or listen to music?  Does the space need to be multi-functional?  And does it also double up as a play space for the kids?

Next you need to know who will be using the space? How old are they, are there any health issues to consider? And what time of day will the room be used most? Is it a space used mostly during the day or in the evenings, or all the time?

Once you know what and who you are designing for, then you can decide on what items of furniture will be required. How many people will you require seating for? Do you need to create a quiet reading corner? Do you need lots of storage for toys or books? Are there any furniture items or art collections that need to be worked into the new plan?

Once you’ve decided on what furniture you need, then you can start thinking about the layout of the furniture. What is the focal point in the space? Is it the TV, an ornate fireplace, or a window with a spectacular view? 

Draw the space to scale on a piece of paper.  Include windows, doors and their swings, built-in cupboards/shelves, fireplace, etc. You want to be able to see all the fixtures and features on the plan.  Create scaled paper cut-outs for each piece of furniture, and then start placing these scaled pieces of furniture onto your space plan.  This will start to bring the space to life and show you how the room can be used. 

Move the pieces around to help you to think differently about the space and see what effect it has on the room.  Think about how you move around the space. Imagine walking in through every door, crossing the room and sitting down on the sofa. Does it feel easy in your mind, or do you keep bashing your ankles on that coffee table that is in the way?  Remember that you must allow for doors, windows and drawers to be opened.

It is also important to find the balance between positive and negative space to make the room feel right – not too busy, not too boring.  And in large or long spaces, sub-divide different activity zones to give definition to each part of the room.  Take some time to think about the proportions of the room in comparison to the scale of what you are adding to make sure things don’t overwhelm the space, nor get lost.

When decorating one room don’t forget the views of the rooms it looks into or what you see when you walk past a doorway. Do the two spaces flow together, or do they jar against each other? Make sure you curate those views by positioning your furniture or art.

Only once you are happy with your layout, should you start to add in any design details such as colour and texture, art, rugs, etc to complete your design.  And finally, now that you know your furniture layouts, the position of artwork, the finishes of each surface and whether it absorbs or reflects light, and the tasks that will be carried out in each space, you can plan your lighting accordingly.  Only once you have finalised all your plans is it time to talk to any builders or decorators.

The devil really is in the detail when it comes to planning a space that works, which is why most people turn to a professional for help to get it right.  So, if you’re a little stuck with your space planning, then get in touch.

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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.

It turns out that March is National Bed Month, and so I thought I would talk about how to get your sleep environment right.  We spend a third of our lives in bed and yet all too often we overlook the importance of the role your bedroom plays in terms of getting great sleep.  And as we all know, getting a good night’s sleep is vital to maintaining our health and wellbeing.  In fact, according to Dr Rangan Chatterjee in his 4 Pillar Plan, the potential benefits of a good night’s sleep include:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved concentration
  • Better memory
  • Improved immune system function
  • Reduced risk of developing chronic diseases
  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced stress levels

So let’s look at some of the factors that will influence your sleep, and how having a well designed space can make the world of difference.

The Bed

Your bed is by far the most significant element of a good night’s rest, and so it’s worth buying the best mattress that you can afford.  As everyone of us is made differently, choosing the right mattress for you and your partner is a very personal thing, and I always advise clients to choose their own mattress. 

When choosing your mattress, it should not be too soft so that it causes you to slouch whilst you’re asleep, but also not too firm that it applies pressure to your hips and shoulders.  The most important element is that your spine must be straight when you lie on your side.  When you lie on your back you should be able to slide a hand between the small of your back and the mattress.

If you share a bed, make sure it’s big enough for two people, so you can sleep without disturbing each other.  Another good point to note is that pocket sprung mattresses allow one person to toss and turn without the other really noticing as each spring is individual, so you only affect what you touch. 

The National Bed Federation recommend replacing your mattress every 7-8 years. During this time a mattress has been subjected to over 20,000 hours of wear and tear, in addition to which we lose 300ml of fluid each night and shed almost half a kilogram of dead skin cells a year!

Mattresses lacking the right comfort, space and support are likely to leave you waking tired and achy.

Colour

What colour, or combination of colours, we chose to use in each room directly affects how we feel, think and behave, and the bedroom is no exception to this.  There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist.  We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night.  Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.

When choosing colours to create a calming sanctuary for your bedroom, think about using pinks, soft peach or apricot, greens, light blues, or even purple.  Red stimulates a physical response, so it is great for invoking feelings of passion, but not so good for relaxation.  And definitely avoid using yellow which, over time, is likely to have you waking up feeling irritable.

Temperature

It’s important to specify the right amount of heating for the size of your bedroom, as well as being able to thermostatically control the temperature.  An ideal bedroom temperature is around 16-18°C.  Hot, cold or draughty rooms can seriously impact on your sleep, in particular REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. A bedroom that’s too warm is likely to cause restlessness, whilst a cold room can make it difficult to drop off.

It’s also worth having a range of bedding, depending on the season.  An extra quilt or a hot water bottle for when it is cold, and a lower tog duvet for when the weather is hotter.  Linen bedding is around 30% heavier than cotton yet allows better breathability.  Organic cotton is another excellent choice and will keep you warm throughout the winter whilst also wicking away sweat in the summer.

Having the ability to open your bedroom windows allows you to maximise air circulation.

Lighting

Lighting plays a hugely important part in our sleep patterns.  Our circadian rhythms are controlled by the 24-hour cycle of the earth’s rotation.  When we see light, our bodies assume it’s time to be awake and alert, but as it starts to get dark, we release melatonin (the sleepy hormone), which relaxes the body and helps us to drift off.  Introducing artificial light in the evenings disrupts our circadian rhythms – making us feel less sleepy.  Even small amounts of light from an alarm clock or TV standby button can have an impact on your sleep. And when you’re sleeping, light can still be detected through your eyelids, so we need complete darkness to stay fast asleep.

It’s important to chose window treatments that keep out street lights or the early morning light.  I do then find it very difficult to wake up whilst it’s still dark, and so I have a Lumi light, which slowly gets bright over the course of half an hour, waking me gently with the feeling of daylight.

When designing a lighting scheme for a bedroom, it’s important to have your lighting on different circuits, and on dimmer switches, to give you complete control on your lighting.  And if a nightlight is required to help navigate trips to the loo or a child’s bedroom, opt for red bulbs rather than white ones as they don’t interrupt melatonin secretion.

Noise

Unwanted noise is another factor that can disrupt our sleep.  So when furnishing your bedroom, it’s important to choose enough sound absorbing materials – a large rug or carpet on the floor, and curtains rather than shutters at the windows.

While certain noises cause interrupted sleep, soft, steady sounds can be soothing. I have recently downloaded the White Noise app, and find that the sound of crashing waves can be helpful for drifting off. 

Clutter

A messy, cluttered bedroom can affect you more than you might think, especially when it comes to bedtime.  You may not be able to see the clutter once your eyes are closed, but as it’s the last thing you look at before you close your eyes, it may lead to worrying thoughts.  In fact, a study, conducted by New York’s St. Lawrence University, revealed that a messy bedroom can lead to a poor night’s sleep and increased anxiety.

It is important that your bedroom is a space where you can rest and relax, so ensure that you have enough storage to enable you to keep it tidy.

And, if you’re still having trouble sleeping after all of this, then I can highly recommend Dr Chatterjee’s book, which looks at how your lifestyle can affect your sleep too.

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

The past year has given us all plenty of time to reflect and recalibrate, and now more than ever, we are placing a greater emphasis on our own well-being.  Wellness may start from within, yet the spaces around us play a vital supporting role.  Being forced to stay indoors for much of the past year, when our interior spaces are all we’ve had to keep us safe, has shown us that our homes have a profound influence on our daily joy and wellness.  When our homes feel calm, uplifting, and stimulating, it makes it easier to feel this way as we move through the routines of everyday life.  The subtleties of interior design can have huge impacts on our mental health, often in ways we don’t fully understand.  Having a space that supports us emotionally enables us to continue to lead a successful life in challenging times.

So what is it about a space that makes us feel comfortable?  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our most fundamental needs is for shelter.  However, beyond that we also seek solace, beauty, and a sense of belonging.  And many of our responses to the design of spaces are unconscious – hard-wired into us as human beings.  For example, when children are asked to draw a home, they commonly draw houses with steeply pitched roofs, symbolising shelter and security, even when they themselves live in flats.  We all need our homes to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world, as though we are, at some level, still warding off ancestral fears of attacks by a predator.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Within our homes, we also intuitively respond to different types of interior space.  Here we need a combination of small, intimate rooms and as well as more open-plan areas.  In biophilic design these concepts are known as prospect and refuge.  Small rooms provide us with refuge, giving us a sense of safety, retreat and withdrawal.  We all need zones where we can do the things that are important to us.  On the other hand, open-plan spaces give us a sense of freedom and connection.  And having a view to a garden space, however small, helps us to feel connected with the outside world, and to create a sense of possibility beyond the space we’re actually in.

Biophilic design brings our innate biological connection with nature into our spaces.  I’m sure that most people are well aware of the benefits of houseplants and plenty of daylight, but there are less obvious aspects of biophilia that can help us to feel more connected to nature. Using organic materials, colours, shapes and patterns helps us to feel more grounded in our environment.  After all, memories of home are often associated with the things in it, which you can touch and smell, rather than the building itself. 

Which brings me onto another important consideration to ensure our homes bring us happiness, and that is to make them personal to us.  We need to stir our senses and bring more awareness to what feels good and brings us joy.  Collections are a way to reflect your own taste and personality more intimately than anything else, whether it be art, shells found on far-flung beaches, or antique crockery.  These items add sensorial richness to a space and help to elicit the deep, emotional responses that give rise to the feeling of joy.  If our surroundings lack energy, abundance and harmony, then no matter how beautiful our homes might be, they will not make us feel truly alive. 

Colour is another important factor in how our interior spaces make us feel.  There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist.  We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night.  Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.

But there is more to colour than merely hue (the attribute of colour which enables us to classify it as red, blue, etc).  Our colour personalities echo the patterns and natural order of the seasons, and so it is important to choose colours that match your own tonal family – spring, summer, autumn or winter.  Surrounding yourself with colours at odds with your own natural pattern is, in the long run, stressful.

And finally, there is lighting, which not only interacts with the colours we choose, but also influences our circadian rhythms and the way we feel.  As well as bright light for carrying out tasks, we need darkness and cosiness to help us relax at the end of the day.  Clever combinations of lighting which include ceiling lights, table and task lamps, as well as flickering candles, allow us to mimic the changes in natural light as the sun moves through the sky over the course of the day.  This enables our bodies to harmonise with our environment.

While the impact of our interiors on our wellbeing may ultimately be a deeply personal thing, it is worth considering how these fundamental principles of interior design have the capacity to affect how you feel, rather than paying too much attention to what you think you like.  How we design our homes is as fundamental to our happiness and well-being as nutrition, sleep and exercise.

Contact us to book your free 30-minute consultation call with Nicola Holden Designs.

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

It is difficult to escape the current calls to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have seen to that!  And this topic has been amplified through the Covid pandemic.  As the world shut down, so nature came back to life.  Birdsong became sweeter and softer as the birds no longer had to sing above the city’s background noise. And satellite images showed a dramatic decrease in air pollution around the world.

But how can we become more sustainable in our interiors choices?  This is a huge topic to delve into, and I can only scratch the surface in this blog post, because becoming truly sustainable involves looking into a materials’ intended application, aesthetic qualities, environmental and health impacts, availability, ease of instalment and maintenance and initial and life cycle costs.  And more often than not, this information is not readily available. 

Early industries relied on a seemingly endless supply of natural resources.  For all its good, the industrial revolution has also resulted in billions of tonnes of toxic material being expelled into the air, water, and soil, requiring thousands of complex regulations to keep people from being poisoned too quickly, as well as eroding the diversity of species and cultural practices. 

Many of the raw materials used in modern manufactured products are actually harmful to humans, and the off-gassing from these products (appliances, carpets, wallpaper adhesives, paints, building materials, etc) results in the average indoor air quality being more contaminated than outdoor air, leading to a general decline in health.  Indoor air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental threats to public health!

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, but modern industries still operate according to early models, with a cradle-to-grave mind-set.  Resources are extracted, shaped into products, sold, and eventually disposed of in a ‘grave’ of some kind, usually landfill or incinerator.

Now more than ever I am finding that my clients want to be part of the design journey.  They want the pieces within their homes to reflect their own belief system, to have integrity and narrative and, most importantly, to be sustainable.  And as a result, our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in too!

The mentality of discarding products as soon as they go out of style and replacing them with those that are currently trendy is no longer justifiable.  Instead of discarding ‘’old-fashioned’’ objects while they are still functional, we can (and should) come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Here are a few suggestions about how you can sustainably give your home a fresh look:

REUSE AND RECYCLE

Go through what you already have in your home and ask yourself if it can be repaired or renewed before you specify something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered rather than buying a brand new one?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  Shop your house, moving things between rooms.  And if there is furniture that is still useful but that is no longer needed, donate it to a second-hand store.

This sofa was recovered for my client

BUY SECOND-HAND

If you need to source additional items, start by looking at second-hand stores or flea markets. Visit your local auction houses and seek out hidden treasures.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.  They are imbued with nostalgia and memory.  Look at websites that sell used items, where you can easily search for exactly what you are looking for without having to go to many stores.

Vintage chairs from second-hand site Vinterior

BUY CONSCIOUSLY

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Ask the supplier what materials have been used?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is the item produced and how?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last, and is the item repairable?

Choose materials and products with the lowest environmental impact.  Products made using renewable resources are those that belong to the natural environment and are replaced by the natural processes that occur in that environment as part of an ecosystem.  Biodegradable products can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, thereby avoiding pollution.  Try to avoid using materials that come from non-renewable resources, where there is a risk of depleting these natural resources.  And be sure to check the certifications!

Sustainable lighting by Tom Raffield

BUY RECYCLED

There has been a recent surge in the availability of products that are made from recycled waste or that can be renewed/recycled at the end of their life cycle.  When waste becomes the raw material for new products, a circular loop of manufacturing is formed, effectively minimising or even eliminating waste all together.

Claire Gaudion creates rugs made from 100% Recycled (PET) plastic

Let’s hope that 2021 will mark a more permanent move away from the quick fix of instant interiors fashion to a sense of longevity and considered consumerism.  A move towards the handcrafted and personal; of investing in pieces that will grow with you and become a part of our home’s life story over time.

I am constantly updating my library of sustainable products. Contact me if you’d like to discuss creating a more sustainable home for your family.

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.”
Albert Einstein

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.

SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE

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.

ENGAGE IN ARTS AND CRAFTS OR DIY PROJECTS

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!

MEDITATE

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.

STAY FIT

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!

Image: bestgymequipment.co.uk

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.