Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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How does your home make you feel?  Is it a supportive, comfortable haven that expresses and reflects who you are, nurturing your wellness and encouraging positive behaviours?  Or is it leaving you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, or bored and lifeless?

How we choose to decorate our homes, or more specifically, the colours that we surround ourselves with, affects our mood and energy levels, our appetites and our sleep patterns, and has a profound effect on our well-being.  And at times like this, when we’re all spending much more time than usual in our homes, creating a nurturing home is more important than ever.

Colour has a huge impact on how we feel.  As Karen Haller says in The Little Book of Colour, “You have only to think of how we are affected by the colours of the natural world to see [the psychological impact that colour has on us] in action: how the sun’s rays fill us with happiness and optimism, how the greens of a forest give us a feeling of peace and tranquillity, how a dark-grey sky makes us want to stay in bed under the covers.  All these are our subconscious and unconscious responses to colour.”

Choosing colours for your home shouldn’t be based on what colours we like, but on the behaviours that we want to see exhibited in our spaces.  And the most powerful way that we can impact behaviour is through our colour choices. 

So, let’s take a look at a couple of rooms to see how this would work.

In a living room, the behaviours that you are most likely to see are relaxing (watching TV, reading or listening to music), and socialising with family and friends.  So what colours are likely to encourage these behaviours?  The colours associated with relaxing are predominately brown, dark blue and green, whilst those associated with stimulating conversation are red (although too much can turn the conversations heated), orange and yellow.  So, if you living room has to accommodate all of these behaviours, then a balanced mix of colours that support them would be required, for example blue and orange, green and yellow, etc.

It is also important to pick colours that not only work together tonally, but that are also the tone suited to your personality.  So, for example, if you’re thinking of using a dark blue and you’re a Winter personality then you should choose a midnight blue.  Autumn personalities would be better suited to a dark teal blue, Summer personalities a cool navy, and Spring personalities a bright cobalt blue.

Bedrooms are spaces where we start and end each day, and we want them to help us to unwind and calm us for sleeping at night, but in the mornings they need to encourage us to wake, get dressed and get going for the day.  Colours that work well in bedrooms include pink, purple, light blue and green.  Red is the perfect colour for encouraging passion in an adult bedroom, but should be avoided in a child’s bedroom where it can overexcite.  Again it is important to pick tones that work with your colour personality.

Karen Haller sums it up perfectly – “Working with colour is always a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  We do not see colour in isolation, and the way colours work together is what creates our emotional response.”

If, at the moment, you are feeling exhausted and depleted, depressed or oppressed, bored and lifeless, then it could have something to do with the colours that you are surrounded by in your home.  Do get in touch to see how I can help you transform your home.

“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.”
Wassily Kandinsky

As we enter week 6 of lockdown in the UK, I thought I’d share with you the five Instagram posts that have brought me joy over the past week.  I think you’ll find they share a common theme!

First up is this image from one of Kit Kemp’s designs, a collaboration in the loft space at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue in New York.  It is full of colour, pattern and texture, and effortlessly mixes in elements from different cultures.  I am a huge fan of Kit Kemp’s style!

Image: Kit Kemp

Next up is this magical gallery walkway that I came across on The Design Files.  It is in the home of Australian artist David Humphries, whose legendary career has seen him craft dazzling terrazzo art pieces in Australia, London and Los Angeles.  The bright Harlequin pattern floor is actually linoleum tiles, but I just love the intense colour they bring to this space.  It would be a completely different space if the floor were plain wood or concrete!

Image: The Design Files

Sophie Robinson is well known for being the queen of colour, and last week she posted this image of a little corner in her spare bedroom.  Again it’s a space that’s filled with colour and pattern – stripes and florals layered one on top of the other.  It is full of interest without being overwhelming.

Image: Sophie Robinson

Going outdoors now, I just love this image posted by Ingrid Fetell Lee – the #joyspotter herself!  The colours just shout sunshine, and although they are large blocks of colour, there is the pattern in the pink tiles on the orange wall, running down to the water spout. 

Image: Rosas & Xocolate

And finally, another Ingrid Fetell Lee post is this school by Japanese architect, Keiichiro Sako.  I can just imagine the patterns of light that would play through those coloured panels.  I would love to introduce some stained glass into my home.  I just haven’t figured out how to make it work yet!

Image: Sako Architects

I think it’s fairly obvious what brings me joy.  Do you know what it is that brings you joy?

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I am used to spending quite a lot of my days alone, with my husband out at work, and me quietly working away in my business.  However, spending the majority of time during lockdown under the same roof as my husband has highlighted to me our different personality types.  I am very much an ambivert.  I love socialising with friends and family, but I equally love spending time on my own in quiet contemplation.  My husband, it appears, is more extroverted than me, and a geek, and is in his element organising Zoom calls left, right a centre.  So how can we design our homes to cater for the needs of everyone in them?

It seems that the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is in how each prefers to spend their time. 

Introverts enjoy spending time alone, or socialising in smaller groups of friends.  Introverts also need time alone to recharge their batteries after a busy day, and can get lost in their thoughts easily and need time to process and think through things.

Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer spending time around other people and enjoy larger gatherings with lots of new people.  Extroverts like lots of activity and stimulation.

This open-plan layout provides space for everyone to ‘hang out’ together

With the rise in popularity of open-plan layouts, our homes are more becoming designed for extroverts.  Extroverts will thrive in communal, open-plan spaces that allow the family to ‘hang out’ together.  However, these spaces don’t work for everyone.

Introverts prefer smaller spaces where they can be alone with their thoughts.  Open-plan spaces can create a cacophony of noise – kitchen noises, television noises and device noises on top of regular conversation, which can be a major irritant for introverts who may end up depleting their energy levels in order to avoid being thought of as ‘antisocial’.  When creating a home from an introvert, it’s important to carve out places for retreat.

A quiet space carved out in the corner of this dining room

This retreat space doesn’t have to be an extension, or a shed at the bottom of the garden.  Find a low-traffic area in your house – a guest bedroom, an office that doesn’t get much use, or even a cupboard that you can clear out.  If you share your home with other people then this space can’t be a communal space like a kitchen or living room. 

As selfish as it sounds, having a quiet space to get away from your surroundings so you can recover, process, and recharge will help you to show up as the best version of yourself in your job, and with your family and friends.

A reading corner positioned beside a window for natural light

Think about what you want to do in your quiet room.  If you love to read, add a comfy chair, a reading lamp, and a space for some of your favourite books. Love to write, draw or paint then try to find a space with a window for natural light.  Keep your space clutter free, as clutter equals to distraction and visual noise.  And most importantly, don’t worry about what others think — this is your space, so decorate it considering what brings you joy.

And finally, keep in mind that soft textures like carpets, curtains, textiles, and upholstered walls help to dampen sound and allow the peace and quiet that you crave.

The ball chair provides a surprisingly quite space to retreat in this small one-bed apartment

Getting the design of your spaces right will allow both extroverts, introverts, and everyone in between, to thrive!  That restorative feeling — security, peace, rest — is something our home environments should provide us all the time.  And, if yours isn’t bringing you that feeling then I am here to help.  Consultations can be done remotely using video calls and meetings instead of face-to-face consultations using methods of your choice, be it Zoom, WhatsApp, telephone and email.

“Design is directed toward human beings. To design is to solve human problems by identifying them and executing the best solution.”
Ivan Chermayeff

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How things all around the world have changed in the last couple of weeks!  These days, most of us are confined to our homes, taking our work home with us if we’re lucky enough to still have a job!

Home means something different to all of us, and it’s by no means a safe place for everyone. The idea of home as a sanctuary is one that many of us take for granted, but if you’re struggling to adjust to working from home, then here are a few things you can do to create a work space that will help you to feel nurtured, safe and secure.

Create A Work Routine and Structure Your Day

It’s important to keep your work and home lives separate to enable you to switch off at the end of your working day.  The easiest way to do this is to stick to a routine for your days.  Wake up at the same time each morning, make your bed, and get dressed in work clothes to help your brain understand that it should be in work mode.  Try to keep office hours if at all possible and, when you shut down your computer at the end of the working day, let that be the end of it. Don’t continually check you emails on your phone in the evenings.

Plan regular breaks into your working day.  Take a proper lunch break.  Rather than congregating round the water cooler try and take ten minutes in the garden or put the laundry on.  Schedule in time to check your social media, for example what would have been your commuting time.  Make time for exercise too, as exercise endorphins have a positive effect on our mood.  Take advantage of the many trainers out there who are putting classes online.

Image: Plush Design Studio from Pexels

Set Up A Dedicated Work Space

As tempting as it may be, don’t do your work slouched on your sofa or your bed as this can cause back problems.  Instead set up a distinct office space in your home, even if that’s the corner of your bedroom.  Try to create a clear space where you can put the laptop, a notebook and pen, and a coaster for a drink.  If you don’t have lots of space, or your ‘home office’ doubles as the kitchen table, then make sure you put away your ‘office’ each evening, to create a separation between work and play.  This real life switch between the two spaces helps with the switch in your head from work to home in the same way that those who commute have physical distance between the two.

Your choice of space will also depend on what sort of work you do.  If your work involves a lot of analytical and logical thinking then you’ll work better in a cosy space with a dropped ceiling.  If however, your work involves a lot of creative thinking, then you’ll work best in a space with a high ceiling.  And if you don’t have high ceilings then you can decorate your space to give the illusion of higher ceilings – adding vertical stripes, tall bookshelves, full-length curtains all help to amplify visual height. 

Maintain A Connection To Nature

We might not be allowed outside much at the moment, but this shouldn’t stop us maintaining a connection to nature.  Try to choose a work space with a window so that you have a view to the outside.  Being able to see out of window restores cognitive capacity, reduces stress and mental fatigue, and promotes a sense of freedom and openness.  Seeing the slow but certain progress of plants as they grow and open up is a daily joy!  Gazing out of a window into the distance also helps us to exercise our eyes and reduce eye strain.  Opening a window and letting in fresh air also improves the air quality in our environment which aids focus and concentration. 

If your work space doesn’t have a direct line of sight to the outside then you can employ alternative tactics such as colour, pot plants or flowers, natural materials and artwork (all of which have proven benefits).  Using a swivel chair will allow periodic views through any openings that might be visible behind you.

If your view of the outside is not great, then hang plants, install sheer curtains, or apply translucent window films decorated with floral patterns to retain the semblance of an outside view and filter incoming light while sparing yourself the downsides.

Image: Colin King

Sound Matters

Music / background noise or silence is often cited as having an impact on productivity; however, what works for you is often down to personal preference.  White noise is generally considered to be better otherwise the brain will start to tune in and it can become distracting.  I sometimes prefer foreign language songs that are harder to ‘sing along to’ in my mind.  Background coffee shop noise has also been attributed with increasing productivity, so if you’re missing working in your local coffee shop you can try Coffitivity.  Nature sounds can also help to boost our well-being. 

Get The Lighting Right

Lighting is a whole subject in itself, and I have blogged about this before.  Working in a room with bad lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches and even depression.  Our primary source of light should be natural light, so ensure that your windows are letting in as much light as possible.  Move furniture out of the way of exterior openings.  Open your curtains properly to ensure they are not blocking out too much light.  Use tie-backs if necessary.  Use mirrors to bounce light around a room, and paint your ceilings out with gloss paint with a light reflectance value (LRV) of 60-90!

The most important form of lighting for a work environment is task lighting, and a directional desk light is the best way to achieve this – to light your keyboard and your notes. 

Add Colour and Personality

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.

It is so important that we stamp our own mark on our space as this restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.  So layer in pattern and texture, add in sparkle with metallic objects, and display 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.

Image: Pinterest (source unknown)

Keep Your Working Space Clutter Free

Clutter in your environment provides a distraction and if it builds up can also start to have a negative impact on your mood.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  A clean and clear environment enables you to come in and focus on what you want to get on with.

Image: Pinterest (Source unknown)

Turn Up The Thermostat

Don’t try and work in an environment which is too cold because if you’re cold you’re using a substantial amount of energy to keep warm and that’s energy that can’t be used to focus on the task in hand.  In colder working environments people have been shown to make 44% more mistakes.  The optimum temperature for a productive working environment is 21-22 degrees Celcius.  A warmer environment also makes people happier.  So turn up the thermostat without feeling guilty about it.

Add Fragrance

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity.  Using reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils in your environment can boost your productivity.  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.
  • Try peppermint when brainstorming. An energy booster, this scent invigorates the mind, promotes concentration and stimulates clear thinking.

Your own work space is personal and unique to you so find places that inspire you to be productive and incorporate elements of those spaces in whatever ways you can.  Notice not just the layout of the office and the furniture, but the sounds and smells as well as other design and storage features. 

However long the night, the dawn will break”
African Proverb

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Before I get started on pattern I thought I’d say a quick word on the virus. I am not a doctor or a scientist, and it’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong at a time like this when things seem to be changing on a daily basis. As an interior designer, it is my job to help people to create beautiful spaces to live in, and spaces that encourage our health and wellness. And so I hope, as we all start to spend a lot more time at home, that together we can create spaces that nurture us. So please keep safe, and let’s look out for each other.

To me, pattern is the stuff of life.  We are surrounded by patterns.  “We wear them and we walk over them, we eat them and drink them, we even learn, think and speak in patterns.  As well as being part of the basic structure of the human body and mind, patterns speak a powerful universal language.”  Anna Murray & Grace Winteringham, Patternity

The layering of colour, 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.  Pattern also brings with it the structured repetition of elements.  It enables us to feel abundance without it feeling overwhelming.

I am always on the lookout for patterns, especially when I am travelling and exploring different cultures.  Like a magpie drawn to shiny objects, I am drawn to interiors where layers of patterns are mixed seemingly effortlessly together.

But pattern in an Indian palace is one thing.  The question is, how do we go about adding pattern into our homes.  Here are my top tips:

1. Think Scale, Proportion and Balance

Pattern is often my starting point when working on a new interiors scheme.  As Peti Lau says, “I make sure that the patterns have a scale of small, medium and large.  Like music, I think of patterns like a chord.  A base note, a medium note and a high note to tie it all together to give a beautiful sound.”  Using a mix of geometric prints with florals also helps to create balance and harmony.  Large scale patterns can be less elaborate than smaller prints and can make a real impact, as you can see from this wallpaper in this small hallway.   

In this bedroom I used a large scale printed velvet for the headboard, a medium scale wallpaper, and then cushions with a small delicate print.

2. Balance Pattern with Plain Colours

Using colour is a great way to ground pattern in a room.  If you have a multi-coloured pattern it is easy to pick out some individual colours to use elsewhere in the scheme thereby creating a cohesive and balanced interior.  In this drawing room the curtains are a large scale floral pattern, and then I have picked out two bright pops of colour for cushions.  These colours also work well with the colours in the Keith Haring art.  The neutral colours in the remainder of the scheme prevent the bright colours from feeling too overwhelming.

3. Add Pattern Through Accessories

If you are nervous of adding pattern into your interiors, then look to add pattern through cushions, rugs, accessories and art.  Here, repetition of shape and colour help to pull a scheme together. In this scheme the cushion fabric came first. I then picked out some of the colours in the cushions for the bespoke rug which is made up of large triangles, thereby repeating the shapes in the cushions.

4. Make the Most of Trims

Trims, tapes and borders are excellent ways to add pattern without overwhelming the senses.  In this bathroom I added a trim to the Roman blind to bring some pattern into this space. 

5. Add Vintage Elements

Vintage textiles and rugs add interest and pattern into a scheme.  Think Suzanis, silk Ikats, kelims and Persian rugs which work beautifully in a contemporary setting and can be mixed and matched for a global look.  In this bedroom, the monochrome patterned rug grounds the scheme and adds a subtle element of pattern.

6. Be Bold with Patterned Tiles

Patterned tiles are a great way to bring pattern into those rooms which are so often devoid of personality.  In this London bathroom, I used four different tiles, working in patterned floor tiles, with plain wall tiles laid out to create an interesting pattern in themselves.

7. Even Those that Love Simplicity Can Introduce Pattern

Not all patterns have to be colourful and bold.  Think of patterns that exist in nature – marble, ripples, bubbles, the speckles on an egg, or the cracks in baked earth.  These are all patterns that add richness to our spaces, and stir our senses and emotions.  The Corian worktop in this kitchen adds a very subtle speckled pattern to this space.

And the veining in the marble in this bathroom brings life and movement to these hard surfaces

I hope I have been able to give you some confidence to introducing pattern into your own schemes.  I’d love to hear how you get on!

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
William Morris

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Last week, the BBC published an article discussing how we are all missing out on a daily dose of nature.  The writer referred to a study published by the National Trust with the University of Derby, which suggested “that being connected with nature – noticing natural phenomenon every day – is linked to higher well-being.”

This understanding of the importance of our connection to nature is not new thinking.  Back in 1865, Frederick Law Olmsted argued that “… the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”.  Studies have also proven that in hospitals, patients with a view to nature exhibit faster recovery rates than patients without a view to nature.  And even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

The furniture is positioned to make the most of views through the window, and the cushions add the colours of nature.

So, for those of us living in urban environments, what can we do to improve our connection with nature?  Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating what is termed biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.

One of the strongest aspects of biophilic design is to have a visual connection with nature.  The best way to achieve this is with a view of something natural through the window.  So make sure you’re your furniture layouts and window treatments don’t impede your views.  However, if views of nature are not the strong point of your home design, then bring this visual connection into your home by adding pot plants, a green wall, a water feature / aquarium, or even artwork depicting nature scenes.

Nature scenes in art, and on the lampshade bring a connection to nature into this landing

We don’t only respond to nature through our sight, but also through touch, smell and sounds too.  So make sure you chose natural textures such as wood, fur, stone, and textured fabrics, etc, as well as scents and sounds.  Whenever you can, throw your windows open to let in natural breezes.  Pets are also a great way to increase our connection with nature!

Marble tiles, pot plants, shells and the colours of the sea all work together to bring nature into this bathroom

Natural shapes are also good sub-conscious connectors – circles, hexagons, and other fractal geometrics.  These are easy to incorporate in wallpaper designs, rugs and tile shapes to name a few.  And don’t forget to add colour – nature is full of colour!  Think flowers, birds, sunsets, etc.

Fresh flowers, natural scents and even the organic shape of the dresser handles help to connect us to nature.

It is also important to consider how we lay out our spaces, as we are trying to incorporate elements of prospect and refuge.  Prospect ensures that we have an unimpeded view over a distance, for surveillance and planning, while Refuge gives us a place for withdrawal from the environmental conditions and offers us protection.  Think of a cave man standing at the entrance to his cave, or refuge, and surveying the surrounding countryside, or prospect.  Our homes should include open plan layouts, balconies and landings where we can stand and survey or using transparent materials so as not to close off our views.  But these should also be balanced with intimate refuge spaces – a snug, or a window seat – where we go to relax or meditate, to read or to think.

The bubble chair gives the user a sense of refuge whilst retaining a view of the overall space

Basically, what we are trying to avoid with biophilic design is a white / beige / grey minimalistic box that seems to be what so many of us end up with because we get overwhelmed with making decisions on colours, and what works with what, that we default to something that slowly, sub-consciously wears us down.

To flourish, we need a combination of complexity and order in our surroundings.  Spaces that are engaging and information-rich – a balance between boring and overwhelming.  Does your home deliver this, or does it need some help?

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I’m sure that, like most things in life, there is 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.  I’m going to be using the living room as an example in this case.

Once you’ve decided which room you’d like to design, the first thing to work out is what 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 it double up as a play space for the kids?

Before – this space was a blank canvas

Then you need to know who will be using the space? What ages, are there any health issues to consider? And what time of day will the room be used the 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? Or a spectacular record collection?

Planning the layout

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?  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’s in the way?

Only once you’ve sorted out the practicalities of how the space fits together should you start to think about colours. And more importantly how you want the space to feel and what kind of behaviours you want to encourage. I have blogged before about how our colour choices can influence this.  Once I’ve decided on this I then usually create a mood board which I use as a reference point for the scheme going forward.

After – the same view as before

Gather together all your samples and ideas for items of furniture in one place to see how they all sit together, referring back to your layouts to double check that they will fit the space available and work together from a scale perspective.  If you have existing items of furniture, photograph it and double check your measurements and then plot them into your layout.

At this point you can also plan your lighting. Remember to layer your lighting for added interest, thinking about the tasks that you will be doing in the space. If you’re reading, you’ll need light for this. And playing board games you’ll need a light above the table. And if you’re watching TV you might only want the odd subtle pool of light that won’t distract from the screen. I have also written in detail how to plan your lighting.

The reading corner

Once you have finalised all of your plans, it’s time to talk to any builders or decorators. Before they start work, get a schedule from them that specifies what items they will need on site and by when?  Then look at all of the lead times of all of the items you have chosen for your room, and enter everything into a plan.

Only once everything has been planned and scheduled should you give the go ahead for work to start. This way you’re not paying builders to be on site, waiting for items to arrive, and you’re also not facing the stress of having to make decisions yesterday so that you’re not holding up the project.

Happy planning, and do drop me a line if you feel this is too overwhelming and you’d like some help.

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Prior to the Industrial Revolution the majority of the population worked in agriculture, or as crafts people producing things by hand.  Then in the late 1700s and into the early 1800s, with the use of use of water and steam power, production methods moved to using machines, beginning with the textile industry in the UK.  And with this mechanisation, people moved to working in factories rather than outside, in the fields.

The Industrial Revolution also resulted in an increase in global trade and the growth of commerce, drawing people into office jobs.  Almost every aspect of daily life was influenced by this revolution.   As average incomes grew, so the standard of living for the general population began to increase.  By the mid-18th century Britain was the world’s leading commercial nation, with a modern capitalist economy.

These days, we humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors.  Today’s urban landscape and our growing dependency on technology are increasingly disconnecting us from the nature that used to be part of our everyday lives.  Stress, anxiety and depression are very real, modern day afflictions.

But how does all of this relate to biophilic design?

Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows instil fascination and fear; and why animal companionship has restorative, healing effects.

There is now 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.  Biophilic design has been scientifically proven to:

  • reduce stress,
  • lower blood pressure and heart rates
  • increase productivity, alertness and clarity of thought
  • enhance concentration and creativity,
  • reduce boredom, irritation and fatigue
  • positively impact circadian rhythms, leading to improved sleep
  • elicit positive emotional responses and feelings of tranquillity
  • speed up healing. 

Therefore, it is an essential element in providing people with healthy places in which to live and work.

As part of biophilic design, we look at bringing nature into our spaces with plants, water, breezes, sounds and scents, or through objects, materials, colours, shapes and patterns found in nature. We also look at the spatial configurations of interiors, creating prospect views balanced with intimate refuges, and a sense of mystery that entices people into our spaces.

This allows us to create spaces that are inspirational, restorative and healthy, nurturing a love of place and improving our overall well-being .

“I think that the ideal space must contain elements of magic, serenity, sorcery and mystery.”
Louis Barragán

I have talked quite a bit recently about how using colour in our homes can affect the way we feel, and how we behave.  But there is one vital element that needs to exist in order for us even to see colour, and that is light.  Without light, everything is just black.  It is light reflecting off the surfaces that enables us to see colour in the first place.  As Ingrid Fetell Lee puts it so succinctly, “Light is colour’s power supply”.

Except in very hot climates, people naturally gravitate to sunny spaces.  Sunlight brings us joy, and helps to keep our circadian rhythms regulated.  The blue colours found in morning sunlight stimulate the production of serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone), and the red light that we get at sunset stimulates the production of melatonin (the ‘sleepy’ hormone).  Getting the right balance of serotonin and melatonin is linked to sleep quality, mood, alertness and depression to name a few things, and so it’s vital that we light our homes correctly so that they support our circadian rhythm, rather than working against it.

Our first priority for light is, of course, natural light, and so it is important that we design our interiors around our windows to ensure we can take full advantage of them.  Make sure your curtain tracks are long enough that your curtains don’t overhang the window glass when they are open.  And mirrors are great for bounding light around our spaces.  And if the light streaming through your windows is too bright, then consider ways of diffusing the light to create a more dappled effect.

Sunlight streams through this window

However, in the absence of sunlight, we need to have alternative lighting options available – to provide lighting that stimulates us, and produces a positive psychological or physiological response.  And to achieve this, we need control over our lighting so that we can vary its intensity at different times of the day.

The design of lighting schemes is one of the most common aspects of an interior design projects that I get asked to help with.  So, when it comes to lighting we need to think of it terms of the four ways that lighting is used:

1. Ambient Lighting

This is the essential basis of lighting for any room, and is there to produce general illumination.  Ambient lighting should fill the room with a glow of light and soften the shadows, and is best achieved by reflecting the light off walls and ceilings to soften and diffuse the light.  Think about uplighters, and an LED strip around a coffer ceiling.

2. Accent Lighting

This is where you are lighting a specific object, for example a piece of art, a textured wall or some beautiful drapery.  The focus becomes the art, the wall or the curtains, rather than the source of the light itself.  Accent lighting can also be used to great effect in bathroom niches, or within shelf displays.

The lighting of this niche puts the focus on the patterned tiles

3. Task Lighting

Task lighting provides light for carrying out specific tasks, such a reading, cooking, desk work, and putting on your make up / shaving, etc.  The positioning of the lighting here is important to get right, as the light should ideally be between your head and the book / work surface in order to illuminate the task at hand.  For reading and desk work, choose a light with a solid shade that will give out a focused beam of light.  In the bathroom, position lights either side of the mirror to give you a shadow-free reflection.

This bedside wall light provides task lighting for reading

4. Decorative Lighting

Often referred to as ‘architectural jewellery’, decorative light comes in the forms of beautiful chandeliers, wall lights and table lamps.  These lights provide the glimmer and sparkle that bring us joy.  Chandeliers can also be offset, to add a sculptural element to the space.  Decorative lighting in itself doesn’t emit much light in a room, but is great for providing that low level glow of soft warm light in the evenings when you want your body to start getting ready for sleep.

An off centred decorative pendant adds a sculptural element to this living room

Good lighting requires more than just thinking about the different types of lighting.  It is also about how we control our lighting. Putting your lighting on different, dimmable circuits will give you maximum control, allowing you to set the mood for different occasions.  Lighting is also a great way to zone an open plan space

And don’t forget to think about layering, balance and proportion.  Small lights can look lost in a large space, so introduce oversized lights, or hang smaller lights in multiples.  Having different types of lighting will also help us to layer our lighting, using a combination of ceiling lights, wall lights and table lamps.  Also think about the colours and shaped in the room, and choose your lighting to work with these.

Layers and zoning work to complete this lighting scheme

So that is lighting in a nutshell.  Please do get in touch if I can help you with your lighting scheme.

“In nature, light creates the colour. In the picture, colour creates the light.”
Hans Hofmann   

  • Posted in Interior Design | Comments Off on How to Bring your Home to Life using Light