Hello and welcome to my show notes for the fifth episode of the tenth series of The Great Indoors. As always you can listen to the full episode here and do head on over to our Facebook group for more tips and advice on all things interior.
As you may have seen recently, a photo of Princess Anne’s living room went viral across social media, and I was desperate to hear Kate’s thoughts and see if we could take any styling tips from the royal household! We also chat with one of our interior design idols, Nicola Harding and our style surgery is all about making do – tips, tricks and hacks on how to live with something you can’t get rid of.
Who doesn’t love a good old nose around someone else’s house, especially a royal one and this photo of Princess Anne and her husband Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence was quite a surprise, to say the least. Twitter went wild with reactions to the couple sitting on their terracotta chintz sofa surrounded by books, paperwork and memorabilia. One person said, “love to see that they’re watching TV in a room as cluttered as the average person.”
Whilst joyfully ordinary, one of the responses on Twitter was that it looked like their Nan’s front room, rather than the living room of one of the most wealthy and privileged familes in the country. It does feel quite refreshing to see it’s lived in look, especially in contrast to the world of ‘Instagrammable’ homes.
The general feedback was positive and praising her for her unpretentious approach, however, I did spot some design crimes! Can you?
I am so excited to be able to share an interview with our interior design crush, Nicola Harding. It seems that we are not alone, she has been listed as one of the top 100 interior designers by House & Gardens magazine. She has designed homes for famous artists and film directors and sees herself as a matchmaker bringing together people and pieces in a marriage that will last a lifetime and is part of her ethos for sustainability and central to her work. I’ve stayed in a couple of hotels that Nicola has designed, The Rose in Deal and Beaverbrook in Surrey, and I just love the ‘at home’ feeling she creates whilst making it feel very special too. I can’t tell you how much I much have drooled over Nicola’s designs for many years and her love of colour and pattern have heavily influenced my design choices.
You made the move from London to the country three years ago. Can you tell us about country life and taking on a big renovation?
‘It’s a big change we had been stewing on for a while, we took on a gorgeous house which hadn’t had anything done to it for a long time and it’s not like a project for a client with a massive budget and you just do the whole shebang. We need to do it in increments and the way I do it, as with clients, if you know you’ll be doing chunks at a time, start by thinking about the master plan. If you are trying to make a budget stretch, the biggest shame would be to do things twice. Even if you think the whole plan will change and evolve, think about the whole picture, maybe draw a floor plan of your house, take out the bathrooms and kitchens and just look at the shape of all the rooms and ask yourself what your life looks like. People have always put their washing machine etc in the kitchen and now all the laundry stuff is upstairs near the bedrooms, so if you can shoehorn them into an upstairs space even in a cupboard on the landing. ”
If you’re moving into a house that needs completely gutting what would you prioritise first?
“The kitchen is key. We temporarily moved the kitchen into another room in the house, so that we could carry living in the house while we did the kitchen, which involved taking walls down and moving things around.
There’s an element of making do in the initial period.
“And also throughout, this comes into our sustainability approach, it’s about how much you buy as well as what you buy. The biggest element of our carbon footprint comes from consumption so if you can make do and make better use of it and avoid buying something new is the best scenario. Channel your inner-granny, they would be horrified at how much we throw out, they would be mending, repairing and reimagining and buying a piece for life – buy better, buy once. For example, we inherited a pink bathroom suite and we moved it to another room, created a loo under the stairs. We teamed the pink suite with some reclaimed brass taps, a much nicer loo seat and a reclaimed handle for the flush. So our 70s pink sanitaryware is against chocolate brown panelling and a lime green wallpaper off-cut from another project with peacock blue glazed floor tiles.
I just love your use of colour, pattern and surfaces in your projects, where do you get your inspiration from?
“Movies and television are a big part of it when you think of the Queen’s Gambit and Mad Men, those intoxicating interior sets. Also, historical interiors, looking through books and online is a good source for me. A big part of TV is how the set design uses colour combinations as a trigger and takes us emotionally to a place in history and how it would have felt at that time. What I really enjoy about interior design is creating a feeling and an atmosphere. I grew up moving house a great deal and craved that sense of belonging and questioning what home means and what it feels like. I think colour is a tool that triggers us and creates a feeling.”
How do you unearth people’s grounding, homely colours? It’s a very personal thing and we have different reactions to it.
“It’s really listening, ask the same question from a slightly different angle and you will tease the answer out: what is your favourite place to go on holiday, what point of your childhood were you most happy/unhappy, what time of year do you most look forward to, were there things you thought about growing up, what you want Christmas to look and dive into that picture in your head – what was the mood, what were the colours.
There is definitely psychology of colours, different colours make you feel different ways, there’s research that’s shown painting cells pink can have a calming effect on prisoners – I’m talking to you now from my pink living room. I once painted a restaurant pink and since felt it was a mistake as I think it was too calming, you want to have something that’s going to inject a bit of dynamism and energy and slightly clashing colours have more energy.”
Another thing I love about your interiors is that there is always a pleasing blend of vintage finds. Some people have difficulty combining old and new, how do you create that perfect blend?
“It’s a cheap trick really, it’s a shortcut to giving a room a sense of permanence, the fact that it’s got a foot in yesterday and a foot in today makes it hard to date. In terms of mixing old and new, I think it’s just trial and error like with colours, my preference is for things that don’t feel too perfect. I really like the energy from something that’s slightly clashing and unexpected, sometimes that works better than others and the way of getting through that is trying – enjoying the stuff that works and moving on from the stuff that doesn’t. There are rules, the more you look at historic interiors and start to build an understanding of periods of style you can see what pieces would have sat next to each other.
You love historical architecture and detailing, what happens if you don’t have any architectural interest? If you have a new build type box how do you bring some soul to it?
“I think look at the things you touch, doors and door handles, sometimes with these new fabrications they can very lightweight and on a subliminal level doesn’t give you a sense of permanence. Maybe identifying a couple of touchpoints where you add a sense of longevity, reclaimed doors and handles can be an easy way to do that.”
What do you think about panelling?
“Panelling is a great suggestion, not only for adding a layer decoratively. In some of the new build houses, the acoustics aren’t great and walls can be thin so by adding extra layers you’re maker the acoustics softer and will make the room feel cosier. There are so many different types of panelling, you’ve got grand large-format panelling and then low key match panelling found at the back of house, which would be best for small houses and is my favourite. It’s interesting when we do hotels, they often have big grand rooms and much smaller rooms, almost always it’s the smaller rooms that people end up liking best, as they feel really cosy and I relish those spaces.
In 2019, you decorated the VIP lounge at Decorex and the big story was around sustainability and the part that the interior industry has to play in that. How are we doing in meeting the requirements?
“There’s definitely still room to go, but I think everyone is interested, wanting to understand where what their buying has come from. The process of undertaking work on your home at any scale involves a lot of purchasing, you’re a super consumer and that gives you a huge opportunity to use your purchasing power, to effect some good. I would say that the whole environmental situation is very overwhelming and it’s easy to give up before you’ve even started. But actually, the smallest step can make a difference, it could be just repurposing your granny’s old chest of drawers. If you don’t love something you’ll end up replacing it – if you love it, it will work and that applies to a piece of vintage furniture or a colour and the unexpected clashes creates a fun, playful energy. Just relax, if you try too hard it can start to feel awkward – relaxed fun is what a home, in my mind, should be.”
From all your years as a professional interior designer, what’s the one thing you’ve learnt?
“I think it’s the things I didn’t do rather than the things I did. I wish I had been braver and taken more risks and had more fun and worried less.
If you have a design dilemma and would like to be the subject of our Style Surgery, do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much to Nicola for taking the time to chat with us and for sharing her fabulous expertise. Thanks to our fab producer Kate Taylor from Feast Collective and you, our lovely listeners.