Wednesday, 23 March 2016

(One hundred and) fifty shades of grey...

We have a love affair with grey. And it doesn't show signs of abating. It's been coined the colour of the decade and its not hard to see why. Everything from fashion to lingerie to office wear and sports attire has been given the grey wash. Interior design has followed suit and due to demand, many paint companies are increasing their range of grey shades. Dulux now offers 557 shades of grey in its paint range and of the 132 Farrow & Ball paint shades, at least 20 could be classified as greys - a 10% increase, according to the company, in the past 7 years. There's even a beautiful new book dedicated to the subject: "Shades of Grey" by Kate Watson-Smyth. 

But why the grey obsession? What is it that makes the colour so appealing? 

Grey has had a mixed history. It was originally the colour of undyed wool and so not really considered a colour at all. In 19th Century Paris it was worn by women working in factories - those who had little status and who would not stand out in a crowd. However, in art during the Renaissance, grey was used as a the perfect background colour to emphasise gold and skin tones and was used to highlight the faces and costumes of the sitters in the paintings. 

It's this quality which makes it so appealing in interiors. Grey as a colour is neither black nor white, it is 'absent' of colour and so sits well when other colours are placed next to it. Grey as a backdrop allows the other colours and elements in a room to shine: 'Grey goes with everything and everything looks good against it. It's also much easier to change the furniture in a grey room because so many colours go with it', said David Mottershead, Managing Director of Little Greene. Interior designer Abigail Ahern – whose house has been featured in countless interiors magazines since she painted it in varies shaes of inky grey over 6 years ago believes she will never go back to white. "Anything set against grey looks more beautiful, more grand," she says. "It cocoons you and turns the room into a space you really want to hunker down into. It feels intriguing and sophisticated and glamorous."

Here are some photos to inspire from her East London flat:

These rooms look good because the grey colours are carefully chosen. They are then balanced with lots of natural light, texture, other colours in the room and even plants. 

It's important to get the right shade for your room. And it's important to work out what kind of grey you can live with, as there are many shades to choose from. You'll notice that there are some greys which seem softer and warmer, whilst others are a lot cooler and sharper. Warm greys tend to have yellow or brown undertones, whilst cooler greys will have a black or blue base. To see the difference, have a look at this:

I appreciate this might be easier to see here than when you've got a colour card in front of you! Don't be shy in asking for help at the paint shop, most companies will help you identify which of their greys are on the cooler or warmer end of the spectrum. 

And it's worth the headache as choosing the right grey will give you a stunning effect. What do you think of these below?

'Blackened' - Farrow & Ball

'Polished Pebble' - Dulux

'Cornforth White' - Farrow & Ball

'Chic Shadow' - Dulux

'French Grey' and 'Dark Lead' units - Little Greene

If you like the way a grey room scheme looks, but are unsure how to start, the first thing to think about is the natural light coming into your room. Painting a dark, north facing room grey will accentuate the lack of light and might not create as welcoming or liveable a room. Our UK light tends to also be 'cooler', intensifying any cold tones! If you have a light-filled room or a more west or south-facing room, this would be an ideal place to paint grey and would make a gorgeous room scheme. 

The second thing to consider, as with any room, is adding texture. By this I mean the other materials and soft furnishings in the room. Don't skimp on the texture! Wooden furniture, rugs, sofas, chairs, book cases, pictures, curtains/blinds, cushions - all of these add up to the overall effect.

The reason why these room schemes work is because they think about the room as a whole. Look at this living room below:

The overall room looks elegant, inviting, comfortable. Why? Firstly, you'll notice a limited colour palette was used: grey(s), cream, white, touch of blue. Even the photographs on the wall are limited to black and white, but placed all together in a structured way, they look great. It's light and bright without the lights being on, so there must be lots of natural light coming into the room. The main element which really brings the scheme together though is the use of texture. There are 3 different types of cushion on the sofa - one plain (but in a luxurious fabric), two patterned grey and two white with hints of blue and shimmer. There are also two throws, one grey, one check. All together, the sofa looks soft, warm and cosy because these furnishings break up the cream of the sofa and the complimentary colours and patterns tie in with the whole colour scheme. The white lampshade really stands out against the grey walls, as do the side tables, with their criss-cross pattern. These echo the cushions on the sofa. The upholstered coffee table, flowers, candles help soften the grey colour and bring warm to the room.  This use of texture to add warmth is important here, as the grey used on the walls is quite cool, so all the furnishings in the room bring a softness to the overall look. Lovely!

Are you planning a grey makeover? I'd love to see your finished rooms! 

Friday, 11 March 2016

Focus on: Window styling

Windows naturally draw your eye as you enter a room. How much (or how little) light they let in can completely alter the look and feel of a room. But I know from my own experience that if you're doing a lot of work on your home, decorating fatigue can set in... Window styling can be yet another difficult decision on the list! Ugh!

Windows are our gateways onto the world and are similarly the neighbours' gateways into ours..! It's important to strike the right balance between privacy and letting in the maximum amount of light during the day. Similarly, the balance of wanting to enjoy any views, but also wanting to create a feeling of cosiness, particularly in the evening. The problem is that there are so many choices: Curtains, roller blinds, roman blinds, shutters, top-down/bottom-up shades.... If you have curtains but want a change, how do you know what might look nice without having to buy first? Are there any rules to help guide decisions? Or at least a way of narrowing down the choices?

The main point to ask yourself is if light or privacy is important to you or do you need both?

Curtains, Roller blinds or Roman blinds?
This is the big debate. Curtains are felt to be cosier and the fabric choice can add depth to a colour scheme. They also allow you to play with perspective because if you hang them higher than the windows, they can make the room look bigger. Roller blinds have cleaner lines and could be better suited to a more modern home. They also take up less space than either curtains or roman blinds. Roman blinds have pleated fabric which is always on show at the top so they are a good mix of curtains and roller blinds. They are a soft addition to a room and the colours don't tend to fade in the sunlight like some curtains could do. 

But there's no rule to say you can't use two styles at the same time. If you want cosiness, privacy and light, it might be worth considering a roller blind in a thin fabric which can let light in and at the same time ensure privacy and then hang curtains to pull across in the evenings. 


Roller blinds:

Roman blinds:

All 3 choices can be fitted with a black out blind backing, a particular must for children's bedrooms!

However, the choice doesn't stop here, there are many other ways to make your windows work for you. Here are more options below:

1) Semi-sheer shades
Great for dining or living rooms, where privacy isn't critical but you do want to always have a little light coming through.

2) Window film
Similar to semi-sheer shades, but especially good for town living and period properties where there is a natural 'break' in the window design. Window film will mean that you get all the benefits of light coming in through the top half of the window, but no-one will see you walking through the rooms as eye level is covered. The great thing about this is that you can get plain, patterned or even coloured film. Be daring!

3) Stained glass
If you have a door with window around it or within it, stained glass is a great way to get light and privacy. The colours will be beautiful in your hallway! But don't feel you can only use stained glass in doors, it would also look lovely in windows or as an edging to windows. A great tip to decrease the expense is to use stained glass window film... 

4) Shutters
Great for bedrooms, shutters look pretty, are good at keeping out unwanted light and give privacy too. They are economically efficient and keep the heat in during winter and the heat out during summer. Shutters can also be painted and bring charm to a room. Though you will need space either side of the window for when you want them completely open.

5) Specialist drapes
Bedrooms on the first floor usually need more privacy than bedrooms on the second floor, but both still require natural light. These very contemporary floor-to-ceiling drapes offer light as well as privacy. When closed, they become an entire wall of fabric which still allows light in.

6) Top-down/bottom-up shades
Similar to window film but not such a permanent feature, these shades are ideal for rooms where you might want more control over the light coming in. They give you maximum flexibility and allow you to lower the blind from the top or raise it up from the bottom so you can best determine how much light and privacy you'd like at any given time of the day. As well as another option for living rooms, it's good for bathrooms or offices and conservatories. The honeycomb design on some ranges are especially good at keeping the cold out and the heat in.

Hopefully this will help you decode some of the window styling options out there! The main thing to remember is how much light and privacy you'd like and then it's just going with your instincts about whatever you think looks the best within your decorating scheme.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

4 books for your coffee table

A source of new ideas? Something to inspire? A talking point for guests? There's a lot we demand from our coffee table books. They are permanently on display, after all. The list above is by no means exhaustive and it can be difficult to find books which tick all the right boxes. But hopefully I've done all the hard work for you! Below are 4 books which you won't be disappointed by, you'll just have trouble deciding on which one to buy... 


In order to produce the clever and modern furniture we have today, we've had to learn from the past. The author of this book, Tim Gosling, shows that decoding a historical design's DNA is an intrinsic tool in creating successful contemporary work. This book takes us on a journey through 300 years of design, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, relating key periods to the author's own projects as well as superbly illustrating the old and new in drawings and stunning photographs. It is beautifully put together and the text is both lively and authoritative. Each chapter is carefully laid out and is a wonderful resource, particularly if you want to re-create a specific look in your own home. More than that though, it represents how we've come to where we are today and the beauty in both classic and contemporary furniture design.


There are some shops which seem to tempt you in... You walk past and have to stop, inextricably drawn across the threshold, without quite knowing why. What is it that makes them so beautiful? How have they managed to create such a welcoming atmosphere?

This book is delightful. It peeks inside the houses of some of the creative owners of independent shops and shows how their displays and decorating ideas can be translated for the home. Pictures of the house interior and shop are laid next to each other so you can pick out how they recreated their look inside their own home. An incredibly unique book that will be a real talking point.


A visual feast, this fascinating book will spark conversations, ideas and controversy. This is not a technical book. Nor is it about pattern as surface decoration. Instead, it is a fabulous collection of picture references interspersed with musings on the nature of pattern. The visual content largely consists of pictures of nature or everyday life juxtaposed with stills from the fashion world. This book takes you on an uplifting journey of pattern-related subjects, taking in Fibonacci, the golden ratio, Buddhist ideas and chaos theory. It gives you a visual springboard from which you can leap off and dive into the topics touched upon. 


Lighting is too often neglected in our room scheme planning. It's so easy to focus more on paint colours, accessories and furniture. We have good ideas in our head, but once the paint is on the walls, it might end up looking all wrong. And this might not be because of the colours and ideas, but it could be all down to the lighting. Lighting can bring a home from doom to va-va-voom. 

This wonderful book is an intelligent and practical resource that is at once useful and beautiful. The writing is sensitive and comprehensive, combining psychology, technical details and tricks of the trade. There are chapters on lighting techniques and case studies which are weaved together with photographs so you can easily replicate any idea at home. An inspiring and interesting book to create the right lighting language for your room.