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Art can be an intimidating business. It shouldn’t be because the purpose of art is primarily about pure delight for the eyes of the beholder but I do understand the home lovers’ dilemma when it comes to what to hang on your walls. In the back of most people’s minds, and I include in this even the most confident of us, is ‘what are other people going to make of the pictures on my walls?’. I’m not going to tackle the enormous subject of how to select your art here (although I am gearing up to this topic so watch this space) but what I am going to talk about now is the incredibly good news which is that, and I really mean this, how you present and hang your art is almost, indeed dare I say as important, as the art you choose.

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These lovely simple botanical drawings make a huge impact hung in a group and against the backdrop of Fired Earth’s delicious South Bank paint colour. The clever addition of the bench and cushions picks up the colours in the paintings and visually anchors the artwork.

 

When I hang art for clients, which is a task I love because it makes such a difference to how an interior looks, the first thing I ask them to do is to get all the art they have out (and this should incorporate everything – original paintings of worth or not, prints, framed posters, family pictures, sculpture, home-made craft projects and so on) so that we can look at it and discuss what they actually like and what they are less keen on but may have a good reason (or not) for keeping. In this exercise I am primarily interested in noting what their most loved pieces are which should be displayed in key areas (master bedroom, entrance hall, main living room – wherever a household spends time) and what is less loved but can find a home in a lesser used area of a house (cloakroom, guest bedroom, back entrance hall). Once we have had this frank conversation, which is not always easy, I then start to think about where to place artwork in the home.

It helps to bear in mind that artwork does not have to match an interior scheme, in fact I like a picture to bring something different and eye-catching to the look of a room, but it does have to look comfortable in the space, not overpowering everything else or being overwhelmed itself.

I often feel rather shame faced when I visit the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum because I tend to head for the first floor galleries which I love and as I try hard to concentrate on the artwork I find my mind pondering exactly what colour the wall behind the great masterpiece is and examining the way the lighting has been achieved. I know I am supposed to be looking at the artwork, but actually it is the whole experience of those rooms that makes me love the galleries and whilst the rooms are certainly not pretending to be domestic interiors, I find the combination of the artwork with the rich background colours, the dark wood flooring, the lighting and the occasional pieces of furniture is what makes me very happy. The moral of the story is that an interior is a collage of many elements and if you get the balance right, the effect is glorious; out of balance and beautiful things suddenly can’t come to life in the way that you want them to.

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Putting a treasured painting in a master bedroom ensures it is regularly seen and enjoyed.

When you have got an idea of where you want your pictures to live, the art of hanging them well starts with checking the space around the piece – they need enough space to be seen and to shine on their own merit but also some reference to other furnishings or pictures. For example, a piece of furniture under a picture usually helps to visually anchor the artwork – you need to leave enough space between the furniture and the picture to allow some accessories on the surface, the picture should not hang so low that accessories obscure the picture and not so high that it is hanging in mid-air with no reference to the things below it at all. The best way to hang pictures is to get someone (one or more people depending on the size of the work) to hold the picture in place and then get them to go higher, lower, right a bit, left a bit until you find the place that the picture looks comfortable and hopefully before the holder’s arms start shaking and a row beings to brew. I generally find that pictures are hung too high – go as low as you dare and try to remember that being able to see the painting comfortably, even when you are sitting down, is also an important part of the exercise.

I cannot emphasise how important framing is and this decision includes whether to frame or not, as certainly not all artwork needs framing. Spend time, effort and money (as necessary) on making the absolute best of your artworks by considering how best to present them. A clever framer is a very good friend of the interior designer and I always make sure that I ask the advice of my framer as a starting point, who will generally consider the right approach to make the best of the picture, but then I may add an opinion on the look that we are creating in the interior. We tend to agree somewhere between the two which should ensure that the final approach adds to both the artwork and the interior.

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This very favourite painting is displayed in full view in a well used space

Moving pictures around is a surprisingly effective way of giving your home a bit of an update. I would like to say that I do this regularly but realistically it only really happens when I buy a new picture and move current ones around to accommodate it, but I am always surprised at the impact that a picture’s surroundings has on how the artwork itself is perceived. I recently acquired a lovely bright yellow velvet occasional chair which has found a very happy home in the corner of my bedroom. Interestingly three people who visit the house regularly asked, on completely separate occasions, whether the picture above it was new. In fact the picture has been there for quite a while and features quite a strong dash of yellow and I can only assume that the new chair combined with the painting draws the eye to the corner of the room more than before. Whatever it was, it is interesting that even a small change around can suddenly bring artwork, and it surroundings, to life.

Much as I love to see beautiful photography in an interior, which should be hung with the same consideration and principles as your other artwork, I also like to see personal photographs in a home as they so instantly individualise a space. These will probably not be the beautiful specimens that the great photographers produce and so need to be handled accordingly. Groups of photos (either in standing frames or wall hung) can be a good way to display images of family, holiday or a general hotchpotch of memories and should be thought of as an explosion of emotion, rather than a focus on one particular shot. A group of photos can also be added to and changed as life moves forward, which keeps your display up to date. Don’t feel you have to include every image, or record every event, or heaven forbid, have a photo of every family member (although you may have to swap pictures in on critical occasions so as not to cause a family dispute) – personal photos in your home are not an absolute record of your life, but an accessory that should lift your heart when you glance at them.

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This delightful tiny artwork is given a great presence by using a large mount with a simple frame and
being hung on a dark painted wall

Lighting is crucial for artwork (indeed for interiors generally and is a huge topic in itself). Think about what light you need for your artwork in daylight (which might still include artificial lighting) and what you need at night. You don’t have to only consider the traditional picture light – a light from the ceiling or a floor-standing uplighter can work really well too. Just as lighting art well is important for enjoying the work, shielding it from the sunlight is important for preservation purposes and should also be considered carefully.

Finally, I wish to joyfully dismiss the idea that you can’t hang pictures on wallpaper. You can and you should. Wallpaper is a splendid backdrop to your pictures, you will just need to be careful that the wallpaper doesn’t overpower the art either in terms of colour or pattern or both, it should be a backdrop so ensure that your art, not your wallpaper, is the star.

I have realised whilst I have been writing this piece that there really are a multitude of considerations when hanging artwork so what I say to you is don’t be overwhelmed by the task – get your picture hooks and hammer out and have a go. Unless you are wildly wrong, in which case you will have to get a pot of paint out, the new position for the picture will cover the first (and subsequent) hanging attempts and if you live with your efforts for a few days, you will soon know whether you got it right or not. I have rarely seen an interior that doesn’t benefit from having artwork on the walls so be brave and get those pictures hung.

This post appeared in the July edition of Cambridge Magazine

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In this contemporary scheme, a comfortable statement sofa worked well to bring a relaxed feel to the room. Photography by Simon Whitmore

It’s weird thing that sofas are so hard to get right, but they really are. Furniture is generally easier to select than say redesigning a bathroom or commissioning joinery but over the years I have heard many sorry stories of profound disappointment on receipt of an eagerly awaited sofa. With this in mind, I often find myself using the 3am worry slot to agonise over an impending sofa delivery. However much I know that we have done exhaustive investigation, double-checking and confirming on behalf of, and involving, our clients in the run up to placing a sofa order, it is always a few hours prior to delivery that I decide that we have definitely overlooked something.

There are a lot of things to consider before buying (or commissioning, more on this later) a sofa. Firstly, you need to think about what style of sofa is going to work in your room – do you lean towards a contemporary or traditional feel, mid-century modern or shabby chic? You don’t need to put a name to the style you want but if you are unsure of what look you prefer then you are not ready to enter a sofa shop yet. Fabric choice is important too and hard to consider in isolation. Building up a picture of the final scheme including wall colour, flooring, other items of furniture, curtains or blinds and so on will help you to avoid a fabric choice that you find hard to match to or that is a bland disappointment. There is a raft of other decisions to also be considered and these crucially include size – a measure of the room with consideration to other items of furniture is vital – and comfort levels of which height of back, depth of seat, filling and how the sofa is constructed all play a role. There are lots more decisions that are important but I won’t go into all of these for fear that you may decide that your hand-me-down, battered sofa that you hated when you started reading is perfectly all right. However, I will say that it is better to consider a lot of these decisions prior to spending that nightmare Saturday morning trailing around high street furniture shops and ending up feeling overwhelmed by information, underwhelmed with what you have seen and temporarily less keen on the loved one that you left the house with that morning.

Can I also at this point, strongly steer you away from the idea that buying a cheap Ikea sofa with the plan to bin it in future and get the one you actually want is a sensible decision. This thought has been shared with me in my professional capacity more times than I care to remember and it is a notion that is riddled with flaws, the primary one being that all you are doing is delaying doing the work to get the right sofa and in the meantime putting up with a piece of furniture that isn’t right because you haven’t given proper consideration to what you do want (whether it ends up coming from our fine Swedish friends or not.)

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A traditional sofa in a plain fabric looks very happy in this country drawing room. Photography by Simon Whitmore

Once you have done your homework deciding which sofa is perfect for you, there is the possibility that you won’t be able to find what you want on the high street. Retailers are undoubtedly getting better at offering flexibility on size, fillings, legs, fabric and so on but I do find that we often have to commission a completely bespoke sofa in order to get what we want and this route is available to everyone. A good sofa maker is able to make or commission a frame to an agreed size, shape and style and then upholster it to your requirements which means that the world is your oyster. It also means that you are speaking directly to the expert, the person who is going to actually make it, so you should receive excellent advice. I know that you will be thinking that this all sounds very expensive and although it is not a bargain basement option, I always think it is less expensive than one would imagine, which is a reflection of not paying for a middle man and normally not paying for a swanky showroom and a glossy brochure. Although there are many excellent sofa makers all over the country, for historical reasons many are located in and around Nottingham which is where our ace upholsterer is based. There isn’t a chance that I will reveal his name but if you find a workshop with stressed looking craftsmen looking at an order and muttering ‘what on earth are they asking for now’, you may be in the right place.

What I will share with you are a few of my sofa related tips drawn from many years of professional sofa buying, some more painfully learnt than others, that I hope will help you in your quest to avoid sofa disaster:

  1. I’ve mentioned checking the size of the room but the other key measurement is the size of the doorway/staircase/sharp turn from corridor to room etc. A beautiful new sofa that won’t go into the room is not a pretty sight and if you think your proposed sofa won’t fit you may be able to have it delivered in pieces (removable legs or arms etc.) but you need to check that carefully.
  2. Don’t rule out the idea of an antique sofa that may or may not (if you are really lucky) need recovering. Often the frames (and sometimes the fillings) are well made and antique sofas can offer something a bit different. As an example, there is a company called Pelikan in Haverhill that buy original mid-century sofas from Denmark and restore and recover them. If your style leans in this direction, and you are in the market for a sofa, you should visit them immediately.
  3. Sofabeds are much better now than they used to be when neither the sofa nor the bed were all that comfortable. They are a good option if you are short of guest sleeping space but remember to consider how the room will function when it is transformed into a bedroom – do you have to move furniture in order to unfold the bed, where does bedding live, where do guests put their things? – often sofabeds are not used as beds because the room doesn’t really work as a bedroom, so it may be better to concentrate on sofa comfort rather than incorporating the bed facility.
  4. I hate hard and fast rules from interior designers because there is normally an exception but I am going to stick my neck out on scatter cushions made from the same fabric as the sofa. I genuinely can’t think of a situation where they are a good idea. The purpose of a scatter cushion (not back cushions or any cushion that is part of the sofa) is primarily decorative and small square cushions that blend into the sofa are apologetic at best.
  5. Lastly sales. Panic buying leads to mistakes. It is great to get a bargain but it is not a money saver if you immediately want to change it. There are many sales throughout the year and I guarantee that if you miss a sale bargain, there will be another tasty offer available sooner than you think.

Finally to anyone who has made a mistake with a sofa purchase, and my heart goes out to you if you have, don’t add to the problem by matching to the mistake. I have had customers say to me that they have a sofa they hate but for whatever reason it has to stay so we need to build a scheme round it. This is not a good plan. My approach would be to design a scheme that we love without considering the offending sofa, and implement it, which will hopefully dilute the impact of the mistake. We may add a few accessories that tie it into the scheme and then we wait for the day the right sofa can be put into the room and the sofa mistake can be found a new home somewhere that it is welcome.

This article first appeared the February edition of Cambridge Magazine 

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Cate was recently interviewed by Cambridge Magazine and she was asked for five top tips to creating great interiors. Here are some of her tricks of the trade.

Be bold with your style

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Statement chairs in a contemporary home

This is advice that I give in my classes and that I always try to apply to my design work and what I mean is to know your own personal taste and be confident in it. If your interior style is say neutral, calm, quiet, shabby chic, then don’t be afraid to boldly execute this in your design work. We can sometimes get confused by thinking that there are things we must or must not do in our homes, or that there is good or bad taste in interior design, and when we deviate from our personal style, this is when blandness can set in. Trust your own taste and try to apply it to all elements of your home.

 

Accessories change everything

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Flowers, lamps, books and pictures all help to personalise your space

 

Whether you are undertaking a full renovation project or simply freshening up your home, good accessorising makes a huge difference to the final result. Try to bear your own personal style in mind when selecting your finishing touches as it is easy to make a mistake when the purchase is not expensive, and make sure you think about what accessories you need before you shop. If in doubt, add your accessories slowly and see what looks good and the old saying of ‘only have what you know to be beautiful or useful’ is just as true with accessories as with other areas of the home.

 

 

Don’t forget your lighting

Concealed lighting adds glamour to this display

You can create a beautiful interior space but without good lighting, it will never shine. Plan your lighting with the uses of the space in mind – activities like working, reading, putting on make-up need task lighting whilst artwork, favourite spaces and beautiful pieces of furniture need feature lighting and so on. Having some contrasts with lighting will make your home seem larger and more interesting and using separate switching for different lighting types will enable you to change the feel of your home depending on whether you are entertaining, watching TV, working or even cleaning!          

 

Colour is king

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Warm blue and cream makes a lovely space of this boot room

 

Colour is an interior designer’s best friend. A coat of paint can add character and personalise a space, create light and dark contrasts, highlight features and create a warm or cool, calm or stimulating, comforting or inspiring impression depending on what you want to achieve. Although the paint on our walls makes up a large part of the colour palette of a room, the flooring, fabrics, furnishings and accessories of a room all play their part in creating a look so consider your colour choices as a whole before selecting your paint or wallpaper colours.        

 

 

Think differently

We are bombarded in the media by images of what the modern home should look like, and we can sometimes lose our own imagination. If you go back to basics and think about how you want to use your home and what you want it to look like, you will start to create a picture of how your home can work for you. Only then will you start to select images, products and ideas from outside sources that will work for you. By using this approach you will be able to create a unique home that truly reflects your personality.

 

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A collection of sporting trophies creates a lovely personal feel

 Let us know what you think?

Did you see the article, or do you have some design tips of your own? We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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Happy New Year to you all and we hope you had a good Christmas break.

The lovely magazine The English Home is out (February edition) and we are rather thrilled that we have a mention in the trade secrets section. Here is our piece – you will have to get the magazine to read what the other interior designers have to say!

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We were thrilled to see an Angel + Blume project in the December 2011 issue of House Beautiful magazine. This attic makeover was a lovely one to work on and it’s always nice to see one of our projects in print. The magazine is out now, or alternatively click on an image below to take a closer look.

All images: House Beautiful

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Once upon a time, houses had a wealth of rooms dedicated to particular activities – rooms that rarely appear in our modern homes. We look at how to integrate these useful spaces back into our homes.

(This article first featured in Agenda magazine September 2011)

Fashions for rooms come and go as our society changes and our relationship with our homes develops. The separate dining room, for example, has seen a great demise in recent years as dining tables and sometimes a TV and sofa are incorporated into a modern family kitchen. However our basic daily needs from our home often remain the same even if it is us now using the space rather than the staff!

A butler’s pantry was traditionally a room for plates, glasses and a sink and was evident in most grand historical houses. Whilst this room might seem like an extravagance these days, if you entertain often a modern version of this can be really useful and marking out a section of your kitchen to store glassware and crockery close to a sink or dishwasher is a way of reinstating this practical space. Some modern large houses have even created a 20th century version of this room by installing two kitchens; a residential kitchen for everyday meals and a catering kitchen for entertaining purposes.

A larder or cool room, the cool room or larder is another room that is making a bit of a comeback with more people requesting them in modern homes. Brilliant at freeing up space in a kitchen, an insulated cool room with shelves and a sink reduces the need for lots of cupboards in the main food preparation area and acts as a natural overflow for your fridge. When planning your home it may be worth going for a smaller kitchen that incorporates a decent sized larder.

A boot room may already be a familiar concept if you live in the country and undertake outdoor pursuits. Popular in historical country houses these rooms provide a heated space for wet boots, coats and clothes to dry out. They are usually fitted out with hooks along the walls and low level heating and someone returning home after a long day outdoors can walk straight into this room and remove their wet and muddy boots and clothes before entering the rest of the house. A great idea for any rural home, saving a space for this set-up is worth considering in a modern house.

A flower room is likely to appeal to all you gardeners out there. Traditionally set as the back of the house, near the gardens this room served as a practical room for storing vases and garden tools, with a sink and bench for arranging flowers. Although not many of us would have the space for this in our own home, if you have a utility room you could always set aside some space there with a separate sink for this purpose.

Whilst these rooms all sound appealing, when considering your own home, essentially you need to ask yourself, ‘how do I live in my house?’ and ‘what rooms do I need?’ But be warned, you might be surprised by the answers; I am now desperate to find space for a flower room!

Images: Plain English, The White Company

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Read all about it! We have posted four new design articles up on our website this week, so if you missed out on any of our features, don’t worry, you can read them all right here! From Missing rooms, to First impressions, click through to find out more.

 

 

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