You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Tips’ category.

If truth be told, I’m a little scared of house plants. I think it’s the commitment required. Plants often come with a sizable price tag, they need caring for, and there’s always the possibility that they’ll become too big or just start dropping leaves. It can also be hard to choose a plant that fits your style and that you won’t tire of. But, if you can handle all that, they’re worth it. Not only do plants bring a beautiful sculptural element into your space, but it is said they remove toxins, reduce noise and alleviate stress too. What’s not to love?

So, for other plant-phobes out there, here are three easy ways to introduce stylish greenery into your home.

1. The plant of designers: the fiddle-leaf fig



Dark gray living room walls with plants

I haven’t done the research, but I bet that if you leafed (sorry) through the past five years of Elle Decor, the most frequently-sighted plant would be a fiddle-leaf fig. It’s a clear favorite with interior designers because of its sculptural qualities. With large glossy leaves, it works in modern and classic schemes, as well as those with an artistic or global vibe. It always makes a statement.. (Photos 1 and 2 above by William Waldron via Elle Decor; photo 3 via RDuJour)

2. Splendid succulents


Via Haus Design. Anyone can grow a succulent. Well, anyone that doesn’t live in Alaska that is. I was converted into a fan of succulents after planting a few in terracotta pots in our garden – and watching them develop into interesting shapes and colors throughout the year (with barely any effort from me). Indoors, they make striking table centers, windowsill arrangements or even wall decor. They’re fun for kids to look after too.


The table setting above is actually from a wedding. If you are still unconvinced about the beauty of succulents, take a look at the photos of this stunning event, via photographer Stephanie Williams’ site. You won’t be disappointed. As a taster, look: succulents even make gorgeous bouquets and hair adornments!


3. If in doubt, arrange some leafy branches


Via Bromeliad. I’m sure my third tip will be met with derision as it’s not technically about plants. But, if you crave some greenery and are strictly low-commitment, an arrangement of leaves and branches is a great option. Much more modern and effortless than a floral display, these bursts of greenery can really inject life into a scheme.


Via Canadian House and Home. Whether in a contemporary or traditional setting, a simple glass vase with a branch of bright green leaves is an easy way to add energy, height and interest.

Any other tips for those of us without green thumbs?


Ten days ago, I became an aunt again. (Hurray! Welcome to the world, baby R!) Of course, any new baby in the family is an excuse to think about nurseries, so this seems an appropriate time to share my own experience on the nursery design front. While looking for inspiration for our own two kids’ rooms over the years, I have realized that very few of the articles about nursery design tell you what you really need to know. The fact is, bringing a new baby home for the first time is a stressful experience. As I found out with our two babies, all those little design decisions I had thought so brilliant in my nesting phase, turned out to be completely impractical the minute we got home.

So, for the sake of any other moms-to-be out there, here is my ‘no-nonsense’, ‘tell it how it is’, ‘the stuff your own mother never told you’, guide to nursery design. Before I launch into this, I should say that I’m basing it on my own experience and that of my friends who are moms. I’m no baby nurse, child development expert or safety guru. Just a mother with an acute memory of the initial few weeks of our children’s lives…

Ok, you know the basic nursery set up: crib, rocker, changing table, lamp, rug. What else should you know?

Rule 1: keep calm

No, not you. You can accept now that you won’t be in serene maternal bliss the entire time. I mean the room. For the first few weeks of a baby’s life, he/she just can’t handle too much stimulation. Yes, they need interesting things to look at. But, one thing at a time is enough. You know the feeling when you go into a new store that’s packed with things you absolutely love and you don’t know where to look first? Your heartbeat increases and your eyes are on stalks. That’s what it feels like to a new baby all the time. So spare the poor thing and keep it calm and simple. If you put a mobile over the bed, ideally you should be able to detach it or move it away when the baby needs some peace. Don’t cram the space with bouncing, bopping, twirling, tweeting, musical things. All baby needs for entertainment is you, so edit the rest.

Rule 2: clear the surfaces

You’ve picked out some adorable trinkets to make your baby’s room just perfect. Now, here’s the thing: when you get home from the hospital, you will sweep all those cute knick knacks into the nearest drawer and load up every surface with diapers, tissues and feeding supplies. You’ll be surprised at how much space all this paraphernalia takes up. Wherever you are in the room, these things need to be within arm’s reach. Anything that gets in the way will just be an annoyance. I know you don’t believe me now, but you will. The one exception here is a clock. You will need one of these to time feeds. Get one you can read in the middle of the night when the lights are dim.

Rule 3: the rocker is your best friend

Maybe your baby won’t like, or need, rocking. Maybe you will be very lucky and get a good sleeper. But chances are, at some point, you will be willing to try anything and pay any amount to get your baby to sleep. If, for aesthetic reasons, you have chosen to go with a chair that doesn’t rock, you will regret that decision. Now, rockers are like sleeper sofas: over-priced, usually ugly and never as comfortable as an ordinary chair. But, when you’re feeding, their true meaning in life is suddenly revealed. You will be thankful for that upright back and those big arm rests that seemed so ugly in the store. I should also add a note on cushioning here. For the first few weeks, it’ll be difficult enough to sit down on anything, let alone a hard, cold, plastic surface. So, whatever you do, please don’t buy an Eames rocker. Yes, they look fabulous, but, at 3am, when it’s cold and you’re sore, you will wish for the monstrous, but comfy, rocker you eschewed earlier. ‘Ah’, you say, ‘but I have thought of that and will have a lovely sheepskin rug over my Eames chair’. Yes, and that will look wonderful. It will not, however, help you when you’re into your second straight hour of nursing and your nodding head is desperately seeking something comfortable to rest on. (I’m sure hundreds of Eames-owning moms out there will disagree…)

Rule 4: cater for your support team

Hopefully, you won’t have to do all the feeding, bathing and rocking yourself. If your other half/best friend/mother are there to help, you will need space for them too. Your nursery probably won’t be big enough for two chairs, but that is why the ottoman was invented. Yes, you bought it imagining you’d be lying back, feet up, blissfully cradling your child. Maybe in time. But in the first six weeks, that space will mainly be occupied by your husband or some other valiant helper, who will be manically flipping through the pages of the baby care manual searching for answers, while you struggle to master the art of feeding.

Rule 5: control noise and light

Your baby doesn’t really care what the nursery looks like, but he/she does care what it sounds and feels like. The key here is to be able to vary sound, heating and light easily. Firstly, you’ll want to be able to block out daylight for naps. Whatever napping philosophy you subscribe to, there’s no doubt that getting baby used to sleeping in the dark and being awake in the light, is a good idea. At the very least, you want to avoid bright sunlight interrupting his or her sleep. So, a blackout shade is ideal, plus drapes to cover the edges of the shade around which light will seep. I’d also highly recommend a dimmer switch for your lamp, for more soothing night-time lighting.

Controlling noise is critical. We found playing bird and water sounds was quite effective at calming our child and getting him to sleep. Not all babies go for it. Some friends swear by white noise machines. But the aspect I wanted to talk about here is the unforeseen, annoying noises that keep your child awake – but can be avoided. For example, that crib with the drop down side you thought was such a clever idea. The theory is great: you feed the baby, he drops off to sleep, you ease out of your chair and lower the crib side to place him gently on the mattress… Now, when you test this in the store, try lowering the crib side with just your foot. Does it glide noiselessly down? No. It falls into place with a resounding crash. Now your baby is awake and you have to start again. Similarly, when you test that rocker, try getting out of it, without using your arms. First of all, can you even get out? Assuming you can, does the whole thing creak? If so, forget it. I know these seem like small things, but, believe me, they could mean an extra few hours of sleep for you so are well worth investigating.

As you can see, in the first few weeks, practicality really does rule. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice aesthetics – far from it. But my advice is to make sure you put comfort (yours and baby’s) at the top of the list.


1, 2 and 4 – Coochicoos; 3 and 5 – Sarah Richardson Design

This is the picture that started it all. A minor obsession with symmetry, that is. There’s something about the symmetry of the exposed rafters, the shutters, matching consoles and round mirrors that speaks to me. It’s cool, calm and collected – an effect that’s further enhanced by the all-white palette. Complete order and I love it.

Symmetry has been used in design for millennia, and it’s still one of the easiest ways to pull a room together. But, as a technique, it’s suffered a bit of bad rap because it can look so formulaic and characterless. So, I decided to look into what makes a successful symmetrical arrangement. How do you apply symmetry without killing the personality and warmth of a space?

This room pretty much sums it up: There’s symmetry in the architecture (paired windows) and in the way the chairs and pillows are arranged. But there are also elements that hint at symmetry but are somehow ‘off’ – like the three irregularly-grouped but similar urn-shaped vases on the mantelpiece. Then the striking rug, blue walls and mock antlers lift the space out of the sphere of the ordinary.

This living room, from Ellen Pompeo’s house as featured in Elle Decor, is much more understated. But the symmetrical arrangement is given a focal point in the form of an oversize moorish-style mirror. A single statement piece at the center of your symmetrical set-up can change the look from predictable to powerful.

Another technique is to use offbeat pieces to create your symmetry. Just one of these cane sofas would be eye-catching enough, but using two against a relatively simple backdrop is truly dramatic.

Here the symmetry of the room’s architecture is subtley drawn out with the use of two unusual red chairs in an otherwise neutral scheme. There’s actually no other symmetry in this room – the chairs are enough to create a sense of order.

Twin beds naturally invite a symmetrical arrangement. Unusual shapes and a strong monochromatic palette keep things interesting.

Sometimes symmetry can be found in the smallest details. These symmetrical shelves are a sweet way to ensure a sense of order in the kitchen without creating a wall of uniform cabinets.

So what do you think of symmetry? Design by numbers or a perfect balance?


1 – Delight by Design; 2 – House Beautiful;  3 – Elle Decor; 4 – Canadian House and Home; 5 – House Beautiful; 6 – Canadian House and Home; 7 – Canadian House and Home

I’ve just finished reading American Modern by designer, Thomas O’Brien. Unlike many hardback design books which are overly reliant on photos and provide very little real information about the design process, O’Brien’s book is characteristically detailed (although the photos by Laura Resen are spectacular too). One of the things I admire most about O’Brien is the way his rooms look so organic, as if they have evolved over years. Although he’s a decorator, designer, and definitely an innovator, O’Brien is also a collector and curator and he uses items that reflect both his personal interests and those of his clients in his work.

There are many useful lessons to be learned from his particular approach to interior design, so I thought I’d extract a few of the ones I found most enlightening.

1. Pay attention to the background

A collection of objects is only as beautiful as its background. Even though furniture and furnishings are often the stars of the show, O’Brien pays extraordinary attention to detail with the architectural structure, fixtures and finishings that act as backdrop. Whether it’s altering the height of doors and alcoves to ensure they are all aligned,  designing kitchen cabinets to reflect the shape and size of a window, replacing every door handle in a house with vintage sterling silver ones, or lining a bookshelf in a rich eggplant paint to convey formality, he’s guaranteed to have thought every inch of a space through.

The room below, for example, features a series of doors in metal-framed wire glass, inspired by an elevator in a nearby hotel, which provides architectural interest and a vintage look, while letting light into the space.

These kitchen cabinets were designed to line up with the windows and there’s unique detail in the countertops which are marble set inside a concrete edge.

2. Neutral is a color

O’Brien’s spaces are often characterized by apparently simple, calming neutral palettes. But his selection of a neutral palette is as carefully thought-through as any color scheme. He chooses between mid-toned creamy grays:

Warm honey blondes:

And cool milky whites (I know, I know, I’ve posted this picture a million times but I can’t resist – it’s such an amazing room):

He adds interest with metallic, reflective and gilded surfaces, as well as with subtle pattern and lots of texture. And, of course his signature is a lot of contrast between dark and light. But the lesson here is to think about the color of a particular wood, stone, metal or any other apparently neutral material and make deliberate choices in order to bring cohesiveness to any collection of objects.

3. Get out the history books

Although O’Brien’s designs are always fresh and modern, they also pay homage to the past through historical reference. It’s a highly cerebral approach to design and helps to ensure even the most eclectic collection of objects works together. Time and time again you see elements that have been inspired by vintage pieces he’s collected over the years. No item is too small to influence a scheme: take the duvet cover below, based on a 1940s napkin, as an extreme but not unusual example!

His Long Island house, The Academy, which was originally a schoolhouse, is another great example. Part of the house was built in the 1920s and there are many elements either from that period or inspired by it, such as the tall backsplash, bracketed shelving and enameled pendant lights in the kitchen to the 1920s vanity in the bathroom. It’s inspired me to look at historical references when it comes time to renovate the kitchen in our own house, which was built in 1922.

4. Expect the unexpected

While O’Brien respects and refers to history in his designs, he’s not afraid to break with tradition either. He’s known for his Manhattan apartment which throws convention out of the window and combines a bedroom and living room into one.

On a smaller scale, he introduces unexpected elements such as a table lamp on the kitchen countertop, men’s shirt fabric as bedlinen and a vast library table in the middle of the living room as a way to create that ‘collected’ feel.

5. Repetition, repetition, repetition

Throughout O’Brien’s spaces, you see repetition of colors, textures and shapes. This helps to create a layered effect which ensures both consistency and interest. The palette of the marble fireplace, for example, may be repeated in an ottoman, side table, and a print. A mantelpiece may be given a more unified look with repeated use of spherical objects. It’s all extremely deliberate and yet looks so uncontrived.

Sometimes O’Brien’s spaces are more sparse, sometimes almost cluttered. But they always look welcoming, cohesive and truly personal. It’s a look I’ve yet to master (I have a long way to go) but will certainly be drawing on O’Brien as inspiration in the future.

Photo credits:

1 – via La Dolce Vita

2,3,5,7,10 – Laura Resen

4 and 9 –  William Waldron, from a feature in Elle Decor

I read some advice from interior designer Vicente Wolf in a magazine interview the other day. He said that a space should have ‘flow’. “Like water flowing down a river. There might be a little rock here or a little bit of rapids there, but the river never stops flowing”. I take this to mean that the eye should move effortlessly from one end of a room to another – and between rooms – without visual obstacles or interruptions. His words struck a chord. The fact is, when you’re exposed to hundreds of photos of gorgeous interiors every day, it’s easy to confuse interior design with the creation of a still life. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how a room would look in a photo, rather than how it would feel to be living in it. I’ve been thinking about the placement of furniture and the layering of textiles and finishes as a two-dimensional composition. It’s an easy trap to fall into when the world of design is influenced by heavily-styled and meticulously arranged images. But it doesn’t make for a truly successful interior scheme.

So I decided to take a closer look at what Wolf means by ‘flow’ and try to learn some lessons from this. First, he uses a lot of white to create continuity through an entire space. He does the same with color by picking up the same tones in fabrics here and there throughout a home.

So far, so obvious (although I’ll admit it requires considerable discipline to stick with the same palette throughout a home – most of us need to express another side of our design personality by experimenting with different looks in different rooms). Wolf also eschews pattern, preferring instead to keep his spaces clean. Oops, having just decorated three rooms with ‘feature walls’ using wallpaper or contrasting paint, I can see the appeal of a ‘clean’ background, as Wolf puts it, allowing the shapes of the furniture to speak for themselves.

Studying his work, it’s clear there’s more to this idea of ‘flow’ than color and pattern though. The way Wolf uses interior space is unusual in that he isn’t at all constrained by structure. He says he likes to avoid putting up boundaries in a scheme, but I think he goes beyond that to create living areas that seem to float within a room while the walls and ceilings seem to melt away, using reflective and transparent materials. Sometimes he achieves this just by the way he places the furniture, refusing to hug the walls or follow conventional layouts.

Wolf mixes up styles and eras fearlessly, which helps create a more organic, relaxed vibe. Thinking again about that idea of flow, if you look at the way these contrasting pieces of furniture are arranged, you’ll see that they’re meant to be appreciated by someone sitting at the table or on the sofa – not just by an outsider looking at the room through a lens.

That’s not to say you won’t find great styling in his spaces though. Throughout Wolf’s interiors you see antiques and artifacts from his store, VW Home, arranged in pairs or multiples. These must be the ‘rapids’ he talks about: they certainly inject energy into a space.

It’s tempting to conceive a room scheme in the same way you’d frame a beautiful photograph, but it helps to remember that an interior must look and feel cohesive from every angle.

Credits: All images except the first one are from Vicente Wolf Associates‘ web site. The first image is from House Beautiful.

There have been literally thousands of articles written about how to decorate with white. Given that it is the most frequently used – and often deemed safest – color for interiors, why is it so hard to get right? Perhaps it’s precisely because white is so ubiquitous that its risks are under-estimated.

I know that when I use white, it takes several attempts and a lot of tinkering before I’m truly happy with the effect. And yet, most of my favorite interior images are predominantly white. So I decided to tackle the problem head on and devise some easy-to-follow rules for using the interior decorator’s most faithful hue.

White on white

Via This is Glamorous.

I think this is the easiest way to use white – IF you follow the rule to the letter. To work, this look requires a strict palette of different whites (all cool or all warm) and, at most, neutrals like grays or beiges.

Via Peacock Feathers.

Via Decor8.

This look is fantastic with lots of natural textures like grainy woods, leather, stone, rough linens and soft wool.

Via Pure Style Home.

Painted surfaces can be chipped, scuffed or weathered for even more texture.

Via Remodelista.

Alternatively, you can go for high gloss white and glass, metallics and mirrors or sequins.

(Photo by Marc Gerritson via Desire to Inspire)

A combination of both rustic and sparkly looks great too. And don’t forget about shapes – using a combination of curvy, boxy and star-like pieces can keep the interest level up.

Via Bochenko Artdeco.

Photo by Anna Kern via Beauty Comma.

Via Decorology.

White with pastels

Via Peacock Feathers.

This is a really pretty, feminine look and a relatively easy way to use white. Combining white with one pastel, like rose pink or mint green is the safest option. I like to paint walls in a pastel and then use white for all the furniture, fabrics and flooring – again using a variety of textures and styles.

Via Canadian House and Home.

But you can also mix a few different pastels with white, providing they’re all of the same intensity.

Via Simplified Bee.

Or, ensuring that they all have the same amount of gray in them also helps.

Via Bochenko Artdeco.

For a more harmonious look, I would choose pastels that are closer together on the color wheel – blue, gray and green for example, or pink, peach and yellow.

White and one other color

Another good option is to use white with a single other color. Blue and white is a traditional example.

By Feldman Architecture via Houzz.

You can combine lots of different patterns small and large, if they stick to this same time-honored palette. Try to use similar blues, though, unless you are very confident in your color skills. Or, if you want variety, go with a very pale blue and a very dark blue like navy, along with the white. That will prevent conflict between the various shades.

Via Desire to Inspire.

Red and white is a good alternative to this recipe. Turquoise, emerald and orange also work well in isolation with white. Whichever you choose, though, try to use the colors in slightly different proportions: a room that has exactly the same quantities of red and white, say, just looks contrived. And you might want to throw in a few elements of black or dark brown to anchor the whole thing and stop it from looking to matchy-matchy.

White and black

Now established as a firm favorite for many of us, this bold combination would have required a bit of courage a couple of years back. That said, it’s relatively easy look to pull off. Again, think about proportion and try not to have each color in equal measure.

Via A Room Somewhere.

Think about texture, pattern and style and mix things up to keep the look interesting.

Via Slipcover Your Life.

Via Casapinka.

If you get the urge for a splash of color, temporary accents like flowers are the best bet or the whole effect will be diluted.

Via Desire to Inspire.

That said, I do like seeing the odd splash of yellow, pink or red in a black and white room – and gray-blue works well as a backdrop for spaces accessorized in only black and white.

White and brights

You’d think this would be easy – a safe white background should allow you to use whatever combination of brights you like, right? Wrong. Of course, you should do what you love and feel right living with. But my point is that it’s hard to feel comfortable with this look unless you get it right. In my experience, the use of several brights can just make the white elements look dull and boring – like a non-choice. The key is in the proportions. Either go for a predominantly white room with a few accents of brights (lime green pillows, a vase of pink peonies and a splash of yellow and turquoise art, for example).

Via Kika Reichart.

Via Coco + Kelley.

Via Ill Seen, Ill Said.

Or, really layer in the brights and use the white for negative space only (which means you probably don’t want any white next to white unless it’s a different texture.

Via Peacock Feathers.

Again, sticking to bright colors close to each other on the color wheel (pinks, purples, reds for example) helps pull it all together.

Via Beauty Comma.

What’s your experience of using white? Do you agree with these guidelines or do you have better suggestions? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve made enough mistakes with white and know plenty of others who’ve done the same so some simple rules would save us all a lot of heartache!

(First image: source unknown)

I recently received an email from a reader who wanted to issue me a challenge: find some images and ideas to inspire the decoration of a house for three 21-year-old guys. Always up for a challenge, I decided to give it a try. As soon as I started hunting, I could see the quandry for men interested in design, especially younger guys and those renting or sharing a place. Most spaces that have been designed specifically for men seem to follow one of a very limited number of formulas.

There’s the industrial loft space:


The sleek, gadget-centric seduction zone:


Or the gentleman’s club, like this modern interpretation of a wood-panelled library:

Club room

Now, while all these styles can be great for inspiration, the reality is that it’s going to be very hard to recreate any of these looks faithfully in most homes. If you live in a three-bedroom house with two other guys, there’s little to be gained from studying pictures of an open-plan studio loft. If your place is a rental, you can’t exactly put up floor-to-ceiling wood panelling or scrape off the plaster to reveal raw brick walls.

So, let’s see what elements can be used – and what alternative styles are possible.

Strong wall colors are the easiest way to create a unified, impactful look that is still masculine. Whether furnishings are spartan or mismatched, the look will still be pulled-together. Grays and browns are ideal options and there’s so much inspiration at the moment for these two hues.

Gray study

gray living room


gray dining room

Gray bedroom

Many of these rooms also have strong, sculptural elements. The easiest (and cheapest) way to achieve this is with sculptural lighting pieces, like the Nelson Saucer bubble lamp in the bedroom image, or the large pendant shade over the dining table.

If you really want to go with lighter colors (tough in a house-share) then these sculptural elements will be even more important. Keep the space simple, colors uniform and the focus on a few pieces with interesting shapes.

black and white room

Living room

white bedroom

Texture is an often over-looked element in decorating. Stereotypical bachelor pads feature a lot of smooth chrome and black leather. But this approach means you miss out on the benefit that a combination of rich textures can provide. Grainy woods, scuffed leather and thick wool can create a masculine and stylish look without too much effort. And you can do it without spending a fortune by buying second-hand furniture. Check out the impact of these wood pieces:

Steven Gambrel


And the use of leather, wool and stone in these shots:

leather chair


The other challenge facing house-sharers is where to store all your ‘stuff’. Fortunately, books, art, photos and other artifacts (maybe not snowboards or boat oars – I’m not kidding, our first tenants in our house in London were three male rowers!) can be a real design asset. It’s also a great look for the thinking bachelor’s pad. Industrial-looking shelves are a good option, like these:


Or wood shelves (to borrow from the gentleman’s club look):


I also really like the use of bookshelves surrounding a wall-mounted TV. So much nicer than just having the TV lurk there all alone.

TV and shelves

Similarly, group several photos or pictures together to create a more cohesive, strong display. Making these personal items a deliberate part of the scheme will definitely help the overall effect be more streamlined, even when you need to combine three people’s bits and pieces.


Picture wall


When it comes to finishing touches, there several trends right now that have a masculine vibe without being cliched. Skulls, flags, maps, globes and vintage lightbulbs are all making appearances in homes. I’m personally a big fan of the Brit-chic look (no surprise there, as I’m British!)

Flag pillows

British flag pillow

So it seems that there are lots of ways to go when decorating for an all-male household after all. As long as you remember the four ‘S’s – Strong colors, Sensory elements like texture, Storage for books etc, and Sculptural pieces.

Anyone designed a house for guys and got any other tips?


1 – Apartment of designer Christina Rodriguez via Design for Life; 2 – Freshome; 3 – Living Etc; 4 – Office of designer Monique Lhuillier’s husband, and CEO of her firm, as seen in Elle Decor, photos by Roger Davies, via ChicFreak; 5 – Living Etc; 6 – Artist Lincoln Shatz’s apartment via Apartment Therapy; 7 – via Vintage + Chic; 8 – Apartment of fashion designer Franciso Costa and De John Stefano via DigsDigs; 9 – photo by Patric Johansson via slipcoveryourlife; 10 – photo by Per Magnus Persson; 11 – Loft of designer Frederic Mechiche, via Door Sixteen; 12 – Room designed by Steven Gambrel on 1st Dibs, via Anh Minh;  13 – Living Etc; 14 – via CasaSugar; 15 – Home for hire by photographer Graham Atkins Hughes as reported on Por Homme (more photos featuring this home at Graham’s web site); 16 – via From the Right Bank; 17 –  via DigsDigs; 18 – Living Etc; 19 – Thomas O’Brien’s studio apartment as seen in Australian Vogue Living, via Design Files; 20 – via Vintage + Chic; 21 – via Apartment Therapy; 22 and 23 – via Living Etc.

Nothing dresses a room quite like a single, stand-out chair. Apart from anything else, it’s a wonderful, relatively inexpensive, way to indulge a different side of your design personality. You can pick a chair in a really bold color or pattern to punch up an all-white room. Or choose an ornate vintage piece to add character to an all-modern space. And, the best part of all is that single chairs are completely portable – you can move them from room to room as you please.

I’ve been collecting a few images of knock-out chairs that really define the space they’re in. The image below has been a favorite for a very long time. Ok, I know there are two of these chairs – but one of them would be good enough for me! Especially if I had these soaring ceilings and architectural details in my home…


Ahh, a lilac velvet Louis chair with gilt legs… Is there any better way to conjure up glamor? We have a Louis chair in our living room, which I use to offset the boxiness of the two IKEA sofas – David Hicks style – or so I like to think!)


An Eames rocker would look great anywhere. But here it balances the white sofas perfectly.


The single chair doesn’t have to be the colorful item in a room. In fact, here a neutral chair looks great with the bright yellow sofas – and still stands out. I like the way the chair separates the living space from the kitchen – and, because it’s small and light, it doesn’t cramp the space. (Plus, yellow and gray is one of my favorite combinations right now).


I love these womb chairs. This one looks great in cream against the more ethnic collection of furnishings and art.


You can barely see this chair (there it is at the back, in purple perspex!). It’s just a really surprising jolt of color that would work perfectly in a small space.


Ooh, a bright green Arne Jacobsen chair dresses up this calm space no end. I love the mix of greens. The curves look great with the chair in the foreground too.


What’s your favorite single chair? Any iconic ones you particularly covet?


1 – Pink Wallpaper; 2 – The Deco Detective; 3 – Remodelista; 4 – Elle Decor; 5 – Metropolitan Home; 6 – Kika Reichart; 7 – Per Magnus Persson

I like reading Apartment Therapy‘s ‘how to’ posts. Today AT Chicago has a post that’s particularly close to my heart – ‘how to avoid the catalog look at home’.

When we moved to the US seven years ago, we first lived in San Diego. We had visited a couple of months prior to scout out rentals and had managed to line up a nice townhouse in UTC, near La Jolla. But it was unfurnished. We were renting out our London house as a furnished property so shipped nothing more than a few clothes and books. Everything else stayed behind or went into storage. When we got to SD, we had just one weekend to furnish the entire place with the basics.

Knowing nothing about the city, or where to look for furniture stores, we went to IKEA. We bought beds, tables, chairs, sofas, kitchen equipment – just about everything – there. Then we had to personalize the place. Seven years on, we still have most of it and, although I love all the pieces we still have, I am constantly looking for ways to create an ‘un-IKEA look’. The fact is, though, as my experience shows, sometimes there is no option but to kit out your entire place from a catalog store. So, if you have to do it, here are my own tips for making it work.

Bring out the family photos

Luckily, shortly after we moved to the US, we got married so had tons of great photos to display. We bought multi-photo frames from Pottery Barn and created combinations of our favorites. One evening and a bottle of wine later, we had simple, but truly personal, art for our walls!

Stock up on books

When we moved, we had five books. Now we have three huge floor-to-ceiling shelves of them, plus three boxes in the garage (I’m intending to get more shelving for them). You can pick up dozens of secondhand paperbacks cheaply (or even new ones on special offer). They instantly make a place more personal and ‘lived in’. Now we feel like we have a history of our last seven years sitting on our book shelves.

Choose the catalog store carefully

I buy at all the usual favorites: IKEA, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel. But, to me, two stores really excel at offering unusual, eclectic products at a decent price: West Elm and Anthropologie. Here’s why:

Bridge coffee table

This is West Elm’s Bridge coffee table. It doesn’t exactly scream catalog to me.

Sheesham objects

These ‘Sheesham Objects’ are also from West Elm and would make a really personal touch to an office.

Jacoby bench

This is the Jacoby bench form Anthropologie. It looks like something picked up from your travels, not at all catalog.

Pillows as gifts

Whenever people asked what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday, I would tell them a pillow cover. It’s the easiest thing to mail overseas (you just buy the pillow itself locally) and you can always find a home for a gorgeous pillow. Even though we had limited time to travel beyond the London/San Diego (or London/San Francisco) route, it still looks as though we have been around the world because of the eclectic range of pillows we have.

Deck the walls with art

This isn’t an easy, or cheap, approach. But there is no doubt that, with a few personally-chosen pieces of art on the walls, you could furnish an entire home in IKEA and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, it would be the perfect backdrop. Instead of registering at a store when we were planning our wedding, we registered at Wills Art Warehouse in London. After the wedding we chose four spectacular paintings that we absolutely love and which have guided every design decision we’ve made since. Here are two of them.

The Wave painting

Pomegranates painting

My sister and her husband recently also moved from London to the US – they are in NYC. They had to fill an entire apartment from scratch in four weeks – in time for their first baby to arrive! Needless to say, IKEA played a starring role, but they also have a great collection of paintings, etchings and photos collected from their travels around the world. It makes their apartment look effortlessly stylish and really welcoming.

Apartment Therapy has more great tips here. At the end of the day, though, once you have the basics in place, it’s more about patience and being willing to let a home evolve around you over time. And there’s no quick-win solution to replace time.

It’s at this time of year I start feeling our home needs a lift. It’s sunny outside and I’m out of hibernation mode. I no longer want the house to be a cozy cocoon. I want to give it a fresh injection of life and energy. Of course, I can’t do a complete refurb every season but there are a few tricks for making the house more vibrant without spending a fortune. They involve making a few select purchases, rather than repainting or making any permanent changes. I have a few days’ vacation next week and I’m going to use the time to breath some new life into our house. Here’s my plan.

Liven up with plants

The obvious first step: bringing the outside in instantly livens things up. I’m planning on a large plant for the living room and some spring bulbs for the kitchen. I also spotted this great idea for the bathroom on Remodelista. I’ve never been that into succulents but am starting to gain an appreciation for their many varied forms and funny shapes. I was thinking of introducing a few in containers on our patio but I love this look for indoors.


Change the rhythm

Multiple small photos and prints in mismatching frames creates a much more lively rhythm than a single piece of art. It’s also a way to introduce more personality to a home. I spotted this pic on SFgirlbybay and it’s a perfect example.


I’m planning to make a gallery of family photos up the stairs and on the wall in the dining room. I also have quite a few shots taken on past vacations – sunsets in Maui, beaches in Mexico – which we can dust off and display now the weather is better.

Experiment with seasonal wallpaper panels

There are so many stunning designs that would be perfect for spring and summer. But they might feel too floral for winter. So I’m contemplating a single panel of wallpaper that can be propped up against the wall and taken away again if I change my mind. It will be much cheaper than covering a whole wall or room, not to mention miles easier. I love this Celadon Vase wallpaper by Designer’s Guild.

Celadon Vase wallpaper

Throw some shapes

Adding a few curves into a space breaks things up and changes the energy. An arc lamp over a boxy sofa, a round mirror on the wall, an unusually-shaped rug – they all make a fairly ordinary scheme more lively. This house, designed by Mirka McNeill Farmer and featured in April’s British Homes and Gardens shows exactly what a few curves can do. I love pretty much everything about this house, but I particularly like the way she has used different shapes to make the place both quirky and restful.

Mirka McNeill

I’ve seen this chair used a million times, but always in vast loft spaces. I never thought it would work in a London townhouse but this pic proves me wrong.

Mikra McNeill

This rug looks like it’s real animal skin, which I wouldn’t use. But the shape offsets the the rectangular table, bench and fireplace beautifully. There are plenty of fake animal skin rugs that would do the job just as well.

Mirka McNeill

These shelves, made of cardboard tubes, are a brainwave. They make a tiny bedroom really stand out.

Starburst and sunbursts

Nothing imparts energy more than these gorgeous mirrors. Replacing a rectangular mirror with one of these would add instant movement to a scheme. Look at the impact it has on this room, featured in Living Etc.


So that’s the plan. After all this energetic decorating though, I’ll need somewhere peaceful to rest…

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
houzz - kitchen design, bathroom design, landscaping and more

My Photos