Beautiful Rooms for Inspiration

Hello to you all and hoping the sun is shining with warmth wherever you are. Welcome another week in The Mad House

mad about the house in italy
mad about the house in italy

We paid a lightning visit to the house in Italy last week to make a lighting plan. The house needs completely rewiring as it that hasn’t been done since the 60s and we needed to make sense of the extraordinary number of sockets and switches that have been added on or just abandoned over the years. This is where the bulk of the budget will go. And yes that is a little damp below. Noted and on the list.

One thing we did notice, which may, or may not be peculiar to this house is that every bedroom has a switch for the landing or hall light inside it. I guess this means you can turn the light on from your room if you need to go to the loo in the night and not worry about stumbling along a dark passage. It’s an interesting idea but we will be taking a more conventional route – not least because we need to reduce the amount of rewiring and parts needed. Perhaps any Italian readers can enlighten me as to whether this is standard practice or unique to an old house (parts of it go back to the 1700s) that has been reconfigured over the years.

the house in italy has no light switches in the corridors
the house in italy has no light switches in the corridors

The builders are due to start this week and the work is expected to last until Christmas as once the lighting has been done they need to tackle the plumbing. We are a long way off decorating but I am already plotting and planning colour schemes. In the meantime let’s have a look at this week’s inspiration.

design by Nicola Harding (one of House & Garden top 100 interior designers)
design by Nicola Harding (one of House & Garden top 100 interior designers)

First up I wanted to dive into this image by the wonderful designer Nicola Harding, who is a regular on the House & Garden Top 100 Interior Designers list. I have often talked here and in my books and magazine column about how to mix colour and pattern but I’m aware that many of you still have questions and that while it’s not an exact science there are guidelines to follow. This one seemed like quite a good one to start with as the colour palette is tight and the patterns more muted. If you start with something like this you can build up to the full on maximalist riot (should you wish) and develop your gut instinct for what works and what doesn’t.

So the first point, I think, is that the colours are essentially riffs on red and green, which is a version of orange and blue, which are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel which means they are complementary. Once you have chosen the variations of that shade that you like – in this case a pinky red and a sagey blue you can slide the depth up and down from dark to light so you end up with lots of tonal variety but still within a tight palette.

If you examine this you will see everything from orange to the palest pink with an almost invisible patch of yellow in the rug. The blues and greens have all remained at the paler end of the spectrum with just the tiniest darker leaf in the wallpaper. If you imagine the colour as a sliding scale it becomes much easier to run up and down with varying intensity and you don’t have to worry that you will add a false note. You can, of course, add an element of discordancy but that takes more confidence. As for the disrupter colour – there isn’t really one here – you could have thrown in an emerald green or cobalt blue – a single strong note – imagine a cymbal clash – but here it’s the dark metallic table leg and lamp that do that job for you.

Finally, the pattern. The curtains and wallpaper are a similar sort of diamond shape. The rug has chevrons – part of a diamond and there are plenty of stripes on the cushions. There is a curve in the shape of the armchair and the geometric patterns on walls and fabric are slightly rounded so it’s not all hard edges.

Think of this as your basic recipe – swapping in and out of the elements here and, as you get more comfortable with the idea, you can start to remove some of these ingredients and add your own. I’m aware that the metaphors have gone from music to cooking but I’m neither a musician nor a cook so my analogies can only take me so far. You get the idea.

designed by Hannah Pemberton of Wandalust
designed by Hannah Pemberton of Wandalust

Staying with the colour wheel for a moment and purple and yellow are also opposites and therefore complementary so as long as you pick versions that you like you will be broadly safe. Again, for starters, I might suggest pairing a cool yellow with a cool lilac rather than trying to mix hot and cold. It does work but it’s easier to go wrong so while you’re getting your eye in just make life easier for yourself.

For example the picture on the wall has a very warm yellow in it which stays much more towards orange. That can work with lilac but it’s more disruptive as a combination and may make your room feel less relaxing than you intended.

Once again the contrast is provided by the rich, dark wood which is softer than using black, but still has the same effect of grounding the scheme. The rug picks up on that colour too. And talking of lilac, this is a colour that is being talked about more and more. It’s still the early adopters that are using it as it has yet to go mainstream but it will. That said, it could take about three years so if you like it use it and don’t panic you will be out of date (should that be a factor) as it will be around for a while yet. And, if you’re starting to look then I’m going to come right out and say that I’m pondering it for one of the bedrooms in Italy and the shade I am currently loving is Lavender Garden by Mylands. I’m probably not brave enough to put it with yellow but I rather like it with olive green and cream – and what is cream if not super pale yellow. So we’re still on that colour wheel.

kitchen design by bird and bone
kitchen design by bird and bone

Talking of super pale yellow we arrive in this kitchen by Bird & Bone Interiors. The founder of this company will be familiar to many of you as Leanne from Good Bones London and this was her first kitchen project. Here this gentle yellow is just a little more dynamic than classic cream so while not being too scary as a choice it also serves to make this traditional Shaker style kitchen a little more modern. The marble backsplash and counter top is a lovely (if less budget friendly) way to keep materials to a minimum and the brass accents of wall lights and brackets bring the metallic, the vintage and the grounding to this soft and pale palette.

styling by Hannah Franklin for Otto Tiles
styling by Hannah Franklin for Otto Tiles Photo: Felix Speller (@felixspeller)

Now I have to say this IS an idea that I will be taking to Italy and while I see no reason why you couldn’t do it in the UK it doesn’t immediately lend itself to a modern urban semi – mainly because you need an opening with no doors. If you like the border idea and you do have doors then look at wallpaper borders – currently having a bit of a revival.

But if you have a doorless entrance this can work really well to add character and pattern. I am currently looking at curtains over doorways for warmth (and taking up less space than doors) but if draughts are not your problem then this is a really imaginative way to divide a space. Now all you have to do is choose the tiles.

Styled by Alyce Taylor for Colefax & Fowler shot by Horwood Photo
Styled by Alyce Taylor for Colefax & Fowler shot by Horwood Photo

Finally, we’ll end with some calming florals. No pattern clashes, no vibrant colours just some faded florals and some gentle stripes on a textural rug. Ready for the week ahead? Go…

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I love the idea of having switches for hall/landing inside the rooms, it makes perfect sense and I don’t know why it’s not more common.

  2. Please can you share what the green and pink shades are in your first picture…they’re perfect. Thank you

  3. Hi Kate – Really enjoying Pemberton’s lilac + yellow room. The artwork is intense yes, but I like the jarring it gives me and understand the bed needed some counterbalancing, hence. I like how the night table below acts as the visual negative to the artwork; also how the darker colour is loosely repeated in the swirly rug and low table. Would’ve liked to have seen more of the bed linens to see what was done other than the whites. Am noting how the super neutral throw cushions echo the wall colour. Pemberton really know how to throw colour around 🙂 Re lilac, I’ve been looking at that idea for quite a long time (saw a duo of lilac slip chairs in linen somewhere – stunning) so am glad for this nudge. Terrific post – thank you!

    The tiled, doorless entrance – a winner! Successful especially because of the deep depth.

    1. She’s on Instagram as Wanderlust_
      You could try sending her a DM, perhaps. Good luck!

      1. Oh that’s a good suggestion but I am a bit of a technophobe so I don’t know how to use Instagram….

        1. Ignore this, I did a google image search and found it. Its a Soren globe light but sadly for me is £2k…

  4. As well as the Mylands “Lavender Garden”, take a look at Earthborn’s “Inglenook” and (an archived colour), “Eiderdown”. Both muted lavender/mauve colours with masses of depth and great warmth. Eiderdown is my favourite, but because it’s archived, you have to buy a walloping tin of it, no sample size available.

  5. Fab informative post Kate. Thank you!

    Interesting what you say about lilac. I went out wearing a lilac top at the weekend and had real trouble pairing it with complementary colours. I ended up scrolling through Luke Edward Hall’s Instagram feed as he is the king of lilac! He is the definition of an early adopter. I ended up going bold with an emerald green alongside the lilac. While I am happy to wear it, not sure I am ready to paint my walls with it – yet! But I remember all the interesting stuff you have said about links between wardrobe and interiors so maybe it’s only a matter of time!

  6. Lovely selection of rooms and colours. Ref the rewire in Italy, yes all of our bedrooms are wired that way too – you can switch off/on the landing light from inside the bedroom. Initially it felt odd but it stops you stumbling into the corridor and looking for the light switch. There are 4 rooms off our landing but just one 2 ways switch working with all of the rooms.

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