Mad About . . .

Decorating in a Lockdown

31st March 2020
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There has naturally been a flurry of posts and features and articles (some of which I have contributed to) about how to make our homes work for us during this period and there are two points I want to make for anyone who a) isn’t suddenly feeling they want to rush out and paint their skirting boards or b) is thinking they just need to get through the day without falling over a small child, punching the wall or picking passive aggressive arguments with their partner about whose turn it is to empty the bin. And, with apologies for the language (and the potential gender stereotyping)  but this really made me laugh:

And on that note, I’m going to start a new series loosely called: 10 Things I Hate About You (my house not my partner) now that I have to live with you 24/7 and how to put them right.

Now the first, and I think, most important thing to note is that any decorating you do in this period doesn’t count. What you want now and what you will want when this is over are, probably, entirely different. Now you want calming, safe and restful. Later you might want joyous, energising and bright. Pretty soon I think you might hate the open plan you spent so long knocking walls down to create and start fantasising about walls and doors so that you can have separation from everyone else. And on that note I think that happens anyway once your toddlers become teens.

via aucoot

So for the moment if you have an idea just go with it. On the basis that you won’t be hiring a builder any time so you won’t actually be knocking down walls or doing anything permanent. It will mostly be centred around paint colours and re-arranging the furniture so give it a go.

For those of you who don’t have access to any outside space the most important thing you can do now is try and recreate that feeling. Put plants next to windows and, where possible put a chair there as well so you can spend a few minutes a day with your back to the rest of the room looking at the plants. You may have to ignore the view of the carpark or the road outside. Or perhaps you can order a window film (pick one with a floral or leaf design) and stick that on. Or some sheer curtains that might billow in the breeze when the window is open (close your eyes and imagine you’re on a Greek island).

orla kiely yellow landing book nook and vintage eames rocker

One thing you can do, which is probably just temporary, is paint the window frames yellow or green. This has been proven to help as this post I wrote about two years ago from a book called Happy By Design, how to create a home that boosts your health and happiness by Victoria Harrison. If you can’t paint the window frame then if you can get out to buy some daffodils and put them on a window that will give the same impression of a sunny day. And while there is no research on green windows I reckon it will have the same effect. And remember, when this is done you can always paint them back again. And if you want to make your window look bigger paint not just the window but an area on the wall around the window too.

grow your own fresh air with house plants image by KW-S chair by La Redoute

grow your own fresh air with house plants image by KW-S chair by La Redoute

There seems to be a huge rush to decorate right now which is partly about giving us a sense of control – I can’t do anything about what’s out there but I can do something about what’s in here. I think what’s more important is to use this time to plan. One of the most important elements of getting your interior design right is to know what’s wrong with it in the first place. That is what this time is for. Is your kitchen designed so there’s a log jam every time everyone gets up from the table with their plates and heads to the sink, is the bath taking up space while the shower curtain wraps itself around you trying to assassinate you every morning, is that coffee table too small, too far away not really big enough for a)your laptop b)your dinner c)your feet c) all of the above.

Yesterday I gave you homework on colours, today why not start thinking about the things that have been irritating you for ages and considering how you might be able to put them right and I will start addressing some of them over the next few days.

etta desk from habitat

etta desk from habitat is currently 50 per cent off

One thing that I think is becoming clear is that how we use our homes will change after this. Rohini Wahi is a trend forecaster and she did a short IGTV post on this yesterday noting that sales of home gym equipment are already increasing. But that, in the future it will need to be beautiful as well as functional as it’s going to live in our houses and we may not be able to fit it into a cupboard. We might end up cooking more (once the initial rush of going out to find someone else to cook for us has worn off) so designers will need to look at food storage that can also serve as tableware because we will need multi-functional pieces rather than twice as many cupboards.

I have spoken before about buying a console table with a drawer that can flip from desk to dressing table by storing the mirror in the drawer and swapping for the laptop when required. Rohini goes a step further and suggests that there may be more drawers in dining tables for this purpose or that more domestic furniture will come with cable tidies for example.

colour blocking via ferm living

colour blocking via ferm living – paint doesn’t have to cover a whole wall from top to bottom. Use it to zone areas, make windows look bigger etc

Taking this idea further, I think we may become bolder in our living room designs as a place away from the home-working area to help us really make a contrast between the two. I also think that whatever you do now in terms of decoration isn’t wrong. Use this time to plan, to experiment and to work out what you really like. Use your home as a giant living Pinterest board. If there are more of you at home than usual you may want to get rid of the coffee table completely for now to make space for Lego and dancing. You may want to move the sofa out of the bay window so you can put the table there and create a working space with a view. You may want to paint everything in a restful neutral pale colour that makes you feel safe and calm but, come the end, you may decide that now is the time for that explosion of celebratory colour that you never dared try before.

kingston lafferty design

kingston lafferty design

During this time of uncertainty use it to dream of what you want your house to be and think of ways you might be able to make that more possible. And nothing is wrong as anything you do will help you understand more of what you want and need from your space.

And I’m going to link to the book because it might help. And I’m going to include the two most recent reviews and add that if you have already got a copy then leaving a review is massively helpful as Amazon then takes notice of it. Apparently 50 is the magic number so I would be enormously grateful if it, or this blog, has helped you in any way if you could leave a review. Thank you.

Kate’s book is wholly accessible to all readers – whether you own or rent a house, are dealing with your partner’s taste, have kids to share space with… Don’t expect a glossy interior designer/architecture book with no text and large photos, this is finally a pretty book that also tackles all your rooms and (most!) key questions, in witty layman language. Exactly what I needed, on top of Kate’s blog and podcasts that is. In fact, it was better for me than Farrow & Ball’s Recipes for Decorating which already stocked my bookshelf, this book helps me on everything refurb/redesign related.

Kate Watson-Smyth’s 6 questions you have to ask yourself before you start any interior design scheme (who, what, where, when, why and how) are possibly the most helpful thing about designing and decorating that I’ve ever read. They’ve made me focus on function, and what’s genuinely going to make our lives easier, instead of just getting excited about the shapes, colour and textures I like. It’s also brilliant having answers to my interior design questions in one place.

Wonderful book! Beautifully illustrated, great advice and amusing read. If you’re on the hunt for an interior design book that guides you step by step through the planning process, this is your book!


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  • LG 16th April 2020 at 12:25 am

    I had my hall painted in dark colours (F &B Downpipe) wall and woodwork/trim. Initially I thought it looked rich and moody – but now – 1 month into lockdown I think it looks depressing!! Should I paint one side/wall in lighter colour? Thoughts anyone?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 16th April 2020 at 4:52 pm

      yes if you can get some paint easily and I think many of them are delivering. You can always paint it back again but I imagine you did this when you were seeing your hall on the way out in the morning and the way back in the evening and not 17 times a day as you pass by from room to room. I love Downpipe and still think it’s a glorious colour but have replaced my Downpipe rooms with forest green and chocolate brown and I love both. Or go for something paler that makes you feel relaxed and calm – that is the feeling you need to evoke at the moment. But I would probably do the whole thing not just one wall x

  • Renaud 1st April 2020 at 10:00 am

    Decorating can be so therapeutic during those stressful times. Thank you for this post, Kate.

    Have a good day, and take care.


  • Christine Mason 31st March 2020 at 7:36 pm

    LOVE your opening ‘article’ – humor is essential, especially at present – thank you Kate!

  • hng23 31st March 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Lockdown came early for me: five weeks stuck inside due to broken shoulder. I start every day looking through garden instagrams. Ben Pentreath walks in the Dorset countryside -lots of photos- & Jasper Conran posts videos of walks through his gardens. And Monty Don, of course. England’s spring is about a month ahead of Canada, so I’ve been enjoying gardens coming to life in real time.

  • Fiona Duke 31st March 2020 at 4:28 pm

    totally LOVING this post today Kate xxx

  • Leslie-Anne 31st March 2020 at 12:55 pm

    I have already finished two small decorating projects that I have been putting off forever. They have added a bit of order to my living room that it badly needed. Quarantine is not good but I think we can make some good come out of it.

  • Ellen Reed 31st March 2020 at 11:19 am

    My friend with 2 teenage girls called me from her closet yesterday. She was hiding from them. Do you think “hiding closets” might become a thing?

  • Elizabeth Scott 31st March 2020 at 10:05 am

    Great post as always. Him indoors (literally, these days) and I laughed like drains having had an almost identical exchange yesterday.

  • madelaine 31st March 2020 at 9:59 am

    Lovely writing Kate and much needed calmness. Thank you so much for carrying on with Mad! The only trouble is – where do I buy paint from at the moment? I’m in East Sussex – all ideas would be most welcome.

    • Teresa 31st March 2020 at 11:18 am

      Little Greene are still delivering, you can buy it online.

  • Karen Joseph 31st March 2020 at 8:50 am

    I’m still loving the open plan-ness of our house. I now have 3 teens at home all day every day but they are rarely seen in daylight, only emerging to make toast. Having read your post, I think it’s time to tackle my kitchen. It’s really dark and I’ve disliked it for quite a while. As you say, a coat of paint can be temporary. Does paint count as essential supplies?

  • Olga GT 31st March 2020 at 8:30 am

    Kate, you are a genius! Planning is a fab activity and gives a sense of space and optimism… thank you and please continue!!

  • LN 31st March 2020 at 6:52 am

    Your remark about wanting walls when toddlers become teens is so true. I have always automatically knocked through the two reception rooms in my terraced homes but now I fantasize about turning the front reception room into a separate study for me with lots of shelves, a big partners desk in the middle of the room and a chaise longue by the window for when I want to curl with a book. My husband can have the middle room as a tv room with easy access to the kettle in the kitchen and the garden for a smoke. As for the teens, well, I have only got one left at home and her bed is the centre of her universe right now. She does her school work there, talks to her friends there and would happily eat there except I have to draw the line somewhere!

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