Faux Plants and Real Flowers and How to Hang Art: podcast notes

I can’t quite believe it’s already the third series of our podcast The Great Indoors and before I tell you what we were talking about this week I wanted to share a couple of reviews for anyone who has thought that it might be odd to talk about such a visual subject as interior design in audio format.

bisque tetro radiator volcanic image by madaboutthehouse

But, as nearly 200,000 downloads on 12 episodes has shown, it seems to be working. Norma left a review saying: “I wasn’t sure what listening to people talk about interiors would be like but it felt like a big cuddle in a well decorated house” while Jessica Rose Williams said: “I feel like I am sat in design school with two wonderfully eccentric professors. Forever taking notes.”

So if you haven’t listened yet and have half an hour, or so, to spare then give it a go here. You never know, you might like it. Carmen Loretta listens while she’s taking the dog for a walk and frequently chats back. What the dog thinks hasn’t been reported.

Sophie Robinson’s Hall – at home with Sophie Robinson photographed by Alun Callender

Coming up on this series will be guests including Pearl Lowe and Trinny Woodall, as well as discussions such as Does Your Childhood home affect your adult taste, maximalism versus minimalism and reporting from Clerkenwell Design Week on the latest trends.

Since the clocks went forward at the weekend it felt right to talk about plants and flowers and our thoughts on real versus faux. It won’t surprise you to know that Sophie and I are complete opposites. Living in the country she likes real plants, but as a stylist who is used to shooting Christmas in July and Summer in Winter, she’s not averse to a fake flower. For the record, they must be silk and you get what you pay for. If you want to hear what Philip Schofield thinks of plants you will have to listen. I was astonished.

I, on the other hand, struggle to keep plants alive so I’m not averse to faking it (some of the time) but I like my flowers to be real. I subscribe to Freddie’s Flowers and have some delivered once a month. They last for ages and it’s always such a treat to see the box on the doormat.

faux eucalyptus stems at
faux eucalyptus stems at

When it comes to arranging them the current fashion is to stick to a single variety and fill a vase with it as that looks far more luxurious. It also avoids the issue of three nice stems and a whole load of padding in the form of leaves and gypsophilia (or baby’s breath). In fact if you just buy a huge bunch of gypsophilia and stick it in a vase on its own it looks much better (and more modern) than if you mix it in with other things.

If you are going to have fake plants then it’s much easier to get away with types that look quite fake to begin with such as fiddle leaf figs and cheese plants, which tend to have quite plasticky leaves in the first place.

Obviously those won’t help with the absorption of toxins and creating a pollution-free atmosphere though. And both real and faux will need dusting to keep them either alive or at least looking a bit more real.

We also spoke about hanging art and while I have always said that a good starting point is about 60 inches off the floor, we discussed this in more details. Sophie pointed out that you must create a relationship between the thing you are hanging and the furniture it is near. This often means hanging it lower than your initial instinct.

So if it’s over the sofa the bottom should be about 30cm over the top so that you don’t hit your head but you do create tension between the two items.

If you are worried that your painting is too small, a common mistake, then, rather than hanging it high in the middle of the wall and expecting it to do its job, create a small group of pictures or hang it close to a piece of furniture – a cabinet or chest of drawers for example that will give it more presence.

if a painting is too small for the space hang another one near it and make sure there is a relationship between it and the furniture
if a painting is too small for the space hang another one near it and make sure there is a relationship between it and the furniture

When it comes to gallery walls, stairs are good places to put them. I’m not a huge fan as I like things more ordered than that. Sophie loves them whereas the one I have (pictured) is a set of images that are all in the same frames. They are hung randomly but that’s because they go round a mirror in the hall. And because The Mad Husband might have left me if I’d asked for a matching symmetrical grid.

And, because everyone asks: what about matching your art to the walls? The short answer is don’t. Better to buy something to which you feel an emotional attachment and want to look at every day than something that picks up on the cushions. That said, we are all drawn to certain colours so it can be a subconscious decision but try, at least to buy for love not practicality. It’s art not science.

Finally, we had our regular design crimes discussion and spoke about how ugly so many cooker hoods are. You’ll have to listen to see if you agree with us but Sophie also revealed that if you buy the right sort of wall-mounted extractor fan you don’t need to have a cooker hood at all. Most fans remove the air at 15L a minute. But if you buy one that works at 30L a minute this is sufficient for a kitchen. Sophie’s mother, who lives in the open plan annexe in their garden, has a kitchen island in the middle of her space and rather than interrupt the space with a hood, she has fitted a wall fan, which you can see below – the white box on the wall.

open plan island with wall mounted extractor fan via sophie robinson
open plan island with wall mounted extractor fan via sophie robinson

I am definitely going to be looking into that option for my kitchen – I shall report back. Until next time….

Thank you so much to DFS for sponsoring our third series and helping us make this podcast such a success.


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. Today you can buy VERY quiet fans, just hunt on the web. We have an attractive cooker hood, a flat slice of glass and stainless steel chimney part. It wasn’t expensive. If I had a hob on an island I would do what Sophie’s Mum has done.
    But my oh my…I could not live in Sophie’s colourful house.

  2. Hello Kate! I’ve been reading your bloog for the past two years, I think, have your latest book (can’t wait for the next one), and occasionally listen to the podcast. You’re my enterior design guru, mostly, because you find words to express exactly how I feel about certain things, for example the white walls. Then I can preach that to my family, both my sister and my parents have always had only white walls, and I HATE white walls (unless its a Mediterranean beach house). But, here is the thing: my father is an art collector. He’s filled all of our houses with works of art, which I love. I know it’s fine to hang paintings on coloured walls, even if the colours don’t match. But how about wallpaper? I am a total maximalist, and I love wallpapers, the busier the better. But I can’t bring myself to wallpaper an entire room, because of the paintings. So I’m stuck with (carefully chosen) feature walls, like the corridor which is too dark to hang art anyways (with a library wall on the opposite side), my bedroom ceiling (totaly your fault! :D) and the kitchen wall… But I’d love to see my entire living room wallpapered some day, I’m just afraid it would be a mistake with all the artwork… How do you feel about this?

    1. Hmmm… I have been wrestling with this one. So I think wallpaper and artwork is a look. It’s quite a British country house look and I think if you are going to pull that off you need to have books piled up on tables, ornaments and objets and antique furniture. Then I think it works and it’s probably the true definition of eclectic – it’s busy and the room is full of things to look at and discover. If, however, your style is more modern I think it’s harder to pull off because it is, by its very nature, a maximalist sort of style. So if you would choose a very simple wallpaper – stripes, for example something by Ottoline Devries I think a few pictures can work and keep the furniture very simple. If you tend towards the bold House of Hackney florals then you’ve got to go all out with the furniture and everything else. A compromise? Perhaps a weak one? Textured anaglypta wallpaper that you can paint in the colour of your choice but that does add some pattern?

  3. Totally agree that cooker hoods are ugly . They can be hard to keep clean and collect grease and dust .Im also not convinced they actually do a great job of extracting. Just as easy to open a window. I got rid of mine and put a fan in ceiling directly above my gas hob. It’s a bit noisy when on and doesn’t stop windows steaming up sometimes.
    But I much prefer the wall space I have where once there was this big cooker hood. They can also be expensive and their design dates quickly. I asked my kitchen designer if I really needed one and she said no. So I saved some money too.I suppose it might depend on the size of your kitchen, the amount of cooking on hob you do and whether or not you have a window !

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