Mad About . . .


23rd June 2020
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Today an adapted extract from my book, Mad About The House, 101 Interior Design Answers. Adapted because I have taken out the questions and just given you the four key points to getting a room redecoration right.


the hoxton hotel in Paris

the hoxton hotel in Paris picture by KW-S

Hotels are underrated as sources of inspiration. The designers have to get a lot into a small space. There is usually one room – often not that big – which needs to house a bed, a table either side, a comfy chair or two, a desk, perhaps space for coffee- and tea-making, and clothes hanging. And then they’ve got to carve a luxurious bathroom out of a tiny corner.

It’s always worth looking at hotel designs for their colour and materials choices. They are created by the people who often know not just what the next big things in terms of trends and colour schemes are likely to be, but are also expert at creating attractive, comfortable rooms in very uncompromising spaces.

So next time you can plan a summer holiday, don’t just pay attention to the distance from the beach, but take a look at the layout of the space, particularly the bathroom. In the Hoxton Hotel in Paris, the walls of the shower are frosted glass on two sides, which allows natural light from the bedroom to filter through to the bathroom (when did you ever see a hotel bathroom with a window?) but still allows for privacy. The door has a long horizontal handle, which serves not only its primary purpose but also to hang the towel or the bathmat when not in use.

Restaurant loos are another consistently good source of inspiration, not so much for space-saving tricks as for decorative ideas. The loo is a great place for a restaurateur to make a statement because it’s comparatively small, so they can be daring with dramatic wallpaper, stunning tiles, spectacular sanitaryware, eye-catching glass, or a combination of all of these. And don’t forget to look at the ceiling. While you’re in there taking a picture for your grid, you might also be getting inspiration for your crib.


the hoxton hotel paris taken by emma jane palin

the hoxton hotel paris taken by emma jane palin

Just because someone is using a room as a bedroom doesn’t mean that’s what it has to be. There’s a real reluctance to move rooms around from the traditional floor plan, and yet that layout may not work for you. You really need to think about your layout and how you will use the space.

We tend to put the kitchens at the back of the house with a view of the garden, which made sense when one had to stand at the sink washing up for ages. But now that we are taking down walls and creating open spaces it might be better to locate a sitting or dining area right at the back and stick the kitchen in the dark part towards the middle of the house. Yes, you will have to move some plumbing but the benefits of the way you can live in the space should outweigh that cost. There’s a reason that the Victorian front parlour was often small and that’s because it was usually just for guests or Sundays, so it didn’t need to be the biggest room. Think about how often you go in a room and what you are using it for.

bathroom at the hoxton in paris

bathroom at the hoxton in paris image taken by KW-S

I often see a home office crammed into the (second) smallest room in the house and then people wonder why they don’t want to use it. I’ve done it myself – created a cramped office at the top of the house under the eaves. I banged my head every time I stood up. Unsurprisingly I spent six years working downstairs at the kitchen table. It’s the same when it comes to the bedroom. Parents will often take the largest so-called master suite for themselves, but in fact they only go in there at bedtime and they don’t have to store teepees, desks and playhouses in there – not to mention all the tiny trucks and dolls and general tchotchkes. In our last house we gave the biggest bedroom to our boys, with a set of bunk beds, and there was plenty of room for their toys, which meant the living room was a much tidier and more pleasant place to be.

bathroom at the dean hotel dublin

bathroom at the dean hotel dublin

If you are starting from scratch or thinking about adding an en suite, then consider making the bathroom a large and luxurious space. A big bathroom will always feel more ‘hotel’. If possible, make space for a walk-in or through wardrobe and leave the smallest area for sleeping. After all – if you don’t need to clutter it with clothes and storage, then all you need is space for the bed and a couple of side tables. The whole thing will be more Zen, so you will sleep better.

If you are buying a house then use the floor plan carefully to get an aerial view of the size and proportions of the rooms, and take note of the direction they face, to see if the right functions are in the right places.

I’m not suggesting you turn the house upside down (although actually why not, if it would suit you better that way), but do at least have a think about how you use each room and if the current layout is right for you.


lokal hotel by the jersey ice cream co

lokal hotel by the jersey ice cream co

This is a crucial part of interior design that often gets overlooked in favour of the colour scheme and the furniture, but thinking about how you want to feel in a room, or the feeling that you want to evoke in others, is absolutely key to helping you choose the right furniture and colours.

In the kitchen, for example, I like to feel tidy and organised so I need lots of storage and enough space on shelves so that things can be arranged without becoming too cluttered. In the living room, assuming you want a feeling of relaxation and calm, you need to work out which colours make you feel that way. Personally, I am exercised if there are too many shades in one place, so I tend to stick to two with splashes of a third. I find I can’t relax in a room without books, so I need those, while good lighting is key. I’m also not good at too many high contrasting colours. Some people find that energising; I tend to feel anxious.

winter room kit kemp for firmdale hotels

winter room kit kemp for firmdale hotels

One thing worth bearing in mind is that symmetrical arrangements are often thought to be more calming, so when you style your living room, arranging matching chairs either side of the fireplace, a pair of lamps on matching tables and a candlestick on either end of the mantelpiece can be more relaxing than an eclectic mix of mismatched furniture and lots of objects. Of course, there are some for whom perfect symmetry is claustrophobic and puts them on edge.

Which is why uou need to interrogate yourself about how you want to feel, and then work out which colours and objects will make you feel that way. This is one of those times when Pinterest can work really well. Instead of spending hours gazing at pretty rooms and pinning colour schemes, ask yourself how your pins make you feel. Create boards based around words like ‘relaxing’, ‘working’, ‘efficient’ etc, then look at them and work out what the images you’ve pinned have got in common.


casa mimosa hotel barcelona

I wrote in the previous book about why Pinterest can be your frenemy – luring you down a rabbit hole of unsuitable ideas – and discussed how to make it work for you rather than against you, but there’s no doubt that a collection of photographs showing what you want can be a good idea.

Builders don’t always understand what you want when you describe your ideas and it’s better if you can give them a photo, or drawing, so they have something to work from. It also saves a row if they get it wrong. Save pictures into a folder whenever you see them and use them to show decorators and builders exactly what you mean. I was forever drawing diagrams on the backs of envelopes for our builders, some get it and some don’t. Sometimes, a picture really does speak a thousand words.

tiles used as bedheads in the massaeria moroseta hotel in Puglia

tiles used as bedheads in the massaeria moroseta hotel in Puglia

Creating a moodboard helps you to develop a theme, to see how the colours you like work together and whether furniture styles coordinate. You can start with an abstract picture that sums up the feeling you want to create in the room, or perhaps with a few images of rooms that you like. From there you can add paint colours – make the main colour swatch bigger than the accent ones – and then add scraps of fabric so you can see how it all fits together. Just as you wouldn’t buy a large tin of paint without sampling the colour on your walls so you shouldn’t choose a fabric without seeing a real life swatch – feel and texture is as important as colour and scale of pattern.It can also be worth adding a few words – perhaps describing how you want the room to feel to finish off the board and keep you focused on the idea you started out with.


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  • Milla from Sukhi 28th June 2020 at 8:26 pm

    This was really inspiring & insightful. And I just noticed how stuck I am with old beliefs (like having a garden view from kitchen – for a person with a fully capable dish washer, thank God!). Keep up the good work, love to read pieces like this!

  • Bernadette Colley 24th June 2020 at 10:45 am

    Hi Kate,
    Really enjoyed this post and loved the book too. I heard an interesting podcast recently about the effect instagram and Pinterest are having on architecture is being shaped https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/instant-gramification/. Immediately thought of you and Sophie.

    Hope all is well in the Mad House!

  • ellie olivia 23rd June 2020 at 11:44 am

    amazing blog write another blog like this

  • Sarah Holland 23rd June 2020 at 9:56 am

    Morning Kate,
    I feel so inspired having just read your blog today. I am in the process of trying to revamp the kitchen in my extended Victorian town house on a non-existent budget and your blog reminds me to tap in to how I want to feel in that space before anything else. I will be tapping into my creative skills more and more and appreciate the ideas you continually post.
    Sarah Holland

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