Mad About . . .

How to Add Character to a boxy bland room

11th January 2023
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I was going to call this post Welcome to a tour of the first completed room in the new house and then I realised that it was just as much, and perhaps more relevant, about adding character to a boring boxy room. This room, at the back of the house, is about 10ft square with a small hallway created when the bathroom next door was enlarged by taking a chunk out of this room, and was grey all over. Grey walls, grey carpet, grey lampshade.

anaglypta wallpaper panels, graphenstone paint and radiator by castrads

The French doors were uPVC and leaky so there was condensation between the glazing meaning you couldn’t see out. There was no picture rail, no fireplace. It was just a square. The room had been chosen by the 21yo as it leads to a small roof terrace and it needed, in short order, clothes storage, a double bed and a desk.

There was no natural alcove to site a wardrobe in and the French doors take up most of one wall. So we had to create a space. This is what I did.


As you can see there was really only one place for the bed. There is also a wide step under the French doors which, the window replacement company told us, would probably involve a world of pain to remove as it would be to do with levels and drainage from the roof terrace, which is basically the top of the single storey extension below – currently a shower room and utility.  We decided to leave it and ordered a set of replacement French doors the same size.


In addition to the step the room was, of course, governed by the size of the bed (the drawing is not to scale but you get the idea) and my son has a vintage G-plan bedside table that is 45cm square which was non-negotiable. The rest of that wall was free for a wardrobe. The desk was a slab of old laboratory worktop from Retrouvius. We’ve used them before and they come pre-cut at 120cm long by 60cm deep which worked perfectly. My son also said he wanted a single high shelf running all round the room and a cork noticeboard.

Paint by grahpenstone, vintage desk by retrouvius

The basics in place, I started to plan the wardrobe. Joinery is expensive and I felt that another set of doors would get in the way of the French doors and any curtains and it might all get messy and crowded. I decided the solution lay in a curtain that could cover both wardrobe and French doors. At night the windows would be dark and the wardrobe open but, as you can see from the angle it’s open to the room so you can’t see when you are in bed. Then, during the day, when he might be at his desk, the curtain would swing back and cover the clothes and any mess.

A quick stroll round Google revealed that the answer lay in a dormer rod. I rang Jim Lawrence, who I highly recommend by the way, who told me the standard length is 120cm. I needed 140 and they agreed to make one for me (they do bespoke this wasn’t a special service) on the proviso that I didn’t hang any really heavy curtains as it might bend. A support would then be placed on the edge of the wardrobe to support it when swung across there and on the far side of the French door for night.

I also needed a reversible curtain. I bought a linen tab top from La Redoute and sewed a tablecloth on the other side. This may be temporary. My son wants a pattern on that side but so far we haven’t found one he likes. I also think I will make a curtain with ruffle tape so that I can hang it on rings and it will be easier to pull not to mention that he wants some form of blackout lining during the early summer hours but we have a few months to sort that out.


Inside the wardrobe I salvaged a drawer that was in the wardrobes in our room which I knew were being pulled out and that saved on joinery costs as well. The French doors were made to replicate an image I found on Pinterest and which matches the new back door and French doors downstairs.

Finally the decor and this is where you can really start to add character.  My son had said months ago he wanted to have textured wallpaper on the lower half of the walls. Over the summer I stayed in the Hotel Bourg Tibourg in Paris and when I showed him pictures he loved the rich terracotta colour so we decided to use that as the base. The vintage desk was dark wood and he wanted matching dark shelves which we stained. Both he and the 19yo wanted cork floors. He chose a dark one from ReCork which almost looks like leather and adds to the luxury feel of the room. I will do a post on that at a later date.

baroque anaglypta wall panels and cork flooring by recork

Finally he added a couple of Persian rugs that we had had in the sitting room at the old house and don’t need here as the room is smaller and job done. He has added his plants and his books and a once grey and bland room is now warm and cosy and characterful.

I have made a little reel of the curtains over on instagram if you fancy a look. Once the basic layout was sorted the character has come from colour and texture. The doors are more in keeping with the age of the house, the cork floor is warm underfoot as well as being sustainable while the vintage Persian rugs will always bring colour and character to a room. The textured wallpaper (Anaglypta) brings in another layer and the vintage wooden desk adds to that. The high shelf almost works as a picture rail bringing decor high in the room.






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  • Reply Lia 11th January 2023 at 11:55 pm

    Brilliant and cozy. Bravo. May I ask where you got the paper shade? It looks to have bamboo tines and all the ones I can find these days are wire instead of the traditional bamboo. Thanks!

  • Reply Samantha Day 11th January 2023 at 10:33 pm

    I did exactly the same making a curtain for my draughty front door which swings over to cover the door into the living room when I need to go out of the front door! Also used Jim Lawrence and made a double sided curtain myself. It’s been a godsend these last few weeks…

  • Reply Lily 11th January 2023 at 9:49 pm

    Ive been thinking about using the dado anaglypta wallpaper in my house but don’t have a dado rail. It looks like you don’t have one either, how did you do it, in particular where the wallpaper and wall meet

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 15th January 2023 at 2:34 pm

      We were going to add one in a dark grey to connect with doors and then we didn’t! My joiner just glued it down really really well!

    • Reply Ian 15th January 2023 at 6:56 pm

      What a beautiful room – very inspired for my son’s new room!

  • Reply Denise 11th January 2023 at 5:16 pm

    Cork flooring is lovely. Felt inspired – till I saw the price per square metre! I am doomed to have Champagne tastes and a Lemonade wallet!!

    The whole room is marvellous. Does your son love it??

  • Reply Lindsay 11th January 2023 at 1:26 pm

    So much creativity and thought here and this is just one room. I’m sure your son is thrilled with the end result, an amalgamation of ideas, very impressive.

  • Reply Sue Royle 11th January 2023 at 1:01 pm

    Looks great, wonderful use of space.
    Please advise where you purchased your new French windows and also if they are wood or PVC?

    • Reply Kate Watson-Smyth 11th January 2023 at 3:56 pm

      I bought them from a window company local to me in North London and they are wooden.

  • Reply EMILY HENSON 11th January 2023 at 11:12 am

    An inspired idea for the wardrobe/window curtain!

  • Reply Chris 11th January 2023 at 11:11 am

    Love this! Such a clever idea around wardrobe and windows. The cork flooring and desk is something I’ll be looking in to.
    Love the overall vibe of the room. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Amy 11th January 2023 at 11:06 am

    Brilliant! Jam packed with great ideas. Fab colours too.

  • Reply DrS 11th January 2023 at 10:36 am

    So glad you posted this, I’d been admiring the cork tiles on your stories so good to have the info in a retrievable form. Gorgeous room.

  • Reply Bernadette 11th January 2023 at 10:13 am

    Happy New Year Kate, hope you’re feeling better.

    What an ingenious solution to your French windows/wardrobe conundrum! Madhouse 2.0 looks fabulous already. Can’t wait to read about all the fantastic changes coming your way on the blog (and hopefully hear about them on the podcast!)

  • Reply Cathryn 11th January 2023 at 9:31 am

    Lovely – great floors, clever solutions, really like the panelled effect of the painted wallpaper. Definitely one to keep. I think the open wardrobe would do my head in – my eye would be pulled to the clutter of the interior every time. But it’s a great room with the doors to the terrace, anyone would love that as their bolthole.

  • Reply Joanna Pearson 11th January 2023 at 9:20 am

    I adore how you allow your son his opinion and then run with it !!! you have found brilliant solutions to his needs and requests. Your son has definitely learned at your knee. love how you have put your sons stamp on this room without, it seems, either of you stamping your foot.

    • Reply Emma 11th January 2023 at 8:27 pm

      A fabulous room and inspirational to someone with a totally characterless house, but I would find the open wardrobe troubling, as well: you’re not always going to be in bed at night. I know it’s very 1970s, but could you fit a roller blind to cover the wardrobe? He’s 21: he’ll be flexible enough to get down to floor level to raise and lower it.

      • Reply Emma 11th January 2023 at 9:47 pm

        Don’t get me wrong: I love the curtain and it’s a brilliant way to get quite a feature curtain without compromising natural daylight at all, or adding bulk to the room. It’s just that the clothes would nag at me.

  • Reply Jane Dale 11th January 2023 at 8:50 am

    The wardrobe/terrace doors curtain invention/solution…BRILLIANT. Absolutely BRILLIANT! Yessssssssss

    • Reply Hélène 11th January 2023 at 9:03 am

      Totally agree. Such a clever clever idea!

    • Reply Denise 11th January 2023 at 12:01 pm

      Totally agree too. Very clever

  • Reply Catherine 11th January 2023 at 8:50 am

    Oh it looks amazing! Your son must love it! Very impressed with the warm dark cork floorboards – they look lovely and I’ve not come across them before.
    I wonder if one solution for blocking the light out from the French doors in summer would be fitting blackout roller blinds to the windows themselves? All in a dark colour so they don’t stand out. Actually can you get completely dark coloured roller blinds?

  • Reply Jessie 11th January 2023 at 8:48 am

    That was an excellent article! Hope it is all going well.

  • Reply Lesley E 11th January 2023 at 8:34 am

    What a wonderful transformation, Kate! The room now looks so warm and welcoming. Love all of the colour!

  • Reply Rachael Hare 11th January 2023 at 7:45 am

    Loved this post! So useful and achievable, thank you. The rooms looks fab

  • Reply Liz Hare 11th January 2023 at 7:39 am

    Very nice article. A lovely, simple and achievable transformation. Useful tips for any home

    • Reply Rachael Hare 11th January 2023 at 7:47 am

      Ha ha – our 2 replies are pretty much the same, I guessing we’re not related even though it might seem so!

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