A post in two parts for you today as part of the show notes for the latest episode of the The Great Indoors podcast which is out today. We spoke to Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist, whose book This Too Shall Pass, came out (with uncanny timing) last March. She specialises in bereavement counselling and dealing with change and I interviewed her in her role as unofficial covid counsellor to the nation about what we are all going through and how to use our homes as support during this time. It was enormously helpful to talk to her and I reproduce our conversation in full so even if you don’t listen to podcasts (and she has an immensely calming voice) you can still learn from her.
But, firstly, Sophie and I discussed the thorny issue of how the way your room faces will affect the colour of the paint you have chosen. Now it’s not all about geography so don’t panic but it is true to say that a north-facing room will have a soft, but constant, yet cool light so if you pick a cool colour that room will appear colder. A south-facing room will have a warmer/yellow light but it can be bright and harsh and will turn warm colours more orange. Understand that and you will be halfway to dealing with the issues that your natural light throws at you.
In a north-facing room you should avoid colours with a blue or a green base – the paint charts will often tell you if it’s warm or cool base so do check that out. Dulux has written about it too. So pick the basic shade you want – green, blue, pink etc but then look at whether it’s warm or cool. So an olive green can work well in a north facing room as the yellow base will warm up the cool light. Conversely a bluer forest shade will be good for a south facing room where it might tone down that intense light.
We looked for a pale pink for our south-facing bedroom for ages but all the usual suspects turned peach or coral in the light. Eventually I found Threadneedle by Mylands, written as a cool pink with violet undertones. On paper this was exactly what I didn’t want but, with the warm south light it’s perfect.
I also used it in my old office – which is north facing – but the gold ceiling warmed it up so it was fine.
Which brings me to my next point. If you have painted and it’s wrong – and it happens to all of us – my kitchen has been painted about three times in ten years and I’m about to go again – there are ways to counteract this.
In a room that feels cold add some natural wood and warm accessories – soft furnishing or rugs and books. In a room where the colour is too intense try adding a metal lamp or mirror – aim for silver and pewter metals rather than brass which will add to the warmth.
Now Sophie and I both have north-facing kitchens. Mine is long and thin with light coming only from a skylight and the doors at the back. Hers is small with small windows on two sides but one overlooks the parking and it’s dark all day.
I have opted for pale shades – starting with Wimborne White and stainless steel worktops when we first moved in – but I used leather handles and a wooden table to warm it up. Then I tried Cornforth White, a very pretty soft grey that is lovely in south-facing room but cold in north. Currently it is pink – Threadneedle again with cupboards in Tanners Brown (also Farrow & Ball) which is the most glorious chocolate shade. . I have to say the northern light is bringing out ALL the violet undertones and while the room isn’t cold – thanks to the wood and brown and warm lighting, it is definitely not the warm pink it is at the front of the house. So we are about to go again – this time in a warm stone colour which should love both the cupboards and the blue light.
Sophie went straight for a dark green (huntsman by Zoffany) – it’s a dark room and you can’t fight it. But she has a dramatic wallpaper and lots of pink tiles with a reclaimed terracotta floor and wooden worktop to lighten it. Both approaches work well.
That said. in a large dark room (like mine) I wouldn’t go for the fully dark option. Save that for the small and dark (like hers). And don’t worry if you don’t get it right first time. My kitchen has proved to be the trickiest room in the house. That said painting a few half walls (the cupboards are on the bottom half) isn’t too onerous.
A couple more examples should you require. I have two friends who have used Farrow & Ball Elephant’s Breath. In the north facing room it is a lovely soft grey – much like the animal. In the south-facing room it’s beige. As if an elephant took a mud bath and it dried. Still a good colour but not if you wanted grey.
And Borrowed Light (also F&B) in a south-facing room it is a delicate breathtakingly lovely blue. In a north-facing room you will want to put your coat on.
In short – you must use a tester. Paint a big patch of lining paper and move it round the room as the light changes. Put two pieces next to each other (or paint inside a shoebox) and check both day and electric light. Lastly, don’t do as one magazine reader did and buy a paint having seen it in a magazine and then try and sue the magazine when it’s not the same colour.
Remember that east-facing rooms have lovely flattering morning light – if you can get a bathroom facing that direction (or a zoom call) you are winning. West will have warm evening light. Sophie’s office is east-facing – she is fully aware of this and revels in all the compliments about her amazing skin when she does Instagram stories. I live in a terrace house that is north/south facing. I don’t do much video content!
As a final point I wrote this post on How To Choose The Right Shade of Grey paint back in 2013, it’s still my most popular post (550,000 views). Even if you don’t want grey, it might still give you more information.
Now, Julia Samuel, a prominent psychotherapist who has worked for the NHS and in private practice for 30 years. Her first point is that there is a shadow pandemic running in tandem to the Covid one – mental health. Young people’s anxiety levels have risen by 10-15 per cent she said.
“Every aspect of life has become more difficult – pre-existing mental health issues have got worse, any fractures in relationships that were there already have been exacerbated.
“As humans we are social animals and we are born and wired to connect and to love and connection helps us deal with issues but social distancing and retreating from life has affected everyone and everyone has suffered.
“Creating boundaries is difficult. We need to engage and switch on but also step back and step into something else but we are all working and eating and dancing and fighting and laughing in one room while competing for data and wifi and space.”
Julia also points out that while some people undoubtedly have it worse, those that beat themselves up because they feel ok or haven’t lost their jobs or their relationships aren’t helping themselves either.
“We need to voice and own what we feel. Our emotions are there to give us information and we have to look at the dark and name it and find a way of expressing it.
Then we must turn to the light and name the things that we are grateful for, that we can look forward to, that we can choose to do to strengthen us and give us joy and pleasure.
“We have some control, even within this framework, over how low our mood goes.”
Julia advises mindfulness in all that we listen to and watch and who we talk to as it can all affect our mood.
“You can’t fight it so consume mindfully so you can surf the waves of it much better. We do not have the control at the moment, so we need to accept the aspects of life that we cannot change, and the more we do that the more likely it is that change in our mood will happen.
It is when you try and block and resist it you make it worse.”
It is accepted that design and our homes play an important role in our well-being and Julia cites research that shows that bright pictures in hospital and well decorated spaces help people to recover more quickly.
“You can connect and be close to your family but you need time alone to read a book or talk to friends. Space makes a huge difference. If you live in a small space and there are no walls then you need to create rituals and habits that mark boundaries in your day – because you can’t go into another room and shut the door.
She says you can give a child a yoga mat (or any small mat) and agree that that is their space and you won’t go on it without permission. Or recognise if they sit there that they are claiming some space for themselves. Respect that and do the same for yourself.
One person she knows shares a small flat with his wife and baby. Every morning he puts his coat on and walks round the block before returning to sit at his desk in the corner of the living room. At the end of the day he puts his coat on and leaves before coming back and joining the family in the living room.
“It sounds mad but our bodies remember so when he puts his coat on to go out it presses the going to work button and in reverse the going home button turns on. It creates a simple boundary with an easy action and movement that marks the start and end of the working day.
“And crucially it doesn’t take a lot of willpower because we all know how fragile willpower can be. When there is this bleed between work and home then both can really suffer and we have to make a way to separate the two.”
As a practical suggestion Julia suggests families convene their own COBRA meeting (the Government’s acronym for emergency meetings – Cabinet Office Briefing Room – usually held in Room A).
“Talk about what drives you mad and what space you need – who wants to do yoga, who doesn’t want to eat that food and what you can do about it.”
Can the reluctant eater help with the food order or the menu planning so they are involved? Remember teenagers need space so even if they have a tiny yoga mat recognise that that is theirs and no-one else can touch it.
“Above all agree that there will be tense times. But make a rule that everyone will go outside for at least 15 minutes a day. Everyone will do their chores and everyone must find their inspiration being talking to friends to listening to music.”
As for herself Julia has been taking on a lot of furniture repair, painting rooms and replacing lampshades. She thrives on order and has been creating that. Even a clock that is in the wrong place can break her train of thought.
“Buying flowers is an amazing source of delight – a simple pleasure and lighting candles. I need external order to create internal calm.
“But the one message is that love is strong medicine and with all the choices we have that is the one we need to prioritise and that is what will matter most when we look back at this – the love and connection to others.”