Today I’m chatting to Ed O’Donnell, the interior designer and one half of Angel/ODonnell whose house I featured on these pages a few weeks ago and whose staircase caused such consternation – we’ll deal with that at the end. In a piece he wrote recently his thoughts on trends chimed very much with my own which some of you may have heard me speaking about this year – that trends will not be so much fashion led as lifestyle driven. A push for sustainability, a drive to buy less but buy better. Well Ed summed that up well in his piece in which he spoke about tenets not trends and doctrines not design fads and I think that’s exactly right.
I also wanted to speak to him because I was asked to contribute to a piece for the BBC on the way the pandemic has changed interior design and I felt from my side – as a writer, a chronicler of change if you will, that it was too early for me to have really seen many real life changes. Yes, I can (and have) hypothesise(d) about the end of open plan living as the lockdown has made walls in family houses a feature to be very much desired again and we have all seen the emergence of green and yellow as colours growing in popularity of the last 12 months, but I felt that Ed, as someone who designs houses and commercial spaces all day every day would be much closer to the lived reality of what is going on.
His initial reaction? That the pandemic has simply speeded up many things that were going to happen anyway. “There was a moment at the start of the first lockdown (in March 2020) when you would speak to a friend then when you caught up with them a few weeks later they had suddenly moved to the Cotswolds. That happened with two very good friends of mine,” he says from his Brixton home office when we spoke last week.
And, for a while, the papers were full of stories about the death of the city. How we would all move to the country and reside in bucolic splendour travelling to an office once or twice a week. And while that will, no doubt be the case for the 1 per cent, it’s not going to be the reality for most people who need to be closer to their offices.
“I suspect that those who moved out were those who had a long term plan to move out anyway,” says Ed. “The pandemic just speeded up that decision.”
This had occurred to me as one set of neighbours, who had just finished doing up their house, upped sticks and were gone by June last year.
And it’s the same with the shops. Yes we can bemoan the death of the high street and the death of Debenham and Oasis but had we really shopped there much in recent years. And yes Amazon has to take the blame for that in part (let’s not get into the tax issue here) but haven’t we all also got used to having everything we want delivered in the blink of an eye? Of course the pandemic helped/exacerbated that but we are all perhaps complicit.
On the flip side, it seems there will be a revival of smaller, local high street. Ed speaks of a friend who was about to close down but when she was allowed to open between lockdowns, she reported booming business with many customers claiming they had just never noticed her before.
“Cities won’t die but they will change. This [pandemic} is the biggest thing that has happened since WWII and there is no doubt that it has led to a re-evaluation of life for many. But kids will always want cities – not least to be away from their parents – and many – most – people can’t and don’t want to work from home for ever.
“There is more social interaction and buzz in cities and lots of people need that. Let’s not forget too that there is a romance to country living which, when faced with the reality that there’s one taxi for the whole village and the nearest restaurant is several miles away, can be hard for many who move out.”
And here I am forced to think of another set of friends whose bucolic jam-making fantasies died under the weight of a three hour (each way) near daily commute with cancelled trains and a 20 minute bike ride (mostly in the dark) to the train station. They too returned to the city.
Ed is confident that while city centres will change London will return to its roots as a collection of villages (like most other big cities) with a local butcher, bookshop and café. We will walk to our local shops, perhaps pause for coffee on a newly pedestrianised pavement (this is was scheduled for my area before Covid struck) and return home to wait in for the big deliveries that we can’t carry and perhaps don’t want to use the car to collect.
“We could be heading to a more sustainable way of life. Town planners are already thinking along these lines and I think the public have been fast-forwarded by about five years.
But what about inside our houses? Again there was much talk of a return to minimal white kitchens, the re-emergence of the front porch as a place to wash your hands and store coats and shoes and other “outside” wear. But what of the maximalist trend which was beginning to gather pace in 2019. Surely that colourful cluttered look is the exact opposite of what we will be craving in a post-pandemic world?
“Not so,” says Ed, who clients are craving the warmth and colour of a home made cosy. “I have just used the Dulux Colour of the year Brave Ground in a scheme and I think it’s exactly what we are all looking for. A colour that is a warm base that makes us feel secure and from which we can build.
“We want safety and cosiness at home – Covid might have been the nail in the coffin for grey (but it was going anyway).
“We have gained a new understanding of our homes and that will stay with us. I am speaking to clients who are much more aware of their surroundings now. They will say they want to use this room at that time because of the light but move to another later because it has changed. They are making a distinction between a morning room and an afternoon room and that wasn’t happening before.”
He cites a development he recently completed where two identical rooms were decorated in essentially the same way but was one a dark blue and one a chalky white. The dark one looked homely but the pale one appeared under-decorated and empty according to potential buyers.
It was an unintentional experiment that clearly showed where our hearts are now.
Now those stairs; firstly, while they might not suit everyone they were constructed with a civil engineer and a building inspector. As Ed points out, this is a small two bedroom house and it won’t suit everyone anyway so we are not marketing it at people with small children. The original stairs curved around the sitting room past the bay window and rendered much of the space unusable so this was created as a way to save space and have the largest rooms possible on the footprint of the house.
There is a glass wall at the top (you can see in the image above) and regulations state that you must have a bannister next to the wall that goes all the way up. That said, Ed stresses the importance (and luck) of finding a good building inspector. His was willing to work with architect and the engineer to find a creative and practical solution that would maximise living space and ensure the house was fit for modern living. Not all are so accommodating and, unfortunately, it can be luck of the draw as to who you get on the day. Clearly, it’s not a house for everyone but then, once you come down to it few are. A sober single person, or tidy couple is probably the market for this. And for the inevitable question – why is he selling He wants another project, he’s an interior designer after all. I will be watching the stairs with interest!
Do feel free to address any subsequent questions to him via the comments below – I will make sure he sees and replies. You can read his full piece about trends here.
All image courtesy of angel/odonnell