Last week I took a trip out of London to visit the HQ of Corston Architectural to give a talk on the importance of details and I thought I would share some of that detail (as it were) with you here as I realised, when writing my speech, that the scheme for this house was sparked by one of their light switches.
In the current Jenga that is the house – can’t unpack the boxes until the shelves and storage have been built, can’t build the shelves until the floors have been done, can’t do the floors until the radiators have been replaced. And, frankly who replaces radiators in November? Still the two weeks that we are without them will save on heating bills. And that’s before the windows are replaced – some before Christmas, some after, which means we should also save on heating as the current ones are single glazed and when I sit on the sofa at night I can feel the wind whistling past my ear.
Anyway, that is all in hand. It’s not the most exciting way to spend money but it’s important to make the house function more efficiently and save money in the long term. We had hoped to wait a couple of years for the windows but discovered, shortly after moving in that they had been painted shut and most of the sash cords had rotted which means they don’t open at all. Not that that stops the cold air coming in as I said! We looked into restoring them, which costs half as much as replacement but, as the window man pointed out, we’d still have single-glazed windows so it made sense to do it now as there’s a certain amount of replastering and making good that will need to be done so better to do it before the decoration.
But this is also an important part of renovating and decorating. There’s no point spending money on gorgeous paint and sofas if the windows are likely to leak water and cold air. You must deal with the bones before you buy the outfit.
And this is where the architectural details come in. Once you have sorted out if you need to move any walls to ensure the rooms are in the right place you can look at the doors -would sliding or folding save space? Radiators are disruptive and while they no longer need to sit under windows it might free up a wall for furniture.
Those are the big things. Next you need to look at your flooring. As I have said before; good flooring will elevate bad furniture but poorly fitted, ill-thought out floors will make even the most designer of sofas look cheap.Next up you need to deal with lighting. And to do that you need to have a layout plan. Because while there might not be 36 different positions for the sofa, until you have decided where it, and the chairs and the table are going, you don’t know where you will need the light.
Like good flooring, good lighting will hide a multitude of furniture sins. We all know that candlelight is the most flattering and while you don’t have to live by flickering flames any longer a dimmer switch and a few lights at different heights will create atmosphere as well as highlighting the good parts of the room and throwing the more functional parts into shadow when they are not needed.
This is useful if you have a desk set up in a room that is also a sitting or bedroom. Once the working day is over you can turn off the desk light or, if you have a floor light next to a desk bring it forward so the work area sits behind in the darkness and you can forget about it. This is also a good point to note – you don’t need every corner of the room lit up. A little darkness and mystery creates ambiance and hides the edges of the room so the edges are blurred and it might feel a little bigger as the corners fall away into darkness.
Lighting resolved and I have spoken about that before so let’s move on. And that is to the delivery of the light that you have planned with such care.
As Eames said: “The details are not the details they make the design.”
And it’s so true. We take light and its delivery for granted. We expect to be able to walk into a room and, at the flick of a switch, see what we are doing. We rarely give a thought to the white plastic box that enables us to do that.
But the touch points are vital to a good design. We remember the things at eye level and the things we touch. Supermarkets all know we will bend to the bottom shelf to pick up the loo roll and cleaner so they put the treats at eye level to tempt us.
You might not think about the standard white switch until you have interacted with the satisfying click of a dolly toggle, or the smooth round brass of a dimmer. And that is the bit you remember.
A good floor, well placed lighting and pleasing switches will distract from a sagging sofa or a chipped skirting board. And, crucially, if you get these things right at the start – because they are all annoying and expensive to retro-fit, you can take your time saving for the right piece of furniture and the perfect rug.
It’s all in the details. And, as I mentioned. This is my detail. What will yours be?