The remote recording of the podcast continues and this week Sophie and I repaired to our respective duvet tents for this episode of The Great Indoors in which we discuss ideas for lockdown decorating and I interview Sally Storey, the design director of John Cullen Lighting, on “decorating with light” as well as rounding up a few ideas from listeners. Then we spoke about creating a moodboard and a swatchbox before you decorate a room. Now I’ll admit this isn’t something I usually do but Sophie is a huge advocate and, at the moment, when planning may be all we can do, it might work really well to give you something to do and also help you to visualise a space – especially for those of you wondering about building colour palettes, with warm and cool colours and creating a cohesive scheme.


striped blind by Penny Tompkins
striped blind by Penny Tompkins

Now I will admit that, for me at least, there is quite a gap between the having of the idea and the actual carrying out of said idea, so I make no judgement if you read these and have no intention of actually doing them. But here, nonetheless, are a few things you might consider:

Painting FurnitureAnnie Sloan is still delivering and is full of tips and advice on painting anything from chairs to cupboards, from elevating cheap chipboard furniture to revamping a piece of brown furniture that you hate.

Recovering Lampshades – you can buy lampshade frames and cover them in fabric remnants. Or, if you have a simple drum shade – straight up and down, you can simply glue different fabric over the top – although it may not give out as much light as you need. There are plenty of tutorials about though if you fancy having a go.

Annie Sloan outdoor chalk paint in english yellow with gloss lacquer
Annie Sloan outdoor chalk paint in english yellow with gloss lacquer

Making Blinds – I loved this idea from Penny Tompkins who said she didn’t like her current blinds and was going to take them apart and remake them with new material using the original struts and cords which I thought was really clever.

Making Cushions – a fairly simple sewing idea as it’s all straight lines. Fabric companies are often still delivering or you can use remnants. Using two different materials for the front and the back gives you a reversible cushion and you can use a button or a pillow case style flap for easy closing.

And finally, Melanie Lissack is brilliant at DIY and helping you with projects with everything from stripping wallpaper, to fixing panelling so do have a look at her site for ideas and help.


bedside and skylight lighting via john cullen

Sally Storey studied architecture before specialising in lighting and she has lit everything from Claridges to the Grand Hotel in Cap Ferrat with plenty of boats and homes in between. She passionately believes in the power of light to manipulate an entire room and, indeed, I collaborated with her on a whole series on How To Get The Lighting Right in each room of the house a few years ago so do have a look at that.

using a task light to highlight something in the kitchen via john cullen lighting

But for this episode we started off by talking about lighting without an electrician handy. Sally’s first tip was that you mustn’t be afraid of moving lights around. Although the days are getting longer, you might still want extra light for working so she urged you to move a lamp from the sitting room to the kitchen table if that is your chosen work spot. Then move it back at the end of the day.

Another good idea was to remove the shade from a table lamp so give a more direct and bright light when you are working and replace the shade in the evening to return the room to a more ambient and softer light.

Period house John Cullen Lighting (1)
using lighting to highlight period features via john cullen

When it comes to lighting a whole room, Sally stresses the importance of layering lights. If you have a central pendant it should be on a dimmer but also use different lights in different parts of the room to create atmosphere. You are aiming for soft pools of light so think about what you might want to highlight. A wall light washing down over a picture or washing up from below, a bowl of flowers, or a reading corner. Having these lights on different circles means you can create an intimate reading corner between a chair and a floorlamp or a brighter space for general conversation. You can then play around with the lights – some on some off and change the whole mood of the room depending on which lights you choose to turn on.

lighting by John Cullen Lighting
lighting by John Cullen Lighting

Sally also spoke about the perennial issue of a symmetrical grid of spotlights – often in new build houses or those with low ceilings where there isn’t room for a pendant.

The problem, she has correctly identified, is that builders look at an aerial floorplan and drop the pendants in a grid according to the overhead view. The reality is that we never see the room from that angle and are always in it looking up at the walls and ceiling. So you need to think about what will need lighting and ignore the grid.

While the advice is always to do a floorplan first, that isn’t always possible but, she points out, unless you live in a very large space, there is probably only one place for the sofa/table/bed anyway. In kitchens keep the spots about 30cm away from the wall so they will fall in the middle of the worktop (traditionally 60cm deep).

oka bookcase with john cullen contour led strip lighting
oka bookcase with john cullen contour led strip lighting

Buy adjustable spots so you can later angle them towards a picture on the wall or an object on the side that you might wish to highlight. And it’s always worth asking the electrician to leave extra cable in the ceiling so if you later decided you want to swap a spotlight for a pendant light you have the cable already there and it’s much easier.

We have the same in our bathroom; the electrician left some cable in the wall by the mirror so that if we ever wanted to add a light or a charging plug we could dig out the plaster and find the wire.

Simple white tiles look good when well lit
Simple white tiles look good when well lit

Another really good tip – if you are about to start a project from scratch – is to consider a couple of floorsockets. This will allow you to have table lamps in the middle of the room if you live in an open plan space of if you have a large sitting room and want the sofa pulled away from the wall and closer to the fireplace, for example. A floorsocket means you can then put a console table behind the sofa with a lamp on that.

In addition to my lighting series, John Cullen, which, pre-lockdown, offered masterclasses in all things lighting, is now creating webinars. You can sign up and they will discuss a lighting plan for a contemporary and a traditional room to give you ideas. The link is here. And I have heard only good things about their masterclasses (which I have recommended to many people) so this might be perfect even post lockdown for anyone who can’t get to London for a live class.


swachbox by sophie robinson
swatchbox by sophie robinson and see below for the final room

Have a listen to this one as if you have been struggling with making a room plan, you will find it really helpful to visualise a space. I have spoken many times about the importance of a tester pot to really see the colour of the paint and creating a swatch box is no different. It can help you visualise a space if you can touch the fabric samples and also see the pattern in real life. Not to mention help to you see the scale of that stripe with that floral and work out if you want to change one plain colour for another.

It’s also a really good idea for planning at this time when it’s hard to do much else. I would also recommend it for children if you are planning to redo their rooms – that will help them to visualise the space and give them ownership of what you are doing. You can always edit their fabric and paint choices first. And, given the resurgence of the jigsaw puzzle as a lockdown activity maybe planning a new room will be just as helpful and more creative.

Sophie Robinson's house belongs to the Spring (with a touch of Autumn palette
Sophie Robinson’s sitting room created from the swatchbox above

And, if you’ve read this far – we also discussed how to reconcile different tastes and styles between partners which I wrote about the other day. Sophie’s key take on this was take your time. If you want something that much don’t be afraid to reintroduce it after receiving a flat no

With enormous thanks, as ever, to our sponsors Geberit for supporting the show and, through their sponsorship allowing it to continue and our long-suffering producer Kate Taylor.

Tags : GeberitLighting expertlockdown lightingmoodboardsSally Storeyswatchboxthe great indoorsthe great indoors podcast
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Bravo! Thanks for the brilliant blog. Was feeling low beforehand and you and Sophie really cheered me up, as well as giving such great advice. Thank you!
    PS – my husband, who is not remotely interested in interior design, picked up your book this week, read it for ages and then told me it was a very sensible book and that we need to paint all our radiators the same colour as the walls. Thank you Kate!

  2. Very good advice. As a retired photographer, I will tell you that hiring a “lighting expert” will pay for itself over and over. This is a skill that many proclaim to have, and few actually do. It makes all the difference in the world, should you ever need to sell your home. But, even if you never move house, the investment is totally worth the improvement to your quality of life. My husband and I built our retirement home a few years ago, and the builder thought we were bonkers when we specified 60+ additional dimmer spots in the ceilings. But, it is an expense that I have never regretted.

  3. As always, so interesting, thank you. I could play about with lighting for days… We have Hue bulbs, so are constantly changing brightness, colour, combinations etc. We seriously considered not bothering with overhead lights AT ALL in the loft, since we never use them (decided in the end that we should put them in for resale).
    And YES – never give up on an idea that you love just because your partner isn’t initially keen. Mine was not convinced about our bright emerald tiles in the kitchen, but now he loves them and everyone who visits loves them too – double win 😀

  4. This all sounds very interesting – I can’t wait to liste to the new episode!
    Also, the lighting in the pictures you have selected just looks so dramatic. I love it love it love it! It really shows how good lighting can create a very warm and inviting atmosphere in any room.

    Have a good day, stay safe.


Comments are closed.