Podcast Notes: All About Soft Furnishings and Planning A Dining Space

For the fourth episode in the series we went to Dublin for a live recording so it made sense to talk about using hotels as inspiration as well as how to choose and match – or clash – your soft furnishings and finally planning the dining room – or for most of us the dining space as we don’t all have separate rooms. The Irish Independent wrote a lovely feature on us which you can read here.

bedroom at the dean hotel dublin
bedroom at the dean hotel dublin

First up we spoke about hotels which are often great places to garner inspiration. The newly decorated ones are often ahead of the curve as designers try to give them something different that might lure in potential guests and the current trends, seen at the Dean Hotel, in Dublin, where we stayed to record the podcast, and the Hoxton, in Paris, which I visited last year, are for a rich clubby feel with lots of panelling, comfy leather chairs and bold colours. All trends which are filtering through to houses at the moment.

The other thing to note in hotels in the bathrooms. They are often quite small and the designers don’t have much space to make it a) look good and b) function well. The pressure is really on in this space as guests demand a good experience for their money and it needs to feel like a treat. So if a designer can pull this off in a tiny space then there are definitely tips the rest of us can look at.

Below are two bathrooms from the same hotels I mentioned above. Both have kept to a simple back and white colour palette. The Dean has gone for a New York style of floor to ceiling subway tiles with black taps and a generous basin. There is also, although you can’t see it here, a small mirror at about face height at the back of the shower, which didn’t steam up, and in which you could tell if you’d managed to wash off all the mascara. A simple, but handy trick we could all incorporate at home.

bathroom at the dean hotel dublin
bathroom at the dean hotel dublin

Both rooms have black floors and have been created as wet rooms, which might be trickier to do at home as it involves a complete refit, but it does make it easier to clean as you can just wash the whole thing down. And let’s be honest, that’s why it looks like that as staff have to clean dozens of these rooms a day. It needs to be practical.

The Hoxton has added copper accessories, which warms up the black and white although it may feel dated faster than the black ones from The Dean above. But both are small – particularly The Hoxton, where the shower is behind the glass door on the left and, by the way, what a good idea to put a large door handle that doubles up as a towel rail. Another tip, which might work in an ensuite, is that the other side of the shower, is half glass and half wall and this allows natural light to come in from the window of the bedroom. When was the last time you saw a hotel bathroom with a window? Exactly. And yet they often feel really luxurious. If you have a similar issue, and if a stay at some of the top hotels isn’t quite in the budget, then take to google and see what you can find.

bathroom at the hoxton in paris
bathroom at the hoxton in paris

Next up we spoke about soft furnishings and Sophie had some great tips about curtains. As she points out you need lots of material to make luxurious curtains and if you’ve fallen in love with some expensive material then it can be budget busting.

candi chair from sofology
how’s that for texture in your soft furnishings: candi chair from sofology (owned by DFS)

Her suggestion, seen below, is to go for ready made curtains but, and this is the clever bit, buy two sets for each window and sew them together so you have lots of material. She bought these from Habitat and also cut off the eyelets, which is not only a dated look but you often find that they don’t pull well across the pole, and replaced it with standard curtain tape to create the pleats. If you don’t have a machine or don’t want to do this yourself, see if your local dry cleaner does sewing – ours does. Whatever you pay will be much cheaper than going bespoke.

Then, as Sophie says, you can spend the savings on really amazing cushions.

readymade and adapted habitat curtains at the home of Sophie Robinson
readymade and adapted habitat curtains at the home of Sophie Robinson

If you don’t want curtains, and I don’t have any, then roman blinds is a good way to go. They use much less material than curtains and create a more streamlined look. As a rule of thumb stripes go with everything so if you have lots of florals in your cushions and on your then a simple striped blind is a good contrast.

When it comes to mixing patterns Sophie says if you keep the colours similar you can do whatever you like. I might be more restrictive with a tonal colour palette, some monochrome geometrics, a couple of plains and one large floral pattern. Do, however, have lots of different shapes and sizes.

Lastly we spoke about the dining room and while many of us don’t have separate rooms, we do want to create a difference between the cooking part of the kitchen and the eating part. To that end it’s crucial to have your lighting on different circuits so you can turn off the lights in the kitchen when you are eating and hide the washing up.

my arada woodburning stove in the kitchen
the tin ceiling at

As many of you will know from pictures of my house, I don’t have enough ceiling height for a dramatic pendant light over the table but have, instead, fixed tin tiles to the ceiling. These bounce the light around from the wall lights and add interest to the space, as well as zoning it from the kitchen.

You could create the same effect with a metallic wallpaper, which is also great on the walls if you do have a separate dining room as it will reflect back the light from all the romantic candles you have lit.

If you have space, a sideboard is also a great idea. It’s good for storage if your dining room is also your office and, when it’s being a dining room, you can put a lamp on it for more ambient effect in the evening.

Sophie and me sitting on The sofa was a two seater Windsor Joules exclusive to DFS: Velvet Cuddler Sofa in pink.
Sophie and me sitting on  a two seater Windsor Joules exclusive to DFS: Velvet Cuddler Sofa in pink.

On a practical note, if you’re calculating the size of the table then bear in mind that a chair needs about a metre to pull back and allow someone to stand up. So roughly speaking you will need three metres if you want to have a dining area with a table in the middle and people sitting either side. This is what I have and it’s quite tight if someone is sitting and someone wants to squeeze past. It works, but more would be better – our table, fyi, is not more than 120cm at the widest point but I think 100cm is about the widest if you want to talk to the people opposite.

kws and sr on ireland am
kws and sr on ireland am

For more general tips from the night, as well as design crimes then head over to the podcast for a listen.

With thanks, as ever, to DFS for sponsoring the podcast. And if you fancy a giggle then this link to our appearance on Breakfast TV Ireland AM may still be valid.

kws and sr on ireland am copy
kws and sr on ireland am copy

And if you didn’t click to read the feature at the top here’s an extract and another link.

KWS and SR in The Irish Independent
KWS and SR in The Irish Independent

FROM THE IRISH INDEPENDENT: Interior design is all about the eyeballs. How was it going to work on audio? Turns out, interiors make great listening and the series is now in its second season. A lot of that is due to Robinson and Watson-Smyth as presenters, like two peas in a podcast. They’re rowdy, funny, and extremely well-informed, their casts are a unique mixture of lively banter and practical advice, and they don’t always agree. Especially about cushions, a topic of conversation that often ends up as the verbal equivalent of a pillow fight. What more could you ask from a 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. I am a fan of you both and I am sure that you won’t mind this change of subject.

    BBC are running a series called The Best House in Town…every week day in the middle of the afternoon. If you can’t find time to watch all 5 go to the finale each Friday. The most amusing item this week Kate was the judges’ comments about a green main bedroom….pity the young woman did not choose the dark green in your bedroom. (Episode 3).
    The best house in St Albans, I am hoping, is a very well thought out, single story house. Oh how I would like to see more pictures of the rooms….perfection!

  2. Thanks for raising the point on wet rooms in hotels. It wasn’t at the forefront in your thinking, I know but for a wheelchair user, like me, wet rooms are an absolute godsend and allow us to book the same rooms as everybody else, you know, the ones with the nice views and stuff.
    Even today, many hotels do not have accessible bathrooms and, when they do, amazingly, such rooms often have a step into a tightly enclosed shower or a bath with an overhead shower and grab rail on the opposite wall. Standing wheelchair user, this does not represent access.
    A wet room salves most problems for those of us on wheels. Fingers crossed, for a much wider take up in hotels, globally please. 😁

  3. Hi Kate, Brilliant idea about buying two sets of curtains – I’m now thinking about what else
    can be used!
    I’m just about to have a glorious Poachers
    Chair reupholstered – trouble is the dogs have adopted it as theirs.
    Any suggestions on what material I should or shouldn’t go for?

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