Firstly, thank you all so much for your comments and suggestions on the last post. All duly noted and I will try to answer as many dilemmas as I can. So starting as requested for today’s Househunter I have found a small flat. The issue is often that I don’t want to be unkind about someone’s home – even if they are selling it so have tried to find lovely places where I can talk through the decisions that have been made and show you how and why they work rather than being unduly critical of what they have done. However, today, we are going to look at a modern flat that was built in the 1930s and praised for its “exceptional contribution to the design of apartments” and, since many of the images are external and the rooms themselves are fairly white and square, we can have a look at how you might add more character in your own homes. Although I also appreciate that sometimes buildings of this period do work best with plain white walls and minimalist design so you are going to have to extrapolate some ideas and see how they might work in your small new build spaces as opposed to this Grade II* listed one.
Pullman Court, in Streatham, was designed by Frank Gibberd in 1933 and is on the market with The Modern House for £425,000. It is, according to the agent, one of the finest examples of modern housing in the UK and was designed to resemble an ocean liner. The flats were also created to appeal to young professionals – each one had a built-in wireless, gas fire and ice box and, back then, they were considered to be “country retreats” away from the city smog! Originally they were also equipped with bespoke furniture and lighting to create a link between the external and internal design. There are lots more images on The Modern House site, but we will, as usual, of course, focus on the interiors.
You enter via a long narrow corridor with all the rooms running off to one side (floorplan here) which is common in many flats and even period terrace houses. Now obviously here it’s all white, but the key trick here is to keep the doors and the walls the same colour – whatever that may be. White walls with wooden doors is going to draw attention to the fact that it’s a passage leading only to other places and while there’s no need to linger in such a narrow space it is, of course, the first thing you and visitors see when you enter so there’s a real need to make it look as good, and welcoming, as you can.
It has been made narrower by the storage but, assuming those cupboards are needed, you are going to have to live with that so painting them to match the walls will probably make them disappear as much as they can. But you can also have fun with paint – on the basis that it’s narrow, and ain’t nothing going to change that, you could experiment with colour blocking to add more personality. First up the ceiling. Or you could paint all the walls that face you in a colour which would foreshorten the space and bring the end closer – ideally you would use the same colour on the far wall of the bedroom too which would bring it nearer.
Finally, as I have said before, consider the view through the door. At the moment all you see is half a cupboard, half a bedside table and a small picture. That’s the main bedroom and it’s a good size so could you hang a bigger picture that would draw the eye and create a focal point? Could you hang a very narrow picture on the side of the cupboard facing the front of the picture in the foreground and another narrow one in the middle of the doorway at the end – perhaps a pair? Or what about decorative hooks and then fill them with pretty baskets or bags? And I know that pendant lamp is probably in the middle of the ceiling but as the cupboard is in the way maybe move it to be in the middle of the visible space.
Right, let’s look at the sitting room. This is a lovely square room with a corner window to flood it with light. The carpet is the same as the hall, which is a good way to make the floor space feel bigger and it’s likely that in a flat you won’t be allowed exposed floorboards for noise reasons, so pick a colour you like and stick with it. That said, patterned carpets are back (doesn’t have to be a 70s pub swirl) and you could, for example, have a pattern in the hall, to add interest if you want to keep the walls pale and plain, and take one shade into the other rooms. So black and ivory honeycomb in the hall with ivory in all the other rooms for example.
Now the ceilings aren’t that high and there are no downlights which is, in my opinion, a good thing as they aren’t very conducive to atmosphere. However, that single wall light looks a bit lonely and doesn’t look like it’s achieving much. If you have a similar plain white box with low ceilings you could commit to more wall lights as a starter. Or, if you would like a pendant light consider finding blank corner and hanging it low where you won’t walk into it.
For example, you could hang a matching pair of pendants low either side of the sofa and either do away with the tables or free up space on the tables for decorative objects. You can see here that there is a wall light and a lamp on the same side and the other side has nothing. Moving the table lamp to the left hand side (as you look at the image below) and hanging a low pendant with a matching shade on the other would create a sort of asymmetrical pairing which would bring more light and character.
And that picture? It’s too small and too high. Commit to your art people. Go big and bold and get something – it doesn’t have to be expensive, framed posters are great – that fills your heart when you look at it – and hang it low enough to see it.
Again, consider the view out of the room. Here we see only a radiator – not a thing of beauty – and a large picture on the wall would add interest. Points for the red thread, in this case blue, though. The blue wall, matching sofa and darker blue plates on the shelves and cushion.
Shelves like this are a great idea in small rooms as they don’t dominate the space and look heavy. I quite like the contrast with the more period side tables too. But you could move the wooden bowl – which matches the table – to the shelves to link the two and put a blue plate on the table to create another link back. Then put trailing plants on top of the shelves to soften them and add more books and objects. The blue wall over the white chest of drawers could also take another picture. And a wall clock will bring a different shape and more interest to a smaller patch of wall.
This little dining or work area is perfect tucked in by the windows but the blue wall is a little random. There is nothing wrong with a feature wall as such, but you do have to introduce it to the rest of the room so it doesn’t look random. In this case I would either take the blue (or whatever colour you have chosen) round all the skirting boards to link all four walls and/or replace these cream curtains with some blue ones that match the wall so that, when they are closed, you have created a cosy dining corner. And when open the blue continues round the corners.
There’s no getting around the fact that the kitchen is tiny. Perhaps the cupboards in the hall provide extra storage but there’s not much you can do here as more cupboards on that blank wall would bring the space in even further and even at 20cm deep – enough for mugs, bowls and some pans – you would probably always be worried about knocking them off. And while the sink has been positioned to give you something to look at while washing up it also feels cramped.
That said, there’s a washing machine and everything you need so I think the best thing is to drench it in a colour you love. You could hang pots and pans from the ceiling and warm it up with a wooden worktop, then add fabulous tiles or a mirrored splashback to bounce the light around and make it feel bigger. This is about finding cosmetic ways to improve your mood while you are in here since there’s no real way to make a huge difference but you could definitely make it very pretty.
To go with current trends – choose a colour you love for the cupboards and add a pretty blind over the window and perhaps a curtain to cover the washing machine. Free up cupboard space by hanging mugs underneath and put utensils in old olive oil tins. Add a picture to that large plain wall – or even some wallpaper – and invest in a boiling water tap so a kettle doesn’t need to take up precious worktop space.
Lastly the bedroom and I don’t know if the picture was taken in a hurry or the person on the window side needs more space but all that off centre would genuinely keep me awake at night. Now hanging a strip of wallpaper all the way up is a great idea to give a bed more presence and it works really well with a divan bed that has no headboard. If you choose a paper that has no obvious direction (unlike this Mini Moderns one) you can also take it across the ceiling to create the idea of a canopy over the bed. And, of course, bring the pictures lower and perhaps use the same trick with a low hanging pendant light as this one is basically lighting the knees of the person lying on the left side of the bed (from the pillow end). Looking at the pictures it seems that the bed was moved over to accommodate a chair by the window which is probably mostly used as chairdrobe. Remembering the view from the front door maybe the chair could be position there with a fabulous picture over it that would draw the eye as soon as you enter and create a scene that immediately makes you feel relaxed as soon as you open the front door.
I hope this has been useful for your own places and spaces. We might go full aspirational next week just to mix it up a bit.