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What’s the focal point? Bring your Bathroom alive!

I was asked to contribute once more to Utopia Kitchen and Bathroom magazine (November print edition), providing expert commentary on creating a focal point in the Bathroom. I find that Bathrooms can often appear flat or lifeless because the dominant colour in them is white, while textural variety and pattern are often missing. With this in mind, I suggest ways to create interest and inject personality into a Bathroom through tiles, basins, taps, lighting and more.

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Colour me happy / A review of Focus/18

A self-confessed colour lover, I could not miss this year’s Focus event at the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, held as part of London Design Festival. In a departure from the more restained palettes one usually sees at DCCH, the event’s theme of colour was a welcome one, and very much in tune with current trends. The place felt all-round upbeat and vibrant.

In my book, the inspiring and thought-provoking talk and seminar programme was a real highlight this year. Far from treating colour as something shallow and two dimensional, I found that the discussions were primarily focused on colour’s deeper properties, such as its ability to influence mood, tell a story or channel energy. It is this that I felt really struck a chord with many of the visitors.

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International artist Moritz Waldemeyer’s specially commissioned installation was one definite talking point. A 12-metre walkway, lit up on both sides by LEDs that change colour according to the fabrics or surfaces placed underneath a connected lamp/scanner device, became an immersive envelope and a welcome break from the hustle and bustle elsewhere.

Firstly, it was impressive to experience the dramatic shift in mood and atmosphere of the space that occured by making just one change: using a different colour of light. Secondly, the effects of varying the combinations of lights used and their proportion were equally intriguing and eye-opening. This is not something we generally encounter in our daily lives, because light is mostly of a single (predictable) colour. It need not be, and the effects created by layering different colours of light can be unexpected and powerful. The beauty is this. Whereas painted or papered surface finishes are of a fairly permanent nature, those created by light effects are temporary and flexible.

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Fabric and paper samples to choose from to be projected onto walls in Moritz Waldemeyer’s interactive installation.

At the showrooms, the conversations covered a wide range of topics within the realm of colour in interiors. Too many to describe each in detail, I highlight below a few that I found particularly fascinating.

There was a discussion at the Style Library about a less well-known side to William Morris’ work. Looking at designs that were based on his Icelandic expedition (who knew); and with an emphasis on how the colours of this unusual landscape affected him as well as what he felt when he saw then. An early study into colour psychology then…

Creation Baumann invited a designer in to give an introduction to biophilia (you guessed it, green is a biggie here). Harleen McLean delved into various aspects of designing spaces with people’s wellbeing in mind. No surprises here: the materials and colours around us can have a big impact on how we feel (leading us to be stressed/relaxed/calm/moody…you name it). I could not agree more, and have written on this myself in Utopia Kitchens and Bathrooms Magazine.

The Romo showroom introduced a new children’s collection at Villa Nova, in collaboration with three renowned children’s book illustrators. Moving away from cliche baby pinks and blues, the designs were oozing with colour, positive vibes, nature and a real sense of diversity. What an inspirational and unexpected space these can turn into for some lucky kid.

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Christopher Corr’s designs as part of Villa Nova’s new Picturebook collection 

Back at Style Library, Sophie Robinson offered a fascinating take on how she approaches colour decisions, by categorising individual colours into groups by season. While not something I practice, I have to agree there is a logic to this that seems very natural (I suppose that is the idea!) It is true that following nature’s clues in colour decisions results in harmonious spaces, and it is hard to go wrong.

This year in particular, I have increasingly been immersing myself in the deeper aspects of Interior Design; those discussions, elements and decisions that lie behind what we actually see in an interior. I therefore really enjoyed the debates that took centre stage at Focus/18; from the way we look at colour and interact with it, to the action of immersing oneself in colour, and ways to boost one’s health and wellbeing with the help of colour.

Colour is truly an amazing tool in an Interior Designer’s arsenal, and there are few other means to create such wonderfully personalised spaces. Every person and space has a story. Colour plays a big part in telling that story through an interior.

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The colour wheel. While a helpful tool, it is no more than an aide in colour decisions. Source: https://npgshop.org.uk/products/pocket-colour-wheel

 

 

Feeling Playful? Kitchen and Bathroom Ideas

I was asked to contribute a piece for Utopia Kitchen and Bathroom Magazine’s September print edition on colourful and cheerful design inspiration for Kitchens and Bathrooms. If like me, greige leaves you feeling a little bit flat, you can read my practical suggestions on adding colour and interest to your Kitchen and/or Bathroom, so as to turn it into more of a happy and fun space.

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Interior Design for Climate Change: Part II

In Part I of this article, I wrote about the link between Interior Design and climate change, and about ways in which Interior Designers can help prevent it in the first instance. But let’s face it, renovation and refurbishment is expensive business (especially if there is an element of retrofitting involved — e.g. heating systems, glazing, insulation etc). What if all that your budget, timeframe, building status or other constraints allow is to treat the symptoms? Not the preferred option, but far from an inconceivable situation for a designer to find themselves in.

Worth recalling is this: we as humans started designing in the first instance, millennia ago, in order to provide ourselves with a level of physical and psychological comfort. It is this idea of comfort that needs addressing in the context of interiors and climate change effects. 

The surfaces, finishes, furniture and lighting used in an interior affect our level of comfort in a given space. For instance, we are used to seeing tiled floors in warmer climates, and other flooring alternatives e.g. fitted wool carpet in cooler climates. I am sure many a UK house dweller would have been cursing that dense wool carpet underfoot in the recent heatwave. Sisal, jute and seagrass are less popular but might all be more appropriate alternatives. Hard floors (e.g. wood or engineered) with rugs on top, or tiles with underfloor heating might also be more appropriate… as well as more flexible.  

Window treatments are another way of regulating whatever is going on outdoors (temperature, light etc) for the purposes of indoor comfort. Windows can account for 30% of energy losses in the colder months, and can substantially amplify the effects of sun rays in the warm months. Thermal and solar blinds are more energy efficient than conventional window treatments. They keep the cold out and the warmth in, as well as diffusing sunlight and keeping harmful UV rays out of your home. Considering the direction of your windows and the use of the space will help determine the appropriate solution. 

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A conservatory is an obvious place where solar blinds can dramatically improve comfort levels. Source: https://www.vbcpremierblinds.co.uk/made-to-measure-conservatory-blinds/

Versatile and sustainable materials such as cork (used as flooring, wall covering, in furniture, accessories and more) should be high on the designer’s list given how well it adapts itself to different climates and conditions. Less trendy, natural rubber and linoleum (a natural material, not to be confused with its synthetic equivalent vinyl) are totally under-appreciated but have many similar characteristics to cork, and numerous potential applications. Not to mention various new composite materials; this is an ever evolving field. Even wood — not a new or fancy material — is hugely versatile and can be sustainable if appropriately sourced and certified. All of these can find numerous applications in an interior, and take you through the seasons with relative ease and comfort.

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Cork floor tiles in a West-facing room (warm and sunny in the afternoons, cold in the mornings).

Furniture on castors, or that which folds, rotates, is light and easy to move around etc, can be helpful in case of parts of a home drastically changing temperature or natural lighting conditions throughout the day. Even though the task is the same, you may want to vary the location of where you carry it out, for maximal comfort (working from home is a good example). Adaptable furniture items with multiple uses are also in this category of climate change friendly items. In fact, I believe that flexibility is the number one criterion for the vast majority of Interior Design specifications, not the least in the context of drastically changing climate patterns.

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Adaptable furniture is practical as it has a multitude of uses. Source: http://sites.psu.edu/arch311w/2015/09/27/architecture-furniture-spatial-adaptability/

When relief from the elements is required pronto, low energy consuming cooling and heating devices, in particular those with air quality sensors and cleaning ability, can come in handy. From a sustainability point of view too these are better than traditional power guzzling aircon units. Meanwhile powerful and efficient extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms can markedly improve the comfort of the users of these spaces. 

Other ways of dealing with the impact of climate change on our homes include variable lighting (self-adjusting, dimmers, sensors…) and seasonal home accessories. Certain materials and colours can amplify or regulate the effects of the heat, cold, drought, rain and so on. In the summer, I would prefer a cotton throw or rug over a wool one, light silk cushions over rich velvet ones, playful bright towels and tablecloths, and so on.

These are just some of the specific ways in which Interior Designers can help their clients cope better with the effects of climate change. There are others, I am sure. Importantly, new innovative interior products and materials are increasingly versatile and adaptable, helping create interior comfort irrespective of outdoor conditions. Comfort may be a trivial discussion in the context of the real issue at hand; and ideally, we would participate in prevention as well as treatment.

Interior Design for Climate Change: Part I

Is this is a bizarre topic to write on? Given most of us across Europe have spent the summer sweltering (both outdoors and indoors), it seems rather pertinent to me. Unless you are the 45th US President, you have probably noticed more extreme and less predictable weather patterns affecting your daily life. We are increasingly feeling climate change through colder winters, longer more intense heatwaves, excessive rainfall, drought and wildfires. Over time, all of these effects are predicted by scientists to intensify further, and to do so faster. 

So what can and should Interior Designers do? Why should we care and how can we help? Buildings — the very fabric that Interior Designers work with — are substantial energy consumers (while being built, when in use, and once demolished). BP estimates that globally, Buildings consume 29% of total energy; in comparison to 20% consumed by the much maligned Transportation sector. BP also predicts that the relative energy demand of Buildings will grow further over time. 

The statistics are even more alarming in the world’s largest economy, the US, where Buildings currently account for 48% of the total energy consumption. Direct energy use includes heating, cooling, lighting and the use of electrical appliances within buildings. Indirect energy use is more complicated: how and where was everything that is in my home made? How did it get here? There are many nuances (and unknowns) to answering these questions. 

I appreciate that the practice of Architecture and the standards and regulations associated with new buildings are increasingly focused on Sustainability. The field of Interior Design is, in my opinion, light years behind. Little thought is paid to genuine environmental considerations, greenwashing is rampant, and frankly, there is very little understanding of this complex topic (understandably so, I suppose). 

I think of the issue at hand, and Interior Designers’ involvement with it, similarly to how I think about an illness. You can either treat it, or make efforts to prevent it in the first instance. So Interior Designers can either propose ways of making interior environments more comfortable and enjoyable to occupy, despite climate change. Or indeed they can contribute to preventing it from happening in the first place. 

Part I: Prevention

Members of the Design community are increasingly, if slowly, becoming aware of their responsibility to consider climate change throughout their work. Most of the building stock globally, and certainly in the UK, is old and inefficient. The refurbishment of a home, office or commercial space provides an opportunity to not just make it look better and in tune with the latest trends, but to also make it more efficient and sustainable. For an Interior Designer, the 3 R’s of Sustainable Design are a good starting point: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 

In my book, Reduce refers to specifying less, not more. I make a point of focusing on the essentials in a space. My design ethos, MAXIMAL minimalism, is about employing fewer items (less 3D), but creating more impact by 2D means. This may be through colour, pattern, texture or detail. Any or all of these, even when used sparingly, can have a big impact. Using fewer finishes, or specifying materials and items that can serve a dual purpose is good both for a client’s budget and for our planet. 

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This gets a MAXIMAL Minimalism tag from us. Clean and simple lines, oozing comfort, with beautiful colour and a few quirks. Source: https://furnish.bg/en/news/esenni-tendencii-obzavejdane.html

Reusing can mean repurposing existing items within the same space, or going down the salvage and reclamation route. There is no easier way to create original interiors bursting with personality than reusing a 50 years old school desk, original Victorian doors, Edwardian ironmongery etc in new and unexpected ways. As I recently wrote, reselling bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets and the like can be easy and lucrative.

Recycle is the 3rd R. Both recycled content and recyclable materials and items are becoming more common. There is a clear (business) opportunity here given the nature and speed of consumption in today’s world, not the least in the sphere of interiors. As people grow ever more aware of the problems associated with landfill waste, recycling efforts in this sphere are bound to grow over time. The use of post-industrial waste is fairly common; but I have also come across materials and products made of recycled tyres, carpet, yoghurt pots and more. Needless to say, providing recycling opportunities when designing spaces goes under this heading too. 

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DESIGN_Waste is one of several innovative waste processing projects taking shape today. The ethos of the project is viewing waste as a resource… and why not! Source: https://www.archilovers.com/stories/3330/waste-glass-transformation.html

Energy efficient LED lighting is widespread nowadays, and further innovations in the area of lighting are emerging all the time. Energy efficiency of appliances is a big selling point, and ever improving. Various smart controls and home automation methods are also helping address some of the issues by e.g. controlling cooling and heating more efficiently, as well as automatically switching off unused lights. Other interior elements are catching up — if slowly — with what has happened in the sphere of electrics.  

There are numerous ways of integrating sustainable elements and practices into interior projects. However, sometimes prevention alone is not enough. Come back soon to read the sequel to this article, Part II: Treatment. 

The 3 R’s of Sustainable Interior Design

My latest guest post in Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine discusses sustainable design practices. Talking about Sustainability is certainly increasingly mainstream, but how about actual design practice? In addition to introducing the issue at hand, I offer some practical advice in the form of the environmentally conscious designer’s mantra – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is a topic I have written on in the past; even if still very much just scratching the surface. Much more to research in this sphere, the work continues!

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Health benefits of using natural materials in interiors

When writing, I like approaching a topic within a problem-solution framework. If the problem part of the equation is something people can relate to, then chances are they will read on. For my latest post in Designer Kitchen and Bathroom Magazine I was asked to write about natural materials in interiors. There is an obvious link between natural materials and my very favourite interiors topic – Healthy Spaces – which is what I explore here. The problem I present is poor internal air quality (important, seen as we spend some 90% of our time indoors!)

Natural materials can be a solution. I am ever more convinced that there is more to Interior Design than meets the eye. E.g. such as described in my article, the potential benefits to the health of the users of a space from the materials specified by the designer. Not to mention the principles of the fascinating and inspiring Biophilic design movement, which I am also becoming ever more attuned to. Watch this space!

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