"Can I start by assuring all readers of magazines, particularly the marvellous Cambridge Magazine, that I am a huge fan of the printed periodical. I subscribe to all the main monthly interior publications and I regularly look at the interiors sections of the wider national press – I love it all. Now here comes the but – I am getting just a tiny bit sick of being told what is currently trendy and fashionable, and by implication tasteful, in interiors world. To be fair, the media are interpreting and reporting the trends embraced by interior suppliers who in turn are influenced by a whole industry who are predicting what we, the consumer, are going to be wanting to buy in the next few months and years. The problem with this, aside from the utter boredom of being shown the same type of interior over and over again, is that I think it leads to huge confusion about what it is that we really like. If we don’t see a good variety of images in the media, or products in the high street, how on earth are we going to be inspired as to what we want to make our homes look like?
Over the years, I have met clients who have said to me that they want their visitors to see the interior of their home and say WOW! To be honest, my heart sinks to think that this is their ambition for their home. To start with “wow” is an exclamation of surprise or wonder which I don’t think is the reaction that a really beautiful and personal home should elicit. Granted, if your living room has a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, wow probably is the appropriate reaction on entering a room, otherwise, I doubt it. But much more importantly than the irritation of an overused expression, is the idea that upmost in their mind is what other people think. Shouldn’t they want their home to please them? If the brief for a piece of interior design work really is to impress someone’s friends, then the first port of call for their interior designers is to discuss their home with their friends to see what it is that they like.
My view is that just as in the fashion world, the latest thing sometimes suits us and sometimes doesn’t and there is very little point in trying to shoehorn us all into a one style of interiors – there is just no way one look can suit us all. Take as an example, colour. If we are to believe what we are told, grey is the tasteful colour to choose, in paints, furniture, kitchens, tiles, you name it. If we choose yellow walls, an orange kitchen or, heaven forbid, a coloured loo we’ve got it all wrong. Well I disagree.
I think some of the most original and inspiring homes are the ones that really reflect a personality, not ones that are following the most current trends. A house that I love, although I have not been in, is the former London home of Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and the garden designer, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan. I have seen pictures of this home because it was reported in the media and I am sure that they won’t mind if you google their names and Malpalquet House and you will see what I mean. I would say that this house is not fashionable but is utterly fabulous and seems to me to be reflective of their personalities, certainly of Tim Knox’s history at the Sir John Soane Museum. This house feels like a creative breath of fresh air to me. So having given the press a slightly hard time about only covering on-trend interiors, it shows how they can completely inspire by also reporting on homes that are different, unexpected and sit comfortably with the owners personality.
How then do we create a home that reflects our own personality? The first thing is to find ideas about what you really like. When I was studying design, a brilliant creative director from a graphic design agency came to give us a lecture entitled ‘Ideas are S**t’ – now the title was clearly designed to get our attention but the content stirred more conversation than he had anticipated. His view was that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you produce a piece of design work. It is often fine to take inspiration, or more, from a great design from history (recent or ancient) and re-work it, or if appropriate, copy it. You can imagine how this went down with a bunch of keen, ready to change-the-world students, but actually, he had a very good point. Looking at what has been done before, working out what you like about it and adopting it in some form, works. You don’t have to start with a blank slate. So you may find ideas for your interiors from historical houses, from films, from trips abroad, from commercial buildings, from nature, from what you already own that you like – inspiration is all around us if we open our eyes. When I work with a client, it is vital for me to understand what they like before even considering making any recommendations on colours or products and I consider all of these avenues in order to provide ideas. I also use images from the current media when I work with clients but I am careful what magazines, books or on-line images I use because I am trying to find something that excites them, not something that I think is current.
The second and crucial element of this process is that once you have found a style that you feel happy with and you feel is ‘you’, you may well find that you go to the high street and can find very little that helps you to create this style. Don’t give up. You may well have to track down different suppliers for your furniture, accessories, bathroom fittings etc. which do provide things in the right style for you but I bet once you have found them, they will provide a target rich environment. I suspect that not much from Malplaquet House came from John Lewis – certainly not the taxidermy goat, the elephant’s skull or the pair of servants livery coats that were reported to accessorise the house.
Lastly, there is an additional fly in the ointment which I call ‘different style envy’. This is when you go to someone’s house (or a restaurant, or see something in the media) that you love, but which is not something you could live with. I personally get this when I visit friends of mine who have meticulously created a beautiful home embracing their love of all things mid-century modern. It is fun and creative and I love it but there is no way that I want this look in my home. I have weakened on occasion and thought I could include a mid-century accessories or picture in my house and I mostly realise it doesn’t look happy in amongst my much more traditional taste, and I offer it to them. Don’t be swayed by other people’s stylish homes if they are not what you really want at home – know that it is their style and applaud them for it, then ensure you make your home just as lovely by finding your own style and sticking with it."
An Article by Cate Burren for Cambridge Magazine