New build properties can feel stark and soulless. The shrinking room sizes and lack of period detailing make the area appear small and bland. The proportions and styling of many of today’s new build properties do not suit period or vintage furniture, in the way that say a Georgian living room looks fantastic with a large 1970s sofa and art deco drinks trolley. So what are the best ways to make the place feel like home and stand out from the crowd?
After presenting a design to a client, there are often tweaks that need to be made. Here is the evolution of a small portion of a living room in a recent project of ours.
The initial brief:
To transform a new build 2 bedroom flat in Wimbledon into a contemporary, interesting, warm and characterful home. The modern apartment needs to feel grounded and lived in, with up-to-date furniture and styling. The young clients are not afraid of bold colour, but we’ll focus on lighter colours for the bulk of the rooms with dark trims and features.
Good design is effortless, it hides the bad or frustrating parts of a home and highlights the parts that you have fallen in love with. Most homes struggle with storage, even the largest home needs good storage. With these images we take you behind the design to the hidden parts of the image, the parts that make the designs look so effortless.
From hidden passages, secret rooms and electronic opening cupboards we adore creating something a little bit special and different for each and every one of our clients
Here, in our Chelsea project, to avoid an entrance hall becoming awash with doors we make the entrance to the utility and sports store a secret swinging bookcase. The case in hung on metal casters, so it’s also a functioning bookcase, not a fake. The mechanism is soft closing and super easy to open. Hopefully this makes doing the laundry a little more enjoyable!
There are 2 good investments I keep my eye out for. 1, short term, is to find the darkest period houses. The Georgian gems and Victorian terraces that give you eye strain almost the moment you enter. The other is long term: find nice country houses with stunning views blighted by power lines and towers. They’ll bury them eventually. I hope.
Nearly everyone sights ‘lots of natural light’ as a key requirement of a new home. Georgian homes are popular purely because they have high ceilings which house large windows and let light flooding in. Because we have built up and around, many of these buildings core have become very dark and dingy. The stairwells aren’t large enough for a skylight to flood light down, and the can be listed, so including a light shaft or well all the way down can be problematic.
We’re often asked about our design process, and how best to display and present your Interior Design to our clients. We’ve already blogged about why we don’t use 3D visualisations so let’s talk about what we actually do.
Having spoken to the client and established what they need and want to get out of the process, and having seen a selection of images they like and established a sense of their taste and lifestyle, work beings on creating a scheme. Functionality comes first – there are set requirements to fill and problems to solve. Then we look at decorating and filing the space appropriately. We have an extensive portfolio of suppliers we work with often, who we know to be reliable, excellent quality, deliver on time and on price and suit a variety of budgets. We also always attend trade fairs and have a list of new suppliers we are interested in forming relationships with. Where we research depends entirely on the client. At the moment we are looking for a client who wants items completely in keeping with their Victorian mansion, that look very English. We’re looking at vintage pieces from places like Christie’s Interiors auctions and at reputable antique dealers, but keeping the budget under control with other pieces from Coach House Antiques. In contrast,the design brief for another project we have calls for more glam, unique items, where the look and feel is the key determining factor, not budget, so we’ve spent more time on 1st Dibs, LuxDeco and the glossy showrooms of Chelsea Design Harbour.
When we’ve selected a few key items, the rest of the scheme comes together fairly fluently. The fabric and style of a sofa usually has an overbearing influence on everything else in the living room, for example, it will dictate the size and height of the coffee table and rug, so that will drastically narrow the field when you are searching products. We also use this time to push clients towards items they might not have considered or have previously dismissed. A current client said she liked the wooden venetian blinds currently in her flat and would like them replaced with something similar. When we asked why, she said that fabric blinds get too dirty (she is above a busy road) and plantation shutters cut out too much light, and she couldn’t think of any other options. We can, however, think of lots of other options, so it’s always worth understanding why your clients do and don’t want items in their new home. Sometimes the clients isn’t always right – “I don’t want a fabric sofa, I spill tea on it and can’t wash it” (ok, you spill tea – we’ll get you a fabric sofa where you can unzip every cushion and wash to your heart’s content).
So when we think we’ve come up with a suitable design scheme, we put together a presentation (slide show) and talk through our plans and the furnishings for each room. The client usually mulls it over for a few days and then often makes a few changes (sofa too low, wallpaper too blue) and then we make adjustments accordingly. We also give them a complete costing sheet. That also helps them make decisions about the design – “I’m not keen on those bedside tables and they are more than I’d like to spend on something I’m not sure about”. Below is a presentation we have just given to an actual client. We’ll post again after they have come back to us with the necessary amendments and we’ll show you how the design evolves.
Ever since Pinterest and Instagram have burst onto the scene, people have been more brave and experimental when it comes to pattern and colour. Bold pallets have been introduced to even the most suburban homes, and sales of magnolia have plummeted. The next frontier – multicolour and blended tones. Ombre is building momentum in the industry and offering clients a really interesting, bespoke looking design.
Ombre: having colors or tones that shade into each other —used especially of fabrics in which the color is graduated from light to dark
Harlequin’s Amazilia ombre velvet is just stunning. It comes in lots of colours and is very versatile. It’s a short cut velvet, and very soft and luxurious feeling. People often tell us they want a fabric that is “that colour” but not in velvet. Can’t be done. Velvet’s unique pile allows it to take on dye in a way most other fabrics can’t, so if you want a strong sharp colour, velvet is your best bet. It’s also one of the most durable fabrics available, and the newer ones are coated with nibbling bug deterrents so you don’t end up with moth holes.
One of our current projects has a very exciting feature – a kitchen that blends seamlessly into the lounge. The client loved the large open space, but didn’t want to feel like they were sitting in or relaxing next to the kitchen.
The first thing to do when integrating or disguising any object is to break it up into little parts. We’ve used different materials to clad different areas of the design. The island has been clad in a stunning burl wood, and is on raised feet, making it look far more like a dresser or sideboard. The sink unit is then painted in lighter colours which blend in more with the wallpaper, and the marble surface actually goes all the way up the sides of the window, cladding out the whole box, rather than just having a splash back. We’ve made the most of a quirky bit of space, where the building window juts out, and made it part of the design, throwing out conventional proportions.
The cupboarding is clad in a polished metal, which is very unusual in kitchens – intact our kitchen company, Roundhouse are making the finish specially for us. It will be highly durable and light reflective, so should make a stunning, unique surface. Inside the cupboards is more countertop and surface area, hidden away so that you don’t have acres of marble top visible in the room. A whole coffee station complete with quoter tap and appliances waits patiently behind the doors, adding to the clutter free look of the space.
We’ve used lighting that would more commonly be found in a lounge or bedroom. But not using function specific lighting, you can really change the mood of a space. Here it instantly looks for informal and relaxed. If you were looking over from the sofa, you would just think this is an extension of the same room.
The island countertop is very special. We’ve gone for a mixed blue marble, which reminds us of a Van Gogh. It balances nice with the large oil painting which will go on the wall behind it. The blend of tones in the stone is quite remarkable, and it’s a bold colour most people would find too dominating for a kitchen.
Behind the kitchen will stand a wall of mosaic tiles in a flower pattern, akin to a dutch still life, to continue the art theme. This will be the dominant feature of the room and you’ll completely forget that you’re making scrambled eggs in your living room and think you’re in a great grotto somewhere in Southern Italy. We’ve enjoyed placing it in such an unusual setting, not only for the attention it will receive, but also for the amusement it should bring.
Most people only think of hiring a residential interior designer when they buy or want to renovate, but it can be a really useful service for renters too.
If you are being sent to, or coming back to the UK, Kia Designs can help, and we can even handle everything from this end so that by the time you land on these shores your temporary home is all ready to go. Just let us see the floor plans and a few photos, and tell us which items of furniture you are shipping, give us a good idea of the quantity of your belongings and some style inspiration and we’ll purchase any necessary items for you and decorate it to your taste. We won’t do any wallpaper or painting or breach your tenancy agreement in any way. Because this is a light re-decoration we’ll only use products with a very short lead time, so we can move very quickly. This service will save you the hassle of arriving in an unfamiliar place and having to look for a sofa and dining table after a long day acclimatising to a new job.
We’re often asked how we start a design. It’s a hard thing to answer as it’s really an intangible concept. After we’ve decided on the new layout, we start by asking the client a lot of questions, and getting a firm idea of what they don’t like and what they gravitate towards, as well as practical concerns (hardwearing, easy cleaning etc). Then we do a blitz of the major London showrooms for inspiration. We collect a few (we really try to limit these, as sampling for it’s own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and resources) samples and make note of features or furniture that would work. At first everything looks amazing and it can be overwhelming.
We recently had a brief for a client who seldom cooked, and had no interest in the kitchen. The property is also a 2nd home, rarely used. The problem was we were planing on changing the layout of her property, from a 2 bedroom to a 3 bedroom and required the room currently housing the kitchen to become that 3rd bedroom. The dead entrance space was perfect for the new kitchen, but would then be open plan and become the main view from the front door and living room. So in order to please the client, and not drop a conspicuous kitchen next to her lovely lounge, we teamed up with the talented Magnus at Roundhouse to help us disguise the kitchen so that it fit seamlessly into the room.
Completely restyling your home can be daunting if you’re just unhappy with its current state but haven’t given much thought to how it should look. Lots of professions can be called upon for logistical help, or you might have clearer ideas on how you use the property and what doesn’t work, but don’t know how do you go about coming up with a design scheme.
The best answer is to research. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, and you don’t need to go out and buy lots of expensive glossy magazines. Look around your current home, which items do you most like or cherish? Why? You’ll probably be keeping them so they are a good place to start. Next, a quick browse through an image collective, like Pinterest, should help you narrow in. You don’t even need to set up an account (though doing so will be very helpful later, as you can share it with your designer and builders). The tags on each image should help you develop some design vocabulary. Now you’ll know that you like ‘shaker’ style kitchens and ‘mid-century modern sideboards’. A good designer can create a whole scheme based on 1 or 2 images and an eloquent client. It won’t be time consuming, they’ll go away and do drawings based on your initial conversation, and then meet back with you and tweak anything you aren’t happy with. You can be as involved as you like to be, but we find once most clients start seeing things they’ve liked adapted to their own home and way of life, the process flows very smoothly and even the most design unconscious, colourblind clients get very excited.
When you live half way around the world it can be difficult creating the same homely feel to a property that you only visit 4 or 5 times a year. For our clients who live in Dubai but visit London often that challenge can be particularly difficult when you have become accustomed to a property that holds a lot of memories but no longer serves your family in the way you hoped it would. When creating a home it’s important to remember that times have changed and how we live has changed too. Houses have adapted and bringing this particular family home is going to need to be done with a compassion towards those special memories.
The main problems with the current property are to do with layout and light. Interiors in Knightsbridge can come in a variety of different formats. This building has art deco roots but has been changed and modified throughout the years stripping it from a lot of its character, we aim to give it back a bit of that character introducing beautiful wall finishes and architectural details. Going for a design scheme that works to make the most out of the architecture is crucial to creating a design that resonates when you stand in it.
Many people are confused about the difference between hardwood, solid wood, engineered wood and wood laminate. The various styles and finishings available on the market today can be misleading and a little baffling.
We recently had clients get very confused about the finish of their floor. They had purchased a new build flat in North London and opted for the floor upgrade package. Within a few weeks of moving in (and even before we had swept in and provided the majority of the furniture) the floor was scuffed and marked.
The clients questions to us went something like this:
“We’re having issues with the floor (it marks very easily) and are negotiating with the developer to have it replaced (they were marketing it as real wood, which it is not). The engineered wood they had put in marks a lot and I guess hardwood would be a better option (hopefully maintenance is not too bad).”
There are a few problems with this email. They have an engineered walnut floor.
- Walnut is a hardwood. The term ‘hardwood’ refers to the tree itself. They tend to be broad leaved trees that grow in temperate or tropical zones, and have require lots of water. Confusingly, ‘hardwood’ does not actually mean the wood is more dense and therefor more hardwearing. Balsa wood, one of the lightest and least dense woods available is also a hardwood. The term refers mainly to the tree’s means of reproduction. Hardwoods produce seeds which are covered and protected, with hard shells like an acorn, of soft shells, like an apple, for example. The hardwood family includes: ash, beech, birch, cherry, chestnut, ebony, elm, mahogany, oak, poplar, teak and willow.
- Engineered wood is real wood. Being engineered concerns the substrate of the flooring not the face covering. Engineered floors are pretty much industry standard as they are much more stable than solid wood floors. It involves gluing a thin (or thick) layer of shaved real wood onto the surface of another plank, made up of several layers of wood glued and pressed together, then cut to a precision finish for easy joining. The result is stronger than solid wood, often lighter, creates less sound reverberation, needs less of a structure under it, can be laid quickly, will not need to breath and have room to expand and shrink, and does’t need time to acclimatise.
- They are confusing hardwood with solid wood (actual planks of wood), and engineered wood with laminate.
After going over this with the client we came up with a solution to help them avoid replacing the whole floor.
The majority of people who contact us looking for interior design services are on what we refer to as ‘second wave’ research. That means they have already spoken to several designers and then gone away and done further research and gathered all the necessary documentation and then sort out new designers. This is a bit of a waste of everybody’s time. A designer can’t really tell you anything unless you know of and can provide certain details, so you won’t get anything out of the meeting. And once you’ve gathered all those items, you rarely go back to the original designer (nobody knows why, but statistically this tends to happen. Probably because once you’ve really thought about what you want you might find a designer who looks a better fit, or because you were disappointed that no one could give you a proper quote or solid information). Often clients will come to us before purchasing a property, so by the time they have actually managed to get the keys and decide on a budget, they might well have forgotten which designer they liked best. On average people see 6 designers before settling.
So what are these key things which interior Designs require:
Rough ones are fine. Estate agents drawings are rarely to scale, but they are fine for basic quoting purposes. You’ll want something that highlights where service hatches and structural walls are located. These can often be untouchable, and so will influence what your designer and builder can do.
We recommend setting up a Houzz account, as it is the most interiors driven site. Pinterest is also useful, as are scraps from magazines. Getting a good idea of the style and finish you are trying to achieve is very helpful for us when quoting.
3. Information about your building
When you tell us your address at initial contact, we’ll do some primary research on the area, but it’s much better if you can also let us know if it is a listed building, in a conservation area, in a portered flat with no parking access etc. This is more helpful for timeframes than quotes, but it will influence the design and there will be cost implications.
Our current refurbishment of a large, period mansion block flat in the heart of Knightsbridge, incorporates key elements of the deco style through use of exotic woods, geometric motifs and strong vertical lines, but toned down with added softer, more modern silhouettes and furnishings and state of the art technology and materials. The result will be a stately and timeless home with distinctive drama and elegance.
Pocket doors in bold smoked oak, with inset chrome flush pull handles, slide away to reveal unimpeded views throughout the entire flat and allow the client to really open up and make the most of the floorspace. The skirting, in tulipwood, allows for a smoother finish, as the fine grained texture rarely results in knots and burls. The skirting is also higher than usual, making the most of the generous ceiling heights and balancing nicely with the stepped cornicing, reclaiming the room’s original, grander, proportions. Likewise the plaster architraves are all generously deep and create framed vistas throughout.