While I’m still not *quite* finished, after 16 months of saving, mood-boarding and making costly mistakes, our flat is finally furnished. When I say it has taken all of my money over the past year-plus, I mean it. Last Christmas my boyfriend Haden and I bought each other a chair, my birthday present is hanging on the wall and my closet has had its budget slashed by about 90%—which just proves how little I actually needed all those Zara purchases. While it hasn’t all been plain sailing (see more below), I really subscribe to the Scandinavian attitude that creating a stimulating and personal home is one of the best investments you can make in your mental health. Here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve learnt, where savings can be made and where you can find all the pieces that have made my home so special to me.
New Home, New Life
One of the biggest reasons that I wanted to start afresh with this flat wasn’t just because I’d been renting since I was 18 and thus fed up with Ikea dross and crappy clip frames, but also because I’d brought so much with me from my former relationship. Crockery from our wedding list, trinkets picked up on holidays from happier times and recycled furniture from nearly a decade before had littered my last rental flat which I shared with my brother and boyfriend. Deciding against buying a project, we instead bought a clean slate two bed and I was desperate to reflect that in the way we furnished it.
Of course, that presupposes infinite financial resources and I’ve definitely had to compromise on the wholesale clear out. There are still a few things from my past life that have managed to survive the cull—for either financial or sentimental reasons, but you get the gist. Pretty much everything from my former life, from vintage Danish dining chairs to mattresses went on to eBay or FreeCycle (the emotional need to cleanse needn’t impact the environment negatively after all) which offered me an incredible sense of closure. It also meant we had to eat off the floor. Aside from one surviving bed, we lived in an almost completely unfurnished flat for a few months and throughout the process the most frustrating thing has been grappling with a lack of patience. Decorating a flat with pieces that aren’t throwaway is expensive and high quality furnishings often take months to arrive. For example: we bought each of our Eames dining chairs one by one and each took between 8-12 weeks to deliver. The arrival of the sixth and final chair was one of the most satisfying moments of the whole process. One of my biggest pieces of advice (if like me you spent every single penny in your piggybank and then some on buying the actual property) is to take the pressure off and see it as a year long project—while it might seem that other people move into an immediately picture perfect flat, if you want to curate something beautiful, long-lasting and personal it’s going to take time.
Step One: Atmosphere
One of the hardest things when you buy an empty flat is to know where to start. I took the flat room by room and started by envisaging the mood I wanted to create. Before we go any further it’s worth noting that the entire flat is only 52m squared, so it’s not as if we had huge areas to ‘zone’, but that doesn’t mean that the four rooms—the sitting room, kitchen, guest and main bedroom—couldn’t have a distinct ambience.
“The line between eclectic taste and ‘professional vase collector’ is easily blurred, but when you are going more minimal (it’s a relative term) it means that the furniture is even more important.”
I needed the bedroom, for example, to feel entirely serene. I’m not a wonderful sleeper, so I wanted to create a serene sanctuary. Conversely I wanted the sitting room to have plenty of personality and to feel contemporary, but also classic. The shoebox spare bedroom needed to be as comfortable as possible, but also ultra-simple to convey space, while the kitchen was all about practicality.
I also knew that art and objects were going to be central to the success of the flat—but that it was too small to have a cluttered feel. The line between eclectic taste and ‘professional vase collector’ is easily blurred, but when you are going more minimal (it’s a relative term) it means that the furniture is even more important as that’s what will set the entire tone of the room.
Step Two: Palette
After working out the desired atmosphere, my first step was to choose the colours which could create the mood. As we have dark wood floors throughout, it really made an impact on palette choices as pine or walnut woodwork elsewhere would clash badly. For the bedrooms that meant dark wood or white painted wood furniture and black or white picture frames. For the sitting room it meant that all the furniture needed to have dark or white legs (for tables, chair, sideboards). It sounds like a really small detail, but it had a huge effect on our options. However, I really appreciate having restrictions because it helps you to narrow down where you’re going with everything—it can be so overwhelming when you first start.
For our bedroom I decided on all-white with blue accents in the artwork, while the spare bedroom was to be all white, but with black & white artwork. The kitchen had already been renovated—not entirely to my taste, especially when it came to the glittery flecks in the granite work surfaces—but it was fully functional and just needed some art and plants. The real palette play was to come in the sitting room where I wanted a tonal warmth with a mid-century feel. The base colours were to be black, white, dark wood floors, caramel, pale pink and burnished gold. Over time we’ve layered in some ochre and terracotta tones into the mix to stop if from feeling too feminine and there are now hints of other colours in some of the artwork, but in the main I kept to the original palette.
Step Three: Making Mistakes
While everything in the these pictures looks preened and primed, there was a journey behind each and every room. The first mistake I made was to buy a sofa that didn’t fit through the front door. At the time is felt like the world was over. We’d waited two months for the sofa to arrive and measured it meticulously for the room itself (by using newspaper to mimic the dimensions). But we hadn’t considered the front door frame… So the sofa went back to the depot and I went back to the drawing board.
“A home is like a relationship—it won’t work if it’s all one-sided. “
For the sitting room, the sofa was the important keystone around which everything else fit in, so I had to get it right. Now I couldn’t be happier with how the caramel leather style from West Elm looks (Haden complains that it’s not the world’s most comfortable recliner—so we’ve added a sheepskin throw from UGG and cushions from Soho Home to help) and the smaller size actually suits the room far better. Ultimately it was all for the best, but when you’re playing with large sums of money and eye watering delivery charges (the sofa set me back £69 each way), the stakes are really high. When our T.V. unit arrived I also burst into tears. I’m really happy with it now, but at the time I thought the shade of charcoal clashed with the basalt of our dining chairs. I literally cannot now tell you why I thought this, but again it’s easy to put yourself under a huge amount of pressure when you’re investing money and the slightest diversion from your expectations can make you feel really stressed.
There were also the inevitable disagreements and I hold my hands up—I’m really hard work when it comes to home furnishings. While I’m very happy to compromise on lots of things, there’s something about décor that brings out the alpha-female. When you have a vision which you’ve embellished through countless hours of product and inspiration research, it’s really hard to have your partner say they’re not into something, especially when they’ve barely flicked through the sofa catalogue.
The biggest fights were for the TV (reduced from a frankly ridiculous 58″ size to a still massive 49″) which was a red line for Haden and on my side for the Slowdown Studio wall hanging which he really didn’t like at all. He also wasn’t a fan of the shelving display and would have preferred a grey sofa (apparently every man in the country wants a grey sofa). I now have to admit it is nice to watch our favourite Netflix shows on a screen larger than my laptop and in the end Haden fell in love with the wall hanging and shelf arrangement too—though the jury’s still out on the sofa.
The real moral here though is that compromise ends up creating a room which works better for everyone and however much work you’ve put into designing a gorgeous room, a second set of eyes can (said through gritted teeth) often improve things. The Eames dining chairs were Haden’s idea and I love them. Before I’d thought they were clichéd but the choice of black seat and dark maple legs (DSW in Basalt & Black Maple) really made for a sexy set of chairs which will work wherever we live in the future—and I would never had considered them if he hadn’t pushed me to look at them again. A home is like a relationship—it won’t work if it’s all one-sided.
“When you have a vision which you’ve embellished through countless hours of product and inspiration research, it’s really hard to have your partner say they’re not into something, especially when they’ve barely flicked through the sofa catalogue.”
Step Four: Art Work
I definitely subscribe to the old adage that books make a house a home—we have a stacked bookcase in our hallway—but for me, it’s the artwork which really makes the difference. Since I was a teenager I’ve been collecting posters from galleries around the world. I’ve got about 60 at the moment ranging from the late 90s to this year. Aside from being wonderful momentos, they provide an incredible resource for décor. Whatever palette I might be working with I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have a print or a poster which will suit the colour combination and it’s an inexpensive way to bring some of my favourite artists into the home. I’ve also been fortunate enough over my career working in the fashion industry to be able to collect images from shoots, lookbooks, shows and fashion exhibitions—many of which aren’t available to purchase. A lot of the time it was just because I asked if I could have a prop or an image and often there was no-where in my rented flats to hang them. But I kept everything knowing that while an artwork might not work for where you live now, one day it might be the centrepiece of your sitting room. As I’ve got older I’ve also started to supplement my collection with original art and we are lucky enough to have some pieces which we love in the flat. I know close to nothing about the art market, so I’m not expecting to make a profit on anything, but it’s just lovely to pieces which inspire you every day hanging on your walls. I also love Habitat for frames—I will often get a mount made bespoke at a professional framers to put inside a shop-bought frame.
Step Five: Finishing Touches
The only way to make a home feel truly personal is to have things which reflect your life and taste. As I travel so much, I’m exceedingly lucky to have a treasure trove of design souvenirs from Copenhagen ceramics to Parisian linen napkins. But you also have to make it priority. Whenever I fly anywhere I scope out design stores and markets and ensure I make the pilgrimage. If it’s a city I go to often, I might even start a collection. Each of my Merci napkins cost 9 EUR, so I buy one or two each time I go to soften the blow—I would never spent £50 plus at once on napkins, but a little thing to add to my collection feels totally do-able.
I really also believe in mixing in design icons with your personal bric a brac—not only to elevate your curation, but also to add a sense of timelessness. Whether it’s an Angelpoise lamp or a pair of Hay side tables, you know that these pieces are trend-proof and in the mix of even the cheapest junk shop finds, you’ll be able to maintain a feeling of refinement.
Knowing where to stop is perhaps one of the trickiest things (at least for me) and every weekend I seem to come home with a bargain mini plate or new cactus. But as soon it starts to feel in anyway cluttered, it’s time to pull back. Chic objets d’art are one thing; hoarding is quite another. You can always store things, swap things in and out, or even, heaven forbid, leave your bargain behind. There’s a shoe closet that need some new season love after all!
Here are a few of the pieces that have helped make our house a home—and if there’s anything else you’ve seen that you liked, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try and point you in the right direction.
Mink Velvet Armchair £1,300 by Soho Home, Pink Lamp, gift, Silver Pouff, £14 Marrakech souk, Dining chairs DSW £345 Dining armchairs (at ends) £429 by Eames to order from The Conran Shop, Wall hanging $230 + Tax & shipping by Daniel Fletcher at Slowdown Studio, Mosslanda Picture ledges £4.95-£8.95 from IKEA, Country House Plates £15 by Soho Home, Barwell Cut Crystal by Soho Home from £28, Monkey Candlesticks £12.99 each from H&M.
Pimlico Bedding from £50 The White Company, Cushions £17.99 Zara Home, Runner rug (larger size than pictured) £79.99 H&M, Print $249.99 by Gray Malin, also David Hockney, Jurgen Teller, Alexander Calder, collected on travels
Images of the sitting room taken by Beth Davis for Soho Home feature: Read HERE.