You know how this works – you ask us a question on Instagram, we answer it on here, the world gasps, we get a Nobel Prize (probably). This week, @shugsnrodley wanted to know how to keep a theme running through an entire home renovation, and we were only too over-excited to help out – as ever, in our own wildly different styles.
Emma on themes
My theme is calmness. I was chatting to Robyn recently about my flat, and about the fact that I really don’t have any photos up or reminders of real life in here. I think that’s because I lead a very busy and social life, and also live at street level where people can look in. So, from a design perspective, I am all about creating a person-free sanctuary inside that is calm to walk into, from sofa to bath to bed (we won’t mention my 15 year-old faux granite rental kitchen).
Robyn on themes
Ok, it might shock you to know but my approach to decorating isn’t completely scattergun. I don’t just do it without the bigger picture in mind even if the bigger picture is ‘Clown Hotel’. I unify things by colour, style and accessory. Take my downstairs. May seem like a pattern explosion but actually it’s a carefully thought out scheme that makes you take a visual walk through the lounge to the dining room and out to the garden. It’s a celebration of green from the palm wallpaper to the wall in the kitchen and through the French doors into the outdoors. It’s all about bringing the outside in and making it feel less urban and pokey. Then I keep the art to a broad theme, modern, 20th century and bright or monochrome to keep the visual adventure coherent and make sure the furniture and rugs are tonally on-brand too.
Emma on colours
I use that term loosely. My colour palette reads like a who’s-who of bread loaves, never venturing much beyond ‘Lightly Toasted Wholegrain’. I gotta say, though, within those pale parameters, I’m all for creating a little ecosystem from room to room. Where there’s a door frame, change the wall colour – that’s my rule. Or it would be, if I were allowed to paint The Crap Flat. If you’re looking for continuity through a whole house, consider choosing tones within a spectrum, that you know will flow nicely into one another, and perhaps mix it up a bit from up- to downstairs. The inimitable Farrow & Ball do a great job of creating colour schemes on their product pages.
Robyn on colours
So, colour. I like it. I like it a lot. And you can use it in a tonne of different ways to give your house a strong visual identity even if that visual identity is ‘I’m using lots of colour’. I like things bold – anything insipid would look out of place in a house as intense as mine, so you can go rainbow if you stick to a strength of colour. The hues I favour are mainly on the primary spectrum and I don’t do dull. My Regatta Blue is almost a royal blue/navy hybrid so it’s still BRIGHT. The greens aren’t muted, even my Angie pink bathroom is an intensely saturated baby pink. A flat or pared-back colour would look out of place so I’ve created continuity by using rich, knock-out colours across the spectrum.
Emma on function
You know me – I am ALL about function. I think colour schemes and decor and finishing touches are the absolute best, but they have to work with your day-to-day. If you’re hoiking a bike into a bike rack every day, probably don’t wallpaper that wall, you know? So my starting point is always gonna be: what will I be doing in this room? What functional use does it have? What do I need the energy to be? And then you have a vague kind of map of how you’ll use the whole space and how you need it to flow from room to room.
Robyn on function
I don’t really think about function that much, which Jamie regularly bollocks me for but Emma’s right, there is a continuity to be found in function and even a maximalist palace can accomodate. For me, storage mainly sucks ass. It’s boring. I don’t care for it. I’d rather have a Monica cupboard but there are amazing bits of storage that look the business if you have a proper look. Habitat do a lovely line in trunks made to hide your crap in, Anthropologie do sideboards that just won’t quit and I’m in a romantic kind of love with this cupboard from Made. Best of all, they all make a bloody big visual impact, so all your visitors will forget they’re functional at all. Gotta keep up that street cred.
Emma on research
Moodboard. Moodboard, moodboard, moodboard. Find pictures of stuff you like, save the images down from the web and put them next to each other. I do this all the time now, sometimes even using Powerpoint (as below) for a quick fix with just items of furniture. Once you’ve created a few boards for a few rooms, put them next to each other and see whether they sit happily with each other to get an idea of how your space will flow. I say flow a lot in this post, don’t I? FLOW.
Robyn on research
Is Emma talking about periods or did I just switch off after I read research (flow, geddit)? No, seriously, I don’t really do any meaningful research. My brand of continuity is keeping it all 100% you. I trust that can be done by feeling your way through, and I do realise that makes me sound like the exact kind of insufferable hippy my hippy Dad longs for me to become. I mean, you gotta swatch the colours, I’m not a psychopath. Google prolifically and screengrab a few things into a word doc if you can be arsed. But really if you’re creating a space that’s eclectic and eccentric and full of stuff, there’s no planning for that – just trust there will be so much shit in your house it’ll make sense by default.
Emma on bits
I reckon the bits are what makes a house a home, and, done right, can also be the bits that pull everything together into a cohesive whole. So, do you carry through a shape from a rug in one room into another, with a vase? Do you use a texture from curtains in one room on cushions elsewhere? It’s gotta be about drawing the eye towards the next space along, so looking to see what’s visible through the doorway from space to space. Sounds a bit wanky, but if you’re going for cohesion, worth thinking about.
Robyn on bits
I also like bits. Lotsa bits. I think you can mix up the bits but keep little visual flags that move you around your home. So in our house we’ve got a surprising amount of monochrome, from rugs and art to actually a lot of the paintwork. And upstairs is filled with portraiture. Or there’s a bird lamp in the dressing room and then bird prints on the landing and in our bedroom – there’s little narrative arcs all over the place (yes I said that and no I don’t feel like a bell-end). Make your home a little scavenger hunt around your design mind.
Emma on surprises
This may shock you, but I’ve a real design boner for a statement toilet. A downstairs loo, that is, or en suite – one where the door will be largely shut. It acts as a kind of palette cleanser and moment of fun in an otherwise calm, cool and collected house. One minute you’re in textured linen and varying shades of beige – you open the door and BAM, you’re immersed in a world of lairy wallpaper or deepest black walls. I think it’s the most delectable surprise, and acts as break from the norm – something to shake stuff up a bit.
Robyn on surprises
Keep ’em coming, I say. Create a visual feast that’s packed with curios, oversized accessories and outstanding art. Make visitors feel like there’s continuity in finding something amazing on every shelf. That’s a cohesive space to me – when you’ve created a wonderland. Something that’s 100% authentically you. And I also don’t mind a statement toilet – preferably upstairs!