When Good Decor Goes Bad: Five Interior Mistakes I've Made In My Own Home
Getting your decor just right is a virtual impossibility. Over the years, I've gone through many phases in my quest to create the perfect space. Our first home together was a rented new build flat off the Tilehurst Road in Reading, a two bedroom top floor Barrett beauty with a ruffled floral roman blind above the kitchen sink that was a recipe for disaster. We furnished it with a huge fabric navy blue sofa from Furniture Village with cushions that shifted from under you of their own accord and needed constant plumping. Every night we would sit on this sofa, smoking Silk Cut, drinking Chardonnay and eating Minature Hero's, a pastime that had the dual consequence of us having to repaint the magnolia walls when we moved out whilst being about two stone overweight. Living the dream.
My first major interior error occurred when it came to colour choices in the bedroom of our first buy, a terraced house on the same estate as the flat of iniquity. For reasons unknown, I chose lime green for the walls and matched it with a lime green jersey duvet set from House Of Fraser. Due to our excessive Minature Hero intake, we chose a king sized bed that literally filled the entire space, giving the overall reflective effect of making anyone who entered the room look like they were about to throw up. I have photographs of Ella lying on this bed as a newborn looking like a child of Shrek.
My second furnishing faux pas came when decorating the kitchen of the same property. We'd bought the house off plan and I had chosen mint green fake wood effect kitchen cupboards. It was at this time I was pregnant with my first child, had given up Silk Cut and Chardonnay and I can only presume that the trauma of withdrawal mixed with the hormonal outrage my body was undergoing convinced me that the way forward for the kitchen walls was dark lilac. A year later, we sold the house to a single man in his twenties who was either colourblind or had been living in the interiors equivalent of Siberia.
Since these decor dicing times, there has been much interior dodginess in my quest to achieve the perfect environment. In the interests of community awareness, I have narrowed it down to what I would describe as my Top Five interior mistakes from the last 17 years.
1. Don't Stick To One Trend
Trends come and go as quickly as a Yorkshire summer. Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into a new trend is never a good idea. Last year, I was totally obsessed with the combo of blush pink and green. I needed it in my life. My Pinterest boards were swamped with it. I wasn't going to stop until I had it in my home. So I painted my sitting room. It was an impulsive, possibly pre menstrual, move that started with a tester pot and ended with the entire room, including picture rail and above, transformed to a soft shade of pink. I loved it. For at least two days. Then I realised that I had massively overdone it. There was way too much pink, plus I hadn't taken into account the red sofa and the combination was appalling. I had pushed the trend boundaries to an unacceptable level. What should I have done? Painted one wall only. Thus giving a nod to the trend but not forgetting my own personal style.
Instagram is a bastard for giving you ideas for your home. It's a trend orientated hot bed of inspiration and it's hard to know when to stop. Over the 18 months of posting, I've seen a few come and go. Lightboxes, balloon dogs, disco balls, festoons, fairylights, pineapples, botanical cushions, wall hangings, portraits of Indian men, macrame, La Redoute rugs. The list is endless. The good thing about this trend circle is that you can incorporate pieces without spending a fortune. I'm drawn to trend purchases but I buy in the knowledge that they are transient and therefore only allow a small outlay. When it comes to the big guns, home improvements and furniture, I disregard trends and buy only what I actually really LOVE. Therefore, my key pieces remain but the accessories can come and go, meaning that I can incorporate a trend but it's easy to remove when I am bored of it.
2. eBay Is An Enabler
When it comes to interior errors, eBay is a sneaky sidekick. It's the Thelma to my Louise, an enabliser to achieving my decor goals. It's pages taunt me regularly with mid century furniture bargains that start at 99p and go up to £800 within about three seconds. One minute it's yours, next minute somebody hunched over their iPad in Birmingham is going in with three seconds to go and outbidding you. It's a dasher of dreams. Two years ago, I won what I thought was my best buy EVER. Two Andrew Martin pink velvet theatre chairs for £80. I was over the moon, paid £90 for a courier to transport them from the Cotswolds to York and waited with baited breath for their arrival. They didn't disappoint. They were totally gorgeous. And totally huge. Like massive velvet cubes. They barely got through the door and once in, it was immediately obvious that they were way too big. I moved them around my house for a week before I had to admit defeat. Back on eBay, sold for £45 the pair. Gutted.
Another thing that eBay does is make you believe that you are York's answer to Derek Trotter and that you can upcycle on a level akin to George Clarke. This is not true. A couple of years ago I won a Pieff glass dining table with six matching chairs. The leather on the chairs was stained and ripped but the set was a bargain for £120. I found a local upholsterer, chose a fabric without much consideration and awaited their glorious revival. I had chosen a brown tweed (to this day I have no idea why) and I knew the moment that they arrived back that I didn't like them.
Unfortunately, the upholsterers bill was £350, thus making the total cost of my bollocks up £470. Added to this, I belatedly realised that we were a family of five and if we had more than one extra person for dinner they couldn't fit around the table. In keeping with my, if you don't like it, get rid of it mantra, I put them back on eBay. I can only say that the person who came and picked up the set after winning it for £68 (I wasn't the only one who thought I'd made a fabric faux pas) looked like they'd won the lottery.
Since these fraught episodes, I've been far more restrained with my bidding finger and try and source furniture more locally. I use Gumtree which has fixed price posts (and no fees either) so I'm less likely to get carried away. Lessons learned.
3. Stay In Your Plant Comfort Zone
When it comes to my own personal style, I definitely veer towards the eclectic boho look. Layering, texturing, lots of greenery. Unfortunately this last one is a bit of an issue for me as I have a shocking history with plants. Not just house plants, all plants. I've never managed to have a successful garden and as a result, my courtyard is full of pots. Most of these are empty as there is a major flaw in my green fingered aim and that is that I don't water them enough. Or worse, I over water them and drown them with love.
In my previous home in Caversham, I simply didn't have a single house plant. Not one. Every now and then a friend or family member would visit bearing greenery and I had to tell them that my home was the plant version of The Twilight Zone and it the chances of survival were slim.
However, due to my love of boho decor, I recently I decided that house plants could be the way forward for me. How difficult could it be? Off I went to Stockton On the Forest garden centre and filled my trolley with glorious greenery - spider plants, a Monstera, ferns - including a huge palm that was over 6ft tall. Ex display and reduced from £175 to £40, it was a bargain that I couldn't ignore and before I knew it, it was in my dining room in a bathroom basket from Homesense. Plants were situated in all corners of my home, all looking lovely and healthy. Or so I thought.
My home became a green palace. I started receiving comments on Instagram - 'how do you keep your plants alive?' - previously only reserved for Gardeners Question Time experts like Dee Campling. It was only a matter of time before it all came crashing down around me. I returned from holiday to find three dead ivy, a wilting jade plant, a drooped large leaf fig and worst of all, a brown leafed 6ft palm with a cat poo adorned pot.
The problem was, I had overstepped my plant comfort zone. So what have I learned from this horticultural horror story? I should have stuck to just a couple, not gone for the big boys, concentrated on maybe five situated within a close distance from the kitchen sink for easy watering. I now know my limits.
4. Don't Overdo It
As a consummate charity shop thrifting professional, this was one of my issues for many years. I've an obsession with kitsch that won't go away and in our previous house in Caversham, I took this to the limit. The kitchen walls were covered in plates, vintage prints, flying dolphins, china parrots, decorated wood with doe eyed deers on, topped off with my collection of religious iconic images. There was a flourescent plastic rug on the floor (yes, even then I was a staunch supporter of rugs in the kitchen) and I had a beaded palm tree curtain at the door. I'm surprised I had room to cook, tbh.
I had a huge mid century sideboard in the dining room that I'd picked up for £20 and I filled it with my charity shop tat. I spent many hours at the Sue Ryder Sale Of Unwanted Goods in Nettlebed (a MUST VISIT if you live anywhere near) and as a result, I would buy whatever I liked the look of and add it to the collection. This veered from small iron donkey's to heavy glass ashtrays and mustard pots, all out for display and adding to my friends view that I was close to Storage Hoarder status.
I loved the look of it but my house was starting to look as if it were a branch of Age Concern. It was at this point that we moved to York and I realised I had to get a hold of my obsession before my family disappeared under a pile of vintage Jesus and Mary's.
So what have I learned? Cohesion is key. I group my collections. Instead of mixing it all up, I filter what I have and arrange it by theme. So whether it's coloured glass in different tones of the same, or mid century wooden deer, if it's grouped together it works. It stops looking scruffy and random and it creates a focal point. I have a cupboard where I store excess tat and every now and then, I get it out and swap it all around which satisfies my need for change.
I've also realised that wallpaper is the perfect antidote to my collective urges. For me, wallpaper is a work of art in itself. Adorning it with prints or artwork takes away from the beauty of the paper and creates a mish mash. So as a result, I add only the occasional clean lined typography or neon which doesn't clash and therefore I can go to town with accessories elsewhere in the room. Win win.
5. Never Listen To Your Partner
Joe runs BMW businesses. I write an interior blog. I have no interest or quest for knowledge of engine size, tyre pressure or why lights come on randomly. Therefore, I don't expect him to have an input into issues of home styling. This understanding has generally worked well throughout our 17 year relationship but there are areas where he has crossed this boundary with disasterous results. This area is technology.
Joe LOVES televisions. For him, if it's not 55" it's not worth considering. It's go big or go home in Joe's book. I totally get the idea of TV's in living spaces and with the advent of products which are super thin and look as though they are a piece of artwork, brands are totally cottoning on to the fact that we don't want intrusive black screens. Now we can buy TV's that we can style in the same way as our rooms, its a whole new world. They just need to work out how to incorporate Sky boxes so that my beautifully styled shelves aren't horrifically defaced by a large black, wire infested brick.
Anyway, last year Joe decided that we needed a TV in our bedroom. I cannot tell you how hard I fought against this proposal and was only convinced by the idea when I realised that I would be able to watch Piers Morgan verbally abusing people whilst getting dressed (I actually really like Piers although I know that I am a lone fan in this respect). So up went the massive fuck off 55" and down went the last shred of style in my bedroom. It looked shocking. Mostly because it was way too big, had a Sky box attached to it and looked totally out of place. Even watching GMB for ten minutes every morning cannot convince me that it wasn't a terrible mistake. It looms at me whilst I'm putting on my make up like a big black hole in the wall.
The moral of this story? Stick to your guns. And don't, like me, be swayed by the idea of Piers Morgan with your morning coffee.
So that's my five biggest interior errors. What I have learned from these mistakes is that I should always go with my gut instinct and that the only way to REALLY find your own style is by trial and error. Don't be influenced by others when it comes to decorating - your space should be a place that you love being in, adore coming home to and that makes you happy every day. And most of all, styling your own home should be fun and the mistakes that you make only help towards making your house a home that suits you.