Finding Your Style: Five Ways To Make Your Home Your Own
When I bought my very first home with Joe in 1999, my interest in interior decorating was minimal. When I say minimal, I mean virtually non existent. This was an interior barren period of my life, with socialising taking top priority and career, it has to be said, second. Styling my home was at the bottom of the list with previous furnishings being almost wholly inherited from my parents or picked up in IKEA on an essential need only basis. I’d been living in West Harrow in a Victorian terrace for the previous three years, a hop skip and a jump away from the Metropolitan Line and my job as PA to the Chief Executive of Country Casuals in Poland Street. Most of my role involved customer service and my days were mainly spent sending out gift vouchers in response to pilled clothing issues (that’ll be bobbling, for those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of the cloth) and being responsible for the photocopier. If you’ve ever worked in retail HQ, you will know that one of the bonuses of such a workplace is the sample sales. Prior to my Country Casuals incarnation, I’d worked at Top Shop Top Man where these gems were a regular occurrence meaning that my tube journey home was often hindered by copious bin bags of new items, much to the displeasure of my fellow travellers.
At Country Casuals, however, this ‘bonus’ didn't have quite the same kudos. No family member would be seen dead in either current season or past, apart from my 80 year old Granny who happened to be a size ten sample perfect and therefore was always extremely well kitted out. The one benefit was that the office was opposite the Star & Garter which, together with the ‘pie pub’ around the corner, was a regular lunch venue. Many an evening was spent quaffing large glasses of wine before taking the Tube back to the hardcore badlands of West Harrow where I’d negotiate my way back from the station with my rape alarm and mace spray. Those were the days.
Anyway, I digress (as always). Joe and my first home together was on the Elm Park new build estate, previously the old Reading Football Club ground. It was a blank box, a magnolia adorned, beige carpeted dream that I filled with pine furniture and decorated, for reasons unknown, in lime green and lilac. I was an interior magazine free zone, wholly influenced by Homebase promotions and with no independent ideas of my own. Over the next nine years, we moved four times, finally settling in a five bedroom Victorian semi in Caversham. It was the house I’d always wanted. Huge hall, high ceilings, big rooms and with a mortgage so big that our payments left us with about 35p a month free income, but it was worth it. I was pregnant with Leo and realised that childcare was going to be so extortionate for three children that I rearranged my career to work from home as a freelance transcriptionist.
Being homebound with no commute, my home decorating interest was piqued and I started buying interior magazines, scouring them for ideas and projects and ways in which I could stamp my own mark on this space that I loved. I discovered eBay, became obsessed with upcycling all the Elm Park pine and obtained real pleasure out of juxtaposing old and new to create a look that made my spirits lift when I walked into a room. In 2013, Joe was offered a job in York which enabled us to buy our dream Georgian home (the North South divide seriously worked in our favour). Social media had erupted, I started posting my room revamps on Instagram and the rest, as they say, is history. Albeit slightly long winded and rather chequered. Ha.
One of the questions that I am asked most on my direct messages and on my blog is, how do I style my home when I don’t know where to start? It’s a conundrum that affects many, whether you are a first time homeowner, a renter or have been buying and furnishing houses for years. Finding and growing your personal style sometimes isn’t quite as easy as it would seem. It took me until I was 37 years old to have real confidence in my own ideas and for those ideas to grow into my core home aesthetic. Even now, I’m often veered off track by the influx of the shiny new trends that I see on the High Street and on my social platforms - it’s like being tempted in a sweet shop. It’s taken me a while to learn that when I launch myself at the Pick N Mix, I should stop filling the bag before I actually feel sick. Trends, schmends. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees when your style is evolving. Or the fizzy cola bottles from the fudge squares.
Since 2016, the interior network on social media has boomed, bombarding us with a wealth of ideas and trends and the strong inclination to make our spaces our own. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a trend. Instagram is a bastard for new ideas which is both its highlight and its lowlight (dwindling bank balances unite). But after several disastrous trend led episodes - the dark grey room that no one would sit in; the pink walled living room that looked like candy floss - I now know that I need to carefully consider any new additions to our family home. So what to do? How can you create a home that works for you without being a slave to fashion whilst still curating your own personal style and not blowing the budget? Here’s my top five tips.
Go With What You Love
Back at the beginning of 2017, Dee Campling and I launched our Styling Your Home workshops. Our ethos was - and remains - this: have nothing in your home that doesn’t make you happy. Seriously, nothing. We weren’t joking. If it doesn’t make you happy, then ditch it. eBay it, Freecycle it, give it away to a friend (avoid landfill unless absolutely necessary, obvs). Clear your room and add pieces bit by bit. Add the piece that makes you the happiest first - this could be a print, a bookcase, a sofa, a coffee table. Whatever floats your boat. Whether you’re passionate about mid century art, have a love of kitsch pottery or are an avid collector of interiors magazines, that’s the starting point.
Begin by placing it perfectly and then add other items that you love around it. If you have a blank spot in the corner, don’t rush to fill it. Stick a plant in there until you can find something that you really love and that is the perfect fit - there’s nothing wrong with living with empty space. I’m a shocker for this. I once refused to buy a toaster until I could afford a Dualit and made my kids risk burnt fingers on the grill every day for years. It may sound cheesy, but your room should light up with your smile when you enter - if it’s filled with things you love, it won’t fail to make you happy. Fact.
The best way to work out your core style is to pin. Years ago, I’d collate pages of magazines that I loved to build an idea of how I wanted a room to look. The advent of Pinterest means that it’s even easier to work out which route you want to take when it comes to your decor. Set up a board for each room and pin whenever you find something that catches your eye. Pin indiscriminately, wildly, randomly, with abandon. You’ll soon find that you are pinning the same pictures and the same styles. It’s a great way to focus your mind on what you truly love rather than adding something to a room because you think that you should.
I find myself repinning photographs that I originally pinned five years ago because they STILL appeal to me. For me, that’s a definitive confirmation of my core style. When you think you’ve nailed it, transfer your favourite pins to a mood board (here’s my blog on how to produce a brilliant one) and you’ll have a great starting point for your design. As you start to pull the room together, you can add and take away from these ideas as you see in reality how it comes together.
Changes in the economy and the advent of Brexit mean that we aren’t so keen to splash our cash on going out; staying in and socialising is the new black. We’re cleverer with what we are buying for our homes. Much cleverer. Gone are the days when we’d launch ourselves at a room set and buy every piece (*read pine warehouse). Buying Now and Paying Later don’t seem quite so appealing when we’re about to enter unknown financial territory as an economy. Look at what you already have and utilise it - try the side table in a different room, use it in a different way, take it out of it’s comfort zone and see how it looks in a new environment. Multi task what you’ve got - use a dining table as a desk; a bench as a coffee table; a chair as a bedside table. Don’t hesitate to move everything about and try all options.
Never mind fast fashion; fast furniture is equally unsustainable and when we buy, we want to buy for good or, indeed, buy something with a recycled past. Scour the charity shops and eBay for solid, good quality furniture that can be repurposed or upcycled. Paint it, change the knobs, recover it in a cool vintage fabric. There’s nothing more satisfying in repurposing something that you think has lost its edge or that someone else has no use for. I’ve written a blog on the best places to source cool second hand stuff here.
Watch Out For The Trend Trap
One of the reasons that Instagram has been such a successful interiors platform is that it’s choc a block full of new ideas. In the three years that I’ve been posting on social media, I’ve seen a fair few trends come and go. Some trends are timeless, some hang around a while and some are here for less time than it takes to boil a kettle. Due to the transience of Instagram, anything that is new, individual and exciting is filling your feed before you can say ‘macrame’. Unfortunately, once it’s all over your feed, it’s all over. No longer new, no longer individual, no longer exciting. Godammit.
So how can you make sure that you don’t fall into the trend trap? Trends make the Instagram world go round but take them lightly. Add a touch of a trend - a cushion, a print, an accessory - but keep the bones of your room neutral. This means that you can take advantage of new colours and new ideas when they happen without having to totally redecorate your space. Flooring, tiles, kitchens, bathrooms, hardware - the expensive stuff - should be able to move with the times. Think about the long game and not just what appeals to you at that moment when considering those main purchases.
Finally, don’t be scared to mix things up. There is nothing better from either an aesthetic or sustainable point of view than juxtaposing the old and the new. Put a vintage print from a charity shop above a contemporary bookcase; contrast a mid-century modern sideboard with modern urban art. I have my Grandmothers blanket box in my bedroom alongside a modern upholstered bed with 70’s photography above. The mix is what makes it interesting. Our homes should reflect our personalities and our history - get out the old photographs, enlarge them and frame them, create a focal point that reminds you of good memories.
Don’t hide away your Grandparents crockery, for example - use it, alongside more modern pieces, to add interest to a table setting. Every piece in your home should be there because it means something, whether it’s old or whether it’s new. And the contrast of these much loved pieces will be what gives your home the warmth and personality that you’re looking to portray.
Your home truly has the power to make you happy and to become a reflection of you and your own personal style - it’s an ever evolving process but that’s what makes it so exciting. It’s totally normal to make mistakes - I can tell you for a fact that I’ve made plenty (it took me 15 bloody years to warrant selling off the pine furniture, not to mention four full coats of white to get rid of the dark grey walls, ffs) - but trial and error will get you to a place where your space feels like your own. I feel like I’ve come a long way since the lime green and lilac walls of our first new build and now have a home which works well for our family, reflecting our personalities and memories whilst being a damn good place to spend time together and with friends over a meal and a glass of wine. Or two. Or maybe even three. Have confidence in yourself, have fun and most of all, ENJOY making your home your own.