Last week on the blog I talked you through the plans for our house extension in London (a little belatedly I admit), showed you the grotty before pics and ran you through all the stages of the build until now (the walls have been plastered and we’re finally onto joinery and decoration). Today, I want to move onto the fun bit – the concept for the interiors. This is the bit I’ve been dreaming about and weighing over in my mind the most. I think that probably comes as no surprise if you’ve followed me for a while!
To recap a little: we’re in the process of adding a contemporary double storey extension to our Victorian terraced house, extending into the side return and adding a light-filled living/dining space as well as new bedroom and family bathroom above. You can see the floor plan in this post. I worked with Scenario Architecture to develop the design and form of the extension, but then it was down to me to project manage and spec the interiors. I studied architecture at the Bartlett at UCL and very nearly became an architect myself, so it has always been a dream of mine to create a space of my own. I was both daunted and excited to take on a project of this scale and put my design skills to the ultimate test – curating your own home.
As an architecture student, former design journalist and interior stylist, I have an appreciation and passion for design; that much is probably obvious. I feel it’s in my blood, I live and breathe it. But with that, comes high expectations (put on by myself for myself). I’ve already talked about the perfectionist problem of preferring to rather not do something than do a bad job or get it wrong. For our project – our first and hopefully not the last – it was always going to be a tricky balance between the design vision and the mundane reality of budget. I wanted the space to be architecturally unique but I also didn’t have a champagne budget to blow on a designer kitchen, wooden joinery and fancy features. As such, I want the space to be understated and be able evolve with us, so we later we might be able to add certain elements we couldn’t afford or style it differently if our tastes change.
I’ve kept the interior design of the spaces deliberately simple and pared-back. I don’t want to overcomplicate things and add unnecessary elements. Rather I want the space to become a neutral, timeless backdrop for everyday life to take place. Here less is definitely more.
[AD – features upcoming press products]
The material palette for the interior of the extension is soft and tactile, with off-white walls, cork flooring, porcelain lighting and white sockets and switches. The only strong contrast will be from the black, minimally Crittall-style doors opening up views to the outside. The space is very much designed around peace and wellbeing – creating a calming sanctuary connected with the greenery of the garden.
I know the word ‘wellbeing’ has become something of a trend right now but this is no empty gesture. As a generally anxious person who has experienced first hand what its like to be agoraphobic and fear going outside, I know how important it is to create a space that supports your mood. I want to walk into this new extension and feel instantly soothed and restored. So it’s about finding out what kind of spaces connect with you the most. The extension will be mostly neutral as that is what I find the most relaxing to be in. The finishes are mostly matte and the details are white so as to blend in rather than stand out. It all creates a harmonious scene where everything comes together as a peaceful whole.
I think materials also play a huge part in setting the scene and putting us at ease when we’re in a space. When designing an interior, I want to think about all the senses, especially touch – from the texture of the floor right down to the tilt of a lamp. They’re the little things you notice and appreciate every day.
From the beginning I knew that I didn’t want concrete flooring – as sleek and contemporary as it looks, I always find it feels a little cold visually. The wood flooring that we have in the rest of the house has been discontinued, so I was looking for something a little different to add some texture and intrigue to the clean new space. Enter: cork flooring.
I first fell in love with the idea of cork flooring during a stay at the Port Hotel in Eastbourne, where the neutral beige rooms are finished with wood panelling and honey-toned cork flooring. It felt really soft, smooth and warm to touch, especially under bare feet. That’s because cork is a thermal insulator and holds warmth longer than other materials such as timber or laminate.
It turns out that cork is not only a wonderfully sustainable material, it also has great health benefits, positively contributing to a feeling of comfort and wellbeing in a space. The cellular structure of cork – it’s made of lots of little cells that are filled with air – also makes it a good acoustic insulator. Cork can dull the sound of steps and absorb loud bangs, creating a peaceful environment that feels calm and quiet. It can even help improve air quality due to its exceptionally low levels of VOCs. See, I told you the idea of wellbeing wasn’t just an empty gesture.
I was really excited to discover Recork – they create cork flooring made of waste cork from bottle stopper production and early harvests. It comes in long agglomerated cork planks, not too dissimilar in shape to wood flooring. It’s available in a number of different natural tones, from Concrete Grey to Charred Oak. To achieve this extra matte finish they apply a plant-based oil to colour the cork, before finishing the surface with an overcoat to protect and preserve the material from scratches and wear and tear. We’ve chosen Dapple Grey – a grey-toned cork that will bring texture while keeping the space light, airy and Scandinavian in feel. You can see how I deliberated with samples below.
Flooring: Recork, sockets and switches: Dowsing & Reynolds, radiator valves and radiators: Best Heating, also pictured: Superfront samples for IKEA kitchens [AD – upcoming press products]. Below a sneak peek of a nearly finished room.
I will also be adding texture and understated character with tongue and groove panelled joinery. I originally wanted veneered wood joinery but that proved to be too expensive and was soon disregarded. I think the lines of tongue and groove help to bring order and interest to plain surfaces. Tongue and groove panelling reminds me of relaxed, airy Australian interiors and I hope to capture some of that easy, breezy style. I don’t think it will be too much of a compromise and we’ll be able to paint it whatever colour we want.
Another important detail in an interior is your touch points, such as door handles and plug sockets. I’ve chosen matte white sockets and switches from Leeds-based brand Dowsing & Reynolds. I toyed with the idea of black or brass, but in the end wanted a finish that would blend into the background and not dominate the space. I wanted the sockets and switches to be understated, so you appreciate them when you use them, but don’t necessarily notice them when you’re not.
The ones I’ve chosen are not a pure white, but more of a soft off-white, which makes it feel like an upgrade from your standard plastic sockets. I love the little detail of the retro toggle on the switch, which makes a really satisfying click when you turn them on. All my other lighting is white so I think everything will go together seamlessly.
That also leaves the samples for the kitchen fronts, which you can see in the mood board below. Many of you know and love our Veddinge grey kitchen from IKEA. It’s served us so well and really stood the test of time. I still get messages from people saying they took inspiration from it and used the same fronts. But after six years (can you believe it!), the kitchen has had its fair share of wear and tear, and could do with a little face lift to bring it up to the standard of the rest of the house and the new extension.
We’ll be replacing the grey fronts with new fronts from Swedish brand Superfront. They make beautiful, quality fronts for IKEA kitchens, wardrobes and sideboards, in a host of neutral tones and wooden textures. You can even colour match to a custom NCS code. It’s a great way to get a completely fresh look kitchen without having to overhaul a space and buy a whole new kitchen. You can simply unscrew the old fronts and replace them with a new front of the same size.
I loved our kitchen, but the cool tones of the grey are starting to feel a little chilly. Again, I want to warm things up by adding lots of natural texture. I’m really drawn to Superfront’s Biscotti Wood – I think the natural grain will add a real wow moment when you walk into the kitchen and see it paired with the white worktop and white rectangular tiles.
That sets out a little of the interior concept that will form the bones of the space. There’s also a lot to be said for adding detail to an interior in the form of books, plants, paintings and all the personal objects that make a house a home. I really don’t think it takes much to make a space feel cosy and homely – it comes down to the right lighting and a few comforting details. For me to feel at home, I don’t need a lot on the walls or an over complicated colour scheme. I think this will be the perfect starting point to making our home our own.