Poised to embark on home-improvement works, Olly Mann is caught between style and comfort.

It was supposed to be a simple side extension. Yet somehow, in the two years it’s taken us to finalise the design, uproot obstructive trees, secure planning permission, revise structural calculations and, of course, borrow the money, we’ve essentially redesigned every room in our house.

What was originally intended to be a straightforward(ish) garage demolition and kitchen installation has become a behemoth—we’re adding bathrooms, creating new corridors, converting cupboards to toilets and toilets to cupboards. The build starts next month, and it’s going to be stressful: we’ll need to up sticks, in midwinter, with our 14-year-old cat and our one-year-old son, while ditches are dug and walls are brought down. But I’m prepared for that.

What I wasn’t prepared for, foolishly, were the conversations we’re now having about interior design. Naively, I’d imagined we might actually live in our newly restructured house for a few months before deciding upon the colours of bedspreads and the placement of shaving mirrors. This, apparently, will not fly. My wife says it’s all very well us telling the builder where to put the plugs, but to do that we first must know how we want to use them. And to do that, she says, we need to know how each room will be organised. And to do that, we need a sense of what our furniture will be. And when we think about that (she says, fixing my eyes for this one), we need to make sure it doesn’t look a mess, like it does now.

Mess? This is a dagger through my heart. I really like our little house, and I really wouldn’t call it a mess (especially now I’ve discovered if I put aside £1,300 a year for a professional cleaner, my contribution to the dusting and vacuuming improves considerably). My wife, sensing my offence at her choice of words, elaborates: it’s not that our house is messy; it’s that there isn’t a consistent theme. She spent the summer inhaling Pinterest. All the best homes, she’s deduced, have a consistent theme.

Look, she says, at our TV cabinet. It’s a completely different style from the sofa. Which is a completely different style from the armchair. Which is a completely different style from the dining table, and the paintings on our wall. I pause, look around and, grudgingly, realise
she’s right.

Our TV cabinet was purchased on impulse from a hospice charity shop for £25. It’s cheap glossed pine, but we tried to “distress” it with posh wood paint, and swapped the knobs for fancy ones from Selfridge’s. It fulfils its function, but you can tell, basically, that it’s from
a charity shop. Our country-house couch, by contrast, was an aspirational purchase from Laura Ashley: hideously expensive, even in the sale. It’s now a little stained—heavy use by the aforementioned baby and cat takes an inevitable toll—but still somewhat stately.

 

 

"She spent the summer inhaling Pinterest—all the best homes, she’s deduced, have a consistent theme"

 

 

The Danish armchair next to it is a brown leather 1970s lounge affair, with a curved beech-wood frame. It’s extraordinarily comfortable, and I love it, because it reminds me of my twenties. I bought it from Camden market, for £150 cash—back in the days when I really couldn’t afford £150 cash—and lugged it back to my bachelor pad on the bus. It was, for some years, the classiest piece of furniture in my flat. Indeed, it’s the only item from those heady days which I’m permitted to keep on display (the reproduction globe-shaped drinks cabinet has spent three years rotting in the garage, along with the cross trainer and picnic table. We have yet to determine its fate, but somehow I doubt my spouse will conclude it should form the centrepiece of our new hallway).

The dining table is a dark, solid, wooden thing with golden feet. I inherited it from my father, and probably at some stage in the late 20th century it had some value, but for a couple of decades he stuck it in the staff room in his car business, and it got covered in scratches and fag-marks. So we’ve stuck a bright plastic tablecloth on it, which, now I come to think of it, does look rather ridiculous.

On the wall behind it is a painting I picked up in a street market in Edinburgh, depicting schoolchildren meeting Beefeaters at the Tower of London. The artist was obviously a hobbyist, because the scale is completely out of whack and the skin tones are terrifying—but I’ve always found it charming.

Anyway, my wife’s right: these bits and bobs shouldn’t really be showcased in the same room. They all clash horribly. But each tells a story. They help me feel at home.

I too want our house to seem more considered, more grown up, less ramshackle. But I also want to ensure that the decoration of each room still speaks to us, and about us. That seems like a consistent theme to me.

 

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