When I started to think about updating my living room from its previous beige incarnation, I wanted to make the most of the traditional Victorian architectural features, ensure the room was light and airy, and keep the look fresh and modern. Although I had plenty of ideas of how to mix and match stunning pieces, colours and patterns, inspired by Kit Kemp of Firmdale Hotels, the first step was to update the flooring and window dressings.
To be honest I hadn’t planned on changing everything in the room but once the grey wall colour was completed (Farrow & Ball ‘Cornforth White’), I realised that nothing in the room would work, and, of course, who needs an excuse to buy new fittings?
Shopping for new Victorian window dressings
I previously had cream roller blinds and cream curtains on each of the three sash windows in the bay and on the French door to the small parapet. My decorator restored the sash windows so beautifully that I decided they were a fabulous architectural feature and deserved to be seen in their full splendour, so I chose to have Roman blinds (interlined for warmth) to maximise their impact. I also had the windows insulated and, despite being single glazed, I never have to lower the blinds for warmth, not even in winter. I’m not overlooked, so privacy is never an issue.
My colour palette for the room is grey, gold and purple, so for the three sash windows in the bay I chose a dark grey Swedish linen for the Roman blinds from one of my favourite shops, The Cloth Shop in Portobello Road. The linen is 150cm wide and only £19 a metre, so great value. On the French door, I opted for a full-length interlined puddled curtain in a vintage-style faded rose print in grey and gold, also from The Cloth Shop. This rose fabric is a cotton/linen mix, 140cm wide, and at £23 a metre is excellent value, too.
I chose a 38mm antique style brass pole for the curtain to complement the vintage-style fabric. I wanted the curtain to be a feature without being overpowering, as it is opposite the door into the room and I didn’t want to have curtains of the same fabric on the bay window as they would have hidden and overpowered the window frames.
My top tips for Victorian window dressings
- Window dressings can be very expensive, so choose the fabric wisely or it can be a costly mistake. If in doubt, choose a plain fabric as it can look just as good as a patterned one. You can tire of heavily patterned or floral blinds and curtains. With a plain fabric you can always add a trim or a border at a later date.
- If you are opting for curtains, make sure they are full length where possible. They look more luxurious and elegant, adding height to the room. I also like curtains that puddle (as I’ve done in my living room) where they spill onto the floor. With a cotton or linen fabric like the one I’ve used, puddled curtains look relaxed yet stylish.
- Don’t cover up beautiful architectural features on your windows. Instead, work with them to ensure they are enhanced by your choice of window dressing.
- If you are opting for shutters, install only the bottom ones (café shutters) unless security, privacy or insulation are an issue. It is much nicer to have café shutters with Roman blinds than shutters top and bottom, which can feel quite oppressive.
Choosing new flooring
Previously, I had the same carpet throughout the flat to create a feeling of flow and space, but I wanted to change the carpet in the hall, so decided to run the same flooring into the living room while retaining the carpet in the bedrooms. I have always loved sisal flooring and this was my opportunity to introduce it into my scheme. I’ve seen grey sisal used in a couple of houses that also have grey walls but it was too much grey for me.
Instead, I chose Kersaint Cobb Sisal Tigers Eye Flint, which is a warm colour and works very well with the grey painted walls. It measures four metres in width, which means I have no joins in the sitting room giving continuity.
I decided to add a couple of rugs to complement the colours of the furniture and accessories. I purchased two vintage Turkish rugs from Jenny Hicks Beach, who I met at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea Park, a couple of years ago. She’s a regular exhibitor and sells a superb range of unusual antique and semi-antique carpets, rugs, runners and textiles from Russia, Turkey, Persia, China and Tibet.
My top tips for Victorian flooring:
- Flooring is a minefield as there are so many options, many of which are expensive, so take your time and research all the options. Flooring should complement the décor, it should ground the colours in the room and this is best achieved with rugs so that you can change them as and when you feel like a change. I have a selectin of rugs that I rotate, which means I never tire of looking at the floor!!
- Carpet is so last year. There are so many alternatives that will create a stylish look – sisal, coir, jute, seagrass to name a few. There is a huge range of sisal on the market but beware, if you have a cat these natural products are a no-no as cats will sharpen their claws on it and rip it to shreds!
- Every home needs a ‘tah-dah’ moment on opening the front door as we form an opinion of a home within about 10 seconds of entering. If you have a staircase in the entrance, I recommend to all my clients that they have a feature stair runner (Roger Oates has by far the best range). You only need to take it up to the first floor and it really makes a difference. I created a ‘tah-dah’ stair runner with three antique handwoven Peruvian rugs, which I had laid to my own spec and I used coir matting on the floor.
- Patterned carpet is fine but you could get really tired of it, so I would not advocate it. However, a striped carpet or runner can works brilliantly in hallways, stairs and landings as it creates a feeling of flow. I chose this striped carpet for a client’s large two-storey flat for all the communal areas – hall, stairs and landings (they were unable to have a runner as it was a first-floor flat with a spa on the ground floor). This carpet gives a wonderful feeling of flow and urges you to continue walking through the flat, something we all would want to achieve in our homes!
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and found it useful. Next month, I’ll focus on the furniture that I chose for the room.