The Dos and Don’ts of decorating your house free of inhibitions

London Design Week revealed a more personal approach to creating interiors, with some exciting and distinctive results. Giles Kime takes a look.

London Design Week — the mass unveiling of new fabric, wallpaper and furniture collections that takes place at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour each spring — serves as a bellwether of the prevailing mood in the world of interior design.

Although the week-long show is always pretty frenetic, this year it drew more crowds than ever before and they weren’t disappointed by what they found, such as new collections by Kit Kemp, Julian Chichester and a groundbreaking new bath inspired by the sculpture of Barcelona-based artist Sophie-Elizabeth Thompson for Victoria + Albert baths. But it wasn’t only the new launches that dazzled; this year, stars plucked from the design firmament, including Mrs Kemp, Bunny Williams, Giles Deacon, Sophie Ashby, Emily Todhunter, Edward Bulmer and Susie Atkinson, came along to share their wisdom — and, in many cases, their wit.

A sofa in Dahlia, one of Flora Soames’s own fabric designs.

For me, a highlight of the week was hosting an event with the interior designers Kathryn Ireland and Flora Soames. Their conversation captured the spirit of a new era in interior design that appears to be focused on the distinctive and highly personal, unburdened by either fashion or historicism. If so, it’s a long way from the homogenous approach to design that prevailed in the decade before the pandemic. The latter was the result, I suspect, of spending too long looking at other people’s ideas on Instagram and not having enough of one’s own.

The aim of the talk was to encourage us to decorate to the beat of our own drum and also to inject some fun. ‘Serious is a word that must entirely be avoided when it comes to decoration’ was one of Miss Ireland’s quotes that offered an insight into her design philosophy.

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The Dos and Don’ts of designing without inhibitions

  • DO — Visit houses open to the public
  • DO — Read interior-design books
  • DO — Explore antique shops, auctions and fabric showrooms
  • DON’T — Spend hours scrolling Instagram
  • DON’T — Listen to the advice of friends (it’s your house)
  • DON’T — Overthink: as US decorator Dolly Draper said: ‘If it looks right, it is right’

We speculated whether the time we all spent at home during lockdowns encouraged us to create spaces that are a reflection of ourselves and our histories rather than what we’d merely seen online. The designers’ work certainly demonstrated the benefits of this approach: rooms were brought to life with family photographs, multicoloured textiles, personal collections, pattern on pattern, quirky old pieces of furniture. None of their ideas involved huge investment, simply a degree of confidence in committing to things that created both mood and meaning.

As well as an uplifting lack of inhibition when it comes to their craft, both designers have recently published books that demonstrate how they work. Miss Soames’s is heavily autobiographical and the way that she weaves her past into the warp and the weft of the book, demonstrates, rather eloquently, that interior design is most interesting when it has a story to tell.