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Lamentable living rooms

Make over your lounge with Colin and Justin’s tough-love guide

Damn it ‘ you’re strong. You can cope with this carnage. Just prepare yourself, that’s all we ask. Pause. So are you ready yet’ Good. Here goes. You’ve combed your way through other sections of this magazine and you’ve made it to this page and you’re still in one piece! It’s us you should be worried about, because we’ve seen it all.

A million times. Yup, like a pair of property Poirots we’ve crawled our way round the UK’s worst lounges in search of extreme design trauma. And we found it.

We reckon that the root of the problem is the way in which Britain goes about styling its living rooms. OK, in the past there wasn’t as much reference available, but in this modern day and age ‘ with loads of technology at your finger tips and a world of designer stores and TV shows (not to mention fabulous magazines such as this!) available to plunder for ideas and inspiration ‘ there’s no excuse to get it so wrong. Then there are the home events such as Ideal Home Show, which bend over backwards to make Britain style literate. The clues are all out there but it’s up to you to make the most of them. If you don’t, your living rooms will always be at risk!

The lowdown on re-vamping your living room
To analyse where your interior design ideas may be going wrong, let’s start at the floor and work our way (slowly but surely) up!

Check out your carpets
This touchy feely feast for your footsies should be short piled, devoid of pattern and generally self-coloured: that’s design speak for ‘one shade covers all’. And, for crying out loud, you can forget ‘sculpting’, ‘shading’ or ‘textured veining’. Opt for neutral colours that will work well when you change your scheme further down the line. And look for hard-wearing products from companies such as Allied Carpets, Kersaint Cobb or Crucial Trading. Natural floor coverings such as coir or sea grass can look great and can certainly be hard wearing. But get them wet and they smell like cat pee. (Nice.) So opt instead for a good wool and nylon mix that gives the look of natural fibres, but with a less odorous side effect. You have been warned’

Review your sofas and armchairs
Ditch anything that’s shell backed, lose the velour and forget pattern! Plastic swirly looking timber detailing at the arms and feet is criminal and as for a combination of all these aspects ‘ Noooooo!

Opt instead for self-coloured fabric, comfy chunky shapes that will take the rough and tumble of everyday life, and modern low slung designs. Soft greys, taupes and creams work well but make a point of choosing models that have removable and washable covers.

You don’t need an explanation ‘ you know it makes sense. Sofa Workshop, Viva Sofa (now part of Sofa Workshop) and George Maxwell are just some of our favourites.

Assess your furniture
Britain has a fondness for flat pack and, we suppose, nothing is ever going to change that. But don’t get us wrong; it’s not that we don’t like the stuff (everything starts life as an assembly of components parts, after all ‘ it’s just that some furniture arrives ready assembled), more that we can’t be bothered with the hassle of putting it all together. All that fumbling about with a forest of chipboard, bags
of screws and an Allan key can be very disturbing. As much as you try you know you’ll put the drawers in upside down and before
you know it it’s all gone Pete Tong.

Flat pack aside there are loads of design crimes played out on a deadly daily bases by misguided British home owners. And here are just a few. Coffee tables should not be made from old boxes with dinner trays balanced dangerously on
top nor, for that matter, from giant bobbin-type cable reels painted bright ‘funky’ colours. Contrary to popular belief shelving systems made from bricks and scaffolding planks are not where it’s at. Nor, for that matter, are TV units fashioned from old tea chests ‘ even if you’ve ‘discovered’ that placing them on their side with the top to the back gives
you a handy place to stash the video. You’ve got to use your common sense, guys, and think before you make or buy.

And it’s not even like there’s even a valid excuse for getting it wrong. These days there are plenty of affordable options on the high street so spend a little time and invest in some decent kit. Even Argos, Ikea and Tesco sell inspired ranges that cost far less than you’d think. Or why not hit your local auction house and buy something with a little history. A gorgeous piece of timeworn oak, perhaps, or a reassuringly heavy hunk of marble on a wrought iron frame. Yup, ’30 will pay for plenty so do yourself a favour and get that bidding hand waving frantically in the air.

Work on your wall coverings
Now this is a tricky area and time sensitive to say the very least. Blimey ‘ wallpaper goes in and out of style more often than we quaff Champagne in posh London eaterie, The Ivy. And that’s a very regular occurrence indeed! So if you re-read this mag in a few seasons time the rules could be entirely different again.

In essence ‘ and this is an immoveable feast as far as rules are concerned ‘ less is more. Subtle patterns are OK as entire wall coverings ‘ if delicate pattern is your thing. But if you like to make a bolder statement, then the old accent-wall principal rocks every time. Pick a wall (the one that holds the fireplace is generally best) and go to town. We love bold geometrics and even retro papers but as we said, ‘less is more”

If you want to get the mood into the rest of your space then pick out one or two colours that appear in the paper and use accessories in these colours to pull the room together. Or choose the background colour and use this on other walls to create gorgeous unity. It’s easy, sweeties, when you know how’

Look to your lighting
Right, bright spark! Get it sorted ‘ or you might as well ditch all your other homework down the designer drain. Yup, guys, lighting, is a make or break matter and will improve or detract from your scheme like nothing else can. Hey, it’s easy to add atmosphere at the flick of switch but blimey, it’s even easier to goof up’big style. So listen up. As far as we’re concerned, the foolproof and most hassle-free way to create sympathetic illumination is to employ what’s commonly known as ‘mood lighting’. So now you know! However (and it’s a big however!) going by some of the eccentric electric light issues we’ve seen this could be better referred to as ‘bad mood’ lighting’ Aye, we’ve seen it all’

So, where were we’ Oh yes ‘ ‘mood lighting’. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It promotes mood ‘ and atmosphere ‘ in your home by creating comfortably lit zones that proffer, well, mood. This type of lighting comes via ‘wall washers’, sidelights, table lights and standard lamps or via discreetly positioned lighting behind sofas, tables or plants. You get the gist. Similar to ‘pool’ lighting, which creates individual pockets of light where you need it most, it’s important to get it right. And as people become more and more pre’occupied with their homes there’s a growing army of home departments guzzling up the market. From Bhs to Christopher Wray and from M&S to Debenhams there is, it would appear, a lighting solution for everything. So why is it then, then, that we still come across so many eye-poppingly hellish designs as we go about our daily toils’ Hmm’

Now we’ve established the top 10 lighting issues, it might be a good idea to concentrate on the types that you should select and, take it from us, twenty years in the business ‘ men and boys ‘ we know best. And it’s so not hard to make good decisions. Even something as simple as a dimmer switch ‘ which will only set you back about a tenner ‘ can make all the difference to the feel of your room. If you’ve got a chez vous take on the Blackpool Illuminations, then a twist of one of these wee fellows will make life that little bit less, well, in your face.

It’s incredible to think that in just a few short years the high street has gone from dull, dull, dull to actually rather chi chi via a whole host of home interest stores that have responded, in no uncertain terms, to the new style demands of Great Britain. Yup, these forward thinking department stores and high-street singles have upped the ante to the power of ten to such a point that they now carry a stock collection that we thoroughly admire. Bhs has a particularly good department as does Debenhams, M&S and House of Fraser but raising this point raises another more contentious issue which goes something like this: Why is it then that with good product sales increasing all the time, we see so little of it appearing in the homes we visit’ Darlings, it’s an enigma. We mean it’s got to go somewhere after all! But where exactly’

We certainly don’t see it!

Celebrity lounge loser

Before the makeover
Ok, so she might have a crackin’ pair of boobs, a good voice and a chirpy Cockney sparrow demeanour but Sam Fox’s decorating taste is positioned somewhere in her cute wee posterior.

Her living room is proof positive that bad taste transcends Jo Public to land squarely at the feet of celebrity. Utterly stuck in the past, Chez Fox was desperate. With velveteen curtains, like some clapped out old film stars frock, and a scary gothic blue scheme, we could hardly believe what we were seeing. The sofas, by Sam’s admission were particularly foul and as for the light installation around the fireplace’ Forget it. Now take a deep breath, remember what this pop star living room
was like, and get ready for the fruits of our labour.

After the makeover
Could this lounge be any more ‘rock star’ appropriate’ Sure, it was a massive job but hey, look at it now! Seamless white walls, a white painted floor and a dreamy arrangement of white leather furniture create a cool sanctuary of tonal perfection. Carefully selected blood red accessories and artwork provide contrast and Sam and her partner, Myra, add all the extra colour required by simply living there. Fabulous.

Top 10 lighting offenders

Big lumpy fiercely fringed, horrid, florid standard lamps.
Triffids ‘ as we call them. Aye, those horrid Lumieres that look like they’ve dropped out of the sky and landed on the set of a 1950s B movie.
Novelty lamps ‘ anything shaped like a duck or a crumpled carrier bag. And those awful Aphrodite shaped lamps with wax droplets.
Fluorescent strip lights ‘ especially the ones with plastic covers that collect frazzled flies. A nice touch in the kitchen!
Cupped hands holding illuminated globes.
Plastic fake
Tiffany lamps.
Giant brass-eye ball spots in the ceiling (especially an orange pine timber ceiling!)
Picture lamps ‘ including illuminated scenes of The Taj Mahal or Niagara Falls. Unless you’re seriously kitsch, there’s no way you can carry off this look. Note: kitsch is what middle class people call their own bad taste!
Fake disco lights.
We mean, come on! Why”’ And who on earth would want to get down and boogie in your lurid living room anyway’
Lights that double as ceiling fans. We’d always worry they’d collapse and decapitate. Not a good look this season.

A fresh and modern room

Before the makeover
They say a picture paints a thousand words but judging by the before photo of this vile living room, we only need three: Cheap and nasty. Enough said. Let’s move on

After the makeover
Hells bells we love this room. And yes we know self-praise is a poorly affair but we can’t help ourselves on this occasion.
Plastered smooth by our talented How Not To Decorate team we painted most areas duck egg blue but decided that breast would be best as far as wallpapering was concerned.

With this in mind we raided B&Q for some gorgeous Tate Range paper and invested just ’20 on a roll. Ah, the joys of knowing how to decorate and how to spend the dosh. Next we added a modern electric wall-hung fireplace and some chunky floating shelves. Then we added a spot of solid-beech flooring, a pair of new sofas, oh, and a chunky timber coffee table.

And let us tell you a secret. The owners of this house have ‘a small rental property portfolio’ (their words, not ours. We’d call them landlords) and were delighted to explain that they planned on re-using the stuff we discarded in one of their other apartments. For the love of God, we pity their tenants.

Top10 living room mistakes

Heavily textured ceilings ‘ leave the Baked Alaska for the dinner table.
Arrangements of dusty dried flowers in the fire place. A log stack, yes, but a bunch of arid Peonies ‘ no!
Walls paneled in that awful 1970s fake timber truck stop paneling.
Plastic plants and flowers ‘ if you can’t manage the real thing then don’t bother.
Rugs on rugs. Now this is perhaps a no no that is peculiar to us but we can’t get to grips with the idea of double layering. On timber, yes but on yer Berber’ Nope.
Shell backed
sofas. No thanks.
Swirly patterned carpets.
Again, no thanks.
Cheap click together laminate that has, ahem, unclicked. Who wants to see line after line of dusty cracks’
Over sized TVs.
Maybe it’s just us but it seems that sofas are getting smaller and TVs are definitely getting bigger’ What’s going on’
Cigarette laden ashtrays lying everywhere. The smell, the look, the eugh’

Woeful wallpapers

‘That wallpaper is migraine inducing. And I’m not just talking about one of those headachy migraines. I’m talking about one of the ones that comes complete with flashing lights and full on nausea”

Welcome to the less than wonderful world of woeful wallpapers. Aye, we’ve put together a catalogue of catastrophic coverings that are best avoided at all costs. Little more than bad taste on a roll, these uglies are the strips of Satan and should never, ever be used to decorate your home. And what is it they say’ That the trick to successful wallpapering is in the hanging’ Well, if you ask us, someone should be hung for producing this little lot’

1970s beige The perfect paper for rogue landlords, covering jotters and Jarvis Cocker fans. And yes, it probably does come smelling of wee’

Burgundy metallic stripes can be a bit tricky at the best of times, but add a metallic sheen (which will brilliantly highlight all your little lumps and bumps) and you’ve really got a recipe for disaster. Misguided homeowners might think this paper looks regal but to us it’s more twenty Regal.

Miserable marble A marble finish that’s warm to the touch and peeling at the edges, hmm’ Well that sounds authentic. But hey, why not go the whole hog and use it to line your entire smallest room for instant Roman bathhouse appeal. Yes, that peeling effect after just one bath is guaranteed to get your toga in a tangle!

Hellish hessian This was originally designed as a heavy dressing for surfaces in really bad nick and that’s why every property developer who’s ever stripped the stuff off their new baby will probably, at some time or another, have found that the walls came away with it. It ain’t d’cor guys, it’s camouflage.

Cork Great for champagne bottles, lousy for walls. Textural and cushioning, this 1970s staple brings a padded cell feel to any room. So if you feel like chucking yourself against a hard surface then this is for you. For all other sane people, cork is like the platform shoe. Best left in the 1970s.

Wood-effect paneling Hey, the look of a log cabin without harming a single tree. Fab if you’re Grisly Adams, forty floors up in a tower block, or if you’re trying to capture the look of a greasy spoon chez vous. Yup, just rub it down with lard and beans and you’re in business…

Gold mesh effect Ideal for a 1980s Hollywood wife, this brash, loud and glitzy paper looks terrific if you’re Jackie Collins but abysmal if you’re Michelle Collins. Guaranteed to bring the Midas touch to your home and make your rooms look like a giant foil-wrapped chocolate bar.

Hot red flock We’ll have to be careful here as damask papers are making a bit of a comeback. But come on, can you imagine a small boxy living room completely covered in red flock from top to toe’ And it managing not to look like a 1970s Indian restaurant’ Nope, neither can we.

Anything peach Ah yes, peach, that offensively inoffensive shade for an army of uncertain decorators. Up and down the land scores of homeowners are bickering, unable to come to a sensible decision about what colour to paint their homes. And sadly they usually concur about one shade’yup, you’ve guessed it ‘ the big P. ‘But honey, we don’t want magnolia again, we want to add colour” you cry. Pause. ‘Ok baby, what about peach”’

Football wallpaper Keep the colours on the field and leave your child’s room alone. Think about it ‘ you want the little darling to sit quietly and go to bed early so you pop him into a shrine to an athletic and powerful sport that’s decorated in a crowded and colourful way. And then you wonder why your little angel’s hyperactive…

Textured wall coverings This includes the evil of all evils, woodchip! C’mon guys ‘ if your walls are lumpy and bumpy don’t disguise them, employ a plasterer and fix them! Face it; these designs are so bad that the textual quality of the paper means that even blind people can hate them, too!

Borders Just who invented the border’ And why do we want to know’ Because we’d like to take them across the border and leave them there, that’s why! Oh and how people use them. At best around Dado and picture rail height and at worst around doorframes, plug sockets and light switches. Don’t do it ‘ they were crap then and they’re crap now. So avoid them like the plague.



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