The Essence of Cool Distilled
Photos: [above] Interior by The Reverend Sister
[below] Curious Coco, Alex Eagle, Soho Home, Abigail Ahern
“If you do ordinary you’ll get a result that leaves you feeling meh. You’ll get so much more from your home if you have a few items that are a bit out there, as long as they represent you or they’ll be ‘try hard’ fails”
You know those people whose homes are just effortlessly cool? You’re about to become one of them.
Most homes have a single layer approach, in effect they’ve stopped short of ‘designing’ and become suspended in an enduring ‘make do and dream’ limitation. Break through this and you reach the holy grail of design.
So what is it that makes one home cool and another not? You’d be in good company for assuming the best interiors are reserved for the rich and famous who can afford to ‘buy’ cool. Sure, money gives you access to the most luxurious fixtures and finishes but truly cool interiors are actually organic and not necessarily expensive – they evolve to reflect our personality and life journey. In fact, decorating on a shoestring is inspiring because you have to be more creative to find the magic.
“Without doubt, every amazing interior I’ve created or seen that oozes cool has personality in spades”.
Cool is internally referenced, it comes from our experiences and individual preferences, from a clear sense of who we are. It’s not contrived or showhome perfect, it’s not prescribed, nor totally on trend, it’s not keeping up, nor is it bling, it’s not a pastiche, it’s not plonked and it’s not generic art for the sake of art. Cool is confident, edgy, creative, authentic, individual, curated, edited, refined and distilled down to the essence of your style. It evolves as you do, it’s welcoming, unpretentious, it’s comfortable, personal, it has meaning and yes, effortless takes effort.
They’re surprising, intriguing and interesting with a big old dollop of the unexpected, quirky even, and I’m going to share how it’s done. Let’s start with some of the coolest pieces you can own, including some that may surprise you:
The It List
1.Berber Rug – A simple timeless design with a handmade feel that works in most schemes.
2.Sheepskin Rug – we have wooden floors, so my hubby and I have one each under our desks to plant our toes, along with a couple spare for the outdoor seats in autumn. (Buy ethically try at Rockett St George)
3.Dark walls – at least one room, ours is the living room for cosy evenings (Queen of dark Abigail Ahern has fab shades of darkness)
4.Animal Print – nooooo I hear you cry, but a touch can look so fabulous, especially against a dark backdrop. Think of a cute little stool, a rug, cushion or an armchair.
5.Jute – such a great texture and hard wearing. (Check out Soho Home for a pouffe or rug).
6.Mohair – making a comeback, but never really out with the cool set. (Try Soho Home for mohair sofas and chairs, or Loaf and Sofa.com for less expensive velvet to get the look).
7.Greenery – houseplants or loose floral bouquets breathe life into a space. I am always happier when I have fresh flowers around so I’ve planted bulbs of my favourites to cut some for the house. This keeps the cost down and adds a little bit of joy knowing I grew them. I also keep a large potted bamboo right outside the patio doors so I always have a glimpse of lush foliage.
8.Candles – my go to routine every evening when the sun sets is to light the lanterns. I really enjoy the aroma and warm glowy atmosphere. (Try flameless candles if you have kids. Amazon).
9.Metallics – rose golden tones add warmth to grey, north facing and dark painted rooms. Gold/brass looks stunning with whites, minks, blacks and navy.
10.Quirky & Oversize art – alternatives to pictures, from neon lights (try Carousel Lights), mirrors and giant vases to faux taxidermy.
And here’s how to work it:
1. Extraordinary – If you do ordinary you’ll get a result that leaves you feeling meh. You’ll get so much more from your home if you have a few items that are a bit out there, as long as they represent you or they’ll be ‘try hard’ fails. Think oversized ceramics or art, antique frames, fringe curtains, huge lanterns, quirky lampshades, or a neon flamingo – whatever makes you feel good.
Tip: avoid mass market or you’ll have a catalogue home.
2. Edit – listen up, this one is the biggie. We all own interesting things, but they have to be edited, whittled down if you will to those that are most cherished and suit the space.
Tip: this is the most important advice I can give you. It’s not a crime to box stuff up, even if your mother in law spent hours choosing it.
We all get it wrong sometimes and shouldn’t be offended if the gift didn’t quite hit the mark. There I’ve said it, so, if it doesn’t suit the space right now, don’t include it. It may work another time or in another room.
Tip: limiting base colour options makes design choices easier.
3. Base Palette – paint is my best friend, it’s relatively cheap and transforms a space in a flash. A harmony of base notes throughout your home will instantly feel chic and relaxed. Choose a few complimentary colours and play with shades within this colourway, using DIY store mixing services if necessary. It’s a fail safe method; you get a wealth of choice using the same colour family and I promise they won’t clash.
4. Contrast – dark accents add drama, sophistication, a hint of luxe and most importantly contrast. As with a photograph, insufficient contrast produces a flat, bland picture. Including darker features and accessories creates focal points that will make a room pop.
Tip: For serious dark wall inspo visit Abigail Ahern
5. Thread – from nik naks to rugs and cushions there must be a sense of cohesion, not matchy matchy, but an overall strand that pulls everything together harmoniously. This may be a commonality, a personal interest that is interspersed throughout the room (personality), a particular material or colours that are replicated.
6. Display – avoid plonking, it won’t look interesting and this includes art plonked on walls gggrrrrrr. The art of display really is a skill, how stuff is arranged and lit transforms clutter to objet d’art. I love how these shelves at Alex Eagle have been edited [below]; there is a lot going on but if it’s well thought out, considered and maintains that thread it works. Think about the relationship between the pieces – group them together (odd numbers are effective), prop a mirror behind a vase, add a string of fairy lights, stand a smaller piece on a few books if it needs more height. Play, it’s trial and error until it feels right – yes designers keep tweaking stuff until it’s right too.
Tip: take a photo on your smartphone – this never fails to highlight areas that don’t work or are still visually flat.
7. Layer Up – from textiles to lighting, accessories and art, layering adds depth, interest and character that supersedes the norm.
8. Sociable – cool spaces make us want to linger so they’re all about comfort. Buy cushions, like lots of them, not just two that look like they’ve had an argument at each end of the sofa, oh, and they don’t all have to match. Invest in a comfy sofa and if space permits get a chaise longue or additional armchairs in different shapes, finish, colour, textures, patterned fabrics or even from different eras. Just remember to maintain that cohesive thread, that link, be it colour, material, personality.
Tip: create a moodboard or moodbook to keep your look on track.
9. Details – focus on areas that could benefit from a little personal flair. Add studs or funky handles to furniture, cumberbands in contrasting textures, patterns or colours around the belly of your cushions and curtain hems, one or two bands of ribbon to blinds or spray an old mannequin in a contemporary colour, or papier mache it with pages from your favourite magazine.
10. Pattern – it’s counterintuitive I know, but mix and clash patterns on scale and size, but don’t over do it. The trick is to maintain a definite colour link between each pattern and make sure the room is balanced. Think sprinkles on an iced cake, we’re looking for an even spread. Tip: try using pattern pairs if you’re a little unsure, this will help you maintain balance because everything will be in equal measure. Alternatively, my personal preference is for one large dose of pattern, a rug or the sofa, that the rest of the room feeds off.
11. Excess – this is one of my favourites: hang curtains full height and width, from floor to ceiling with about 10cm extra that will drape onto the floor – it’s an elegant and instant touch of luxe that will make the room feel bigger. Think red carpet dresses, the majority drape the floor to add stature and elegance to the wearer. Voila.
Tip: Ikea have ready made curtains in long lengths if you’re strapped for cash, and if you can’t sew simply trim to the length plus an inch to hem with iron-on wonderweb.
12. Old & New – this is a killer hook for cool, one the London set have been doing for years. Mix in some old treasures for a sense of character and permanence. It helps if they have been handed down through the generations, if not, you can pick up lots of cool stuff at charity, reclamation or antique shops. Don’t worry if items are beat up, this can be what makes them charming. Just choose pieces that you love or have meaning for you.
Tip: see if your local car garage will spray furniture for you to get that professional finish.
13. Soul – emphasise your interests. If you love books collect a few of the best copies; be it gardening, photography, literature, film, history, travel or quantum physics, and make them accessible in a way that’s stylish. This means stacking them with thought, maybe they can form a bedside table, a table centrepiece or sit in a basket by your favourite seat. It’s your home so have what makes you happy around you.
14. Off kilter – after you have spent all that time maintaining balance, cohesion and careful placement, you’re now going to [metaphorically speaking] throw the room up in the air. The way it ‘lands’, this looser version, with a few pieces jarring, a couple of cushions on the floor, is effortless. It’s undone, natural, chic, inviting, intriguing, understated and the massively sought after holy grail of interiors – utterly cool.
Staying in your fabulous interior will be your new going out, so sit back and sip that cocktail – you’ve arrived.