Top tips from an interior designer on how to style your home
The difference between a smartly furnished rental flat and an eye-catching home are the finishing touches. They are your signature and will say more about you than any expensive sofa. There are timeless rules for getting the look right. The key — as Diana Vreedland, the celebrated Vogue editor put it — is that "the eye has to travel".
Aim to tell your story through display, but don't buy a plethora of Buddhas. Instead, use some sea shells from your last holiday, pull out your grandma's lovely candlesticks and a nice plate that you found in Portobello Market. Place the shells to one side of a console table, grouped but not ordered in size; place the candlesticks slightly behind the shells and sit the plate on a stand behind to frame the scene. You will have created something similar to a still life painting.
The grand decorator David Hicks, master of what he named as tablescaping, advises: "What is important is not how valuable or inexpensive your objects are, but the care and feeling with which you arrange them." So if you can't splash out on anything more than a bowl of fruit then overflow it using one fruit such as oranges, to add colour to a dull room. Let them tumble out, turning elegance into cool decadence. Perfectly balanced interiors can look bland and monotonous.
Experiment with asymmetry by using an odd number of the same items. And don't place objects in the middle of a shelf, it could look like an altar — instead, place to one side.
In posh houses, side tables and pianos tremble under the weight of silver photo frames. Charming, but it's time to move on. Create a family-and-friends wall on the staircase or landing. Pack it with closely hung frames of different sizes and up to three finishes: for example, black lacquer, chrome and oak. To chic it up, black-and-white photos are neat and make everyone look better.
Yes it's time for a little cushion fluffing. Again there are rules. Never place a cushion on an angle on a sofa, unless you are Hyacinth Bucket. However, like her, do fluff them up and give them a karate chop in the middle. For that boutique-hotel look, place a pair, but only a pair, in front of your pillows on the bed. For sofas, maybe go for an odd group that you've collected over the years, all different sizes rather than a matching set, but at all costs avoid cushions 30cm square or less — too suburban.
Be steady with your use of throws. Only place one where you might use it, such as at the end of the bed to tame an overly fluffy duvet — but remember that it will be on the floor by the morning and you will have to be disciplined enough to put it back, together with those display cushions.
Foliage: keep it real
Terence Conran wisely advised us to replace "uncared-for house plants" with fresh flowers. Keep them elegant by sticking to one colour, a large bunch of lilies in a simple vase makes a home look cared for. But remember, murky water is close to slovenly.
A patterned rug
Regarded as the new feature wall. But on the floor, a wildly patterned rug will be less visible than on a single jazzily patterned wall, so will sit more comfortably with your restrained interior. Place half under the foot of the bed or fill the space between two sofas. I've never tired of the Rug Company's designs but you can find designs on the internet cheap enough to allow you to be quite daring.
Cheap candles smell cheap. Indulge in a decent fragrance for a subtle perfume and soft light. Do not overdo it. My favourite is Figuier by Diptych, which has a definite blokey smell.
A room lined in books can be a delight. Stick to hardbacks, or neat vintage paperback collections. Your selection should reflect your passions, so much so that you might pick them up to look at once in a while. Books arranged according to spine colour look close to obsessive — instead stack them horizontally in diminishing sizes, especially on a large square coffee table.
Curtains keep your heating bills down and are great scene changers. If you have small windows, expand the curtains to fill the entire wall.
Hang as low as you dare, especially if you are more likely to be looking at a piece when sitting down. If placed above a fireplace, hang no more than eight inches from the mantelshelf.