Curating vs. Clutter

From Laura Ashley blog interview with Geraldine James, Author of “Creative Walls”

I recently attended a seminar by Professional Organizer Robynne Pendaries, on decluttering and better organising your space – a hot topic for many people as we move into spring. She touched on many fascinating topics (including trying to live with hoarder partners), but one that really grabbed my attention was Visual Clutter.  In this context, she was talking about the overwhelming effect of too many conflicting colours, patterns, textures, to the point that you can no longer concentrate on a task or activity.

This got me thinking about interior design, and one of the current trends for ‘curating’.  The magazines are full of gorgeous glass cloches or cabinets with carefully put-together collections of shells, bones, little objects. And of course visits to the homes of collectors with presentations of all sorts of collections – trophy heads on every wall, tribal masks, butterfly and insect collections, piles of books everywhere…But its a tricky look to pull off.


To me, a lack of focus combined with a lack of places to rest the eye, represent  examples of Visual Clutter. Some people can live quite happily with a space packed full of crazy colours, shapes, materials, textures, not a clear surface in sight. But for many people, this is just clutter, and clutter can have a detrimental effect in a number of ways – losing things, feeling disorganized, causing or exacerbating relationship problems…

So how to pull off the ‘serious collector’ look without coming across as an eccentric aunty or uncle and creating a dust-laden den of visual fatigue? Corral and edit those objects! Restrict the space you dedicate to collections – just a corner of the room, or just around a single piece of furniture. Glass cloches are great for helping a collection look purposeful, dust free, and limits how much can be displayed. But one on its own looks lonely, and I think more than 2 or 3 would be overdoing it. A glass-fronted cabinet, if you have the space, can look fantastic as long as the contents are well edited: have something to unify them, such as colour, and play about with scale.  A tray is a wonderful way to display a collection of objects – that way you can’t pile on too many things, they are grouped together rather than spread around the room, and putting almost anything on a lovely tray instantly improves the way it looks.

From Baer Home Design

Warming up with Winter Colours

After the summer spate of neon brights, the colour palette for Winter 2013/14 feels like a welcome relief. A soothing palette of more mineral-type colours was evident at the Maison et Objet tradeshow.
I noticed gorgeous shades of green in muted tones such as sage and artichoke; a toned down version of orange, with a more rusty feel to it, and mineral blue, from the palest shade through to a deep pure form. These colours were complemented by a soft bone colour and a pale pinky-apricot as the neutrals.
I found these colours so cocooning and relaxing, I wanted to curl up in them right there!

Of course, not many of us want to change our home colour schemes by the season, though just as we update our wardrobes with little touches here and there, so too our homes. These lovely ceramic pieces by Dietland Wolf bring in the colours beautifully.


If you are looking for a colour update on a larger scale, though, I would have no fear of using the colours in this palette. They are inherently easy to live with: the orange is warm and welcoming but not overly stimulating. The greens are gentle, and with a high level of grey in them, work themselves easily into a neutral palette. The blues, paired with the rusty orange or almost any other warm colour, would create a striking mix.

Pulling a room together: Rugs

Rugs are an absolute must for creating the finishing touch to just about any space.  In a tiny space, a rug adds depth; in a large room or open plan area, rugs can help define spaces and add intimacy.  Many people assume the ‘safe’ option is to go for a plain rug in neutral tones, but I think these are actually best suited to a very specific look – ultra-contemporary, for example, or the scandinavian look with blonde woods and a mid-century modern feel to the furniture.

Going for pattern and colour in a rug can really add the magic to your room. There will be a link between the motif or a colour in the overall decor and the rug, without overly matching, that creates that ‘aha!’ feeling, the look is complete. Rugs add a touch of luxury, soften hard edges, and invite you in to a space.

Oriental style rugs are superb for bringing pattern and colour into a scheme, without overwhelming. These are, if you like, the ‘safe option’.

Becky Harris, writing for Houzz (a fabulous site for interior decor inspiration), put together a lovely ideabook on how these rugs work with any decorating style.

Since oriental rugs can be a significant investment, it is really important to see them in the space you intend before you commit to a purchase.  A good store should allow you to see the rug in your space before making your final choice.

Layering, or grouping smaller rugs, is another great way to create a very personal finishing touch to your space. To pull this off, you need to pay attention to the colours – there should be some consistency – and not too many colours competing for attention. The example shown here makes a strong statement with yellow and pink, and the two rugs are essential to pulling off the look.  Take away one rug or the other, and the scheme wouldn’t work –  the stripey rug on its own would verge on tacky; the pattern rug alone would be nice but too much yellow. Together, its just right.

Getting to grips with colour: Black, White, Grey


Black can feel oppressive, dark, depressing and claustrophobic. But used in the right way, black can be sophisticated and dramatic. The example here shows a very traditional scheme given real ‘oomph’by painting the walls and ceiling beams black. Just imagine, if the walls were off-white, the whole scheme would be ‘nice, but a bit boring’. The black (whether you like it or not) makes you stop and stare for a while. Not only that, in this context it does not seem claustrophobic, rather it invites you in to sprawl for a while in one of the chairs.

Black tends to lend a masculine feel to any decorating scheme, and can help lend a more edgy finish to a space which could otherwise feel a little ‘frilly’. In the bedroom below, painting the ornate headboard black is unexpected and exciting, veering away from ‘shabby chic’ to something even more interesting


White is associated with light, purity, weightlessness, and efficiency.  It works well with all colours and can help to highlight or lighten a colour scheme. On its own, white can feel cold, sterile and stark, but does create a feeling of space.  In small dark spaces, be warned that painting it white won’t necessarily help it feel lighter or bigger! The absence of good light can mean it will just grey out and feel drab. Better to use something strong or intense in colour in this situation.

White is  often associated with contemporary decorating schemes, often lacking in character. But it can also be used to create soft cocoons of restful contemplation, or very feminine schemes, simply by playing with texture and layers.


White schemes work well when layered in different textures and patterns, adding depth and preventing a stark, cold finish.



Grey carries many contradictory attributes: intellect, dependable, wise, authority, drab, monotonous, dreary, dull, lack of confidence. It is often the colour of institutions, uniformity, conveying a feeling of faceless bureaucracy. It does convey a sense of authority and strength, but is also depressing and makes people feel withdrawn.

Grey needs other colours to create a positive effect.  It can provide a great background for strong bright colours, as in the office example below, or, teamed with softer neutrals or white, can be restful and calming.

Grey and white have been used to create a super calm environment for a new baby to sleep in. All the stimulating colours and patterns a baby needs for their development can be brought in in the play area.

Getting to grips with colour: the cool shades

Continuing on the theme of how colours affect us, today I will tackle cooler shades of the spectrum: Green, Blue, Purple.


Green is regarded as a soothing colour, relaxing and calming, healing and balanced. It is widely associated with safety and ecology.  As a dominant colour in nature, it works well with a wide range of colours.  Green can generate feelings of hope, of growth, and is often linked to fertility.

Green also represents naivete and new-ness, and certain shades are associated with sickness or nausea, so it is not the best colour to use where an impression of authority is required, or in the food business (or at least, the right shade needs to be chosen with care).

The table and mix n’ match chairs create a strong impact here by being painted the same shade of green. Combined with the Green pendant lights and gorgeous flowers, a feeling of spring freshness is generated, whatever the season outside.

Blue is often a ‘favourite’ colour, appealing almost equally to both men and women, perhaps due to the sense of calmness and peace it often generates, or perhaps the idea of blue skies and open space.  Blue carries authority but is not overwhelming, and is associated with trust, reason and logic.

A rich, velvety feeling is achieved in this desk area by painting both the walls and ceiling a deep blue. Layering of accessories, cushions, and mixing up furniture styles help keep the space from feeling cold.

Blue is a very restful colour, helping with concentration, reflection and communication.  However it can also be a cold colour, and can make people  who are already feeling down or depressed feel even worse.

Blue is a good colour to use in areas for rest or study, but less so for areas where a high level of activity and motivation need to be stimulated.





Purple can be a very rich opulent colour, with historical associations with power and wealth, dating back to the Phoenicians (the word Phonecia means ‘land of the purple), where the very rare purple dyes were first produced.  It is an inspirational colour, and creates feelings of ceremony and importance.  Depending on whether it carries more red or blue in the shade, it can stimulate or calm.

Purple is linked with spirituality and meditation, although stronger shades can be overbearing and depressing.  Purple can easily appear ‘bad taste’, though the following example of a teenage girl’s bedroom avoids that by pairing the purple with plenty of contemporary furnishings, rather than lots of sparkly or fluffy accessories.


Getting to Grips with Colour – the warm ones

So many people I talk to are afraid to use colour in their home, but colour is one of the easiest ways to create an amazing space. You don’t necessarily need much, sometimes just a flash of something intense here and there can help enliven those neutral walls.

Colour has a profound impact on us all. We react emotionally and physically to the dominant colours around us – whether we are explicitly aware of it or not! Today I will talk about the warmer colour groups  (Red, Orange, Yellow) in terms of how they make us feel, and how we can use them.

Red is an attention-grabbing colour, associated with power, danger, passion and agression.  It is a colour of strong emotions and high energy. Red is a stimulating colour, from appetites to action, and is a warm – hot! – colour.  As Red is a stimulating colour, it can be used to keep people moving, for example in fast food restaurants, where fast turnover is key and you don’t want people to linger too long.

Red can increase stress, heart rate and blood pressure, and is a tiring colour to spend long periods of time with.  It is therefore a great colour to use where a sense of activity and occasion are needed, but not for a place of rest or reflection.  The use of red in the bedroom shown below would be great for playing music, brainstorming ideas, and jumping around, but difficult to unwind and rest in.

In a domestic setting, it is great for dining rooms or a place for lively exchanges. Used sparingly, it can be wonderful for bringing sparks of energy, focus and warmth to a relevant colour scheme.



Orange is  a warm, friendly and fun colour, thought to be reassuring and optimistic.  It is a stimulating colour but perhaps in a more constructive way than red, and can help creative, intellectual and physical performance.  As with Red, Orange stimulates the appetite, and is an energetic colour. It is well suited to a family kitchen as illustrated below, but not one to use in a bedroom where the occupants suffer insomnia.  It would be a good colour to use in a children’s playroom, a designer’s studio, or an environment where teamwork is important.

The kitchen, with its orange feature wall in the cooking area, conveys a high energy feeling, and seems like a place which would be full of laughter.









In the kids playroom, the orange wall hanging and accessories create lots of visual stimulus for a playful atmosphere.


Yellow is a sunny colour, bright and cheerful, optimistic and uplifting. It is known for stimulating intellectual activity, increasing concentration and speeding up the metabolism.  It is another attention-grabbing colour, highly visible, often used for warning signs, road signs etc.

On the down side, yellow is also a very tiring colour to look at, due to the high amount of light reflected back from it.  Yellow also can make people irritable, with babies in particular being affected by this colour, crying more often and for longer in yellow rooms.  It can negatively affect motor skills in the elderly.

Due to its positive associations, yellow is a popular colour in interior decorating, but perhaps should be used with caution/in moderation, to ensure that the positive attributes don’t overwhelm and become negative in their effect.  The rich, dark colours of the interior here are given even more impact and ‘pow’ effect by using just the right amount of yellow.

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