One day we hope to be wealthy enough to hire an interior designer. I have a few names in mind. I'm also planning a few projects for 2012 for which we'll probably need some professional help. But for the moment, we've had to make do with a bit of DIY.
This is because we live more than an hour from the city and it's deemed too far for many designers to come. One well-known name said she would make the trip to assess the project but she wanted fuel money and financial compensation for the time. Okay, I said tentatively. What figure was she thinking? "Three hours round-trip, plus fuel? Let's see? Let's make it $600," she replied. "Oh – that's each time I drive."
(And this was all before we had even agreed to a colour scheme, let alone fabrics, wallpaper, furniture and design.)
So in the face of those intimidating figures, dear readers, we've had to "make do", as my grandmother loved to say. We've had to paint, decorate and DIY like we've never done before in our lives. Vogue Living, a lovely magazine that I've written many articles for, has been an absolute Godsend in this instance, but there is only so much you can copy without a silly budget in your back pocket. So I've gone for more practical publications. Like Handyman Magazine. And Martha Stewart's DIY.
This, readers, is what I have learned along the way:
Don't be afraid to paint over timber (My father and partner think this is sacrilegious!) My mother-in-law was coming to stay and I wanted to dress the spare room for her (below). I found a headboard in a secondhand shop for $40, painted it in a semi-gloss black, and then hung some trellis fabric found in Mood Fabrics in New York for $10 behind it. (The headboard was quite small, and I wanted to elongate the space.) The black and white made it all look more sophisticated than it was.
Don't be afraid to display objects you love I love pencils. I love their simplicity and linear elegance. So I collected these from various Firmdale hotels around the world – Crosby Street in New York, Number Sixteen in South Kensington – and just tossed them in a black vase. Now my niece loves them as much as I do. She pinches a few whenever she's around.
Don't be fearful of Ikea (My partner hates it, so I make him wait in the car.) The Swedish megastore has some great stuff, which can be elevated to a higher level of style with just a lick of paint. These $40 wicker chairs were painted black, dressed in black-and-white striped cushions and tossed together with a hand-made ottoman slipcovered in a Ralph Lauren pinstripe. We've since put charcoal grey carpet down in this particular library and even though the colours are all quite dark, the space looks quietly dignified. Even my Ikea-hating partner likes it!
More Ikea adaptation (below). These shelves were $30 or so. It's a great way to display books, as the covers are always so much more beautiful than the spines.
More Ikea. The chairs, rug, even the picture frames were all sourced from Ikea. I tell you, if you paint it, cover it, or dress it up, no one will ever know!
Source furniture from secondhand stores. Or – even better – keep an eye out on hard rubbish days. (Although always ask the owner before your slip something in your car.) This lamp was a hard rubbish find. I simply stripped it, painted it red and dressed it in a vintage French ribbon. The Penguin book covers were postcards.
Make Your Own Ottomans. So easy, even I can do it. Just buy some tapered colonial legs from a hardware store (Bunnings have different lengths), some 20mm-thick MDF timber for the top, some 30 mm-thick foam from a fabric store (you can cut it to fit with scissors or a blade), some timber stain (we used either black, white or a natural walnut colour, depending on the fabric used), and whatever fabric you want over the top. (Note: I just made loose slipcovers with the fabrics so I could remove them anytime.)