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How to….create a stylish family-friendly living space

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As an Interior Designer with an amazing eye for unique pieces, colour and family-friendly living, Laura Stephens is our go-to girl for anything Interiors-related (having just moved house I’m sure she dreads my frequent emails asking about trims, curtains, cushions….). If you haven’t already seen our feature focusing on her beautiful home or the gorgeous living room makeover she did for a client, then do check them out asap. Otherwise, read on to see just how she transformed the ground floor of a pretty normal house into a beautiful family-friendly living space…

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Tell us about the project. What was the client’s brief to you?

To create a beautiful adult living room, and a stylish, not ‘kiddy’ snug which their children (aged 10 and 12) can grow into, and which she and her husband could also enjoy.

What was the room like before you started work on it? 

Previously the owner had the doors open as one large space. The back room wasn’t used well (as is often the case with double reception rooms). So, we decided to close them off with the doors (although they can still be opened) to create a clear ‘adult’ living room in the front and ‘children’s den’ in the back.

How did you ensure a change of ‘feel’ between the two rooms?

It was important that, although the rooms are separated, to create continuity and flow, that they are ‘tied’ together. I did this by using colour. So, yellow and turquoise are used extensively in both rooms, but in a completely different way, so they both have their own distinct identity and yet they clearly work together as a whole.

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The Grown-up Room

Were there any particular pieces that had to be incorporated into the design or did you have a clean slate?

The owner was doing a complete house renovation and so I pretty much had a blank canvas to work with. The only things we had to keep were the beautiful leather armchair in the front room and a piano which had to go into the kids’ den. The owner did have some amazing artwork (including an original Bridget Riley!) which we used to create a fantastic gallery wall above the sofa.

How do you set about designing a room? Do you flat plan it and work around individual pieces and build from there? Do you always have something you focus on i.e. where the windows or doors are?

So, before I start I work out the use of the room and specific needs within it. For example, how many seats does the client want in the room? Is the room to be used for relaxing or studying etc? Victorian living rooms like this often have lovely features, such as a fireplace (which we enhanced with an amazing antique mirror I found and placed above it), which always really helps in shaping the focal point of the room. We really played around with the layout for these rooms as there was a lot to pack in and yet we didn’t want it to feel cramped and cluttered. We really worked the design around the layout – 2 sofas and the leather armchair.

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What did your clients want to achieve from the space?

The adult front room was specifically for entertaining and an ‘escape’ to watch TV whilst their children hung out in the snug. Although, interestingly, my client says they often tend to pack into the den to watch TV together when they don’t have guests.

How did you set about choosing a colour palette?

My client was super brave and loves colour (always a bonus for me as a designer!) She particularly loves yellow, so that’s where we started. For the adult space she was clear that she didn’t want grey, which she’d used previously and wanted a change from. Therefore, we started with ‘Portland Stone’ (from Little Greene) a fantastic neutral to add pops of colour to.

Please can you tell me where some of the beautiful pieces are from?

The rug is from Jennifer Manners, whose rugs I just love. It was specially commissioned to work with the scheme. The gorgeous blue silk ikat cushions are from Sofa.com and the rest I had made up bespoke using Larsen material. The ottoman is also from sofa.com, but I used my own material (from Robert Allen) for the main fabric and contrasting buttons. The pineapple lamp is from Graham and Green and the star burst chandelier was sourced from a local boutique – it was a one off but there is a near identical one also from Graham and Green. The side table with the hexagonal brass stand is from Atkin and Thyme.

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The Children’s Den

Was it an obvious decision to make this room so different in feel from the other room?

Yes, we wanted a really different feel in here. Mainly because the client was clear she wanted this as a separate space now her children were a little older, around more in the evenings, and liked watching their own TV shows and hanging out with their friends in their own environment.

What feel did you want to create?

It is a dark room so we decided to really embrace this and go for dramatic dark wallpaper and teal paint, which went on the ceiling, doors and all the woodwork to really ‘cocoon’ the space. However, the pops of yellow on the wallpaper, accents of yellow in the rug and the fish motif on the paper really lifts the space. And, of course, the colours on the wallpaper perfectly picked up on the colours in the front room – for example the amazing velvet turquoise sofa, yellow cushions and the yellow on the ottoman fabric – but without appearing too ‘matchy’.

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The wallpaper isn’t classic children’s paper, it actually looks quite grown up – where is it from?

My client was really open to ideas for this space. She was interested in using wallpaper and we ran through lots of ideas and options. In the end we went for this beautiful ‘Nautilus Whimsical’ paper from Cole and Son as it wasn’t too childlike, but it was still ‘playful’ and not too grown up.

Do the turquoise doors separate the room off from the adult space? If so, are they ever opened?

Yes, the painted wooden doors are usually closed to separate the rooms. However, as the colours run through both schemes, should the client decide to open them (for parties etc) they rooms work really well together as one large space.

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Did you design anything else in the house?

The large shelving unit in the kitchen extension, which runs off the children’s room (pictured above). My client had a beautiful kitchen extension designed and the wall was enormous and completely blank. We played with ideas for this wall, such as adding long architectural windows but, in the end decided that really interesting shelving, which she could change the displays of over the years plus provide great storage was the way to go. I designed the whole shelving unit (with a built in cupboard to the left and a huge chalk board to the right). I set up a pinterest board with my client titled ‘shelving inspiration’ and my design was really an amalgamation of ideas we liked from the board, using different sized cubby holes designed around the client’s photographs and books to create interest.

Were the ceramics chosen especially to add colour to the area?

Yes, the ceramics were chosen, again, to bring in the yellow and turquoise from the front rooms to add continuity, through the rooms – there is even some pink to tie in with the pink rug in the front room. We used items the client owned and added a few more to bring it all together.

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Images: Chris Snook.

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