One flat. One owner who loves the idea of grey paint, but is baffled by the array of shades on offer.(Forget 50; more like 350…) One interior designer who can see through the maze of grey. Want to see what happens next?
When my friend and former Glamour colleague Claire (see her decorating dilemmas here) confessed that she was plagued by nightmares about drowning in Pinterest boards whilst editing copy/negotiating with a toddler/growing a baby/cajoling builders, I confidently asserted that I knew exactly who to call: Laura Stephens, decorating and interior guru and woman of impeccable taste.
Claire lives in South London with her husband Tristan (who co-runs Mint Coaching) and their two children. The flat occupies the ground floor of a large house – so has enviably high ceilings, original cornices, a big living room and bedrooms, and – for London – a fair size garden. The downsides? The small kitchen, and the fact that the main bedroom and living room face north. Claire and her husband thought they wanted grey paint, but was it too chilly? Too meh? Too much of a cliche? Enter Laura.
Absolutely not, asserted Laura confidently, it was all about the right shade of grey. The results are pretty impressive – even with the usual paraphernalia of life with young children, the flat is a cool, calm, pared-back, sophisticated space – one in which it’s a pleasure to hang out. (Although this may have something to do with how lovely Claire and her family are: ask my children what they want to do on any given day and chances are, they’ll ask to play with Claire’s boys.)
The key is to use the right shades of grey – Claire used different shades from Paint and Paper Library to create contrast. Hallway gets very little light? No problem, they embraced it by opting for Slate III (“in a cheaper mix as the walls are constantly getting bashed by buggies and toddlers”) so when you walk through into the cool, north-facing living room and bedroom, they feel brighter by contrast. They hung a Pooky pendant with a warm bulb to throw out a warm glow.
In the living room, they went for Slate II by Paint and Paper Library (“We followed Laura’s advice and used the expensive stuff the get the best finish) which has proved surprisingly versatile: “I keep putting different flowers on the mantlepiece, from soft pinks and lilac to punchy fuchsia and yellows, and everything seems to work.”
The room has a large, non-operational Victorian fireplace (which will eventually host a chest which will be additional storage for the children’s toys), they painted this in Sharkskin (‘grey with a dash of violet’). “We initially tried painting it Slate IV, but there wasn’t enough of a contrast to make the fireplace a centrepiece.”
Fireplace painted in Sharkskin; above fireplace Richard Heeps from Will’s Affordable Art Warehouse; on mantlepiece: paper cut by Rob Ryan; figure by Bianca Smith; glass jug: John Lewis; the candlesticks were a wedding present, but find similar at Trouva.
The walls are the perfect backdrop for Claire and Tris’s burgeoning collection of art, photographs (personal and arty), and paintings. They deliberately chose brighter artwork “to change the mood of the room – now pops of red, pink, yellow and blue make for a more playful space that feels inviting even on a dull day when the north facing aspect means we lack warm natural light. Overall it feels like a fun space for the children to run around in by day, but once they are in bed it lets out a siren call to turn on some music and pour a large glass of wine!”
The bedroom is painted in the same warm grey. “It feels elegant and restful paired with monochrome pictures, simple white bed linen and touches of gold. Painting the woodwork the same shade makes the architrave and skirting melt away from sight instead of fighting for attention. We added simple panelling to the wardrobes for a bit of interest but, again, sprayed them the same colour to continue the continuity and calm. It’s a place to flop and tune out from the chaos that two small children bring to the rest of the flat.”
Bed: Tall Piper headboard in Summer Rain textured cotton on a store storage bed, Loaf; bedding, The White Company; Grey throw, The White Company – similar here; cushion, Monsoon Home; one of the Oliver Bonas nest tables; Original BTC Hector Lamp, John Lewis; the green bottle was picked up at The Four Seasons, Bali (“where we got engaged. It was part of a set of three used for body wash/ shampoo/ conditioner in the outdoor showers at the hotel!”); Nancy Mitford books, Penguin; Black and white photograph (over bed) by Richard Graham; wardrobe doors, My Haus