Thursday, 30 December 2010

How to create a haven over the holidays!

Interior Tips

Every home needs a haven to hide from the bustle of everyday life. Award winning Interior designer Jamie Hempsall explains how.

When your house is absolutely full of people it can sometimes be essential for your sanity to have a “bolt hole” where you can get a few minutes privacy. This allows you to let off steam and calm down from all the frenetic festive celebrations. It is amazing how much work goes into a “relaxing family Christmas” – particularly for those domestic goddesses out there!

With this in mind, we try to encourage householders who have the room to always develop a television free space in their home. Having an area like this can feel a bit of a luxury, but it is amazing how life can be enriched by reducing background noise and sitting in a snug room just enjoying the quiet and taking time to read a book or newspaper properly.

This was very much the remit of this family drawing room that we developed for a client who had a large and boisterous household.

The area was created as somewhere all the family could retreat to. The emphasis was on “old world charm” – fashioning a design incorporating treasured family pieces to ensure the room looked as though it had evolved naturally.

We started by selecting pieces of furniture that were firm family favourites to ensure the room had an immediate feeling of familiarity. The two key sofas featured an incredible vintage William Morris print which set a wonderful tone for the room. One if its main colours is a rich peacock blue which we decided to reference for the main wall and ceiling colour. Peacock blue is an under-rated shade, but extremely useful in rooms such as this because it creates an instant feeling of calm: without being too harsh or cool which is a frequent problem with blue hues.

We then identified three armchairs that had been retired from use re-upholstered them to provide contemporary comfort; covering them in modern antique effect velvet for a long lasting luxurious finish that would be consistent with the overall feel of the room.

Floor length silk curtains were designed to frame the windows, but also to provide warmth and reflect fire and lamp light in the evening to create an especially inviting area. The leading edge trim in orange, turquoise and gold also referenced key colours in the William Morris print of the sofas.

In a room without a television it is important to create a natural focal point. One of the joys of working in a period property is that many rooms retain fireplaces which as well as being a source of heat were the television of their day!

In this room we created symmetry and focus by grouping furniture around the fireplace. This can be done by balancing pieces of a similar size, rather than slavishly mirroring an exact copy as you often see in modern homes. Creating visual harmony in this way avoids a room feeling too staged and works equally well in a contemporary design.

To help cut down on visual clutter, which can be as disturbing as background noise, we worked with a master carpenter to create a bespoke shelf and cupboard unit on the wall opposite the fireplace: painting it in the same peacock blue as the other walls. This helped to further balance the room and provided a neat home to hide books and journals as well as a display area for special family pieces.

As in many period properties this room had high ceilings which could make it feel less intimate. To overcome this we painted the ceilings in the same colour as the walls and installed a dramatic Venetian glass chandelier which casts a marvellously warm light of an evening.

The overall effect is calm and serene, but also warm and inviting. The perfect place to kick off your shoes, grab a glass of wine and spend time completing the crossword in front of a roaring fire.

Jamie Hempsall is the winner of the Best Interior Design – North East Award in the UK Property Awards in Association with Bloomberg Television. See more of his work at or call him on 0800 0321 180

This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 22nd December 2010

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas tree alternatives for when space is a challenge!

Well after the last week we can safely say that Winter has made its presence truly felt in the last week.

Having been shut in more than usual I have been thinking about much re-organisation goes into many UK homes to accommodate the traditional Christmas tree (often requiring a revised room layout during December to accommodate this extra “piece of furniture”). In fact, one of the first questions we are often asked by clients after we have completed a sitting room is where should we place the Christmas tree?

In small homes where space is of a premium the area taken up by these trees can be a significant issue. The main problem with the traditional shape is that lower branches take up a considerable amount of space.

Unfortunately, a small traditional pine often looks like you are using the top that has been cut off a reasonably sized tree and can make a disappointing central piece. So if you want to add impact and a bit of seasonal cheer why not avoid a traditional tree and opt for something more thought provoking.

It is vital to keep a Christmas focal point, so even if your tree alternative is just a few centimetres tall the way you present it will alter the effect. Begin by choosing a location that gives the decoration prominence such as a shelf, mantle-piece or side table and place it centrally. Then clear away any other nearby items to ensure that the space your centre piece occupies is clear of other visual disturbance. This will ensure that your choice dominates the area; when space is a premium less is definitely more!

I have fallen in love with the Bright Button Tabletop Mini Tree which stands at 29cm. It is decorated entirely in tiny red, green and white buttons and looks like something Santa’s elves might have created (£21.99 – The Contemporary Home; or 02392 469400).  This will also make a great centre piece on your Christmas dining table. 

Alternatively, the White Metal Christmas Tree Decoration from Berry Red features tea-lights and bauble decorations in a modern design which retains a traditional feel. I am always a little nervous around lighted candles - particularly when there might be a lot of alcohol being consumed, but as long as you keep a close eye on things this should be a treat (£60 –; 01432 274805).

If you are feeling particularly creative and have limited floor area, but an area of wall space then a removable wall sticker can make a wonderful focal point. The look is definitely striking and works particularly well in a modern environment. Stickers or decals are also a fun option in a children’s bedroom if you want to make their space feel more festive.

The Christmas Tree Wall Sticker from Spin Collective, available in 16 vibrant colours, has a wonderful contemporary cartoon feel to it and is 100cm high (£20 -; 01242 255244).

If you like this idea and fancy making the tree a permanent fixture then Love Mae have launched the Decorative Christmas Tree vn a Re-usable Wall Decal – a bit of a mouthful, but a wonderful product. The tree can be left with leaves all year round and then Christmas decorations can be added for the Festive time of the year. The decorations can be removed, cleaned and re-applied again – perfect for creating your own look and for re-use (£50; – 00 353 86 1051007).

For a modern full size tree alternative that will not compromise your space consider a shape that is small at the base and large on top. Many shops have cottoned on to this and are creating slim line traditional trees.  However, my favourite solution this year ditches the traditional form as Asda presents its 150cm Cherry Blossom Christmas Tree - this really is understated elegance personified. Its blue lights add cool chic with a small trunk opening out to branches at the top. At £150 it is more of a long term investment, but is certainly one I will be looking to make (

Jamie Hempsall is winner of Best Interior Design – North East 2010 in the UK Property Awards in association with Bloomberg Television. Contact him on 0800 0321 180 or via

Parts of this article were first published in the Yorkshire Post on Weds 8th December 2010