Monday, 6 June 2011

Light entertainment

Interiors & Homes

ROOMS lacking natural light need not be cheerless. Interior Designer Jamie Hempsall explains how to turn them into a valued retreat.

Historically, houses in the UK have been designed to provide the maximum amount of rooms, rather than maximum space. Consequently, many properties include rooms that suffer from poor natural light.

If you are facing this challenge, the first thing to accept is that you are never going to be able to create a light, bright room and any attempt to do so will look washed out and a little false.

A dark room without sympathetic design will feel cold and unloved. However, by embracing the design challenge, you should be able to create a warm and welcoming room which you will probably use most in the evening or during periods when the weather is poorer.

To start with, you need to consider your colour palette carefully. Although my advice may initially appear counter-intuitive, you should concentrate on using warm and rich colours, rather than pale or light tones. Strong pigment is important as the colours need to work for themselves, without benefiting from being lifted by light.

Deep red, turquoise, orange, sage green and brown are all shades that work brilliantly in such spaces and are wonderful at creating an illusion of comfort and cosiness. Nature knows a thing or two – choose earth tones and you cannot go far wrong.

Think about your five senses and how they will work in this room. In darker rooms, your sight has to work a little harder, so help it along by making a feature of your lighting. Avoid harsh overhead light, as this will just make the room feel bleak; instead add various heights of light that you can use to alter the feel of the room.

Team wall lights that can be dimmed with a selection of table lamps; these will allow you to create pools of visual interest throughout your room. Choose lamp designs that are interesting and not just functional to give the eye something to alight upon. These visual treats help the eye work a little more efficiently in a dark environment.

We know that once one sense stops working the others take over. You can help another sense compensate for the lower impact of sight by focus on the provision of rich textured fabrics for your furnishings which will heighten the effect on touch. Tactile textures will also help to develop a sense of interest and security – adding to the reassuring feel of the design. For sofas and chairs, we would tend to opt for weaves or textured velvets which have a definite pleasing sensory appeal.

If you wish to opt for leather furniture then ideally make sure that it is aged or weathered so that the surface you are sitting upon still feels soft. To help counter the cool touch of leather and allow occupants to really relax dress sofas and chairs with plump cushions in soft fabrics (some of the new upholstery wools being offered by Prestigious, Zoffany and Ralph Lauren are perfect for this).

Although you are embracing the dark nature of your room, you want to avoid taking any action that makes the situation worse. When it comes to window treatments, ensure that they will draw back away from the window as much as possible. If you have enough wall space use a pole length that allows the curtains to draw back so that they are clear of the window – if you use full-length curtains (which we would always recommend) it will give the sensory illusion that the window extends further behind them.

Keep curtains unfussy – use eyelet or pinch pleat headings which provide clear lines that frame the external view. Ideally use a pole or ornamental track to avoid losing light from the top of your window behind a pelmet. of curtains means you do not need much free wall space) and then add a blackout blind for evening privacy.

Give your windows a further helping hand by enhancing the impact of any natural light with the use of mirrors throughout the room. These can be incorporated in your scheme in a variety of ways. Obviously, you can use mirrors with decorative frames in lieu of pictures, the effect of these can be further enhanced by using furniture with mirrored surfaces (potentially in cupboard doors or lamp tables). To ensure the effect is subtle, rather than glitzy choose verre eglomisé (a gilded glass that has a distressed finish), rather than plain mirror.

If you are feeling a little braver, opt for a mirror wall which will both reflect natural light and give the illusion of more space. A patchwork pattern made up of square and oblong pieces of mirror provides a more interesting architectural feature and is something that you can easily design with the help of your local glass merchant. To make this even more impactful, opt for an aged effect glass.

Think of your light challenged room as your “snug” and you are already on the way to taking the positive from a potential negative. Every home needs an area where family members can curl up in a ball and feel safe – this room will definitely be just the place.

* Jamie Hempsall is a member of the British Institute of Interior Design and The Society of British Interior Design.  He also won Best Interior Design - North East in the UK Property Awards 2010 in conjunction with Bloomberg Television.

 Visit him at or call 0800 032 1180.

This article as first published in the Yorkshire Post on Saturday 28th May 2011

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