Monday, 22 August 2011

Setting up your first home


UNDER STARTER'S ORDERS:  Kitting out your first home can be a daunting prospect.  Interior Designer Jamie Hempsall offers advice on getting it right and making the best use of your budget.

The chances are that anyone furnishing their first home is likely to be on a tight budget, but wants to make the place special.  The trick when money is limited is to be resourceful and interpretive.

There are two key trends in interior fashion which work well for those facing this dilemma and can turn it into a fun pursuit, rather than an impossible challenge.  The first is retro chic - it might be old, but it need not be out of style.  Embrace this with confidence and you should save a packet.  

Mid 20th Century is currently enjoying a real resurgence, so Ercol and G-Plan are currently appreciating in value, but good quality Edwardian and Victorian furniture is probably at an all-time low so picking from this era will make your budget go considerably further. Do not be put off by worn fabric or the odd scratch.  They add character and can be a good DIY restoration project if undertaken carefully and sympathetically.

The second “friendly trend” is eclectic, literally combining a variety of styles and ideas.  Adopted in the right way, this means that you positively avoid a matched interior and go instead for a melting pot of design.  The important thing to ensure is a link between pieces so the effect is designed, rather than dumped.  Colour is probably the easiest connection (even if it is one cushion on a piece).

My advice when starting out is to make second hand, junk and antique shops your friends.  Take your time, find what is available and get a feel for prices.  You have got time to come back, but remember it is not like shopping on the High St as there may well only be one of what you want – so if you really love something bite the bullet and get it.

In the second hand market no price should be set in stone and it is well worth haggling to see what you can get off.  You might be surprised that even a cheeky offer might be considered if the vendor has had the stock a long time and wants to get rid of it.  Cash is king, so at least have enough for a deposit with you to hold an item once you have secured your price.

So where to start?

Floors and walls are the essentials for making your first home a blank canvas.  If you are inheriting carpets, hire a professional carpet cleaning device (usually available from your local dry cleaners).  A deep clean in this fashion will revive most carpets and provide you with a cheap and quick method to a hygienic base.  If you find the carpet difficult to live with you can dress it with cheap rugs, which can also be used to hide stubborn stains or burns.

Paint is definitely the most cost effective way to cheer up any room (even if it was previously wallpapered, provided the surface is still in good condition).  Paint all rooms in one light colour (walls, ceiling and woodwork) to avoid tying you to any particularly scheme.  Off-white will give a light and clean feel.  Avoid plain white as this tends to look stark and cream can often just look dirty.  Remember to dust sheet everything to save your flooring and if you are a novice now is a great time to ask your parents or experienced friends for tips.  Take your time as a rushed job will be with you for a long period.

Seek out decorators merchants and opt for trade paints as these are often better quality.  When it comes to paint a cheap tin is not necessarily the most cost effective as it can be low on pigment and, therefore, require more coats.  Even one extra coat is 50% more paint, so the cost can soon add up.

Privacy and warmth are the next staples you require.  Your key to this are your window dressings.  At night and in the winter uncovered windows might just as well be open.  A heavy curtain which is lined (and ideally interlined) will make an incredible difference – keeping important warmth in and helping light sleepers by shutting out early morning sun. 

Interlined curtains can be expensive, but second hand options can be a bargain.  One of the best websites I have seen is which is easy to navigate and well laid out with style and colour guides.  Alternatively, specialist shops like The Curtain Exchange at Boston Spa (01937 849 755) keep a range of good quality curtains and can give advice on whether they will fit your window. 

Choose your curtain designs and colours carefully and make these the basis for any additional decorating scheme.  Once you have the established your base, you can move onto the main details – starting downstairs.

A sofa or a couple of comfy chairs are a must for any starter home.  Do not feel the need to have any more as visitors will be happy to perch on a dining chair or sit on a cushion on the floor.   You really just need enough for you to sit on to relax in the evening.

Purchase a drop-leaf dining table as they take up less room and are incredibly versatile, being perfect as a desk, side-table or even a TV unit.  Early 20th Century versions are good value and stylish.  There is a trend to paint them, but they are also beautiful in their natural wood.
In a starter home four dining chairs means you can comfortably entertain (and save money by not going out).  They can also double up as desk chairs and bedroom chairs, so can be stored in other locations.  For a balanced eclectic look opt for two pairs of chairs which will be considerably cheaper than buying a matching set of four.

Lamp shades are the most cost effective way to dress an overhead light and there are usually plenty of good priced options at TK Maxx or BHS.  Also purchase at least one table lamp (two is preferable); this can make a good “task” light if you are working in the room, but also allows you to create a more intimate environment as overhead light is incredibly harsh.

Kitchen utensils are often available for pennies from second hand shops and some of the old designs are brilliant.  Build up a mix of crockery, glassware & cutlery, but make it feel like a proper collection by matching the design per setting (e.g. all side plates the same, but with contrasting dinner plates).  Mixed glassware is fine, but you should aim for two of each design to make it a feature.

Your bedroom is as important as your living area, because you spend a lot of time there and bad sleep causes a lot of problems.  Second hand bed bases can be attractive, but always purchase a new mattress.

Concentrate your spending on securing the best bedding possible (ideally a minimum of 140 thread count in 100% cotton).  Plain covers avoid limiting your design options later on and are easier to match into your second hand curtains.  You can dress the bed with a throw or cushions.

The minimum extra furniture you need is a wardrobe and a chest of drawers.  These provide the clothes storage you need and the chest can double as a bedside table-cum-dressing table.  The wardrobe is essential for hanging storage and they will often incorporate a full length mirror which no home should be without.

Keep lighting simple with an overhead shade that provides good light (essential for getting ready or doing make up).  Add a reading lamp for each sleeper to minimise night-time squabbles and create the perfect intimate environment.

Champagne tastes great even from an old chipped mug – so keep some budget back and crack open a bottle on your first night to toast your home in style.

Jamie Hempsall, BIID, is an award winning interior designer.  Visit him at or call him on 0800 032 1180.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post on Saturday 20th August 2011

Monday, 15 August 2011

Sitting pretty for summer sunshine

Homes & Interiors

Given the recent downpours I am not sure lounging about outside is foremost on people’s minds.  Hopefully there will be the odd hint of sun over the holiday season and, with that in mind, there really is little to compare to the joy of relaxing on a garden swing seat, gently rocking in a light breeze with a canopy shielding you from direct sun.

One of the nicest varieties I experienced was as a child when friends had an enormous old “swinging sofa”.  I was delighted to find this design has been resurrected by a fellow fanatic as “The Idler”, a product faithful to an original 1930s model.  It features comfy pocket sprung cushions created thanks to the specialist advice of a 94 year old upholsterer, George Marchant, who has worked in the London palaces.  At £1,695 this is definitely a luxury purchase, but one which should hopefully create a whole lifetime of experiences ( – 01843 603462).

If you want to indulge in cushiony comfort, without the price tag, you may want to consider the Bodo 3 Seat Swing Hammock.  The seat hangs on cadmium plated chains which adjust the vertical seat height and angle to allow maximum flexibility.  It is available in a variety of colours and finishes (£369.99; – 01738 248019).

For those who prefer a solo space, the Teardrop is an egg-shaped hanging chair.  You can sit comfortably cocooned whilst rocking gently in the Summer Sun.  Failing that is does have a galvanised frame designed to be resistant to cold and wet weather (£349; – 0116 269 5960).

Cushion storage can be a concern and if this is the case there are still plenty of differing options available.

The clean lines of the John Lewis Swing Seat are perfect for those wanting a little padding, without fuss.  It is made from FSC-certified teak, with stainless steel fittings for durability.  If left outside in all weathers the timber will fade to a beautiful silvery colour (£675;

In contrast, the Barmouth Swing Seat from B&Q looks as though it has been plucked straight from an English Country Cottage and would look perfect adorned with climbing roses.  It is available in kit form for £379 or with Assembly for £479 (

My final choice for a minimum maintenance swing would be the Three Seater Hammock (Black) from Littlewoods. The frame is steel and the seats are covered with textoline, a comfortable and hard wearing man-made fabric.  Just give it a quick wipe down now and again (£124; – 0844 822 8000).

Fingers crossed for a drier spell!

Jamie Hempsall, BIID, is an award-winning interior designer.  Visit him at or call 0800 032 1180.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post on 10th August 2011

Monday, 1 August 2011

Get the kids loving the outside with a bit of junior glamping!

Interiors and Homes

Want to create the perfect Junior Glamping experience for the Summer Holidays?  Interior Designer Jamie Hempsall has some helpful hints.

The summer holidays are upon us and if you want to keep children entertained outside the house then creating a junior glamping experience in your garden could be the answer. 
Your starting point has to be a terrific tent and things have moved on from the musty canvas variety that I remember as a child. 

The perfect Summer palace can be found in the form of the Rose & Mint Child’s Pavilion from Shop on Your Doorstep.  The pavilions have a multi-stripe fabric roof decorated with tassels and mini-gingham covered poles.  It has curtains which are embroidered with colourful dragonflies and comes with a padded floor quilt which is appliqued with a central lotus flower.  The octagonal shape is 160cm in diameter which gives plenty of room for entertaining, so do not be surprised if you have a plethora of requests for slumber parties or your own mini-glastonbury (£240; – 01843 808061).

Alternatively, I am sure that everyone will enjoy making the Union Flag Tent from Idyll Home the perfect base for holiday shenanigans with plenty of space at a 183cm diameter and 137cm high (£95; -  01630 695779).

There is nothing quite like the adventure of sleeping out under canvas, but you can make the experience more comfortable by including plenty of duvets, blankets and cushions to create the perfect Bedouin environment.  Alternatively, the Smooff Kidzz Lounge cushion (available in apple green or pink) provides a great cushion matt for playing and resting.  The covering is durable, washable and water-resistant which makes it perfect for use outside: a detachable pillow also makes it ideal for a bed base (£89.95; – 01462 349060).

The trick with outside camping has to be the chance to let your children have some independence whilst making them feel perfectly safe and appropriate light at night has to be a real consideration if you are going to make this the perfect summer solution.
Add some gentle exterior lights in the form of battery operated Light Up Plant Pots, available in a variety of colours to provide gentle comfort and an interesting feature to boot. (£7.99; – 0871 472 4250). 

To ease your little ones’ night-time journey back into the house, should they need to make late night visits to the bathroom (or a warm bed) you can create an “Alice in Wonderland” experience by installing “Glow in the Dark Stones”.  The crafted stones store daylight and shine in the dark, making them the perfect way for marking paths and borders to guide your little ones in.  Available in a pack of 40 for £12.99 ( – 08714 724250).

Reading light is also important and old style torches can be a faff.  Opt for a rechargeable camping lantern available from camping stores or the stylish Fatboy Edison the Petit (which will glow for six hours when fully charged - £55 from allupandon details as before).  Lanterns are generally easy for small fingers to use and provide the perfect background for midnight feasts – you just have to provide the snacks!

Jamie Hempsall, BIID is an award-winning interior designer.  Visit him at or contact him on 0800 032 1180.