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Rights and wrongs of interior design

In housing and interior design, as with much else, good taste has become a moveable feast with no very clear menu to guide us. In the interior world, some designs will look good five years from now, others will ‘date’ almost as soon as they’ve been completed. It can be hard for the uncertain homeowner to make appropriate choices.

Naturally, no one wants ‘style police’ dictating right and wrong. One person’s candy stripes and befrilled curtains can be another’s high-camp nightmare. But where is the dividing line?

Any architect or professional designer pressed for objective advice will, at some stage, talk to you of ‘fitness and purpose’.

This is perhaps best illustrated by contrasts and comparisons. No-one, except a fixated Fifties freak, for instance, embalms old panelled doors and nicely-turned banisters in hardboard; if both remain serviceable, why conceal them? A similar perspective applies to the kitchen, where country cottage style units are often out of keeping with the homes they appear in - clearly a choice of fashionable whim winning over design common sense.

Don’t forget that if you come to sell your house, inappropriate design choices could stand against you. Nothing puts off buyers more than clunking style mistakes like bathroom suites in chocolate brown, second bathrooms where a simple shower unit would suffice, and mauve window frames set in walls with mortar-pointing highlighted in white gloss paint.

You might think this sounds far-fetched but the National Home Improvement Council in the UK urges householders to seek advice before carrying out any ‘improvements’ which can actually reduce the value of their property.

If something looks ‘wrong’ even though you cannot always say why, then it probably is wrong in that particular environment.

Sometimes, given very careful thought and planning, sharp contrasts can be stunning. A high-tech kitchen in a very old house, for example; or a lounge in a brand new home discreetly decked with framed prints, a swagged curtain or two, even an aspidistra, to suggest a Victorian sitting-room.

Again, eye-appeal is the acid test. If a scheme breathes integrity - with, for instance, the minimum of fake finishes and the maximum of natural materials - and no jarring visual notes are struck, then you’ll have got as close to the ideal as it’s possible to get.

Achieving it need not cost the earth, either. Better a hint of elegant comfort, than a showy overstatement that shouts “This pad cost me an arm-and-a-leg, mate!”

Appealing effects can be obtained quite cheaply through the use of “dodges” like concealed lighting, rugs and mats where wall-to-wall carpeting is unaffordable, stencilled or adhesive dados, and one really good piece of furniture service as a main feature.

It’s also well worth observing design truisms like light colours to ‘enlarge’ small rooms - and allowing scope for personality touches.

Remember, you don’t have to follow the latest design crazes to create something that is fitting, attractive and has your own personality to it.

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