Why Matching Mugs Don't Make a House a Home

"This House is Filled With Love" framed print
Print from Freya Art
About ten years ago now, my then-boyfriend and I bought a flat together. We had been house hunting for twelve long months and had spent many, many evenings watching home decor shows and DIY shows and shows about climbing the property ladder so, by the time we finally had the keys to our own place, we had some very clear ideas about what we wanted it to look like.

To our credit, those ideas did include chunky, vintage furniture and homemade shelving and very personal pieces of art. But they also included rigid colour schemes.

Our living room was red and cream. Red sofas, red rug, red lamps, big red canvas on the wall; cream carpet, cream shelving, cream walls, big cream blankets on the sofas.

Our kitchen featured a lot of pale blue Nigella Lawson storage jars and we painted the cupboards and shelving to match. Most of our mugs came in pairs.

None of which was bad. But it wasn't very interesting. We were both creative people and, in hindsight, our choices could have - and should have - been much braver.

We split up a year later and (after a brief stint of sofa surfing) I moved into my own council flat. I had ended up with the bedroom furniture but had nothing else to my name; we had made almost no profit selling up and a series of questionable decisions had landed me on minimum wage. There was no option to buy colour coordinated designer kitchenware or matching faux pine side tables. My sofa was £15 from a charity shop; my armchair was the middle of a friend's mother's old sectional sofa; I picked up wooden chairs and a table from the side of the road; I painted the floorboards white because I couldn't afford to carpet.

That flat was sparse for a while but I loved it. It felt so much more mine. Everything had a story attached. Everything was in some way interesting.

Bright blue "HOME" doormat on yellow polka dot floor

When I bought my own flat, three years later, I carried those lessons over. When Steve and I bought our current place - two years ago today - we consciously took our time choosing the new bits of furniture and filling in the blanks. And I think we have the balance right - it looks simultaneously unplanned (because clearly these chairs don't match and there are ten different shades of wood in one room) and intentional (because the colours and the shapes are in harmony).

My original plan for this week had been to show you some before and afters of the flat but, as most of it is currently buried under dust bunnies and baby props, it's not at its most photogenic. That said, here are my tips and tricks for making your home more you without sacrificing style or your savings:

Bold & Broad Colour Schemes

Bird cage mirror; navy walls

Don't be afraid to use colour - I personally prefer the rooms which we use a lot to be light and bright (living room: pale jade; bedroom: cyan; Matilda's room: pale yellow) but the rooms which we spend less time in to be bold statement colours (kitchen: emerald green; dining room: navy blue). When it comes to furniture and accessories, forget strict red-and-cream colour schemes and opt for a broader palette instead. Look for a range of colours which either harmonise or which purposely clash rather than restricting yourself to anything too defined. For example, our pale jade living room is full of pale blues and greens, dark purples, dark woods and white accessories - we weren't strict about colours when purchasing things but kept this loose colour scheme in mind.

Complementary Shapes

Cat sleeping on telephone table in the sun

I had picked up an Ercol telephone chair in a charity shop a few years ago; when it came to buying an armchair to sit next to it, I knew that pale, chunky legs next to its spindly, dark ones would look really odd - I kept hunting until I found a chair with legs which matched. It's a tiny detail I doubt anybody else notices but it makes the pieces fit so much better next to each other.

Work With What You've Got

Jade fire surround with pom-pom garland
The pom poms were a gift from Elise which I strung together one Christmas.

This is one I very much learned in my council flat where I absolutely hated  the kitchen. It was 70s dark wood effect melamine with washed out blue walls and it was ugly. Until the day I was inspired to paint the walls yellow. Instantly, the room looked cheerful and the cupboards looked intentionally retro. Sometimes small tweaks make huge changes. In this flat, I turned a yucky fire surround into a statement by painting it jade; we moved shelves from one room to another and gave them a lick of paint; the kitchen cupboards we wouldn't have chosen looked a bit less blah for having their trim removed. If you can't afford a huge refit, get creative instead.

Follow Trends Sparingly

Photo wall - black picture frames

Take Pinterest as inspiration not instruction. My home decor board is full of pins I'm not going to copy but, by looking at them, I can get a better idea of what appeals to me. I don't want shelves made of ladders or a wall of hats or to frame our mug collection but, by seeing that I've pinned all of those things, I realise that I like open, interesting storage solutions. I notice I pin a lot of rooms with splashes of colour in strange places; I pin a lot of striped floors; I pin a lot of sparkly things - those are all things I bear in mind when I'm plotting what to do in my own home. I don't pin chevron walls, no matter how in fashion they may be, because they don't appeal to me but I do have a chunky letter S propped on the mantelpiece because that's one trend that I love.

Shared Homes Should Express Both/All Personalities

Heart shaped coasters
Coasters made by my cousin, Susan, who runs Shop Scotland.
But our decor isn't just about me. Would I choose to have skull shaped objects sitting around our living space? Not a chance. But I know they appeal to Steve and Steve owns half of this flat and Steve's personality should be visible, too. There's a certain amount of compromise when two (or more) people share a home - although, contrary to most people's assumptions, a lot of the dinosaurs are mine.

Cherish Stories

Framed family portrait; toy dinosaur; succulent
The family portrait was our new baby card from Laura.

Almost everything in this flat has a story attached - where we found it or why we bought it or which of our friends made it. Where possible, be patient. Wait to find something you love instead of plunking for a matching set of flatpack furniture. It's always more fun to say, "Our friend made this table from scaffolding board" than, "Oh, we bought it in Argos."

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