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To Style Or Not To Style – Interior Styling

Styling is definitely not something I learned in architecture school! For many an architect or designer, it would have been seen as a failure if you had to add a vase or mirror to the space to make it feel the way you wanted it to feel. The ultimate goal would have been to make the property feel right with my architectural language – structure, solid / void, light, shadow, material, texture, abstraction… rather than populating it with “stuff”.

Although the dictionary meaning suggests that styling is just arranging things in a particular way, I like to describe it as setting the mood for a space.

The reality is that styling is a very useful tool that helps us imagine how to use a room. I remember my brother saying to me that he wishes he was as creative as I was. I never really understood that he wasn’t creative and still don’t believe that he isn’t, I just think sometimes his imagination isn’t easily triggered. I use styling to help trigger that imagination in a space by using architectural language and styling to create a story or mood that inspires someone’s imagination to enjoy a space.

The main ways I use styling in my life and business are:

  • To help developers and builders sell newly built homes when they are empty.
  • I help buyers of newly built homes create their requested mood in their homes once the empty house is bought.
  • For real-estate agents and landlords, I style a space so that potential renters or home buyers imagine how to use a space.
  • For my clients, I style a 3D or sketch to help them feel how they can use a space I am creating for them.
  • At home for my husband, guests or just for myself, I style my rooms to make the space feel the way I want it to feel either for a party or just for us to accentuate how lovely the morning, space or evening is.

In one of the architectural offices I worked in, interior designers were looked down on and they were seen as “pillow puffers”. At the time I was working on high rise, new build apartments and the work was particularly technical, in that the common thought about the spaces was just units, figures, numbers, areas, not what I saw – spaces for living a life in.

In their minds the planning department and the developer decided how many windows there had to be in a room, it wasn’t guided by how the space was used.

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It shocked me that there was so little love for the thousands of homes being built for happy new homeowners trying to create a life and saving for what was most probably their first home. I have struggled to decorate some newly built properties as there often is no soul or connection from the structure to the interior. Even in architecture school, I was taught to explore the relationship between the inside and outside or even Mies Van der Rohe’s basics of “form follows function”… but I love what I do and I realise creating homes, houses, properties, buildings is my dream.

So styling can help you when the other architectural elements aren’t working or it can help you adjust a mood in a space.  You can use styling to enhance particular features of a room or to help someone’s see what you can see in a space.  Sometimes you can use styling as a picture frame – to frame an idea, to tell a story or to show off a piece of art.

More and more often I see builders or developers altering properties or arranging spaces or positioning windows and doors without a care for the person’s life in it. With such a disconnect between the end user and the “designer” no wonder styling has become more and more a part of my work. I have to try really hard sometimes to make a space feel like a home, imagine someone like my brother who hasn’t trained that imagination muscle? Soon you’ll need more than two degrees just to furnish a home to function in the right way – or you could just start styling.

Home Renovation Survival Guide

So this is now the second house we have lived in and are in the process of a full renovation. The first time it was hell, this time it’s a little better. I gave myself carpal tunnel from repeatedly cleaning the last project (yes, my wrists are so weak I can barely turn them over to this day!) and this time, I have no choice but to be smarter with how we work.

My best advice is if you can completely separate yourself from the renovation work then do it! Cleaning up at the end of every workday is hard and tiring and living in that kind of unhealthy and dusty environment can also be extremely toxic.

The reason why we did it was because we were just able to scrape together to buy our first property. We were living on the edge the whole time, it was stressful and unhealthy, but we worked out booties off and were able to “up-level” after that. We were able to buy a bigger property and now we have started working our way through this renovation.

I always had this vision of me and my husband flicking paint on each other and laughing whilst eating pizza and sleeping on the ground (like a movie scene) and renovating properties has not been anything like that. It was more often than not, hell. We argued, we were tired working day jobs and then coming home to start another physical job, we lived like hobos, we were sick (because the air quality inside was so, so terrible), everything took longer than we expected and on top of that everything was difficult to find.

So if you have thought about staying “in” whilst either you or a builder is going to undertake some building work, here are a few tips for your sanity from the other side:

Be Religious about Where You Place Things

Whether it’s the work itself (like sharing a drill bit) or the actual act of living (like trying to find your keys once the dust has settled), have a place for important items. Because your home is constantly changing and as you are probably quite tired, you will put things in places where you won’t be able to find them. This cause so much unnecessary stress. If they are house keys, hammers, bills or even clean underwear, just put things back their place (I know they probably don’t have a permanent one yet – but piles work well).

Try To Keep One Area “Clean”

So when you are using your bathroom as your kitchen as well as your laundry and storage, this can be hard, especially in absolutely tiny English or inner city properties. If this isn’t really possible, IKEA styled storage boxes or bags will help to move your stuff around the room, whilst keeping stuff relatively clean. The key is to have dust sheets on top of the boxes and then if possible another barrier in the form of plastic if possible before the dust sheet. If you have the idea of working on wet as well as dry trades together, then you really are in for a treat! If you can keep one area separate from the building work for the majority of the build then do yourself a favour and ignore it.

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Do What You Can To Reduce The Timeline

Ok for us, this usually meant having more money, which we didn’t, so we waited for another paycheck and the work progressed as we could afford it. The other thing was labour. It was just me and my husband, so it was slowwwwww… If you can get help, use it!

Be Kind To Each Other

Make an extra effort to be polite, more patient and calm with anyone who has to endure this experience with you! It’s tough.

Think About Storage

Whether your personal items or your work equipment. In a small place, this can take up a whole room (or more)! Don’t forget that materials and equipment need somewhere to get stored and they also need to be easily accessible to avoid delays. We didn’t hire a shed or find somewhere to store our things, but we should have, it would have caused many less bruises from walking into things and way less arguments when trying to move things out of the way to get to something at the back of a room filled with sheets of plasterboard (which were too heavy for me to lift).

Protect Your Good Clothes & Electrical Items

I think when we finally moved, the only item in my and my husband’s wardrobes that weren’t ripped or covered in paint or stained somehow were our wedding clothes (and that because we got married after we finished!) No matter how careful you are, if you don’t want it ruined don’t risk it being anywhere near any building work.

Think About Your Neighbours

It doesn’t matter who your neighbours are, no one appreciates drilling and hammering (or loud music for that matter) at 1 am.