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Interior design – good to look at, not to use

Looking good in a designer’s eyes but unfit for purpose

EVERY day I am confronted by a very visible and irritating triple reminder of one of the more regrettable recent errors of my ways.

A stark and unavoidable footnote to a rash and impetuous decision.

One that was needlessly expensive but which I am condemned to live with unless I spend yet more money.

They sit there, always in view, smug and complacent. A 120mm x 170mm rug  in two shades of oatmeal.  This languishes at the foot of  a two-seater sofa clothed in what is described as a light grey boucle fabric, and is adorned with a couple of glitzy gold patterned cushions.

This unloved trio is but part of  a cautionary tale; a lesson learned  at excessive cost.  Confirmation of a long-held belief that I should not have ignored.

They are constant reminders of the day I took the bait temptingly dangled before my innocent eyes. Hook, line and sinker. Steamrollered by a smooth tongued persuader.   

It all began when my surroundings started to get the better of me. The living space had become too crowded and cluttered,  caused by the accumulation of too much “stuff” and by my inability to curate my immediate environment.

Two three-seater settees, a hefty leather recliner, a dining table and several dining chairs left little space for the sole occupant, me. And having visitors made it about as claustrophobic as a ride on the Tube in rush hour.

An inner voice yelled “chuck it all and start over.” Tempting, but I suspected not the ideal answer.

I needed help, not in moving things around – a Titanic and deckchairs solution – but in taking a dispassionate all-embracing, even holistic, view. Two words sprang into mind: interior and design, as inseparable as bacon and eggs or Tubby and tuba.

Thus the saga began. I engaged the services of an interior designer. 

She immediately came across as brisk, no-nonsense, and perceptive. Within minutes she had decreed the table and chairs be moved from the “dining alcove” to sit alongside the window with its view.  A good move that vastly improved the ambiance.

And that was it.

She was a woman on a mission who would brook no obstacles, such as a mildly differing opinion, to providing what she knew I needed.  From then on, she called the shots, most of which rode roughshod over the quirks and needs of my personal lifestyle.

Admitttedly the final decisions were all mine, convinced that she was the expert and I was but a layman untutored in the subtleties of  design, colour and texture. Thus every time I go into my lounge/dining area I am confronted by the error of my ways.

The carpet, thanks to its delicate structure and pallid colouring, already shows signs of wear. Dark patches and stray tufts of fabric highlight the most used areas. Its robust tightly woven jute predecessor showed few signs of use even after several years, and its shades of terracotta and red provided a welcome splash of colour as well as being far better at disguising dirt and stains.

The sofa quickly became a parking lot for an assortment of box files (research and tax returns yet to be completed), discarded jumpers (for when the day cools down), two or three paperbacks (waiting to be read), newspaper clippings (yet to be filed or discarded), several days’ worth of cryptic crosswords (slowly being completed) and a couple of cushions (where once there were several).

It is an object lesson in the shopper’s dictum, “try before you buy”.  The reason those dreamy couples are seen drifting around furniture showrooms is that they are there to sit and sample. Does my bum feel good in this?  Do my back and neck need higher support?  Big factors in comfort assessment.

No such considerations from my interior designer. No opportunity was provided to apply the comfort test. She knew what was right, ordered it and had it deposited where an ultra comfortable high-backed three-seater once held out its welcoming arms to all comers.  Along with its adjacent twin, both of which were summarily dispatched to the charity shop.

Until fairly recently, any seating space the sofa offered was further reduced by the presence of a veritable heap of cushions; I lost count of how many as they seemed to multiply overnight.  But Designer Woman decreed the dull gold was preferable to the squares of dark red they replaced.  Items that she actually sneered at without a thought for their feelings, or mine.

The needless newcomers were a decor imperative.

Fortunately I was eventually struck down by a bad fit of Kondo-itis and hurled most of them out of sight and into a garbage bag. But the sofa remains, unloved and unused, a bloody uncomfortable testament to the interior design credo of looks before comfort.

Elsewhere there is an obvious excess of casual tables of varying heights, chunky and in a light oak. Good for resting coffee cups, TV remotes, newspapers and magazines, spare change, house keys and other odds and sods. Another result of giving priority to appearance above need.

A shrine to cluttered living.

At least until I was hit by another spasm of Kondo-itis. This reduced the tsunami of tables and revealed the sofa’s entire seating area for the first time since its arrival.  

Never to make a daily appearance are the unlined curtains in a “soft grey linen mix” that Designer Woman had made to measure for the window wall.

Designer discussions: planning in progress

These were to replace existing vertical blinds that can be angled to let in ample light while not reducing the privacy of myself or the neighbours across the way. A two-way intrusion that was inevitable, as explained to Designer Woman right at the start,  if the flimsy see-through newcomers had been installed.

They were the final straw. A somewhat dumbfounded installer offered no argument as he listened to my outburst, lengths of “soft grey linen mix” folded across  one arm.  He quickly departed and has never been heard of since. 

Likewise, plans provided by a joiner for a “bespoke” bookcase based on Designer Woman’s hurriedly sketched drawings were later rejected without discussion. There were others I trusted far more.

As for Designer Woman,  she was never heard from or seen again. Not to oversee the delivery and installation (that was left to the furniture delivery men), not to check that her creation was as intended. She came, she ordered, she departed.

A modern twist on Caesar’s imperious veni, vidi, vici. Another dictator.

Which is really what they are.  They decree what is right. They decide what is in.  They determine the must-haves and the passe. Their armoury consists of words such as bold, striking, vivid, daring, feisty, impact, drama and numerous others in the same vein.  And we suck it all up.

It is all about making a statement. Creating a look, especially one that will make an impression on the impressionable on Instagram. 

Practicality and comfort tend to be secondary considerations.  Creations that can be a delight to look at but a right bastard to live with. Such as a stark all pink luxe bedroom said to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to futuristic movies (go figure).

Or a room dominated by a Wedgwood blue wallpaper patterned in rows of big Grecian urns that would be a talking point for any dinner guest. (Yeah, lots of guest giggles on the way home because they don’t have to live with it)

All in all, lessons learned and suspicions confirmed.  It’s time to call out the Emperor about his new clothes.









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