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Interiors Blog 2013 - Jane Price-Stephens

So, can you really trust a builder?
25 Mar 2013

Jane Price-Stephens


We are supposedly over half way through our build… and, as far as I can tell, the builders still seem to be demolishing stuff rather than building stuff… it does give considerable cause for concern when you see your home crumbling down around you, more so when you are living in a cramped one-bedroom flat within the building site (with a very large dog and a very large cat), separated by just a few bits of hoarding and some expanding foam from all the noise and the dust…  but, after nine weeks of this challenging existence we have finally capitulated and moved out. We are homeless. It’s a very strange feeling.

Anyway, back to the build. Now, according to our builder we have been a week ahead of schedule to this point, so I was unbelievably frustrated to see no real work or progress on site last week (with the exception of the removal of a picket fence, which to be frank, was so rotten I could have done it myself). As a consequence of this and our desire to get the build finished somewhere remotely close to the date we have in our plans and contract, we called an emergency meeting with our builder to ‘express our concerns’ (that is very diplomatic positioning and does not accurately reflect the colourful language that my husband used during this ‘discussion’).

Now for those that don’t know, in a previous life I worked in the city as a strategy consultant and, as a result of this, I am professionally trained as a project manager (as is my husband, but I’m better at it…). We both reviewed the project schedule and could see that after the past week of very little activity we were now in fact getting close to being one week behind schedule (so we effectively lost two weeks in the blink of an eye). Now that may not sound like a lot (and in the grand scale of things, it isn’t), but when you are begging, borrowing and stealing sofas and spare rooms from very good friends and family, the last thing on earth we want is for the build to run way over and we end up totally outstaying our welcome everywhere… we’re nice people, but everyone has their limits…

During the meeting we pointed out to the builder/project manager that we were behind schedule, to which his very interesting response was; ‘no we’re not, have you seen the latest schedule?’ Now I appreciate that there has to be flexibility in project planning and that in the real world of a build (where you may not discover a problem until you pull down a wall), plans do change and reprioritisation is always necessary. However, you can’t simply move major elements of the build outlined within the project plan back and continue to say you are either on or ahead of schedule!  My husband and I joked (in a very serious way) that if that was the case, he could quite easily have kept moving all the incomplete activities out until eventually they would all be sitting in the last week of the project – at which point, we would then have been told that we were behind schedule and that the house wasn’t going to be delivered. So, following our heated discussion on the basics of project planning and management, we now have a very clear agreement with the builder that items in the project plan cannot move and if they do it is by exception and joint agreement. It’s worth agreeing this upfront if you are embarking upon a build…

Now, I don’t want to teach my builder ‘how to suck eggs’, but the foundations of a successful project are dependent on it being delivered on time, within budget and to a level of quality that the client is satisfied with. I just pray that our builder isn’t just full of promises and will deliver a project we are happy with, within the agreed timescales and to the fixed price that we agreed (with very few ‘additionals’). I keep coming back to the image below, because it is just so relevant to what I do and it’s a useful way of describing the different fundamental elements of any project to my clients…

Jane Price-Stephens

(Image from

In last month’s blog I set out how all projects are and should be constrained (and aggressively managed) by a set timeline, budget and resources. As a result, it is of utmost importance that the project process is constantly being driven towards completion with regular updates, meetings and follow-ups with the builder. Given that we have now moved out of the building site and are remote from day-to-day activities, it is even more important that our regular site meetings and reviews take place… and critical to the success of these meetings is structure, open communication between all parties and that it is a forum where everyone, including the builder, can voice their opinions and concerns. Again, it is important to agree project governance with the builder up front and make sure that you stick to it for the duration of the build.

I suppose I should apologise and say thank you for sticking this one out - this blog has been a bit of a cathartic rant… (but hopefully the project management tips will help someone about to embark upon a build).

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

It is only in our decisions that we are important…*
18 Feb 2013


Jane Price-Stephens


After years of deliberation and months (and months) of planning, we have finally commenced the renovation of our home. It’s about three years overdue, but at least we’ve now made a start – the defining moment in any build is the arrival of the sledgehammer on day 1 – there’s no going back… in fact, by my reckoning, our entire house is currently being held up by eight green metal poles, a plastic bag and a plank of wood.

…and, for the first time I am on the other side of the fence – not only am I the designer, but I am also the client… this puts a completely different slant on things…

We are now six weeks into the build and it has become increasingly evident to me that my clients may not only be choosing to use my services because of my impeccable taste and extensive marriage guidance capabilities, but also simply because they are completely overwhelmed with the number and sequencing of decisions that all need to be made at the start of the build and across the lifecycle of the project. 

Jane Price-Stephens

(Image from Learn Live Lead)

In addition to the vast number of decisions that need to be made, I am currently dealing with another tricky issue - I have been completely paralysed when it comes to making decisions about my own home. When it comes to clients, I am decisive and can make decisions that I am confident will result in a fabulous design. My paralysis seems to originate from the fact that I know I am going to have to live with whatever I decide for a significant amount of time (more so given the amount it is costing) and I am concerned that people are going to judge me on what I decide to do with my home – in essence, I just want to make sure I get it right.  Whether I like it or not, my home is going to become a showcase for the career that I have chosen…

I have also come to the conclusion that some clients may be choosing to use an interior designer in part because they want the confidence that their home is going to look aesthetically pleasing, but also because interior designers alleviate some of the stress associated with making so many critical decisions across the lifecycle of the project.

Another factor that can hinder the decision-making process is the fact that you are spending so much money and (for most of us) your world has shifted from dealing in pounds and pence to amounts with a few more zeros at the end – it means every decision has potentially significant implications on the budget as well as the finish. Throw the vast number of options into the mix and the fact that everything needs to be compatible and arrive on site at just the right time (to ensure it doesn’t delay the build and doesn’t get damaged because it’s lying around in a corner for days) and your brain could simply go into meltdown…

So here is some advice for anyone about to embark on the renovation of their own home – ‘In order to create something great you need to have some constraints’. Limitations on time, budget, scope and size of the project define the rules that drive decisions and make for better solutions. A classic example of this is how to deal with writer’s block – give them a deadline.  A creative mind has no limits but in order to balance the creativity, practical constraints around time, money and scope need to be in place. It may sound crazy but limitations and controls can make us happier and more creative. So, in order to focus my mind, my husband and I have just revisited our budget and set a clear date for when everything in the house needs to be ordered – this has focused our minds and means that hopefully we will create a home we are proud to call ours. If it doesn’t fall down before then.

*Jean-Paul Sartre

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

Fifty Shades of Grey… a tale of economic uncertainty, not S&M…
10 Dec 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


With pervasive uncertainty and continuing market volatility for the foreseeable future, it is not surprising that with this ongoing grim economic outlook that grey continues to feature heavily in the coming year – however, on a more upbeat note, it’s now in the form of dependable grey neutrals alongside an injection of something a bit more special. Fortunately there is still a desire to be a little bit distracted from the realities of life and to make our homes feel safe and secure and for there to be an overwhelming sense of wellbeing – and, in short, vivid colours make us feel good. As a consequence, in addition to lots of conservative neutral tones, there are a range of joyous and uplifting complementary colours that are a key element of this year's palette.

For example, blues are making a huge resurgence in 2013 – although, in keeping with our grumpy outlook this time around and (for the most part) they’re in the form of grey-based blues – that said, these colour ranges add an element of oceanic tranquility and wellbeing to our homes… The illustrations below also highlight that texture will play a vital role in making these broadly neutral schemes work really effectively…

Decorating with greys

(Image from Petra Bindel)


Decorating with greys

(Image from design traveler)


Getting away from the various shades of grey, this year pink is also the new hot impact colour – not girly (and sickening) pink, but dusty and more muted shades of pink.  The image below illustrates how effectively these shades can be mixed with yellow. Although yellow is taking a bit of a step back from its huge popularity last year, it still features strongly – always adding an element of freshness to a scheme.

Decorating with greys

(Image from

I personally love grey (but not necessarily all the Shades of Grey…) and the idea of using neutral tones as the base of the room and then incorporating these more vivid colours to create a sanctuary where you can feel safe and secure – something that makes a bit of a statement.

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

On the tiles...
19 Nov 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


Did you know that the phrase ‘a night on the tiles’ refers to the noise, or ‘unholy din’ that cats used to make on British rooftops at night? Apparently the phrase originates from the early 1900s and we use it now to describe the aftermath of a big night out (a night usually fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol and involving ‘throwing some tasty shapes’ on the dance floor).  Anyway, all very interesting, but absolutely nothing at all to do with my blog this week.  This week I am going to provide an introduction to choosing tiles for inside your home - it can be a bewildering and time-consuming process (read ‘soul destroying’ if you are a bloke), simply due to the wide variety of tiles available, variability in quality, size and finish and complicated further by the sheer cost of it all.  A daunting prospect...  well, maybe...

Here are some of my top tips to bear in mind when tiling your home...

I’ll start by stating the obvious (as usual) - within the home there are four main areas where you might consider using tiles; the entrance hall (high traffic so need for something durable), the bathroom (waterproofing), the kitchen (both for cleaning and durability) and outdoors (well, you aren’t going to use carpet, are you?). Below are the key considerations for each of these different areas.


The bathroom is the most obvious place in a home to find tiles and, as noted above, this is mainly for waterproofing, cleaning and hygiene factors - and to be frank, wallpaper isn’t really going to do the trick. In fact, many paints (unless designed specifically for use in a bathroom environment) won’t last long either.

Many people don’t realise that the size of the space you are planning to tile (either in full or in part) will drive some specific considerations that you need to take into account, primarily the size of the tile and the colour.


When it comes to tiling your bathroom size really does matter (although my husband might disagree). If you choose your tiles wisely you can make your bathroom look larger and more airy than it actually is. Obviously, if you make a foolish decision you can successfully achieve the exact opposite of this...

Tiles come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, ranging from the ‘accepted standard’ up to very large field tile formats - that said, the ‘standard’ tile is fast disappearing as most manufacturers provide a huge menu of size options (which can make decisions even more difficult). While it's not wise to use very large tiles in a small space (they will dwarf the room), a medium-format tile will give a much sleeker look than smaller tiles, which inevitably show more grout lines... However, it's important to look at the positioning of the fixtures and fittings before deciding on a tile format. If the bath, toilet and basin are all in close proximity with very limited wall area between them, smaller tiles would actually create a much better flow and coherence to the design.

That said, a big trend for 2011 is to use large statement tiles to create a seamless look (so, very few grout lines, which is also a good thing from a hygiene and cleaning perspective). Stating the obvious once again, but large tiles are particularly suitable for large, spacious bathrooms (including those with high ceilings) or en-suites where you can carry the tiling through into the bedroom.  

It is also worth noting a more subtle point - large areas of tiling look more convincing than small ones (relative to the size and scale of the room and its features). A bathroom tiled floor to ceiling looks elegant, whereas a rectangle of three deep tiles along the length of the bath just looks cheap (remember your student accommodation or your first rented flat in London).


(Image from Furniture Fashion by Group 41 Architects)


There are several ways in which you can make a small bathroom feel larger. Light coloured bathroom tiles (i.e. white or cream) can make small spaces feel much bigger as they reflect the light much more effectively than darker colours - this in turn gives an airy and spacious feel to the room.  However, if plain white is a bit too bland for your tastes and you need something a bit more Marmite, try adding interest and contrast with tiles that have an unusual surface texture. You can always add colour in the form of towels and accessories later.

Using the same colour for the wall tiles and the floor tiles will also give your bathroom a more spacious feel (note - they don’t have to be the same sized tiles). To enhance the seamless effect within the space, you can also use a similar coloured grout with the tiles (which also helps blend in the grout lines more effectively).


If you’re talking floor tiles, texture is an absolute must. It sounds like common sense (because it is), but many buyers are still seduced like magpies (or is it cuckoos?) by lovely shiny tiley things and then end up skidding around all over the place every time the floor gets wet - great for a laugh on occasion, but only until someone who watches daytime telly (usually carrying a box, a ladder or something sharp) gets a minor injury and sues for damages, which seriously increases the expense associated with the tiles. Generally, the rougher the texture, the less slippery the tile when wet.  Alternatively, chose smaller format tiles such as mosaic where the grout joints and tile edges themselves lend the extra grip.

When it comes to the walls (where it is harder to walk and to fall over), shiny tiles look ‘tres chic’ (‘very chic’ if you don’t speak French), sleek and reflect light very effectively - as a result, they are a good all rounder (and another candidate for small or dark spaces).


These days, tiles are found in the majority of kitchens, ranging from small splashback features behind hobs and sinks, to fully tiled kitchen floors and walls.

Kitchen tiling

(Image from Style Files)

Given that the kitchen is perhaps the most frequently used room in the home (I think I may have said that about quite a few rooms), often an entrance to the garden, a sleeping area for pets (as well as a zone for systematic destruction of the home from the inside out) and storage for heavy domestic appliances, it is important to choose a floor tile that is hardwearing, scratch resistant and easy to clean.


As with bathrooms, for very small kitchens you should consider small/medium floor tiles to create a better and more effective flow. Larger format tiles look best in kitchen areas that are fortunate enough to have a lot of floor space - so, where a large number of tiles can be laid without cuts.


Due to its hardwearing properties the most common choice is a porcelain floor tile (no, not quite like teacups) for the kitchen.  Alternatively, natural stone tiles (travertine, quarry, slate) can offer a fantastic and distinctive effect.

A further consideration is cleaning and hygiene; grouts can now be bought with antibacterial additives - these are great in food preparation areas as they prevent the growth of bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. They also help prevent discolouration of the grout over time (which is also an issue in the bathroom given the amount of water flying around and the fact that it is often damp and humid or ‘hot... damn hot... hot and wet...’ as Robin Williams would have eloquently put it in Good Morning Vietnam).


Hallways receive the highest footfall in the home, hence it is important to choose a floor that is supremely hardwearing. Check that the tile wear rating (PEI rating) is suitable for the area in question. Also make sure that the tile is scratch resistant and easy to clean.

If outdoor shoes are going to be frequenting the floor (for those people who don’t freak visitors out by asking them to remove their shoes immediately when they arrive), then it may be preferable to choose a darker coloured floor grout, which will in turn influence your choice of colour for the tile or stone itself.

Wall tiles are also a great way of making a statement at the entrance of your home. I love the image below, particularly as it also combines stone and wood...


(Image from Houzz Jessop Architects)


If tiles are for outdoor use then they need to be able to resist the weather - this doesn’t just mean water (but it doesn’t include wind and it would be stupid to include earthquakes because they’re just destructive). If you live in the UK or another part of the world with frost conditions and temperature variability/volatility, then you will need to ensure your tiles do not absorb too much water (which can expand and damage the tile when it freezes and cause serious cracking). These types of resilient tile for outdoor use are known as vitreous or impervious. A vitreous tile typically absorbs less than three percent of its weight in water and an impervious tile less than half a percent.


Your best bet is to choose a porcelain tile for outdoor use because of their very low water absorption; alternatively, some types of natural stone are also suitable, including slate which has very low water absorption levels (even less than 1%).  A considered choice will ensure that your tiles don’t crack during the deep and bleak UK winters that we have become accustomed to.


1. TILE CO-ORDINATION: This sounds rather obvious but do not ignore the surrounding colour scheme when choosing tiles. Simply bearing in mind the colours that will match well with the overall design can make the task of choosing floor tiles so much easier.

2. UNDERFLOOR HEATING: Floor tiles may feel cool on bare feet, but this can often be driven by the surface underneath the tiles (more often than not concrete). So, for example, tiling onto wood (which can ‘breathe’) will create a warmer feel than tiles that are placed on top of concrete. Underfloor heating will add luxury at a surprisingly small cost. It adds little to the thickness of the floor tiling so can be installed in most instances and it frees up valuable wall space.

3. MAINTENANCE: If you are purchasing natural stone tiles (i.e. travertine, marble, slate), they tend to be quite porous, so you may need to apply a seal to stop the tiles absorbing water (particularly if using outside). Make sure you get the right advice for sealing and treating the tiles before and after fixing (and then work out if this is the right tile for you). 

4. PRICE: At the least expensive end of the scale is a standard-sized ceramic floor tile. Moving up in price you are getting into the territory of porcelain tiles and larger formats (or indeed mosaics). Luxury natural stone is likely to be at the top end of the price scale and can also be a little more expensive to install due to the extra labour involved in fixing and sealing. View tiles as an investment, not a cost - according to the ‘trusted estate agents’ (who we haven’t heard from for a few weeks - they’ve been on ‘oleday), tiles can add value to your home so be prepared to invest money and time. Pay a little more and get something that really makes your bathroom special. Never compromise on quality, which can still be picked up at great prices if you know where to look and what to look for.

5. CONTINGENCY: Always purchase an additional 5-10% more tiles than you actually need. This allows you (or the tiler) to compensate for cuts and breakages and ensures that you have the same batch/shade should you ever need additional tiles (or have a little mishap). Most companies will offer a refund on unused boxes of tiles if you do want to return extras after the work is complete.

6. ATTENTION TO DETAIL: In the end the success of all tiling in the home depends on thorough preparation, careful calculation and attention to detail. Enough said.

So, that’s it for tiles. As it’s work, work, work tomorrow no ‘night on the tiles’ this evening for me. You never know, next week we may start thinking about ‘painting the town red’. Sorry. Best I could do. Very long blog this week. Tired.

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

‘Flying isn’t particularly dangerous. It’s crashing that’s dangerous…’*
15 Oct 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


Helicopters maintain a precarious equilibrium when they are in the air – and it’s the most beautiful thing to look at when it works... when one of the elements that comprise this equilibrium changes, it has an impact on all the other elements and either something changes (altitude, pitch, direction, speed) or you need to compensate to maintain the status quo or to make the entire system work more effectively.  However, when just one thing goes disastrously wrong, the whole thing just comes crashing down.  So, where am I going with this and why are helicopter crashes just like interior design?  I’ll start at the beginning…

My husband and I are in the process of deciding whether to embark on a total refurbishment of our home – finally!!!  So, as you might imagine, we are currently debating the upheaval this will potentially cause (particularly for our very large and stupid dog and our very large and eccentric cat), working out whether we have sufficient funds in the coffers to do the work and, ultimately, deciding whether we should move out of our home while the works are taking place.

Now, given that my husband is going to be my client on this project (and I suspect he may be a very demanding client), I think it is important that we decide early (i.e. before we commence work) what our priorities are in terms of cost, time and quality.  This is where I was going with the helicopter bit.  Bear with me.

So, as you might imagine;

The time refers to the amount of time available to complete a project

The cost refers to the budgeted amount available to fund all aspects of the project

The quality refers to the quality of the final build and finish

I have seen several projects where the client has not fully appreciated the significant  interrelationship between these three fundamental elements of a project and therefore makes decisions relating to one without appreciating the consequential impact on the other two.  The time cost quality triangle is a useful concept to bear in mind throughout your build and you’ll find that, once you are aware of it, it will pop into your head in all sorts of situations – because it illustrates in a very simple and practical way the inherent tradeoffs in any project.

Jane Price-Stephens

(Image from

This triangle illustrates the fact that the three fundamental elements of a project are interrelated (one side of the triangle cannot be changed without impacting the others) and it is not possible to optimize all three – one will always suffer. In other words, you have three options;

1.    Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap

2.    Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of a high quality

3.    Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time to either manufacture or install

It is generally accepted that it is only possible to achieve two of the elements at the same time, so you can have a high quality build and you can get it done quickly but it is going to cost you more.  Ask any builder (and always add at least 50% on to the time estimated to complete the work – builders operate very naturally, yet consistently in their own space time continuum). 

The triangle also works on the principle that as more emphasis is placed on one element less is placed on the others.  These constraints are often competing, as a tight timeline typically means increased cost and reduced quality, a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced quality and increased quality typically means increased time and increased cost.

Pinning down your key objectives in relation to each of these elements is absolutely essential for the planning phase of a project.  By having these opportunities, constraints and compromises/tradeoffs in mind during the course of a project it allows for better project decisions and will ensure alignment between the build team and the client.

Having said all the above, I personally think that instead of viewing the time, quality, cost triangle as a straight jacket that constrains a build, the best projects are those where the project manager not only uses one or more of the axes to shift the emphasis of the project, but juggles all three like hot potatoes and makes decisions every single day to manage the trade offs and the precarious balance that must be maintained to deliver the project successfully… time vs. quality vs. cost.

So, during the course of this weekend, my husband and I will be defining and agreeing the priorities for our build - fingers crossed his priorities are the same as mine…

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

*Helicopter pilot that my hubby flew with.  Name unknown.  Now deceased.  RIP…

25 Jul 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


However, before I start, a general word of caution around predicting the British weather (and by default getting our hopes up due to our pervasive and misplaced meteorological optimism…);

'Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rung the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't…' (Michael Fish).

It’s one of the most famously incorrect quotes in Met Office history (I know that makes it sound terrific but I suspect there aren’t actually many others)… you may need to ‘Google it’ to get the point – put simply, don’t believe everything you hear on the weather forecast – the meteorological boffins won’t actually admit it, but they don’t really know where the jet stream is going wander off to next…

Anyway, the weather has finally improved (just in time for the Olympics, although rumour has it they are also going to have to seed the clouds with silver iodide in advance of the opening ceremony like they did in Beijing to make it rain and clear the skies), meaning we are finally getting to use our waterlogged outside space and barbecues.  This is a huge relief for my husband who bought an absolutely spectacular Weber barbecue two months ago (which is so big it casts a shadow over our house) and it hasn’t stopped raining since. I and most of our friends have been blaming him almost exclusively for the truly awful summer to date…

Now I know it’s an oft-used cliché, but the whole concept of ‘inside out’ – taking your home/living space to your garden – is becoming even more important (and super cool). In short, what’s the point of having a nicely designed home if your garden lets the whole scheme down?  Gardens and patios are becoming another important space in the home (particularly in Londinium, where space is always at a premium), with more and more people wanting it to act properly as an additional room in the house – a space that functions as an additional living room, a dining room and a kitchen (but preferably not as a bathroom)…   As a consequence, outdoor furniture has come on leaps and bounds in recent years.  Now you will typically find that lots of outdoor furniture is barely distinguishable from items that you might find inside your home (but also worth bearing in mind that this stuff needs the care and attention that we associate with traditional outdoor furniture – very easy to forget when it looks like a sofa). More and more furniture is being designed to meet the design brief of ‘an outdoor living room’ and as a consequence the furniture is becoming more comfortable and with higher quality upholstery/finishes (refer once again to the important point on care and attention…).  For many clients, the most important factors when it comes to outdoor furniture are comfort and durability. So, forget cheap rattan and painted metal – these are being replaced by more technologically advanced and durable materials and, with the development of synthetic fibers, new sun and weather-resistant materials and new advanced molding techniques, the possibilities are almost endless…  Just a few years ago, the number of attractive outdoor fabrics was also hugely restricted – again, these have come on leaps and bounds. There are now a number of fabric houses that produce outdoor fabrics that are so fantastic I have on occasion considered using them inside…. in fact, I actually did on the design of a super yacht I have just completed.

Here are just a few images of gardens that I would love to be chillaxing in during the next few days – until the artificial downpours created by the silver iodide in the clouds over London… 

Outdoor living

(Image from

Outdoor living

(Image from

Outdoor living

(Image from blissblog via aubrey road)

*Marcel Proust (yet another French novelist…)

If you want to read related articles simply click through to the A Design for Life blog.... 

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.


02 Jul 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


This month I am going to focus on the ‘all important’ entrance hall. After the ‘all important’ front door (you can see where I am going with this...), this is the first internal space in your home that you ‘interact’ with when you get past the front door (see last month’s blog on ‘front doors’ for the first external aspect of the home) and where you welcome guests into your home (with champagne reception and canapés if appropriate).

As the first internal aspect of the home that you and others experience, the hallway needs to reflect, as far as possible, the overall feel that you are trying to create for your home. Findings (potentially from the ‘honest estate agents’) suggest that your attitude and mood are affected either positively or negatively when entering a property (clearly no room for ambivalence in this respect), depending on how well the entrance hallway has been designed. Stating the obvious again, but if your hallway is light, warm and welcoming, it will make your visitors instantly feel relaxed and at home; alternatively, if it is dark, dingy and cluttered it will create a negative impact, making the space feel much smaller and oppressive.  It is worth pointing out that different combinations of the characteristics listed above can be made to work - so a hallway can be dark, but welcoming (but only if it is designed in the right way).

However, in reality and in most cases, the hallway is a transient area of the home which traffic passes through en route to another space... as a consequence, it is often left as an afterthought from a design perspective, with simple décor and furnishing (or not) and it often becomes a dumping ground for shoes, brollies, wellies, pushchairs and coats (all the things you furiously tidy away when you know someone is coming round to visit...).

Here are my top tips for creating an entrance hall that makes an impact:

Ensuring your hallway flows seamlessly into other rooms

  • Your hallway design should not be considered in isolation, but in association with how it will work with other rooms which lead directly off the hallway (an important point, but often overlooked) - it should also be designed to be consistent with the overall look and feel of your home
  • Also think about how the hall connects to the other areas in the home; if space allows, double doors can create a dramatic entrance to the rest of the house or directly into the main living area
  •  If your front door opens straight onto your living room, the most effective thing that you can do is to invent your own ‘hall zone’. This can be achieved simply using a well-placed rug or by adding a shelf for hats and gloves and coat hooks
  •  The staircase is typically a feature of most hallways (unless you live in a bungalow or a tent), so it needs to be visually appealing

The importance of colour and light - dingy just won’t do...

There are two different but related ‘schools of thought’ when it comes to the colour of hallways;

  • The first suggests that a dark hallway says all the wrong things about your home, and that you should use colour to make the entrance as light and appealing as possible. Hence, the general advice is to steer clear of dark or very bold colours
  • The second suggests that a dark hallway won’t be made brighter by painting it a light colour. Hence, choosing darker shades will give the artificial illusion that the rooms beyond are much, much brighter and airier

My personal view is that if your hallway is narrow or small, neutrals invariably work the best.  In contrast, if your house is a large listed building or a grand period home (i.e. you have a cavernous hallway), a deep traditional red or green will add enormous impact

Hallway floors must be able to stand up to wear and tear

  • The wrong choice of flooring for such a heavily used area will result in rapid deterioration and, as a consequence, a tired look that may not reflect the rest of your home
  • A decent-sized door mat is a must and, if possible, sink your mat into a shallow well as it prevents slipping (and will help accumulate doorway dust)

Spacious hallway

(Image from Homebulding)

In the hallway, less is most definitely more

A spacious hallway not only creates an important first impression, it actually makes the house feel bigger (ask the honest estate agents if you don’t believe me)

  • Keep your hallway as clutter-free as possible. Only store the absolute essentials in your hallway. Stating the obvious once again, but the smaller the hallway, the clearer and less cluttered it should be kept (so hallway storage may be an important consideration)
  • Limit the number of coats hanging in the hallway to one per family member and try to do the same with shoes (very difficult for us ladies)
  • A piece of furniture such as a narrow console will make a hall feel inhabited and somewhat distinct as a room in its own right.  It can also provide a proper home for keys and phone chargers so they don’t go astray (but do remain conscious of security considerations).  However, as a consequence of having a table just inside the front door, it can often become a convenient dumping ground for newspapers, pocket junk and morning post...
  •  If your home is ‘shoe free’ (i.e. you have light coloured carpets and no pets...), make sure there’s plenty of storage next to the front door. A bench with built-in storage is a good idea

Decorative hallway

(Image from Christina Fluegge)

Create a focal point in your hallway

  • It is essential in a hallway to create some sort of focal point. Floor space is for most people at a premium, but your walls are the perfect place to make a statement with a mirror or a provocative piece of art
  • Mirrors in general can make a huge difference, as they can help add to the illusion of more space by reflecting and bouncing light around
  • Also consider a statement lamp or pendant to add flattering and decorative ambient lighting to the space

Picture wall hallway

(Image from Christina Fluegge)

So, that’s the front door and the hallway sorted - according to the honest estate agents you have increased the value of your home by 10% and made the world a happier place.  Goodness knows what you will achieve when you get to the rest of the house...

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

28 May 2012

Jane Price-Stephens


We often spend lots of time and money making the interior of our homes beautiful but, as a consequence, we sometimes neglect the exterior.  First impressions count and nowhere more so than on your front door. Not only it is it the first thing that greets you when you get home after a hard day at work, it’s the first thing that people see close up when they visit your pad. According to some estate agents (the honest ones), the finest front doors can add up to 10% to the value of a property! So, with that little stat in mind, it’s worth investing in making your front door a focal point of your home and as grand and welcoming as possible.

Front door

(Image from The White Book)

Here are my top tips for making a great first impression with a smart front door:

  • When choosing a front door, consider the style and size of your home - stating the obvious here, but as an example, you are not going to put a traditional Victorian door on a modern house...
  • Door colour is about personal preference, however it is worth considering colours that complement the existing exterior house colours and brickwork. You can really make a statement with your choice of colour, but it is worth bearing in mind that you are choosing something that you (and your neighbours) are going to see pretty much every day. So, while bright luminescent orange might seem like a great idea after a few glasses of wine (and you decide that it would be a great way to find your way home from the pub...), your love for your door might wear off pretty quickly. General rules are that glossy black looks great on a grand stucco building and on townhouses, but is much less effective next to red brick or on smaller houses or cottages where soft greys work well. A soft green or blue can look beautiful on your country home (if you are lucky enough to have one!) because they fit well with the natural surroundings.  If you live in a Victorian terrace it might also be worth having a look at door colours on other houses in your street and deciding whether you want to follow the prevailing trend.
  • Irrespective of what colour you choose, your front door needs to provide protection against the elements, hence if it is being repainted it requires a primer and undercoat before the gloss (and for a more natural look, bare wood can be varnished or given a finish with a suitable wood preserve).  Also, it is really worth spending the money on a very good quality paint to avoid cracking or flaking over time.
  • When you are choosing your door colour, you also need to think about your door furniture. This includes the door handle/knob, letterbox, eye hole, door knocker, locks, security chains and doorbell. A smart letterbox and door knob are, in my opinion, a must. In recent years polished and brushed chrome has taken over from brass as the discerning choice.  However, it is worth bearing in mind that you may have to buy different bits and pieces of door furniture from a range of suppliers, so colour matching is important to ensure a consistent overall result.  Also remember that door furniture will feature on the inside of your home as well so you may need to think about how well a finish complements, for example, your interior door handles and window latches.
  • If you have glass panels in your front door, consider personalising them with a frosted film with your house name or number.

Front door numbers

(Images from Willow and Stone and HomeShoppingSpy)

  •  Also consider lighting your porch - this will make it more welcoming for guests on dark nights, but also make both yours and their approach safer. Lighting the path to your front door with floor-level lights is another really effective way of creating a great first impression and placing an emphasis on your door.

It’s amazing how a fresh coat of paint and new door furniture can work wonders on the exterior of your home. I recently refurbished my own front door, replacing all the door furniture with brushed chrome and painting it a lovely French Grey - a year on it still makes me smile when I put my key in the lock (my smile grows even wider when I also remember that I didn’t have to spend a load of money on a new door to achieve the result).  So go on, give your front door a new lease of life and you never know, those honest estate agents with their stats might just be right...

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit: www.janepricestephens.com, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.

30 Apr 2012



If kitchens are the social hub of the home then bathrooms are definitely the ultimate haven where you can relax (and luxuriate in the bath if you are female or sit on the toilet and read magazines if you are a bloke). Bathrooms are where we (females) pamper ourselves and should be a place where we want to spend time (unless your bloke has just been in there).

In today’s society, where we all lead busy and stressful lives, bathrooms have become the only place where peace and quiet can prevail (the lock on the door helps in this respect). A well-designed bathroom can also change the entire feel of your client’s home (and if you believe the ‘trusted estate agents’, it can also add considerable value). To realise this and create a sanctuary from everyday life you need to give careful consideration to each aspect of the room; the type of basin (wall hung vs. counter top vs. pedestal), the toilet (close coupled vs. wall hung vs. back to wall), the bath (freestanding vs. built in), and the shower (corner vs. quadrant vs. recessed vs. shower over bath)... and once you have done all that hard work you also need to think about the finishes for the floor and walls (which should complement and bring out the best in your sanitaryware).

Just like with the kitchen, spatial planning of the bathroom is critical... and not just because it’s typically one of the smallest rooms in your home, but also because unlike the kitchen (where the majority of appliances are rectangular), bathroom furniture comes in a variety of shapes and sizes - this in itself adds a significant layer of complexity to spatial planning and what you can realistically achieve within the space.

  • When planning the bathroom think about the positioning of the bath first - it’s the biggest piece of furniture in the bathroom and, as a consequence, options for locating it may be more restricted, and in turn drive what you do elsewhere
  • Another very important consideration is the throne... always aim to position the WC so that it isn’t the first thing that you see when entering the bathroom (if it is a more persuasive argument, imagine you don’t have a lock on the door and conjure up an image of what you would see if you walked in at the wrong time...) and also position it as far away from the bath as possible
  • One of the additional restrictions that will have an impact on the spatial planning of your client’s bathroom and, more specifically, the position of the WC, are the draining and plumbing arrangements. In simple terms, the WC needs to be located near the soil stacks, which tend to be located on external walls (so in some homes this may drive the entire layout of the bathroom, bath included)
  • Basins should ideally be positioned where there is natural light for activities such as shaving (men) and application of makeup (women, but also some men...).  Don’t underestimate the superior quality of natural light in a bathroom mirror when compared to artificial light - it may be cruel, but at least it’s honest...
  • If you have space limitations, you may have to sacrifice the double basin that your client has always dreamed of (theory being one for her and one for the messy one, or the other way around...), but it will be worthwhile as it is always better to allow space for your furniture to breathe then to try to cram it all in!
  • If you are lucky enough to have a large bathroom you will have much more flexibility around the design and be able to come up with a more impactful layout and emphasise some of the key features of the room more effectively (obviously harder to clean, but more impactful nevertheless). For instance, a large freestanding bath with lots of space around it to breathe will be a real centerpiece and will allow your client to really appreciate the space and freedom while they luxuriate in the bath (unless of course someone is using the toilet at the same time)


Above all else, when designing your client’s bathroom, there are a couple of fundamental questions that you need to address:

  • Is the bathroom going to be in a traditional style or modern contemporary? This decision in itself will be highly influenced by the overarching style of the home and the design of the other rooms. Whatever style you choose, it should be one that your client will enjoy and one that complements the style of their home (it is worth bearing in mind that some people spend as much time in the bathroom as they do in their bedroom...) - it is a significant investment and refitting usually involves a great deal of inconvenience and cost!
  • Another key question will be bath or shower, or both? In order to keep our ‘trusted estate agents’ in a happy place make sure that you keep at least one bath somewhere within your client’s home (preferably in a bathroom). Ultimately, actually having a bath or a shower is very much a personal choice, but if your client can have both in their home they definitely should! Showering is certainly more environmentally friendly - it uses less water and fewer resources to heat the water. That said, although bathing uses more water, there are times when a shower just won’t do - bathing is perfect after long runs (with ice if you are hard enough) or after a hard day at work and, of course, it is also essential for small children...
  • Finally, make sure there is plenty of storage in the bathroom – your client will use it; we all need somewhere to store spare loo roll and other toiletries, particularly those little things that you don’t want guests to see. That said, if your client’s home is anything like mine, some forms of clutter in a bathroom are unavoidable (particularly if you don’t tidy up...) - this includes; toothbrushes, makeup, beauty products, make-up removal stuff and perfume (which all tend to pile up around the basin). An effective way to deal with all this clutter is to invest in built-in storage around the basin. Deep, easily accessible drawers will give you somewhere to put all your stuff, reduce clutter and make your bathroom feel more spacious 

You should never underestimate the hidden power your client’s bathroom has in terms of influencing the overarching look and feel of the home. Your client’s bathroom should be a haven where they can relax and either enjoy an invigorating shower or a relaxing soak by candlelight after a hard day at work!

Below are a few examples of bathrooms that I love…

Modern bathroom

(Image from Modulnova)

Modern bathroom

(Image from Modulnova)

PLanning the perfect bathroom

(Image from Modulnova)


Jane Price-Stephens runs her own interior design business, to find out more visit:,, follow Jane on Twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433.




03 Apr 2012

It’s a sad state of affairs when that’s the typical question that we ask when we have lovingly prepared a meal for our family.  So, what’s happened to the dining room?  Historically dining rooms were very formal in their style and design, used less frequently than other areas of the home and, in some homes, reserved for special events such as Christmas Day, Easter Sunday (if you’re lucky) and funerals...  with the advent of TV and other media that captivate our consciousness and provide a constant distraction, the dining room has diminished in stature as a used space within the home.  What a waste.

 As a consequence, the traditional concept of the dining room is being challenged - there is a general trend towards people preferring to eat pretty much everywhere else rather than in a dedicated and separate dining room. This is because dining in other areas of the home is deemed less formal, easier and more in tune with modern living. This is driven in part by the following trends;

  • Living spaces are at such a premium (particularly in urban areas) so dining areas are increasingly becoming open plan or linked directly to the kitchen (or worse still, becoming a nether region between the living room and the kitchen - no more than a glorified hallway)
  • Evening meals are also becoming a more informal affair. Nearly half of Britons now prefer a casual meal with friends or a barbecue to a traditional three course dinner party
  • The emergence (to saturation point) of celebrity chefs on television has taken the joy out of dinner parties - as a consequence, today's host or hostess is feeling under intense pressure to perform to their exacting standards and to create something that looks just like the pictures in a recipe book or on TV.  As a result, the dinner party is becoming a declining pastime with fewer Brits choosing to take on the pressures of entertaining. In fact, over 60% of people (not based on deep analytical findings by the ‘trusted estate agents’) considered it worse than attending an interview or going on a first date
  • The tradition of gathering round the table as a family also appears to be disappearing, with less than half saying they eat together and most preferring to have their meal in front of the TV instead.  From an evolutionary perspective there is an upside - the male of the species has in fact learned to multi-task.  They now appear to be able to watch TV and play with their WiiStation 360s at the same time as they eat their dinner

I personally feel that, irrespective of where your dining table is - in a dedicated dining room, within an open plan kitchen or in the kitchen itself, there is something special about sitting down to eat without the distractions of the TV (particularly when there is nothing on that I want to watch). In order to achieve this you have to make a concerted effort to make the dining room a space where we (and others) all want to spend time. Here are some of my key considerations when thinking about designing the perfect eating area:

Table: The main table of the home can be the focus for a whole range of activities, from family meals and celebratory dinners to hobbies, homework or general household admin.  Your choice of table will depend on how much you use it, where it is located and what you use it for. A multi-functional table, especially one in the kitchen (where it is also likely to act as a culinary workstation and, in my recent experience, a chewing post for puppies), needs to be sturdy, resilient and accommodating.

However, if the table is going to be exclusively used for dining then aesthetics can prevail (Woo Hoo from a design perspective). The choice between; traditional and modern; wood, glass, metal, marble or plastic; round, oval, square or rectangular, is otherwise a matter of personal taste and style (and, obviously, available space).

A round table works best for informal dinners. However, if you frequently seat more then six, avoid large circles as they will take up far more space (with a lot of wasted table space) and it’s harder to converse across the table - something you may want to do if you are sitting beside the most boring person in the room.

Whatever shape you choose and, as obvious as it may seem, you need to check that there’s enough space to pull out the chairs and to move around the table comfortably.  In many homes the dining table is left unused because you have to move stuff around to either gain access to it, or to create enough room for all the chairs.  Why bother?

Chairs: You have the choice between rustic, contemporary or antique (or, put more simply, old and new).  Other choices you will need to make include the scale (dimensions), colour, upholstery material and degree of comfort. Comfort is probably one of the most important considerations - if you ever do get round to hosting that dinner party (and overcome the intimidation created by the celebrity chefs) then people may be at the table for over two hours (not including ‘comfort breaks’).  My husband has a great measure of dining room chair comfort - whether or not he has successfully fallen asleep at the table by the time dessert is served.

When considering size and dimensions always check that the seats and the legs fit easily under the table. Measure your dining table and figure out how wide and high the chairs should be to fit under it easily (both for dining, but also when not in use). Also make sure that you leave some space either side - you don’t want your dining guests to be wedged in like sardines. Avoid buying chairs that are less than 50cm wide as they won’t be wide enough for sitting comfortably (more so by the end of the meal if you have done a good job in the kitchen). Also think about the shape of your table. If it is round or oval the space underneath may be limited so (again), make sure all the chairs can be pushed under easily when it is not in use. As a practical guide, allow around 60cm of tabletop for each person at a rectangular table and about 75cm for a circular table.

If you want to add a splash of cool contemporary to the dining area, really think about options for your dining chairs; you could opt for a fifties classic such as Arne Jacobsen’s ant chairs in bent plywood or Ero Saarinen’s moulded fiberglass ‘Tulip chair’. The least expensive choice (and one that I absolutely love) is a collection of old non-matching chairs from a junk shop or auction room.  These can be stripped back to bare wood and finished with wax or painted in the same colour to create a sense of unity. Old and new pieces can look really good together as long as you follow a few simple rules. Contrasting styles work best when the surroundings are understated... so, think plain walls and plain floors. Link different aged items using the texture and colour of upholstery fabrics.

Lighting:  Lighting is critically important for setting the right mood in the dining room. Hanging a pendant low over the dining table literally puts the table (and unfortunately for some, your food) in the spotlight. But make sure that it isn’t too low - you don’t want dinner guests ducking under the light to speak to one another, banging their heads or, when tipsy, thinking that a UFO is landing.

Lighting is also a key feature, especially in open plan areas where you are trying to delineate between the cooking, living and eating areas. For instance, in the kitchen you will require sharp directional lighting for food preparation. However, in the dining room the lighting should be soft and atmospheric. So, in the kitchen you may use spotlights but in the dining area you may want to complement this with a pendant (as described earlier). This helps create a distinctive space and an atmosphere of intimacy, quite different from the surrounding area.

Below are a few examples of eating areas that I love - you will probably notice that I haven’t focused on statement objects and artwork in the dining room as part of this article, but you can see from the images below that they can also have a huge impact...

Danish Magazine Rum
(Image from Danish Magazine Rum) 

 (Image from Plastolux via The Diversion Project)

Lloyd Ralph Design
 (Image from LLoyd Ralph Design - James Tse Photography)

Style Files
 (Image from Style Files)

So, what’s the measure of success?  Well, if you can drag your clan away from the multitude of distractions that are part of our everyday life to eat a meal round the table then you are doing something right from a design perspective.  If you can’t, you can always order out for pizza and join them round the telly...

Jane Price-Stephens runs her own Interior Design business, to find out more visit:,, follow Jane on twitter @jpricestephens or call 07970 547433

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