6 Things I’ve Learnt About Slow Decorating

11th January 2019

newly plastered walls and bare floorboards are part of the process when it comes to slow decorating

You know, it’s interesting how many readers and friends imagine us to be all done and dusted with our renovation project. Whatever happened to doing things slowly? Perceptions of the online world I’ve detailed here may well have filled in the gaps so you think that we’ve called in a skilled team of contractors and a massive budget to do the lot in one go. But. The fact remains, we’re a family of five (cat included) living on a modest income without the means (or desire) to move out for works to be done. Although it has crossed my mind on many occasion. Believe it or not, for the most part, we actually enjoy DIY and want to give ‘The Chatham House’ as we call it, the very best we can, respecting its history and in making it our home.

If I’m honest, this house we’ve called home for two years now was not initially on the cards for us. The initial plan was to look at buying a stop-gap to turn around within a year or two and move on. BUT then we found this one. And suddenly we were looking at staying put and pouring everything we had into it. A total curveball. With only three or four previous owners, we’ve been spoilt with a lot of original features. Along with that we also inherited a whole heap of bodge jobs that need picking apart. Buying a doer-upper has meant re-evaluating and taking a few deep breaths at the thought of all that plastering. It’s also slowed down the whole renovation/decoration process, which, as the least impatient human on this planet was no easy pill to swallow. This sounds like you too, right? What I will say is having that time on your hands is actually a massive gift. Here’s what I’ve learnt about slow decorating so far…

White and grey Scandinavian living room with botanical art and the 6 things I've learnt about slow decorating

Our living and dining room remain as yet untouched. Hopefully, we’ll start work this year?

You Will Change Your Mind. A lot.

The most popular question I’m asked time and time again is “what advice would you give new homeowners?” Don’t act on impulse. Please. Do not pick up a paint chart, paintbrush or box of tiles until you’ve really spent some time in the house. Instead, wait. It’s boring, yes, frustrating, hell yes, but I can guarantee you’ll thank yourself in the long run. You might just save yourself from a rash decision or two. An example? We’ve lived with half raspberry pink, half gloss white anaglypta walls in our hallway for TWO YEARS. Why? Good question. Well, it’s a very dark space so for one, I needed time to see how the light behaved at different times throughout the year to determine the right colour palette to use. I’m still not sure whether we ought to replace the ceiling lights with wall lights and we need to decide on how we’re treating the stairs. Stripping it when we moved in would’ve meant living with some very crumbly old walls for quite so time which, in an already cold and drafty space wouldn’t be the most sensible move. I’ve been such a good girl!

Useful pointers to consider before you start decorating:

• Trends move quickly. Whatever you love now might not be top of your list in a year’s time.

• How will you use each room? Be realistic here – if you like the idea of a home office but know you’ll end up at the dining table/sofa then use it as a guest room instead.

• What works well for you now and what doesn’t? Do you need to rethink storage? Do you need to update the heating and windows if it’s a little on the draughty side?

• Choose colour carefully. Paint looks completely different in a room depending on the time of day and which way it’s facing, e.g. North facing light will be bluer and cool whilst South facing is warmer and most consistent during the main part of the day. Our bedroom faces North-East so I chose a warm beige paint to counteract the cold light and it reacts beautifully as the sun rises across one wall.

• How do you want your home to feel and where will you start the process? You need to consider how you’ll make the rest of the house connect with that room and feel like a coherent space.

a modern, Scandinavian kids room in white and grey-blue, the first room completed in our slow decorating process

The kids’ room. The very first room we finished in the house was started before we moved in and finished some months afterwards, but worth it!

Tackle One Project At A Time.

Renovating is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. Even if you’ve got somewhere else to live while work is going on, you still have to relocate and manage the project in the meantime. Tackling one room/project at a time will minimise the upheaval and stress and give you the headspace to give it your full focus. When you’ve ticked that off, move on to the next room.

Establish A Strong Foundation.

Unless you’re moving into a new build it’s likely there’s groundwork to do. I like to call them the boring necessities, things like:

• Structural works – knocking through / relocating walls.

• Rewiring and plumbing.

• Plasterwork.

• Replacing or strengthening floorboards. We did this in the bathroom just before Christmas when we realised our shower had completely rotted the joists underneath!

Some pretty important jobs. These should come top of your list, ahead of the cosmetic stuff to avoid the unfortunate need to start from scratch.

a bright white and blue kitchen refresh and the 6 things I've learnt about slow living

Making do and making it better – updating inherited cupboards and refinishing the dark pine floors.

Live In The Now

Holding onto those big “one day” plans are completely valid. We’d like to extend the kitchen and create another room in the loft at some point, but not for a few years yet. Don’t feel that you can’t make changes to make it your own in the meantime. That’s why we decided to do a kitchen refresh so we could fully utilise the existing space and enjoy it for the time being. And honestly, crappy cupboard planning aside (thanks previous owners) I love it so much that I’d be quite happy if that extension didn’t happen. Almost.

Moodboarding and utilising paint swatches forms a large part of our slow decorating process

Early stages working on the scheme for our bedroom. Note – we didn’t use any dark grey or burgundy after all.

Is It Really You? Think It Through.

Take time when you’re designing each room and don’t be too quick to hop onto trends. It’s great to draw inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram and glossy mags as a starting point. Step away before anxiety hits though. It’s worth knowing that those images are shot for editorial purposes as an aspirational piece. I know because I’ve styled homes for magazines. I do it myself when I shoot – in reality, nobody wants to see the mess, they want to see something they can aspire to. You see the carefully considered image but what you don’t see is what’s going on behind the scenes, where we’ve moved other bits of furniture out of shot, rolled up a rug, decluttered those shelves.

So be honest with yourself and create a space that speaks volumes about you. Revisit places you love and draw inspiration from them. Collect images that you connect with. Experiment with textures and materials. Can you see the furniture you already own working within your plans?

Studying and living with swatches and samples is all part of the slow decorating process

Narrowing down shades of paint and studying that tricky North-facing light.

Agree Before You Start.

This one’s for me really, because my default is to steam ahead without letting Rob in on the full picture. Yep, I hold my hands up. But then, he’s the cautious one and I’m the reactive one…most of the time…and that’s why we work. Plan as much as you can to the most minute of detail. Of course, leave some room for a little artistic license but I’m talking about agreeing on the work you’ll be doing yourselves (and who) what you need to outsource and choosing the scheme together. Set out a clear timescale and try to stick to it as best you can. I’m going to try and detail this with you when we start the hallway later this month.

6 things I've learnt about slow decorating including how important it is to think about how you want your home to feel

Enjoy The Journey

When you’ve stopped arguing, remember to enjoy the process. Every little change you make brings you a step closer to your vision. I’ll never forget how different our bedroom and kitchen felt when we got rid of the orange pine floor. A new lease of life! There may be unforeseen circumstances along the way that need your attention (referring back to those foundation points) but with patience and focus you’ll create a space you can be really proud of and pick up new skills along the way.

Photography © Tiffany Grant-Riley featuring #TheChathamHouse.

I do like reading your posts. Always honest and sensible. I’ve been in a pickle about how much I’d like to do to my house and have ended up doing nothing. But maybe I don’t have to do it all at once. If you can just tell me how to live with anything less than perfect – another thing that stops me doing anything – I’ll be good to go! Also, I’m now panicking because mad_about_the_house is threatening to ban white paint, which is my favourite – I can’t possibly start doing battle with paint charts.
Anyway, Happy New Year and I look forward to reading more of your blog and Instagram posts.

Hi Jo! I hear you – perfectionism is a hard thing to overcome when its main aim is to stop you from doing anything at all. I have that same struggle so I try my best to push it aside and just start. Just do something. Put the blinkers on and focus on you and yours. And try to take Kate with a pinch of salt. I love her to bits but trends are her thing, not so much mine. They move very quickly! White will always be in style, play with colour in other ways if that’s what makes you feel comfortable – think art, accessories, hardware if you like. That’s my 2 cents. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

[…] from Curate and Display wrote a brilliant post about slow decorating that I would recommend reading. I couldn’t agree more with what she’s says and I too […]