The popularity of interior design related shows on TV has probably done more than anything else to open the general public's eyes to the innumerable possibilities out there when it comes to creating interior spaces. How does this impact upon professionals in the industry, and what do we make of the shows?
Here's the rub. The type of project that we as designers and clients all want makes for extremely boring television. We receive a clear brief, concepts are drawn up, reasonable changes agreed, a budget is agreed, work begins and everything comes together on time to the delight of a satisfied client. Who wants to sit in front of that for an hour when you could be watching Downton Abbey on the other side? No, the pleasure in these shows comes from the fights, the disasters, the delays, the walkouts, the unpaid contractors threatening blue murder, the painter and decorator spilling a 5 litre tin of Little Greene over a £50,000 carpet, the architects and designers shouting at each other and calling each other unspeakable names, the stuff the 4am night terrors are made of.
|First conceptual sketch for a weekend bolthole, 20 weeks away from smart and cosy furnishings arriving...|
One of the most intriguing projects we have seen recently was the redecoration of Avebury Manor in Wiltshire. Its core dates from the mid sixteenth century and, now in the hands of the National Trust, has had a long and chequered history. It is also close to our hearts as we were married in the neighbouring St James's Church. For years it was tenanted by an interior designer and was recently the subject of a BBC series as a group of experts, historians and interior designers tried to work out what to do with it.
|Trod on for hundreds of years, paving at Avebury Manor seen through the ghostly lattice of ironwork railings|
The team took some bold decisions and many of these have been quite controversial. However, having visited Avebury Manor both before and after the restoration, I have to say that for the most part, there is much to like. I am left in disbelief at what was achieved for so little money, but that's television for you. When your stuff is going to be aired on TV all over the world, suppliers are inclined to give you advice and goods, if not for free, at a significantly marked down cost. Try ordering some of that luscious Fromental hand painted bespoke wallpaper for your own breakfast room, or the acres of sumptuous Watts fabric making up the curtains in the billiards room, and you might be in for a nasty shock.
The other area where TV design shows have us rolling our eyes is when it comes to timescales. Yes, projects have to be compacted into the allotted viewing hour, but the fact is rooms don't come together in a weekend. The best results take time. Sourcing the right pieces, living with the colours through seasonal light changes, discerning what works best can be a drawn out process. Viewers don't see the months of preparation leading up to what is in effect an installation. And because it's TV the room becomes a set with all that implies. Finishes which look fine on the screen can actually be awful close up. Nothing has to last beyond the show, and neither does it have to work particularly well, although to be fair this was not the case with Avebury Manor, with its thousands of visitors traipsing through every year combined with a policy of allowing people to touch and feel the furniture.
BBC TV's Restoration Home is a great example of the schadenfreude so beloved of armchair decorators. We saw two episodes recently. In the first, a woman took on a timber framed Manor House after falling in love with its stained glass, panelled hall and central staircase. From our years in the Black and White heartland of Herefordshire, there's one rule about timber framed houses and it is this. Don't go near them unless you absolutely have to live in one, whatever the cost may be. Because, believe me, the cost will be huge. Nothing is simple about these properties, and they have an ability to suck up money totally disproportionate to their size. This particular Restoration Home drama still has to play itself out, but as we left it the poor owner was left with a pile of sticks and not a whole lot else once pretty much everything had been discovered to be totally rotten and stripped away. Although we can all be grateful to her for saving a piece of our heritage, financially she would have almost certainly been better off sourcing the Tudor panelling and staircase she so adored, not original to the house anyway, in an architectural salvage yard and starting from scratch.
|The Hermitage, near Hounslow, badly damaged by fire in 2003|
and sitting empty, open to the elements
|Would you save the building for this?|
The second episode we viewed was a classic example of a couple getting in too deep and wildly underestimating the amount of money required to complete the project. Sure enough, the money was soon spent, the builders were on their way to the next job, and the couple were left with a ghastly mess. What happened next was little short of a miracle. They took over the project themselves and through sheer force of will and rolling their sleeves up, made it happen. It was a fine example of what the Americans call sweat equity, and a well earned result for the family. The interiors, which sadly perfectly illustrated the Conran style furnishings we mentioned in Classical Interiors, Part I, a few weeks ago, were an awkward solution for a vernacular building and made my heart sink. I see this so called design solution all over the UK, which is a sort of mindless adherence to our media driven purchasing. Despite this, I was left with complete admiration for their determination and perseverance.