A SMARTSTYLE DESIGN JOURNEY: An Arts & Crafts House Renovation in Sevenoaks

Kitchen Detail from Smartstyle Interiors Family home in Sevenoaks

The Introduction

The thing about being an Interior Designer is that you can fall in love with a house, it gets under your skin and “Bam!” it has you. When I first stepped into this stunning Arts and Crafts property in Sevenoaks, despite it being a building site at the time, I was completely smitten.

Even when the house was stripped back, as it was that day, the period features dazzled and I wanted to be part of the journey of making this site into a beautiful home for my clients Gemma & Tom.





The Design

Gemma & Tom had come across this house, which was in much need of love, about a year before I meet them.  They had worked with an architect to extend the property to add a dream family kitchen with bi-folding doors onto the garden. The builders had been working away to strip back the house and completely renovate it to be a modern family home. A lot of the beautiful period windows had substantial damage and needed to be replaced and the less said about the original wiring the better.

A Smartstyle Interiors Design for a Family Living Room in Sevenoaks Kent

I joined the project at the point the main renovation work was complete and the builders where crying out for paint colours. My brief was to create a stunning family space (not a magnolia box) and to get everything ready to roll when they moved from London with their two daughters.

I wanted to compliment the stunning building but knew I was building a home for a modern family. I worked with a blend of greys and neutral with small pops of colour to bring it to life. I layered textures to bring depth to the rooms and to be honest I just had a whole heap of fun.

The family room proved to be a tricky space to create, so many doors and windows along with a fireplace and a radiator, In fact, there wasn’t one single free wall to put anything against! I had to work hard to get the layout right, providing a space the children can play in and the family can relax and watch television. I designed bespoke maple floating units that had a marquetry swallow on the door fronts to house DVD players etc. It’s these kind of details I love as it lifts a piece of furniture from being quite ordinary to something extraordinary.

For the girl’s rooms I wanted to add colour but gave it a timeless feel.  Doing this and keeping the space quite flexible, the rooms can easily grow with the girls. (Although, I couldn’t help but have a little fun by altering the handles on the wardrobes.)

Ceramic Fox Handles Bring Fun to this Wardrobe

Ceramic Fox Handles Bring Fun to this Wardrobe

The fireplaces with their original Delft tiles that give you an idea of the history of the house. In the guest room, the tiles depict children playing various Victoria games, showing that this room was most likely the original nursery.

The Results

Gemma & Tom moved in and have slowly put the remaining touches to the house as they settle to their new life in Sevenoaks. The Classic Contemporary blend works to create a harmonious space for family life. With all the history that this building has it’s great to see it get the next chapter in its story.

The building still gets under my skin but I think I got under its skin too by giving it a little bit of Smartstyle magic.

Family Kitchen in Sevenoaks Kent designed by Smartstyle Interiors
A Seating area in a Family Kitchen

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Welcome to the new Approach to Science Lab Design - The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

Front of The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London
The Front Façade of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre designed by Ian Ritchie Architects

I have a fascination with how interior design really works for people. Every day we go in and out of various spaces and we aren’t just affected by what they look like, we are affected by how we function in them.

I was recently at the launch event for a book about the design and build of University College London’s pioneering Neuroscience centre and labs - The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre. I found myself became engrossed by what had made this building different.  It spoke to my design geek and said here is a place where the whole design ethos has been based around taking the time to look at how people work. The building was created to bring together world-leading scientists to investigate how brain processes information to generate perception, form memories and guide behaviour. Its creators want the building itself to nurture that creative spark that lies in this field of science.

Being me I didn’t want to just read about it in the book, I wanted to see the building and understand it for myself. So I asked and they let me!

The Front of The  Sainsbury Wellcome Centre with its is stark which curves and art installation.

The outside of the build makes a pretty impressive statement with its crystal white curved facade. Under the awning an art installation shows sheet music from Bach "Musical Offering" which illustrates the brain's creativity on one side and on the other builds up to make the faces of the stars of Neuroscience. If you don’t look up you could miss it, like a little secret the building is waiting for you to find.

The Roof of the Awning hides a clever Art Installation - Look up or you'll miss it!

I was so lucky to be shown round the build by Adam Kampff whose enthusiasm for both this building and his field of research is infectious. I learnt more about Neuroscience in the few hours we spent together than I have ever know before (unsurprisingly!).

It has been a long time since I have stepped into a science lab - the last time while I was miserably failing my biology ‘A’ Level. I remember the classic wooden topped work benches all in rows, each with their sinks and Bunsen burners. On the back wall were shelves full of jars of things, lots and lots of jars! This place of learning came with a feeling of austereness and a faintly musty smell that lingered.

The Science Labs at The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

The Sainbury Wellcome Centre has put all the tradition aside and started again by looking at how the researchers who work here operate. Internally the building is divided up in to smaller sections in various layers all sectioned off by glass. The core of building is filled with glass walls. This has the amazing ability to create a feeling of space, light and open plan without any of the down side of actually being open plan. When I asked Adam how this had changed from his previous labs he has been involved with he said that though the previous labs were open plan, which should create a feeling of unity it didn’t.  Researchers would plug their earphones in and tune out the background noise and chatter to be able to concentrate on their experiments, therefore isolating themselves. Now you can see everyone go about their work, without disturbing people by being in their space.

Desk Areas & Meeting Rooms give a feeling of privacy while still feeling connected. 

And it’s not just about the defined areas but also about the flow between them. The scientists can go easily from their lab bench downstairs, to the offices spaces, then into the virtual reality room (oh yes, there is one and what fun I had!).  The functional areas are designed so related disciplines are in close proximity, from a basement that houses an impressive room full of machines where the scientists manufacture their own tools to penthouse meeting suites with views across London.

It’s also not just about the work.  Breakout spaces pop up all over the place both inside and outside the building. Spaces for people to relax and spend time talking to their colleagues is vital to the collaborative process.

Balconies and A Roof Terrace give great opportunity to take the debate outside

The architects designed flexibility into the heart of the building. Using the great term “Plug & Play”, desks can be moved, science benches swung around and connections made to ceiling laced with a myriad of cabling, all to accommodate the ever changing needs of the research. This building doesn’t only take into account what is needed today but what is needed tomorrow.

I love the fact that you can write on the walls and doors, I saw amazing looking equations scrawled across glass doors to funny little doodles on windows, because we all love to have a little doodle once in a while.

Have a break through idea? Then jot it down on the walls, doors or windows! 

I could write all about the ins and outs of the building, trying to take you step by step through its hallways but I am not trying to put an architecture review together. It is the synergy between the people who work in this building and the work they do that sits at the core of my wonderment. That is the point of this building.  

Why does the building work? It started the design process by throwing out what went before.  Ian Ritchie Architects along with the Gatsby Foundation and the Wellcome Trust started by looking at how Neuroscientists go about their business. They put what they learned at the heart of the design. The building is different because it didn’t want to copy the best of what came before, it wants to innovate lab design for the future, to create an environment that nurtures ground breaking discovery. No small ask.

So can it do it? I am not the one to answer that but this quote from Dr Adam Kampff gives me the belief that it will:

“I’m realising the building is designed to mix this entire domain of neurosciences, where people come with ideas about what brains might be, with people who bring data about what brains are doing and create a new kind of thing that we are in the process of trying to define. What is exciting about SWC to me, is that it feels possible.” 

This is the back of the building which overlooks the lower courtyard


A Very Special Thank you to Dr Adam Kampff  who took the time to share this building with me so I could share it with you. 


Feature Walls - Why do them?

Interior design presentation work in progress at Smartstyle Interiors

The Feature Wall has been a design statement for a long time, but is it always the right statement to be making in your space?

To make any design decision you should always start by asking yourself, “Why?!!”

Why it should be “Yes!”

When I design I look at the space I have been given as a whole, not just collection of features.  I consider how I want people to use the space and how they should feel when they are in it. There are often very strong reasons why I will decide to use a feature wall to fulfil those goals. It is a great way to create impact and pull the eye to the area of a room you want to people to flock to, like behind bedheads or dining areas in family kitchens. It says a lot about the space you want people to be focusing on. And it says it loudly.

Both images curtsy of Jenny Kakoudakis from  Seasons in Colour

A feature wall is also an amazing tool for manipulating a space visually.  This works especially well in spaces with lots of chopping and changing in wall levels so you draw the eye away from the weird bits and onto the good bits.  By creating a feature in one part of the room it actually calms down whole room – stopping the entire space from being too busy. A bit like wearing a flattering frock, drawing the eyes to what you want people to see.

Left Hand Image curtsy of Murals Wallpaper Jessica Jung as photographer. Right hand Image curtsy of Studio McGee

To do a Feature Wall right I say the clue is in the name. Don’t be timid about it - make it a showpiece. I’ll push for bold colour which really contrasts with the remaining walls especially when trying to trick the eye away from other areas of the room. I have seen a slightly dark wall with mouldings by Studio McGee on it work really well for adding interesting texture details.  If you are a bit more of a pattern person then there are some amazing wallpapers out there and they are getting bigger and bolder with every season. For the very brave (I put myself in this happy camp) I’d suggest a look at Surface View  or Murals Wallpaper who have many breath-taking images which can be produced as custom sized mural wallpaper, turning a plain old wall into a work of art.

Amazing Feature wall in the Henry Holland suite in  decked out in Habitat's House of Holland bedding!

Why it should be “No!”

Well… apart from the two very simple reasons stated above, I say “no” to any other reasons for picking a feature wall. The “I saw one on Pinterest”, “I just fancied it”, “I like the wallpaper but can’t afford any more” or the classic “I’m a little worried I’m not brave enough to do more”.  None of these reasons consider the room as a whole and all of them run the risk of getting a little bit messy.

As I originally said, a feature wall manipulates a space visually, so guess what happens if you add it to a space that is beautiful proportioned.   Now the feature wall is pushing itself forward of all the other walls and throwing the proportions that you loved about the room out.  I think it always look particularly odd when you have a feature like a fire place or French windows on one wall a “feature wall” on another.  The two features are now fighting for your attention and it’s all getting a little Great Interior Design Challenge.

Left hand image shows a fully papered Bedroom by Smartstyle Interiors -  Photo byPaul Winch Furness. Right hand image shows fully papered Dining Room from Jenny Kakoudakis  from Seasons in Colour

Love a wallpaper? Then be bold and do the whole room - that’s a better design statement than just one wall.

Can’t afford four walls of paper? Select key images from the paper, frame them up and create a gallery wall.  Clever and cost conscious!

Finally, your walls don’t need to be the focus of the room, so don’t do it for the sake of it. Play with your features in other ways; large scale light fittings, art or bright textiles on the sofa bring impact to the centre of a space. If you are inviting people into your lounge to sit together in the central space then that’s what these design choices gravity towards.

So if you are in the middle of considering that feature wall design decision, I bring you back to the first question of every design choice we ever make – “Why?”  Answer that question and you’re ready to create an amazing space not just one great wall. 

Thank you to Seasons in Colour, Mural Wallpaper and Studio McGee for kindly giving us permission to us their images to support this post.