Lessons from Grenfell Towers – Why regulations in design matter!

As an interior designer everyone is keen find out my thoughts on Spring trends and sexy furniture. Now let’s face it these are great things to spend your working hours dealing with and I’m never going to complain about getting up everyday to play with such great toys! However, the thing that people never ask me about is all the regulations and codes I have to adhere to when designing and boy there are a lot, but codes and regulations don’t sound sexy and the certainly don’t look good on a Pinterest image.

Like everyone, I watched the news with horror as flames ripped through the 24 floors and 127 flats of Grenfell Towers.  Like everyone else I was shocked and angry to find out that bad decisions made during the £8.6 million refurbishment was the cause of this escalating from a containable fire to a national tragedy. As I type the deaths are suspected to be at 79 and rising.

Each one of those lives could have been saved if the Building codes on the materials used where adhered to. On some materials just common sense of going beyond code would have saved so many. I am sure as a result of any inquest we will see a step up in Building Code within the UK as a catalog of mistakes are brought to light.  

Regulations exist - not to make our lives boring but to make them safe.

It is  absolutely vital that as Interior Designers we know these codes and we comply with them, even when clients are resistant due to the compromise these codes ask us to make to the dreamed aesthetics to a designs. A beautiful design will never make up for the fact that even on the simplest of jobs we hold people’s health and safety in our hands with the decision we make. In fact if we do not we are held legally accountable. 

The regulations I encounter on every single design

I thought it might be help to talk a little of the top 4 Regulations and Codes beyond Building Regulations, Listed Building and Planning Permission I come in to contact with every day when designing.  These are the ones you should consider when undertaking any work yourselves.

Sevenoaks building site. On eof Smartstyle Interiros projects

Construction (Design and Management) - referred to as “C(DM)”

C(DM) requires that I make a client aware of their responsibilities and that I review every part of what I have designed to question any risk to health and safety through the three stages of a design/products life:

·         Implementation,

·         Maintenance,

·         Demolition.

The lion share of the advice will sit in the construction/ implementation phase stage, where it most likely that an accident will occur. When I attended my C(DM) training I was surprised to hear that the majority of accidents and deaths occur on small to medium building sites, not the large ones as anticipated. The reason cited was that large sites are typically safely conscience and nothing is left to chance but small sites often get over-looked and it is all about the attitude of the site manager.

As a junior designer I watched in horror on one renovation as a builder pottered around a site full of debris, using power tools … while sporting flip flops. As these chaps aren’t hired by or managed by me all I can do is advise them through my risk assessment on my design work that proper safety gear should be worn at all times on site, but sadly some people think they know better. To this day, I still wonder if he has all his toes!

Maintenance is the next large one. The way someone can change a light bulb, clean a blind or reach a high cupboard is a day-to-day chore that can involve ladders and precarious stretches.  By recognizing the potential hazard, we can design ways to manage the risk as at the start of the project. Some churches have amazing systems in places that lower the lights from the ceiling making bulb changing easy-peasy and not the high risk game of the church warden holding a ladder while Father Hill wobbles around on the top sorting it out. It is our moral obligation to make sure that the design we propose isn’t risky and often having to address the necessary can lead to out of the box revolutionary design. In other words don’t always think of it as a handcap, but a gift to think creatively.

For more information on Construction (Design and Management.) follow this link to the Health And Safety Executives’ guildelines: .

Upholstered chair in Sevenoaks project. Smartstyle Interiors

Fire safety of furniture and furnishings in the home

Other Regulations involve fire rating on upholstery brought into force after the 80s saw a high number of deaths in house fires as flammable couches went up in minutes of contact with a match or cigarette. The UK has a stronger fire regulation than Europe which means we often have to add interliners and back coat fabrics to meet UK Fire standards. I have popped the full details here

This video shows a test on both a UK regulation sofa and a European standard sofa.  It is terrifying to watch how quickly a sofa fire can burn a house down:

It can take as little at 2 minutes to have an inferno on your hands in a living room, as seen in this video and is a stark reminder that it is our duty to make this as preventable as possible. Though smoking isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, the rise of the scented candle market poses another domestic fire risk.

Curtain design by Smartstyle Interiors

Curtain and Blind Cords

About 4 years ago the UK introduced regulation with regards to the strings on blinds and curtains following a number of deaths of children strangled by getting the cord wrapped round themselves. Many people at the time where annoyed at the introduction of the regulation saying “Well it was only a handful of kids.” My personal opinion is that even one is too many and to have it be your kid is unthinkable. Now blinds come on a headrail with breakaway chains so if anyone does become wrapped up the chain snaps and the child is safe. Also the length of chain from floors and surfaces as well as the placement of beds and cots near to blinds is listed in the regulations and needs to be taken into account when designing. Many houses still have the old strings on blinds that where fitted before the change of law but as renovations happen we will eventually see them completely gone from homes. Here is a link to a full set of the regulations. 

Light fitting in one of Smartstyle Interiors projects

Part P Lighting and Electrical.

This bad boy came out a while ago and basically says that any electrical work in kitchens and bathrooms needs to be done by a professional Electrician and any other work done in the house needs to comply with code and be tested by a qualified electrician. A “Part P” certificate is issued to say it is compliant.

The type of lights used in “wet areas” need to have the right IP rating. This regulation, introduced in in 2005, was in answer to the dodgy electrics slapped in by keen DIYers that resulted in electrocution and house fires.  It can be easy to zap yourself due to a hidden wire that is located somewhere it shouldn’t be. A simple guide to Part P is here and worth checking out.

Building site Sevenoaks. Smartstyle Interiors

I hope by sharing a few of the codes that come up on each project that it helps you think about the design decisions you make in your renovations.  These should not be a hidden secret we professionals keep to ourselves, indeed it is important that anyone advising you on interior design is up to speed on them.  Yes they are boring - trust me it’s not the most riveting side of my work, but it is very vital part of my work.

Always be questioning and checking everything with a view to safety and don’t cut corners with these things. If something goes wrong, the consequences can be too painful to even contemplate.

 

If you wish to help the Resistances of Grenfell Tower rebuild their lives please visit the Just Giving page. HERE!!

What Makes Great Interior Design!

Interior Design presentation by Smartstyle Interiors

Recently I have been working away preparing a TedX talk in which I pose the burning question “what makes us happy in our interiors?”. For every one of you, the answer will be different but I expect most if you will talk about the style of the room and what makes a room beautiful to you. Now this where I get all hot and bothered because to me a "Great Interior Design" is about a whole heap more than just the looks.

Design of anything from Kitchens to New technology is about combining the “Ergonomics” with “Aesthetics” in other words, how it works with how it looks.

For Interior Design I often use a cake analogy with the “room” as a cake.

The “Ergonomics” aka structure, layout and function of the room as the “Sponge” and the “Aesthetics” aka the decoration as the “Icing.”

You have got to get your “bake” right to have a well-designed space!

A room might look stylish but if it’s clumsy in its layout then its horrible place to work and live in. The same as a badly baked cake with beautiful icing. If it tastes bad, no matter what it looks likes, it’s just a bad cake. In design land that just becomes something that is “PRETTY” useless.

Likewise, if you have all sponge and no icing it’s purely functional, and it’s all a little bland.

However when you bring both skills together - you have Great Interior design!

“Does it Work?”

This should be the first thing you address when designing a room. To create design that works for you, you need to understand how you “work” and how you will be living in the space! By Living I mean the “real” you, not “fantasy” you! “Fantasy” me can wear cropped harem pants like a goddess, “real” me – not so much!!

Sometimes I have to push clients to be really honest with themselves, because it is easy to try and picture a magical room that is perfect for Christmas and Parties, but unless that is how you live every single day, then you aren’t creating a house that will work well for your real life. Think of the mundane, like where does homework happen, where is my paperwork kept. It is these niggle things that can create a lot of stress on families because if it isn’t part of the design then is just becomes clutter in a corner as it has nowhere to live. Then when you finally get to have that magical Christmas or Party you spend forever tiding up, making your much longed for occasion a lot harder work to prepare for.

If it’s a family lounge, then create your own design brief by making a list of all the functions that need to be met in this room and list them in priority. If watching TV with 6 members of your family every evening is the most important thing, then start working on your design to meet this key requirement - making sure the sightline to the screen is comfortable viewing and every member of the family has a place to sit.

By getting the key foundation to a room right then this space will be a dream to spend time in as your “life” needs will easily flow in the space.

“Is it Beautiful?”

Just to clarify, I am saying that how something looks is as important as how it work, the two belong hand in hand! I’m suggesting that you need to address the practical first, then embrace the fun. A space that tells your story, full of design that you love and stuff that means something to you is the whole point of bringing an Interior Design together. That after all is what makes it your home. I am often encouraging people to be bold and have as much fun as they like. After all who doesn’t love a Cake iced to the max, it’s what temps you to try it in the first place.

Detail of Bespoke Bookcase

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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.

Before

Before

After

After

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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