Carole Annett on the value of using an interior designer
We asked Carole Annett, Interiors Editor at Country & Townhouse magazine, and host of the magazine’s popular House Guest podcast, featuring Sarah Ward in 2020, what key advantages she thinks an interior designer offers
What I’ve learned by using an interior designer
I actually used an interior designer on my home almost by accident. Even though I compile and write a monthly section on beautiful homes and interiors for a lifestyle magazine, I hadn’t really considered using an interior designer myself. As much as I love interviewing designers and fully appreciate their skills, employing one was something other people did.
But I’d just got stuck on what to do with a couple of spaces in our home. Our property is part of a Victorian mansion, which has been jig-sawed into four sections. Our part includes the original front door, so we have a small entrance hall then another room with main staircase, which the previous owners used as a dining room. I couldn’t visualise what to do with the space, as we use our kitchen for entertaining. I’d literally painted this hallway three times and still wasn’t happy. Eventually, a designer friend helped us see that the issue wasn’t just the hallway, but how the whole house worked. We ended up rethinking the whole interior, to bring harmony to the entire house. It was going through this process, more than my everyday job, that taught me the value of an interior designer.
A lot of creative people take for granted the fact that they can walk into a home and go: “That table needs to be moved there, and you need a lamp here, and why haven’t you done this or that”. I recently spent time with the renowned hotelier Olga Polizzi, who admitted that she finds it hard to stay in other people’s hotels because she just wants to start moving the furniture.
But what I realised when using a designer in my home is that interior design is far less about pretty curtains and cushions, and much more about space planning, measurements and layout. The isolated details I had been looking at in my home – paint colours, sofa coverings and so on – were actually the final details, and sorting out key elements such as lighting, layout and cohesion were what I had missed.
Although I love working in interiors and with beautiful fabrics and am very nosey and like asking people about their wonderful homes, I’m not an interior designer. I know what image is going to look right on the page for our magazine, but give me a blank room and I go slightly panicky. It’s a different skill. That’s why I know how useful they are.
Visualising the whole space
I learned that interior design works best if you look at the whole space. It’s hard to look at one room in isolation, or one piece of furniture. When you work in the industry and see all these beautiful fabrics and wallpapers every day, as I do, it’s hard to edit what you actually want. I think the problem a lot of people have is not being able to see the wood for the trees. An interior designer helps separate them. Having someone else state what does and doesn’t work alleviates that indecision. They help you formulate a clear strategy.
A good interior designer saves their clients so much stress and, crucially, time. Most people don’t want to have to choose between 25 doorknobs. An interior designer will whittle choices like that down to two, then let the client decide between those. They will already have assessed what the client likes by getting to know them, using mood boards, and discussing ideas. I think the interior design process has to be fun, and if you haven’t got the time or inclination to visit multiple showrooms and shops, a skilled designer can make the right initial decisions for you.
It’s your home, but better
A lot of people worry that the design won’t end up feeling like their personal style. But if your interior designer is good, it really is you, it’s just a much better you than if you’d done it yourself! It’s not about handing over all the decisions to the professional – they adjust each design for each client.
I feel like I already had a lovely home, but there were niggles. Now, I have a harmonious home where the colours and themes work throughout, not just room by room. Untidy details such as wiring are hidden away using clever and stylish panelling, and the scale of the furniture and lighting really fits the building. We completely rewired, adding wall lighting and other lighting design features to warm up the atmosphere, which has made a huge difference.
Design details and know-how
I think so much of what a really good interior designer does involves things a client hasn’t even thought about. If you see a lamp or a chandelier you like, how on earth do you know what size to buy? I’d never thought about that properly before – and ended up with pieces that didn’t fit the space properly. An expert interior designer can visualise scale. Particularly in very large or very small rooms scale is so important.
Details such as knowing how high to put a skirting board, or whether door frames should be a different shade to doors, make a huge difference to the final look and feel. And letting a skilled professional guide you through the details allows a weight to be lifted off the client. It’s almost impossible for a client to get all these things right without a skilled interior design professional.
Sourcing beautiful things
The other advantage of a great interior designer is that they have access to bespoke pieces that are worth investing in. Skimping on quality is rarely the way to a successful design. There are craftspeople out there creating beautiful things, and often an interior designer is the route to them.
Don’t be scared
A lot of people are scared to speak to an interior designer. Just go for it. I’ve worked with so many designers in my job, and they’re honestly a lovely bunch of people. You literally just need to pick up the phone. An interior designer’s job is to help people, and they’re coming into your house looking for solutions. The best interior designers are interested in getting to know you, so that they can come up with a design you like. It’s honestly the best decision we made, and I’d advise anyone to go for it, whatever size project they’re looking at doing.
The other thing is to get a designer along when you’re house-hunting. The sooner you get an interior designer to look at a property, the quicker you’ll have an idea of what can be done, and of costs. There are designers working at all budgets and scales.
I believe in the longterm, using an interior designer can save money. Fiddling about with a single bathroom, multiple hall paint colours, or reupholstering a chair or two can actually be a waste of money if these don’t improve the whole.
For me, using an interior designer on my home means now, I absolutely love my home, and any little niggles have gone. We opted for a timeless English country design, so apart from a lick of paint it won’t need updating.
We have also added value to the house. But the real benefit is that my husband and I truly love it.
An interior designer will make your home ten times more beautiful, functional and workable than it was before, and just good to be in. For me, having this wonderful design has curbed me being a serial dreamer or serial desirer of new things! I’m now totally 100% happy with what we’ve got. I think that’s the key point really – using a professional means much greater satisfaction.
Does your home need a professional interior design eye? Contact Interiors by Sarah Ward to start the conversation.