Today I am very pleased to introduce you to interior designer Elena Romanova. We have been friends for years and I am very happy that she agreed to have a chat with us and tell us what her job as an interior designer involves, what the benefits of working with an interior designer are as well as share her recent design projects and some style tips.
Can you please tell me about your practice.
I run a residential interior design practice based in SW London / Surrey. My projects range from a one-room makeover to a complete house refurbishment.
What’s your background and how did you get into interior design?
I used to have a corporate career but have always been interested in houses and was always renovating something. While my friends would be enjoying themselves on holidays I’d be at some builder’s yard looking for tiles, wood, and whatever else I needed for my project.
I have also always been known as a bit of a house stalker always trying to peek into people’s sitting room windows to see how they lived and what their house looked like.
During a career break I finally decided to do something about it. I got my Professional Interior Design qualifications and set up on my own.
What design services do you offer to your clients?
I try to cater to different needs and different budgets.
If you are not looking to start a complete renovation project but would really like to make the most of what you have then my Makeover consultation might be just what you need. Changing a wall colour, putting some bold wallpaper in the downstairs loo, re-arranging the furniture layout, fitting in a smart blind – all those small changes might take your home from ordinary to amazing and will help you fall in love with it again.
You might be moving to your dream home except that the interior of it has not been touched for decades and looks anything like what you had imagined your forever home to be. I could help you with room-by-room decorating schemes, furniture layout, window treatments ideas. I could introduce you to the right tradespeople and help you source everything we have chosen for your home. Having someone around to give you a second (and professional) opinion on every decision throughout your project is simply invaluable.
How do you work on a project with your client? What people should expect when hiring an interior designer?
Think of an interior designer in the same way you think of a decorator, or an electrician, or a plumber. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
Hire someone you can get on with. Home renovation takes time and you will probably end up spending a lot of it together so getting on is important. Over the years, I have realised that enjoying my relationship with a client is quite high on my list of priorities.
An interior designer will save you money. If you make ONE bad purchase decision – that would have already paid for a designer. And if you are on a budget, you have no money to waste on mistakes.
A good designer will listen to you but at the same time will challenge you along the way and encourage you to consider options you wouldn’t have thought of yourself! It’s why you are hiring a designer in the first place! I get the best results with clients who trust you and let you take the lead.
And why would you recommend hiring an interior designer? What are the advantages compared to doing it yourself?
Unfortunately, most people would have realised how nice it would have been to use an interior designer when the project is over and mistakes have been made. And sadly, most of those mistakes are not easily rectified.
A good designer will either have done or seen it before. They spend time going through numerous options, researching before they present you with a shortlist of options. They know what works and what doesn’t. They know where to look and to buy. They take you out of your comfort zone to achieve the look you would have never achieved on your own.
They will save you both money and time. And most importantly, you will have a home you will truly enjoy.
Can you tell me about one particularly interesting project you’ve been working on recently?
There have been quite a few interesting ones recently. And all very different.
There is a Victorian townhouse in Clapham Common that I am finishing at the moment. The client has been inspired by a near-by show home but I was really pleased they listened and went for something much more individual and exciting. We have used some Cole & Son wallpapers, nice mix of blues and greys throughout the house, emerald green sofas in the formal sitting room, lots of oversize mirrors, a real mix of materials and some statement lighting. I think the result is a smart but individual-looking home that fits the family needs.
Then there was a lovely young family relocating back to UK from the States. They had this cottage in Surrey that they had bought as an investment ages ago and never lived in it. It was very tired and dated looking and definitely not fit for a family with a toddler.. So the brief was to do a complete refurb but on a tight budget. I actually love the challenge of doing a place up with very limited budget. You really need to think hard where to save and where to spend and what is going to make the most impact. After a couple of months of hard work and creative thinking the job was completed and the owners moved in. They said it looked and felt like a different house and the things in the design they were so sure of at the start turned out to be the things they loved most! After a couple of months they realised they did need more space and put the house on the market. They had 6 offers within the first 2 weeks!
One other project I have to mention is doing up a hallway and a lounge in a Surrey home for a young couple. They had this vision of some very on-trend and cool design but when I suggested painting all the woodwork in charcoal grey they got cold feet and said: “No, this is not us.” Luckily, I did manage to convince them to go with it and they had so many compliments from anyone coming to the house. Even their decorator said it was one of the most dramatic and successful transformations he has ever seen. Be brave and follow your instincts. Sometimes you really need to push the boundaries to get some dramatic results.
What are the common mistakes people make when decorating their place?
I think people tend to go for the same old safe (and often boring) options. They do not use colour or pattern not necessarily because they don’t like it but because they don’t know where to start and how to make it work.
There is a common thread of overly co-ordinated and matchy-matchy interiors that look like they have just been put together after one visit to one showroom.
People don’t always know where to spend and where to save.
Good interiors are not about throwing a lot of money at them – they are about knowing how to pull that look together.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style has been evolving for quite a while and it has been fascinating watching myself change and grow as a designer.
I see my job as making sure that whatever my clients’ style preferences are I can adapt to them. It is not about imposing your own style on them but rather helping them to achieve the best results in whatever style they see their house. There is no right or wrong style – just the style executed badly.
Having said that, it would not be true if I said I didn’t have my personal preferences. I admire well curated sleek serene interiors with a selection of exquisite pieces of furniture and lighting but I am at my happiest among colour and pattern. Over the years, I have realised that I am more of a maximalist. I like interiors that have a soul, that look like they have been put together and evolved over time. I like an element of something bold and unexpected.
I find it sad that people aspire to “show home” interiors. Most of them are bland, impersonal and meant to please everyone and no one.
Where do you draw your design inspiration from? Who are your favourite interior designers?
If I had to choose a hotel to stay, it would have to be one of Kit Kemp’s.
The interior designers that excite me are Turner Pocock, Suzy Hoodless, Studio Duggan. They all have a lot of personality and flair in their design while looking very current.
What are your design no-nos?
I have a few rules I absolutely stand by.
Never paint a dark small room white. Don’t fight the lack of light, work with it. Use pattern or a dark cocooning colour (with clever lighting) and you will have a cosy atmospheric rather than bland and boring room. Talking of dark colours, I have used them a lot recently. There is something irresistible about a well put-together dark room.
Plan your lighting, It is as important as colour and hard and expensive to change at a later stage. Think about layering your lighting in the same way as you would layer texture. Have various types of lighting at different levels. And go for a bigger chandelier than you think you need and a more expensive one than you think you can afford.
Know where to save and where to spend. Invest in quality joinery and good flooring and you can get away with spending less money on some other things.
A little bit of wallpaper goes a long way. I love interesting wallpapers. Cole & Son has been my personal favourite for a long time. Their wallpapers are like art. Totally unique and amazing.
Do not have a feature wall unless there is a good reason for it. Often people resort to feature walls just because they are afraid of using colour or pattern throughout. A feature wall needs to be intentional.
What current trends are your favourites at the moment?
Dark rooms I have already mentioned above. You do not have all house dark – it might not be for everyone. But contrast works well and a dark room will help you appreciate light in the other rooms even more.
Mixing and matching trend. It brings excitement to interiors, keeps them from looking sterile and bland.
OTT patterns in fabrics and wallpapers. I think well chosen wallpapers and textiles elevate interiors.
Quality velvets – it is hard to beat a sofa in some gorgeous deep-coloured velvet.
Mix of materials – you see a lot of quite contrasting textures and materials brought together in one space. I think this juxtaposition creates interest.
Elena, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure!
Dear readers, if I’ve missed something out and you have any questions for Elena, please add them to the Comments section below.