I am really excited to introduce to you a very talented interior designer Alison Anderson and to show you around her beautifully refurbished Grade II listed Arts & Crafts Hertfordshire home.
Alison is a relative new comer to the interior design world, having set up her own practice in the summer of this year, however, she has been immersed in interiors and home products for the past 15 years while running her own interiors PR business. She is a very creative person and a lot of the skills she has picked up over the years turned out to be completely transferable. She felt interior design was what she was most passionate about, so she decided to take a side step into it.
After finishing her house she was becoming increasingly frustrated that she had to suddenly switch off her design instinct. She has no intention of moving from this house to complete another renovation project, so a career change was the only option.
Alison designed this house for the way that they live as a family and for the house. “This house is special so I felt our job was to preserve the original features and renovate it sympathetically.” This didn’t mean that they wanted it to be like a museum, but instead use quality craftsmanship and good quality fixtures and fittings. “When you have a listed property you are almost like guardians, looking after it for future generations to enjoy”, she explains. They completely renovated the house as it hadn’t been touched since the 80’s and was full of brown shag pile carpets, a dodgy beige bathroom and walls covered in woodchip wallpaper.
You can see a couple of “before” picture below.
She has made a feature of the leaded French doors and windows in the living room by painting them in Farrow and Ball’s Downpipe. The skirtings, doors and architraves are also painted in this shade for a cohesive look. She has made sure that all the colours go tonally, so there is a real sense of flow as you move through the house. Every room is painted in a different colour, but they all complement each other, so it’s a peaceful, natural transition from one room to the next.
The family bathroom is small but it incorporates everything Alison loves. The cabinet is an eBay find which she has combined with good quality unlacquered brass taps from Waterworks as they are so much easier to clean than shiny chrome taps! The patterned cement floor tiles are from Bert & May. “I love the pop of bright blue and even painted the edge of the door in the same shade. I discovered Zellinge tiles a few years ago on a location shoot and absolutely love the variation in tone and texture (these ones are from Mosaic Del Sur).” She didn’t want the bathroom to be too matchy, so chose a shower curtain in a peachy pink to complement and introduce another pop of colour.
Alison loves so many things about design but good lighting is one of her biggies. “It can really transform the look and feel of a room, so I really concentrated on getting this right for each room”, says Alison. She learnt early on in her renovation work that if you leave it up to the electricians you’ll get a row of lights in a straight line. Where ceilings are low she used ceiling hooks to retain longer flexes, wall lights are used to wash the surfaces in light, recessed spotlights provide functional task lighting and there are lamps everywhere (which all get used depending on the atmosphere she wants to create). The vaulted ceilings upstairs meant that she could use huge dramatic pendants for maximum impact.
Alison feels really lucky to live in this house as it’s been so well designed architecturally. It’s a Butterfly Suntrap design, which is typical of the Arts & Crafts period and means that the wings of the house are constructed at an angle. As the names suggest, it captures all the light. Renovating the house has been a labour of love. It was pretty neglected when they bought it, with a leaking roof, a very old, uneconomical boiler and a garden full of brambles and weeds. It’s been worth all the time, effort and money though and she has learnt so much along the way.
I wanted to find out more about challenges Alison faced renovating a Grade II listed property.
“We took a bit of a gamble when we bought this house as it had a massive 70 foot conifer right outside the living room window. We are in a conservation area, so there was a chance that we wouldn’t be able to remove it. Luckily permission was granted, so taking that down was a priority”, she remembers.
Alison renovated a few properties but for this house they also added a kitchen extension. As the house is listed it took them a while to get planning permission, but they had a very good architect who knew the system, so he was a great help. For this property sourcing the right, good quality materials was essential. There was a point when they thought they would have to have single glazing in the new extension which would have been a disaster. However, they managed to source an excellent double glazed leaded window, which the listed building officer signed off. It was touch and go though.
“There are always challenges when doing up a property, so being a good problem solver and thinking on your feet are essential skills. We had an issue with the new kitchen roof, which meant that it had to be redone. As a consequence the kitchen installation date was delayed, which is the last thing you want during a renovation project. The key to a successful building project is to be super organised, a step ahead of everything and be a quick learner.”
I asked Alison what things she would recommend splashing out on and where she would consider saving and looking out for a bargain.
As a general rule she likes to splash out on things that you touch. For her cheap door handles are a definite no no as they just don’t have the weight or solidness of well made alternatives. Taps are also really important, so it’s worth splashing out here and then spending less on the sanitary ware. If the homeowners are staying in the property for a number of years, Alison recommends it’s always worth investing in the fabric of the building.
She suggests saving by buying good quality second hand furniture, desks, tables, chairs and so on. “If you want to dress a sofa, The Designers Guild sales are amazing. If you pop into one of their stores on the last few days, they are practically giving their cushions away. Getting them all back on the tube isn’t so enjoyable!”
Alison also loves mixing vintage finds with more modern pieces. For her, this is how you give a space some depth, grounding and a sense of belonging. She believes an old piece of furniture can tell so many stories and help to make a home feel lived in and not overly perfect. “The old stuff is also really well made compared to the mass produced items of today. You can get some real bargains so it’s always worth keeping an eye out on eBay, Gumtree and any local house clearance shops. I found a large solid oak side table on eBay for £50 and bought two large oak lamp bases for £10 at a car boot sale. They needed rewiring and new lampshades (which I got from Pooky) but even with these costs they were an absolute bargain. I am also rather proud of the 1950’s footstool that I got for £10. I recovered it in some spare House of Hackney material and it looks a million dollars.”
Alison’s advice to anybody looking for a bargain is to be patient and keep looking until you find something you love. “Reupholstering a chair can be expensive (but very rewarding), so think about the costs involved before you get carried away. Always try and see the potential in something; new handles, a lick of paint or sometimes just a thorough clean, can be really transformative.”
Rather than buying cheap new stuff, she recommends waiting for the sales and buying more expensive items that are reduced. “The Anthropologie sales are fantastic (sign up for their newsletters to find out when they are running.) I am also a fan of sample sales. Nearly all of the House Of Hackney material I’ve bought has been about 70% cheaper than the retail price. It’s a bit of a scrum to get the good stuff, so go early on the first day to get the best pickings.”
I noticed lots of beautiful mirrors in Alison’s home and wanted to find out where she sourced them from.
Alison is a bit obsessed with mirrors, for her they are like hanging artwork. She likes to choose different shapes, frames and glass finishes. She places them so they reflect the light and always so they are facing something of interest, so that becomes the image in the reflection. Most of her mirrors are from Abigail Ahern. She says that Rough Old Glass are also brilliant and make bespoke mirrors using a fantastic range of antique glass finishes.
The mirror in the photo above is from Anthropologie. The frame is antique but the antiqued glass is new. It was eye-wateringly expensive, but she got it in the sale for a fraction of the price.
So where is Alison drawing inspiration from for her design work? What interior design styles appeal to her most and what design elements does she consider most important? “I don’t like anything that is too perfect”, she explains. “For me its about using simple materials imaginatively and not creating an overly ‘designed’ look. A well designed space should tell the story of the people who live there, not the designer. I find inspiration anywhere and everywhere; nature, books, museums, art galleries, films, along with the more obvious Instagram and Pinterest. Sometimes the problem is having too many ideas. Restaurants and bars are also brilliant places to find inspiration, especially the toilets!”
Alison works with clients in Hertfordshire and London, but will work further afield for the right project. In the new year she is also going to be spending a few days per week working from Russell J Milligan’s studio, which is just down the road from her. “Russell is incredibly talented and a master at making bespoke kitchens and fitted furniture, so I’m looking forward to our future design collaborations”, she says.
Follow Alison on Instagram for more inspirational images of her home and useful design tips – @alisonandersoninteriors
Featured image photo by Paul Craig.
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