Whether you're a homeowner or renter, creating an interior look that showcases your personality can be harder than you think.
We speak to Martin Holland, who conquered the second series of BBC's Great Interior Design Challenge and has now developed a successful design company with his business partner Mark Walters, finding out how to add a personal touch to any space.
Why do you think that adding a personal touch to an interior is so important?
People are heavily influenced by television and magazines nowadays but when it comes to design, we forget that these images have been heavily edited to create that picture perfect scene. In reality, they're often devoid of any real personality or connection to the person who lives there. I often advise clients to have a look at what they currently own, what has sentimental value for them and what can they completely do away with. Edit your space and then you can see the bare bones of what you have to build a successful scheme from. It sounds odd but a single object could become the sole piece of inspiration for an entire scheme. Consider the look you’re going for without sourcing everything from the same department store.
What do you think is the hardest room to add character to?
I think the toughest one, and the one which most people don’t always put as much thought into is the bathroom. Bathrooms are usually devoid of any real personality or character as people tend to keep them quite stark and ‘clean’ with minimal things on display. But that’s not to say that they can’t be equally as fun when designing them. We have a friend who’s filled an antique cabinet with Victorian medical paraphernalia in his bathroom and it looks fantastic. You can’t fail to miss it. We love to create features in the rest of our homes, so why should the bathroom be any exception?
What’s one way that you would add personality to a rented home that can’t be painted, or have anything added to the walls?
To add your own style to your rented pad there’s an abundance of things you can do. Start by changing kitchen handles with something on trend and put up a new blind with a funky pattern or bold colour. If there’s an ugly fireplace consider making a painted MDF surround for a more contemporary look and if paint is out of the question, buy some of your favourite fabric or wallpaper and make your own panels to lean against the wall. If the flooring's not to your liking, then a large rug will work wonders. Just remember that anything you do replace, you need to put back when you leave!
What’s your advice to the person who has a bold idea for their home, but is scared to act upon it?
Get it down on paper first and see if it actually works. Colours, fabrics, wallpapers and even furniture can look completely different when you see them in isolation, so get all the elements together and create your own mood board. It’s a quick, easy and cheap way to make sure a design scheme or idea really works. And if it doesn't, then you haven't committed to anything and wasted your time or money.
What do you look for when buying a coffee table when you want it to showcase your own personality, but also match your style?
For me, style and personality are intrinsically linked when it comes to interiors, and any piece of furniture is no exception to this. Right now, I love metallics so I’d be tempted to go for something in a brushed gold or copper finish on the base. Keep it on legs and make sure you can see underneath to open the space up. Then I’d look for something muted on top like a faint marble or even concrete that has a rawness to contrast the metal. Finally, what is equally as important with any coffee table is not just the piece of furniture itself but the items that you place on it. Think about books that you like to read, photographs that are important to you, candles, flowers or even a cherished collection displayed for all to see. These all help to show your individual style and personality and can be regularly updated or changed.
How would you recommend others do this? Do you think it’s best to stick to a style that goes with their scheme, or one which they love?
Well, if you’ve properly considered the design of the room (mood boards at the ready!) then the style of the scheme should be something they love and one which represents who they are from the word go. Start by breaking down the different elements. Are you drawn to natural materials or do you prefer man made elements such as glass, metal or even concrete? Are you a contemporary lover or do you like the aged, vintage look? Then think about it’s function, size and where you’re planning to position it. Will it be in the centre of the space or to the side? How much free space do you currently have to play with? And will it simply be used for drinks and magazines or will it also act as a surface for children to play on or store things away? If you assess the different elements, then you’ll quickly start to pin point what it is that works for you. Not just in the style stakes but also in a practical sense.
What design rule do you live by?
Plan and take the time to get it right and you’ll avoid making costly mistakes in the long run. When you rush into making design decisions and fail to think about the bigger picture, you almost always fall foul of the rules and do something that either can’t be changed or will take a lot more time and money to rectify. You want to look at your finished space and feel happy and content with each and every thing that you’ve done, not filled with regrets. That one mistake will niggle away at you for eternity. Or at least until you decide to decorate again…
How do you think that the Great Interior Design Challenge changed the way that you showcase your own, or a clients’ personality to interiors?
Being involved in the TV show really forced me to analyse the way that I look at design and how to interpret an individuals style in a unique way. Before this I’d only ever designed for myself but when you start to design for other people, its a whole other ball game. The first and most important thing that I learnt was that just giving a client a look that they know already and have previously achieved, simply isn't enough. Once you’ve interpreted their style, you need to turn it on it’s head and offer them something that they love but never expected and couldn’t have achieved by themselves. That’s the real value of an interior designer. If a client ever utters the words “that’s exactly how I’d always imagined it would look” then you’ve made an epic mistake.
What do you believe is the easiest way to add a personal touch to a space if you’re on a budget?
Get creative and think outside of the box. Don’t just think about the obvious images, instead think about places you love to visit, landmarks or even unusual objects. There are also lots of ways you can edit photos now at the touch of a button so think about the colours, lighting etc. When it comes to the frames either go for a uniformed look with lots of the same style in one colour, evenly spaced and neatly presented. Or, mix it up completely with a mash up of different styles, colours and finishes, randomly spaced on a wall to achieve an eclectic look. You can pick up vintage and second hand frames at bargain prices from markets and car boot sales.
What’s your favourite piece in your home that showcases your personality?
My current favourite is an ebonised glass fronted stacking book case. It’s a vintage piece that I brought from a local auction house. I knew it would be popular with other bidders and I definitely paid over the odds for it, but sometimes when you want something you have to go that extra mile. It’s going to make an amazing piece in our new dining room that I’m currently designing.
1. My favourite room in the house is… The kitchen.
2. Bath or shower? Shower every time
3. The best home investment I ever made is…We recently invested in a 6 metre wide set of glass sliding doors looking onto our garden and they’ve completely transformed our home.
4. If I weren’t an interior designer I’d be… A chef. Cooking and baking is my next biggest passion.
5. My most regrettable interior choice was…Not investing in hardwood floors in our last home and having a spritely Cocker Spaniel called Jasper who loves to run around.
*All styling and images by Martin Mark design.
Find out more about Martin Mark design, here.
Take note and find the perfect coffee table for your home, here.