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Shade secrets

Designing and decorating my new home has refreshed my understanding about many of the processes which I go through with my clients, and principal amongst these has been working with colour.

One of the main reasons for working with a designer should be exploring the various possibilities. However, if you intend going it alone I suggest you remember the following: trust your instinct, take your time, let the house speak to you, be brave ... and remember the rest of the family.

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In all aspects of life I think it is important to trust your instincts. In the past I have advised against using too much green in the country, because the greens outside are constantly changing while the greens inside do not. My house, which was built in 1901, is in a remote location, with windows looking on to gardens, trees, fields and heather. However, it has a lot of Douglas fir panelling, which works well with green, but not reds and hot pinks, which I love to use at home. Instinct is more important than hard and fast rules.

The colour schemes have evolved over several months, and I am glad I took the time. Today's choices bear little resemblance to my original colour schemes.

When trying to decide which colours will work in your rooms, using sample pots is important. You need to put a couple of coats of paint on to a piece of lining paper and offer it up on different walls in different lights.

When planning colour schemes remember that some colours will be seen as large blocks and others as hints and accents. The eye will focus on the predominant planes of colour such as the curtains, sofas, beds, walls and floors. Where you are using large expanses of carpet or wood avoid too many changes between rooms, as these confuse the eye and interrupt the flow from one space to another.

Mary Leslie Interior Design, The Bothy, Rait Antique Centre, Rait, Perthshire. PH2 7RT.

01821 670776 www.mhleslie.co.uk

Working with light

Any home will have characteristics which need to be taken into account. One of the first considerations will be the orientation of the rooms. Consider the position of the sun, and whether light will be strongest in the morning or afternoon. Try to avoid cold colours such as blue or grey in north-facing rooms, which are not warmed by direct sunlight. Equally, too many hot reds and oranges can be overwhelming in a room flooded by the sun. I believe that light colours do not necessarily lighten a dark room. I always think warm, dark colours such as red, teal or aubergine look wonderful in basement rooms or spaces without natural light. You can use the vibrant hues such as orange and hot pink as accents in otherwise gloomy spaces.

Choosing highlights

Your basic scheme can be enlivened by flashes of colour which provide highlights and compliment the mood of the room. These may be cushions, throws, plants, ornaments, pictures, lamps or table settings. Remember that furniture and fittings also have colour, so smaller pieces of furniture may be in gilt, metal, glass, wood or paint finishes. These and mirrors will bring life and sparkle to your room. Another rule I learnt long ago is that every room should have a touch of black. This was a maxim of John Fowler's. He was the founder of Colefax and Fowler and one of the leading interior decorators of the 20th century. You do not need much - a piece of furniture, some picture frames, a cushion maybe, but there is something about using black which grounds a room and gives it a touch of glamour.

Get the flow right

I would advise you not to have too many colours in each scheme, and even if you plan to decorate your home in phases it is a good idea to consider the schemes for all the rooms at once. A home where the colour schemes flow into one another always has more impact than one where unrelated schemes pop up from room to room. A professional designer will prepare sample boards showing the fabrics and finishes for each room, so that you can lay them out together to ensure that the whole house is cohesive. Even if you are working on your own I suggest you should do the same.

It is best to look at the boards in natural and electric light, and at different times of day. Make sure that the electric light you use is the same as it will be in the final space as tungsten halogen and LED lights give very different effects in a room. When you have sorted out the colour schemes you will almost certainly find that a few colours run from room to room, albeit in different guises and these are the ones which I would have looked for to reflect your personality had I been working with you.

Involve the family

As for the rest of the family, you need to remember that men, women and children have very different tastes, and there is an art in creating a harmonious home which accommodates all of them. So be sure to let them have their say, and if you do not like their views the chances are you will be able to persuade them otherwise. The best way to satisfy everyone is to let them have their say. Small children are easy, but teenagers need to be able to express themselves. When we were children we painted our bathroom in two blues, purple and black. It looked awful, but my father made us live with it. I also think it is important to avoid making a family home look too feminine.

Trust your instincts

Finally, whether you think of yourself as a trendsetter or a traditionalist, bear in mind that you may have to live with your choices for a long time. The colours which work for you will be the ones which you instinctively enjoy, not the ones which look ahead of the pack. If you are not quite comfortable with them - don't use them.

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