Why do we like the things we do?

First up is a huge question, and clearly not one I can tackle in a few paragraphs, but one I’ve always been really intrigued by.  From food and music to fashion and art, what is it that determines our likes and dislikes, our own personal ‘taste’?  As an interior designer, I more specifically relate this question to our material surroundings, the homes we live in, and the surfaces, colours, furniture and objects with which we surround ourselves.  One of the skills in interior design is to interpret and understand the wants and needs of your client and getting to grips with their preferences, whether driven by form or function, is key.

Working on my own renovation project brought this question into sharper focus, I not only had the role of designer, but also client, and this process really made me think about what it is that draws me to certain styles and often influences my work.  A stock phrase trotted out by interior designers is that ‘your interior should reflect your personality’, and this is perhaps true to some extent, but lends itself to stereotypes as if our aesthetic choices are just character traits represented in physical form.  I think our design sensibilities are more complex than this.  Interior spaces are multifaceted, sometimes reflecting character or disposition yes, but also identity, aspiration, trends, life circumstances, and for me, my childhood.     

The Ladybird  Picture Word Book , 1980

The Ladybird Picture Word Book, 1980

My red and white bedroom, c.1989 (minus my favourite duvet, though I also loved the stripes!)

My red and white bedroom, c.1989 (minus my favourite duvet, though I also loved the stripes!)

On returning to live in the village where I grew up, moving into an early 1960s bungalow similar to my old family home, and now with my young daughter, like never before I realised how influenced I am by the familiar sights and surfaces of my own upbringing.  My intention for the project had always been to create a contemporary space with some mid-century elements as an acknowledgment of the property’s origins.  The sitting room, dining space and kitchen maintain a relatively achromatic colour scheme, albeit with pops of colour, strong pattern, and 1960s references in the splayed-leg furniture, open-back shelving displaying Hornsea ceramics of the period, and a restored angular kitchen wall cabinet.  However, as the design for my daughter’s bedroom developed I found myself dipping into my old childhood books.  Dick Bruna’s Miffy (1964), the Ladybird Picture Word Book (1980), and MacDonald’s Everyday Books (1980), with their glorious illustrations; clean, simple shapes and pattern with solid black outlines and bold primary colours, catapulted me back to examining them as a child in my own bedroom.  My pillar box red and soft white room.  It was seriously co-ordinated; alphabet wallpaper and curtains with letters at differing angles, in a slightly Memphis Movement way, a bold, graphic Graziela-like print of rainbows and hot air balloons on the bedding.  The woodwork was gloss red including the louvre doors on the wardrobe with little plastic red and white handles, and on the chest of drawers with their integrated handles highlighted in white.  From the shelving with exposed slot-in brackets to the desk accessories, it all matched.  My sister’s room was the same, but in green.  In my childhood home, each room had a colour scheme and you went for it!

Laura Ashley's  Mr Jones  fabric, 1984

Laura Ashley's Mr Jones fabric, 1984

Had I been asked to list the stylistic influences upon my design work prior to this project, I doubt that images of late 1970s and 1980s interiors would have immediately presented themselves; the brown and beige kitchen with its textured worktop and my Mum’s love of Laura Ashley wallpaper spring to mind.  Their Mr Jones print, a 1984 reworking of a mid-19th century design, was big in our sitting room, borders and all!  But the resulting design of the bedrooms, bathroom and workspace in the bungalow renovation certainly contain an element of indulgence in the various trends present back then, the things I played with, gazed at and handled every day as a child.  From the more colourful and plasticised designs of the 1970s as well as its rich, earthier tones, textures and repeated arabesque motifs, to the emerging postmodernism with it’s juxtaposed, geometric shapes and tropical, neon hues.  These have all left their mark and though often unconsciously, the objects, patterns and colours I am drawn to are rooted in this mix of styles.

colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - 1980s Habitat Inspiration
colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - 1980s Habitat Inspiration
The sights and surfaces of the time... inside the Habitat Catalogue, 1982/83 and 1983/84

The sights and surfaces of the time... inside the Habitat Catalogue, 1982/83 and 1983/84

colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - 1980s Habitat Inspiration

In my daughter’s bedroom a poster paint palette reigns supreme and I was thrilled to discover byGraziela, the reissued homewares featuring the 1970s work of designer Graziela Preiser in all its bold, bright glory.  I love the print used on the bedding and mini bureau as I see my daughter staring at the houses and trees, trains and animals, a little landscape ripe for making up stories, just as I had done.  Its colours are repeated in large blocks around the room; spotty red Marimekko wallpaper, buttercup yellow curtains, a blue felt rug, and a green wall act as the backdrop for the essential array of toys, books, paintings and other creations.  The built-in drawers with their coloured fronts divided by clean white on the integrated handles also take inspiration from the reassuring simplicity of my own, whilst customised Ikea ledges display books both classic and new. 

Bungalow Brights!... my daughter's bedroom

Bungalow Brights!... my daughter's bedroom

colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights
colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights
colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights
The hallway/workspace and master bedroom

The hallway/workspace and master bedroom

colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights
colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights
colour + shape | Interior Design Studio | Cambridge - Bungalow Brights

In the master bedroom, bathroom and hallway-cum-workspace perhaps more postmodern touches prevail.  In the latter, the vibrant orange and fresh white shapes of furniture and accessories punch against walls of azure blue.  A glimpse through to the bathroom reveals highly contrasting black and white grid patterns juxtaposed on tiling, window treatments and towels.  The bedroom greets you with playful slices of triangular colour bursting off the traditional ‘feature wall’ on either side, whilst spiralling green vases rise up in a contrasting wave-like pattern.  From the block coloured tracksuits and neon laced trainers I wore, to the diagonal patterns on my sister’s bedroom wall and even the TV studio of Saturday morning’s Going Live, I imagine all play their part here, even if I don’t always realise it.  

My sister in her bedroom, c.1988 (she'd moved on from the green, but was obviously enjoying the tracksuit!)

My sister in her bedroom, c.1988 (she'd moved on from the green, but was obviously enjoying the tracksuit!)

The red drawers, 1979   (my sister's before mine, not such a fan!)   

The red drawers, 1979 (my sister's before mine, not such a fan!)

 

We like the things we do for a multitude of reasons, but this project has shown me just how much design, and our reaction to our material surroundings, goes beyond judging form or function, it is a sensory and emotional experience and nostalgia can be a compelling force.  A lot of what I like, I like because it connected with me at a young age, a happy time. I even rather love Mr Jones now, maybe it’s not seeing it in triplicate – matching curtains, cushions, tablecloth, or perhaps it’s because I now appreciate its relationship to the beautiful drawings in Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament (1856), but I suspect it’s really because it was there for bedtime stories.

Why do you like the things you do?  Does nostalgia influence your design choices?

Click here to see the Bungalow Brights project in full