In this extract from her new book Creative Walls, British interior designer Geraldine James shares her passion for how to transform a room with personal finds.
It seems strange to get so excited about walls, but I do. For me, a wall is a beautiful blank canvas. A great big opportunity. I can't wait to get "painting".
My "paints" are virtually anything I can find, or hang, or lean against that wall - photographs, art, ceramics, carvings, obscure curios discovered in bottom drawers, gorgeous objects unearthed in unlikely flea markets.
Sometimes a wall is beautiful as it is. Faded wallpaper can look fantastic. Layers of paint revealed following centuries of decoration can be a mesmerising work of art. Even fresh plaster itself - drying at different speeds to leave a rich patina of pinks - has a warm, lustrous appeal that a flat, white, painted wall can never match. Cold minimalism has its place, but not at my place.
So does the world need a book about walls? Well, you can be the judge. All I know is that a lot of people are quite daunted by that blank canvas before them. How do I hang photos? Which colours create a feeling of space? Should I go framed or frameless? Can I mix the two? Is it okay to hang plates?
In my day-to-day role as a buyer of interior décor, I'm always asked such questions. In fact it has become something of an in-joke: "Does Mrs James approve?" The fact is, what Mrs James thinks is irrelevant. You really don't need my approval or anyone else's. If it works for you, it works. Anything goes. Well, almost. We all have a taste limit. But what is key is creating walls that reflect you and your family and your personality. I'm always amazed by the creativity demonstrated within people's homes. I regularly steal ideas for my own home and, inspired by a particular wall scheme, will set out to find similar art or artefacts that I can sell in my store (or often just keep for myself!).
To prove my theory that style is 100 per cent personal, my new book offers a glimpse into other people's homes: friends, colleagues, friends of friends, friends of colleagues, all people who have been brave enough to take on a blank canvas and produce a stunning work of art. And there's the rub. To produce any art you have to be prepared to expose yourself to judgment, to opinion, to, dare I say it, the whims of fashion. You have to be confident enough to say, "This is what I believe in, this is what I like, this is my soul exposed". The best art is the bravest art, when artists have dared to create something new or challenging rather than copy what already exists.
So Mrs James is quite adamant that the walls you see are not there to be copied. They are there to provide inspiration for your own artistic journey.
I don't believe in arbiters of taste. Of course, in everyday life we're surrounded by people telling us how to dress or how to style our homes, but if we all follow the advice of the so-called "experts", the world will be a very dull place. My walls, hopefully, show how varied and beautiful our homes can be. How amazing effects can be achieved without spending vast amounts of money or employing a team of interior designers. How a basic understanding of simple design principles can help you overcome the physical limitations of space (a frustration we all face) and lead to myriad effects.
I'm not saying it's easy. It takes time and patience and, occasionally, a crazy obsession to find exactly the right frame in the right finish in the right colour, but what you put in, you generally get out, and the results of your endeavours will be yours to enjoy every day.
Mrs James says, "Trust your instincts and go for it!"
1 The blank wall gives the two small decorative pictures a sense of authority. The decorative details are provided by the jacquard fabric on the sofa and the lamp.
2 For dramatic effect, do the unexpected and mix candles of contrasting styles and periods. Heavyweight baroque candelabra have been combined with smaller, more modern crystal candlesticks on a mantelshelf in front of a mirror. At night, when the candles are lit, the scene is even more awe-inspiring.
Very traditional baroque candelabra towering over crystal candlesticks immediately give this setting a distinct individuality. The light sconces on the opposite wall are reflected in the mirror, adding to the intrigue that has already been created.
3 Every aspect of this sophisticated room is testament to the skill and good judgment of its owners. It is disciplined and ordered, with nothing ill considered or out of place. To achieve such a well-balanced display of stunning art and photography, all the pieces were first laid out on the floor and moved around until the perfect composition was achieved.
* Creative Walls by Geraldine James (Cico Books, $59.99) is distributed in NZ by Southern Publishers Group.