Working Lunch

I took an early lunch this Friday and spent a fun hour interiors consulting for a friend. Previously I’ve advised on decorating choices and kitchen layouts, but this was new – how to get the most of some nice existing pieces, and transform the space with minimal financial outlay.

The location was a late Victorian terraced house in north Forest Gate, with a small bay-windowed front room still retaining some original features and a larger back room leading on to a galley kitchen. Particular challenges included a relatively narrow hallway, a straight line of sight from the front door into the back sitting room/ kitchen and stairs leading up from the back room, limiting head height in parts.

My friend had already dealt with some of these by hanging a lightweight curtain on a rod across the hallway, storing most outdoor clothes elsewhere and sensibly using the limited head height space as her desk area.

However she was keen to make more of the space, and of some great vintage furniture and heirlooms. The difficulty was that some of the family pieces were on the large side for this house. Finding space for all of them meant compromising on layout and had seen the front room turn into more of a storage area – leaving the back room for dining, working and relaxing.

I spent the first half hour measuring up rooms and furniture. Luckily many of the pieces easily found natural homes – a large circular rattan armchair from the back room is exactly the right size for the bay – and the sofa which currently straddles the front room could tuck against one wall. We agreed that three things probably needed to go – a tall narrow cupboard, a lovely but too big dining table and a sturdy computer workstation configured for a desktop machine rather than a laptop.

Bays are tricky. Leaving them empty seems a waste but filling them completely makes it hard to access windows and curtains. A chair like this is a great compromise and a nice lookout post.

This (theoretically) frees enough space to move the stereo and TV each into their own alcove in the front room, put a smaller drop leaf dining table into the back room, and bring her gorgeous vintage formica topped table into use as a desk. Having a smaller table in the back room also creates space for a small vintage coat stand that she already owns but stores elsewhere.

Theoretically, as right now all three big items are still in the house, and it can be hard to move things on. Sometimes it’s because of a sentimental attachment, sometimes because throwing away still serviceable items seems wrong, and sometimes because you paid good money for them in the first place and you either want or need to recoup that investment.

Unless you do need top dollar for your surplus items to fund the refurbishment, my advice is always to move them on quickly, rather than hanging on for sentimental reasons, or to get the biggest return. If you want to remember your family, most people have smaller keepsakes that are easier to cherish and display. If it’s about money, the cost is already sunk (if you were a company that investment would have been written off by now) and the pieces are costing you in comfort and pleasure while they continue to occupy the wrong space.

I’ve given my friend two options on rug sizes here. It’s taken me a while to realise that in general, if you can afford it, larger is better. Freeing the space in the middle of the room by moving the circular chair next door means she can easily extend the dining table for guests.

Aside from the obvious eBay route, there are also boot sale apps like Shpock for moving things on locally and quickly for cash, while many charities run furniture recycling services. Especially in somewhere like East London where so many people are struggling or just starting out, your family’s history could be a much-valued part of another family’s future.

The other decorating maxim I’d derive from this adventure is that the tape measure is your best friend. Without it, particularly where there’s limited space to manoeuvre and actually try things in their new homes, the best of ideas are really only guesswork. Measure everything, draw plans and make notes, to avoid the decorating disappointment that lurks behind the too wide sofa, or unexpectedly small sale-bargain table that can’t be returned.

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Working mum, love interiors, food and my neighbourhood - Forest Gate in East London. And my family of course...

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