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How a year of lockdown has changed what we want from our homes

As lockdown comes to an end (at least for now), Fiona McKenzie Johnston reflects on how it has changed how we live in our houses and what we want from our interiors

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By House & Garden | December 28, 2020 | Interiors

Picture: Unsplash

Regardless of where you have spent lockdown, months within the same set of walls has offered us all opportunity to reflect on what makes the perfect interior, one that fulfils the twin ideals of aesthetics and ease. Equally, we have had time to experiment, with recipes, Molly Mahon’s block printing, Willow Crossley’s flower arranging, sewing – many got out their Singers to make PPE, and then segued to cushions and quilts – and more. Sixteen weeks later, there’s a wealth of ideas for improved living.

A workspace was top on the list of almost everyone’s immediate needs – and is likely to remain there for a while. In designer and decorative artist Bridie Hall’s case, she’s been using a small room off her Islington sitting room that had housed her worn out gym equipment; William Smalley RIBA is now designing a Donald Judd-esque drawing desk. Architect Mark Sylvester of Icon Architects has taken over a seldom-used spare room in his Fulham house, and removed any feeling of transience by moving out the bedroom furniture. “A good home office needs to be just that – and to fit stylistically with the rest of the house,” he explains. Others have managed through clever repositioning and repurposing of furniture, with Charlie Porter of Tat London recommending “The Goldilocks method of seeing what fits.” Gallerist Anastasia Lander has been sharing the bar in her Bloomsbury flat with her daughter, champagne bottles providing an optimistic dividing line. And many parents have realised that Bridie Hall’s brush pots are an immeasurably more attractive accessory to home schooling than standard pencil cases.

Beautiful table arrangements have alleviated the monotony of three meals a day in the same place, with the same people. Charlie Porter, inspired by a room in Gavin Houghton’s house in Tangier, bought bolts of “very cheap” red and white striped fabric from Amazon, draped an awning over her West Kensington balcony, and completed the look with matching cushions and red candles set on a white a tablecloth. The interiors doyenne Nina Campbell, who has been amassing both china and table linen all her life – vintage, from her travels, William Yeoward, Lisa Conti, and of course her own - spent the first part of lockdown with her daughter, interior designer and House & Garden columnist Rita Konig, and family, in County Durham. “I was in charge of laying the table, using Rita’s china and linen. Rita’s like me and has got quite a lot, which was great fun. Coming home, I have enjoyed delving into my cupboard and having one day green, another pink and orange, and another blue and white.” Nina does confess to a new appreciation for hard placemats, “Which are wipe clean, and don’t need ironing. But beautiful ones – not someone on a horse.” Fashion PR Alex Shah has relied on a smart, vintage picnic set, acquired in Florida in the 90s, for giving variety to the location of meals.

The right tools have been key, with several naming Gaggia espresso makers, Kenwood Chefs or KitchenAids as items that have saved their sanity. For Nicole Salvesen of interior design and decoration firm Salvesen Graham, cocktail equipment has taken on a new importance, with ensuing concoctions drunk from her extensive collection of vintage glasses. “I’m now busy redesigning our sitting room to fit in a new bar area!” For Jenny Simpson, Design Director of Chelsea Textiles - who has been with her extended family in Oxfordshire - casserole dishes are the obsession: “Especially huge ones, for one-pot recipes that will last a few days. Otherwise you’re forever cooking and washing up. There are some by Staub that are so beautiful – they’re shaped like an artichoke or have a fish handle.”

Also worth knowing is that bold decisions have paid off. Mary Graham, the other half of Salvesen Graham, cites the bright yellow gloss – a special mix by Johnson’s called Indian Maize – recently applied to her North Yorkshire pantry as “having the most gloriously uplifting effect.” The interior designer Victoria von Westenholz is planning to repaint her Battersea kitchen in Farrow & Ball’s Arsenic, which she nearly did at the time, “And then I used a more neutral pale blue instead. But I used Arsenic in a client’s laundry room in a project that continued over lockdown, and it just looks amazing.” In France, the artist Nathalie Lete has painted her walls with a riot of flowers and birds, while others have revamped rooms with a rehang, the Artist Support Pledge having been the silver lining of lockdown. Furniture, too; fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave, who has been in New York throughout, names a pair of Cassina LC2 chairs upholstered in deep purple silk mohair and bought at auction just before lockdown as having brought particular pleasure. And Bridie Hall, inspired by Chatsworth, has gilded the inside of her window frames to grand effect. “I also want to install antique mirror on the upright inserts between the panes of glass, that will ping the light back in. In the winter it will be like having candles lit.”

Which is worth thinking about, because winter is an inevitability, and we cannot rule out a second lockdown, however much we’d like to (although it would at least give us time to finish those quilts). So, if you’ve identified changes that would enhance your living, now is the moment to implement them. The one certainty in these uncertain times is the importance of our home being somewhere we really want to be, somewhere that offers both comfort and joy.

Written by Fiona McKenzie Johnston.

This article originally appeared on House & Garden UK.