Interior designer Frances Clarke on the use of colour and pattern in her home

PUBLISHED: 10:12 22 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:13 22 April 2014

Looking from the family-lounge area into the kitchen

Looking from the family-lounge area into the kitchen


Bold colour and the unexpected create an element of fun in a traditional Victorian villa, Emma Caulton learns a few tricks of the trade

The kitchen is in the new extension - which has the fell of a contemporary barnThe kitchen is in the new extension - which has the fell of a contemporary barn

Interior designer Frances Clarke is fearless when it comes to the use of colour and pattern in her own home.

“I want people to think ‘Wow, that is unexpected!’ when they walk through the door.” And people do. From the outside, her home is one of those impressive and imposing Victorian villas, all high gables and big bays. But inside, although Frances has retained a sense of period, there is a very 21st century use of colour with jewel brights contrasted against Farrow & Ball Charleston Grey walls, making the high-ceilinged and well-proportioned rooms warm and welcoming.

Frances at work in her bulthaup kitchenFrances at work in her bulthaup kitchen

The house has also been partly opened up, another nod to 21st century living, creating zones and areas that flow off each other, but without ignoring the need for a quiet, cosy corner: places like the drawing room where Frances can escape on a Sunday afternoon to read quietly.

The heart of the home is equally unexpected. In contrast to Frances’s colourful mash-up on Victorian grandeur, running across the back of the house is a new open-plan family-kitchen-dining room with walls of glass overlooking the west-facing garden.

A hidden snug with patterned alcove and books arranged according to the colour of the book coverA hidden snug with patterned alcove and books arranged according to the colour of the book cover

This is where the bulthaup kitchen sits: an oasis of cool, clean, calm and luminous white after the abundance of colour and pattern elsewhere. In style the new extension has the feel of an updated barn with exposed brick and oak, soap-washed Douglas fir flooring and tension wires instead of cross beams in the rafters.

“The kitchen is the hub of the house without any doubt. We use this space continually. I spend a lot of time here as it works so well.”

Glass doors pull back, opening up the dining room to the decking area that wraps around the back of the house. While a semi-abstract landscape against the exposed brick picks up the colours in the garden.

Bold stripes on the ceiling of one of the girls' roomsBold stripes on the ceiling of one of the girls' rooms

Frances continues: “A great deal of time went into thinking about the lighting for this space; in the evening it’s beautiful, a very relaxing space to be in. And as the kitchen is very pared-back and minimal, finished in aluminium-edged kaolin with an elm bar, it doesn’t intrude on the sitting area or distract us when we’re relaxing and watching television.”

At first glance the sitting area also appears to be quiet neutrals with low, chunky seating allowing an unobstructed view over the garden. But Frances has introduced items of interest that you notice gradually, which she describes as slowly discovering the room.

“It brings more interest into a room if you have a few key pieces and I’ve built up a good list of places selling beautiful bits of furniture; I like to mix vintage and new and find things that are unusual and unique.”

Such pieces include 1950s Brazilian dining chairs, wall lights of fringed coconut, an old factory trolley serving as a coffee table and an “old and gnarly” 1960s cupboard from a German factory doubling as a sideboard.

“These items aren’t precious, which is great for the children.” (Frances’s daughters, Mia and Grace, are nine and seven). Frances certainly has a knack for collecting the intriguing and the quirky and re-evaluating the overlooked. It’s a skill that she uses as an interior designer, whether sourcing an item for a client or creating a room scheme. Her home is also a testing ground for her work.

“I use our house for experimenting with colour. Lots of walls around the house have been painted and repainted. Before I recommend a colour to a client I have to see if it looks as good as I think it will look.

“I’m not afraid to use colour, I love colour. You can always give it a go and pare it back. I use colour everywhere. Even in a neutral scheme, a little bit of green can lift it majorly.

“I had great fun with the kids’ rooms, painting stripes on the ceiling in Mia’s room, and multicoloured shelves in yellow, orange and pink in Grace’s room.”

Elsewhere colour has been used more subtly. Frances is a fan of geometric wallpaper prints. She has used Coles & Son’s Hexagon in an inner hall to add personality, and Labyrinth in an alcove in the ‘snug’ which has the effect of opening out the space.

Other quirky touches include mismatched lamps on side tables in the drawing room, a Roman blind in the family bathroom made from a bath towel, tasselled antique lamps hanging low in the guest bedroom, bare bulbs with interesting filaments on looped cables in an inner hall, and what Frances describes as the ‘disco loo’ - the downstairs cloakroom with a mirrored mosaic wall.

Books on cubed shelving painted grey to match the walls are stacked in blocks of colour. An eclectic collection of artwork includes work picked up at the Affordable Art Fair alongside framed pictures by her daughters, a colourful linen tea towel that Frances liked so much she had it stretched and framed, and a sculptural Christmas wreath hanging above the sofa.

But in the habit of moving every three years or so, wanderlust has set in for the Clarks who are hoping to chase the dream of a rural idyll. Frances assures me that the new house’s design will evolve from experiences and experiments learned on this one – “Things just get better!”

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