The Top 3 Lessons I Learned From The Great (British) Interior Design Challenge
About two months ago now, our basement flooded with sewage due to a back up in the city line near our house. We had no idea how huge the problem would be and left that day to stay with my parents, hoping we’d be back in our house in a day or two. Six weeks later we finally moved back in.
When the sewage flood happened, we were already mid-kitchen renovation. We ended up unexpectedly needing to rip out the walls & ceiling of half our bathroom and replace the tub surround, due to mold. I would have loved to spend every day at my house working on all these projects, but it wasn’t a safe place to have my toddler who I care for all day, so work was saved for evenings and weekends when other adults were available to watch him.
As my son took a 3-4 hour long nap each day (I know I shouldn’t be complaining about this), I would fret and sigh about being stuck there instead of being able to chip away at the mountain of work in need of my attention at my house. What could I do to pass the time and dissipate my frustration? Binging The Great Interior Design Challenge on Netflix seemed like a perfect place to start.
The show is a tournament set up, with amateur interior designers taking on professional interior design jobs in a wide variety of historic British homes, working to showcase their talents while pleasing their clients in order to make it past the elimination at the end of each episode. It was exactly what I needed.
The designers in the show faced the same challenge anyone taking on DIY interior design does; turning creativity into a plan you are capable of delivering on time, on budget, and to a high enough standard that it isn’t glaringly obvious it wasn’t done by a professional. Watching each of the contestants stumble and succeed gave me some insights into where we DIY enthusiasts tend to go wrong:
1. High-quality finishes make or break every project: In their desire to really wow both the homeowners and the judges, many of the contestants overstretched what their skill set and time limit allowed for, and it showed in their work. Textile work with uneven seams, sub-par painting of furniture, or overuse of budget materials to compensate for an expensive showpiece they overspent on were sure to sink even the most promising project. A plain white room perfectly executed will wow 100x over an ambitious bohemian lounge that didn’t have the money or the time to pull off the luxe look. “I think it’s a bit naff” was the inevitable proclamation of the judges in this situation. This is a word I wish we had in American English, which in common use is apparently best translated as “naively bad taste,” and like so many words we love comes from slang in the gay community, in this case meaning a straight person who was therefore “Not Available For F*cking,” making them sort of dull.) The lessons here are: work within your budget and err on the side of simplicity with high-quality materials over an elaborate scheme of budget workarounds, and British slang is fun.
2. Think about how you want the room to make you feel, and use that as your guiding principle: The best rooms I saw on GIDC were born out of a specific vision of how living in that room would feel to the homeowners. This guided color choices, furniture layouts, and even the smallest decorative touches. Even spaces that didn’t quite fit the brief provided by the client were absolutely adored by them, if the designer was able to tease out of that brief how the client wanted to feel in that room, rather than just sticking with a specified era or style. It’s a great principle to check decisions against as a way of ensuring you have a harmonious and well-used room at the end of your project. Right now I’m midway through designing my new office, and I am asking myself as I make every decision “will this keep me motivated?” because for me that’s the most important thing for my office to do, rather than being guided exclusively by how I’d like it to look.
3. Building furniture, built-ins, and functional pieces like custom lighting are the best place to save money and still have a wow-worthy final project: Nothing made a room feel genuinely custom and professional quite like built-in storage or furniture explicitly built to suit the space. It’s easy to blow your budget on furniture, so it’s worth the time and tools to learn some basic building techniques and be able to craft some bespoke pieces yourself. The contestants who created custom built ins and furniture always went further than those who relied on shop bought pieces.
So there you have it, the top three lessons I learn from the Great British Interior Design challenge while I was sitting around waiting to finish my home projects. I am planning to publish a new home tour by the end of the summer, and hopefully, I learned enough that the results would please the judges.
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