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349 Hagley Road, Edgbaston,
Birmingham, B17 8DL

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“You’ve either got . . .

Or you haven’t got style”, as Frank Sinatra famously sung. And whilst it’s a massively sweeping generalisation, I suppose I’d have to agree with him, at least in principle. Now please don’t think I’m putting myself, or indeed any other member of the interior design fraternity (or of course sorority – I knew my A level Latin would come in handy one day) on any kind of pedestal. I frequently call to mind the words of my own design mentor, the now long-deceased Walter Walker, who was Design Director of Alfred Allen in Bristol Street for more years than many a donkey. “John” he used to say, “the day you think you’re the arbiter of good taste you might as well pack up and go home”. Believe me, when you hear that, coming from a man who truly was a master in his field, you don’t let yourself get too up your own bottom.

People often ask us what they need to become an interior designer – do they need a degree, what courses should they take, what magazines should they read? And while all of these can be helpful, if you’re not lucky enough to be born with an innate sense of what just works none of it will ultimately do you much good. At John Charles Interiors we periodically take design students from the various local unis and colleges who come for a couple of weeks to do their work experience, and I have to say that Jenna, my principal designer, and I will be able to tell within the first half day whether they’ll make it into the profession or not.

So what does make a good interior designer, should you get yourself one, and what can you expect of them should you choose to make use of their services?

As I’ve already touched on, a good designer will have a natural sense of balance, and will know not only what works with what, but what they can throw into the mix to inject that “Wow” factor, to make a good room into a great room. Of course that comes with not only experience, but with having a comprehensive knowledge of the almost endless sea of product that’s out there. And that’s one major reason that yes, if you’re serious about creating a fabulous home you really need to get yourself a good designer. So often when we’re presenting a scheme to a client in the showroom they’ll say something like “That’s stunning and I love it, but I’d never have chosen it myself”.

A good and experienced interior designer will help you achieve (and hopefully surpass) the results you are looking for. They will spend time with you, get on your wavelength, ask the right questions, and most importantly listen to you and value your input. I’ve always said that the role of a good designer is not to impose their tastes on you, or to turn your home into a sterile fashion statement, but to extract your own vision from your mind, tweak it a bit, and turn it into a reality.

It’s YOUR home. Not only should it exude style by the bucket load, but it must also reflect your character.

So, what else can you expect from a good interior designer? Well, they will most certainly have access to a wide range of beautiful fabrics, papers, rugs and accessories that are simply not available on the high street. They will have an extensive library of pattern books, probably displayed in a well-appointed showroom, so that rather than just looking at a one dimensional picture on a website, you can see the beauty and lustre of an actual sample of wallpaper, feel the sumptuous texture and drape of a good quality fabric, dig your fingers into the pile of a plush carpet . . . sorry, I know I go on a bit sometimes – but it’s just something I’m passionate about.

Personally I’m not crazy about mood boards or computer generated designs. So much so that we don’t do them at John Charles Interiors. Let me elucidate. When you look at a mood board, although you see each element of what a designer is suggesting for your room, there is no sense of scale, proportion or balance. For instance the sample of your stone coloured carpet is probably smaller than the sample of a rich mustard cushion that has been thrown in as an accent. And even if the designer thinks you’re brave enough to embrace colour and pattern in your curtains, unless your mood board is a couple of metres square you’ll inevitably only get a small section of the overall pattern, which probably won’t even include all it’s colours.

As for computer aided design, it certainly has its place. You wouldn’t want to be without it for designing kitchens, bathrooms or office interiors, but for me it’s far too sterile to be of much use in living areas. Yes, you’ll see a room layout. You might even get a pretty good idea of the colours involved (assuming of course you’re not looking for pattern and texture). But what you most certainly won’t get is the feel of the room – the atmosphere that is being created, the Va Va Voom as Thierry Henry used to say.

The final, and possibly the most important part of the jigsaw is service – the very first product an interior designer will (or should) sell you. They will have an army of skilled craftsmen and women at their disposal, and will supervise and co-ordinate all work undertaken at your house. From builders, electricians and decorators through to specialist joiners, curtain makers and fitters, they will ensure that all work undertaken is of the highest quality.

From the moment you first make contact, the role of a good interior designer is to ensure that the experience of transforming your home – whether it’s one room or more – is not only a successful, but an enjoyable one.

John Biddell, John Charles Interiors

Live 24 7 magazine editorial - May 2015