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How to Create a Calming Colour Palette in Your Home
Interiors
March 2022
Reading time 5 Minutes

Bold colours might not seem the obvious choice for a calm interior, but this elegant, reposeful home dispels the myth that only pastel hues and off-whites can be tranquil and serene

Sally Denning Shares her secrets in her new book Calm.
Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small

The owners relocated to Berkshire from West London a few years ago, driven by a desire for country living. Their new home offered an upsize from their Victorian terrace, with more space for their growing family and brindle lurcher puppies, yet remains within commuter distance of the city. 

‘The part-Georgian, part-older, part-turn-of-the-century house has a pleasingly classical symmetrical exterior to the front and lots of fairly sympathetic additions and extensions made for a large but somehow cosy family house,’ owner Clare Wilcox explains. With an easy layout, the ground-floor reception rooms flow together in a way that’s very liveable. ‘It’s quite naturally open-plan for a period house, and you never feel like you’re shut at one end of the house, far away from the rest of the action. Some elements feel grand and some cosy. I like the way these two different aspects of a period country house sit together, and the different personalities in the rooms. When we have friends over, we try to move between the different spaces, as they all have their own atmosphere,’ Clare reflects.



COLOUR LOVERS
The entrance hall leads into the main dining space (above and featured image). Both rooms are painted in greens and blues that work beautifully together to provide a seamless visual flow between the two spaces. Pops of colour in the form of velvet chairs, vintage books, artworks and antique furnishings add interest but don’t distract, cleverly complementing the main palette.

Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small
Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small

STUDY SPACE
The family’s need for relaxed yet uncluttered spaces where rooms are well-ordered but still characterful is very apparent in the study, where interesting vintage lighting, rich colour on the walls and pared-back decorative elements take centre stage (above left and above right). The old wooden dining table that doubles as a desk, the sisal floorcovering and vintage kilim all work together to warm up the blue-green walls, making this a restful room that’s conducive to concentration.

When the family moved in during the summer of 2018, the interior was ‘superficially quite smart’ but slightly fusty and in need of a refresh. So they embarked on a full refurb. The house was large enough and the layout worked well, so there was no need to extend. ‘We repurposed one of the spare bedrooms as a master bathroom, knocked down a couple of walls to open up the kitchen, replumbed, rewired and did a complete decorative overhaul,’ Clare says. The plan was to introduce colour, pattern and a mix of old and new furniture to create ‘something that felt younger, more vibrant and not very “country”. We worked with Nicola Harding, who had helped out with one tricky room in our previous house – she was a neighbour and a friend of a friend, and the only person I considered working with. The brief has been entirely fulfilled with her help.’ 

When it came to colour, Nicola made her mark. ‘She used lots of blues, greens and dusty pinks from Paint & Paper Library, Little Greene and Farrow & Ball. The schemes are bolder in some rooms and more restrained in others, but the colours all connect: the colour of the kitchen island repeats on the internal doors to the garden room and dining room. The colours may feel surprising, but they make sense as part of the whole, so none of it feels random.’ 

As a result, the flow throughout the house is calm and composed; nothing jars or jumps but gently glides from one space to the next. One of the most relaxing rooms is the snug. Now dark and cocooning, this is one of the only north-facing rooms and was originally incredibly cold. An external door was removed, and the walls and ceiling painted in Hornblende by Paint & Paper Library, a dark, sludgy green. The raspberry- coloured rug from Vanderhurd has a dense pile and the sofa is covered in a dark corduroy, adding to the luxurious effect. Clare admits, ‘It’s a room you have to tear yourself out of at the end of the night!’

Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small
Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small

PERFECTLY PATTERNED
The master bedroom is a masterclass in how to use pattern in an understated way. The headboard, cushions and rug all work together to add interest, but are tempered by the plain pastel hues on the walls, bedlinen, bedspread and bare floorboards (above left). The dressing room with built-in wardrobes/closets is sleek and unfussy, with only simple decorative elements such as the wicker chair and red lamp (above right).

Rooms have been carefully curated to keep the interior restful and clutter free. Clare has lots of old hardback books, sourced mainly from eBay, which add colour and interest. There is much artwork: combinations of old and new, affordable prints and vintage posters along with original contemporary pieces to sit and contemplate throughout. Lots of lamps and house plants help too. ‘There’s a lot of green in the house and the views out to the garden. I think the green of house plants brought indoors adds to this and seems to work wherever you’ve put them,’ says Clare. She adds, ‘We are a family who enjoy a relaxed but uncluttered space. The rooms are full of interest, but well-ordered. [There are] cosy corners, with nice lighting and quirky bits and bobs, but without the detritus of everyday life.’ 

The carefully chosen wall lighting and lamps dotted at different heights around a room cast atmospheric shadows and create warmth and intimacy. In many of the rooms there is no overhead lighting, and spotlights have been kept to a minimum except where they are really needed. Clare confesses, ‘I like incandescent bulbs when I can get them, so that the lamps cast a warmer light.’

Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small

Calm by Sally Denning, published by Ryland Peters & Small (£25) Photography by Polly Wreford © Ryland Peters & Small


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