It’s been a long time coming, but I am very excited to share the results of my primary lockdown project: the decorating of my parents’ study room! We call it ‘the snug’ as it’s a small office space by day that doubles up as a cosy relaxation spot by night.
My boyfriend has aptly translated that name into ‘the cwtch’, which is the Welsh word for cuddle. It’s always been a dreamy nook for reading or snuggling up to watch a film: the sofa-bed constantly littered with woolly blankets and cushions; novels and non-fiction spilled out of the dusty bookshelf; an old TV stacked up against the wall towering over a pile of chunky coffee-table books. The only problem was, it was looking a little forlorn.
We hadn’t done much except shift furniture around in here since moving in over 10 years ago. It’s difficult to reclaim space in a box room once it starts filling up, and fill up it certainly had. In the time we have inhabited the house it has acted as a playroom, a makeshift bedroom when guests have stayed over, an improvised bar complete with drinking and card games, and a study.
The previous owners had left behind a large, sturdy wooden desk, and while this came in useful it took up about 50% capacity with no storage facilities. It was also pretty fucking ugly. The pale blue walls featured a quirky silver star print (turns out this still haunts me – I’ll explain later), which we loved but had to abandon because the paint was scraping off and I’m not artistic enough to attempt to replicate it.
The snug redecoration first came about when I was living here in the vast, sprawling summer after finishing university. My mum suggested that my brother and I style it up however we like, as we were (and now are once again) its main occupants. A few half-hearted ideas were thrown around, but no tangible efforts were made in the direction of actually organising a makeover.
I didn’t consider the offer again until I settled back in for lockdown, after over a year away. As we were encouraged to continue our day jobs from home, the most logical option for me was to return to my family in the Brecon Beacons, so as not to increase risk to my Nan, to be close to my parents and Josh, and to optimise my working environment with a dedicated area for focusing and the rest of the house available to successfully switch off at the end of the day.
The impending haze of panic and fear provoked by the pandemic stifled me so much that I was hungry for an outlet to release such emotions and lose myself in an activity that would consume my concentration for extended periods. I’m also the type of person who is most proactive when free of clutter, so the opportunity for a deep clean and fresh lick of paint in the study was enticing for my productivity levels.
I longed for a hobby that could preoccupy my thoughts, unlike writing which requires pure dedication. To be honest, I assumed lockdown would be over by the time I completed decorating (I was in no hurry), although I found that once finished I was more acclimatised to the situation and better equipped to deal with it.
Here are some shots of the snug before my project began! I apologise for the awful quality pictures – I had already taken down photo frames and done some rearranging at this point so it looks even messier than the reality – I only thought of taking some for reference at the last minute, so you might have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps!
Once I had cemented my decision to undertake the renovation, the endless creative possibilities ahead overwhelmed me. Instagram and Pinterest are my main sources of inspiration, and with such incredible ideas and designs, narrowing it down to one theme proved difficult.
I adore Alicia Cubitt’s Instagram page for tips on upcylcing preloved items that she and her boyfriend have picked up from charity shops, and have shared some other favourite accounts below.
Most of the walls in our house are white or cream, so I was drawn to the opportunity to curate a different vibe by exploring more unusual colours. The dark wall trend had especially piqued my interest and I desperately wanted to try it out, hence why I ignored my family’s concerns about the end result and instead trusted that my vision would come to life. This is a risky game I play in every walk of life and most of the time it doesn’t pay off (e.g. botch home hair-dye jobs, terrible DIY disasters…) – I’ll let you make your own mind up about this instance!
As a complete beginner, selecting paint was trickier than I had anticipated. This was heightened by lockdown restrictions and the lack of shops to source testing pots or the availability of a vast collection of colours to choose from. As a result I ended up noting the general direction I wanted to go in and then picking the closest match.
I created a digital mood board to experiment with textures and tones and patch together a vague manifestation of the finished product. I’d like to be able to pinpoint myself as an extreme minimalist or maximalist, but annoyingly I am heavily influenced by both states (this includes interior and fashion). I have a lot of stuff, though, so while my best intentions may be to emanate a sense of toned-down calmness, both my outfits and living quarters eventually become bright and colourful due to the cluttering of funky accessories.
Mum gave me a very ambitious budget of £50 to work with (I say me because, like every year when decorating the Christmas tree, this starts out as a communal collective and ends up as a solo journey) so I tried to be thrifty and also invested my own funds on pieces I knew I’d take with me in the future, like plants (if they live to see the day) and prints.
I sketched out some floor plans to gauge what would work best in terms of placement. The bookshelf was barely accessible due to its coordination with the broken sofa bed, documents were heaped on every available surface, and the desk chair conveniently collapsed as I started (it was being held together by duct tape at this point so was on its way out).
Each of my family members traipse in and out of here for various reasons, so the priority was to emphasise the potential for both work and play. I drafted a list of what we desperately needed and what could wait, or be sourced from the rest of the house. I recently collected the rest of my belongings from my Nan’s, so have added lots of stray homeware, mainly in the form of candles and books. I scoured the internet for brands that would help me accomplish the most with our price range, finding Dunelm and Wayfair particularly good value for money. Had the charity shops been open I would have definitely been rooting around there, but alas.
As it’s such a small room I tried to keep the consideration firmly in my mind: what would best accentuate its characteristics and bring it to life? While there are three windows framing the room, my preconception had remained that it just happened to be a very dark and unfortunately gloomy dwelling.
One aim, therefore, was to lighten the surroundings up a bit (I know this contradicts with my dark paint obsession). My immediate instinct when preparing to decorate was to pull up the wooden blinds – mainly to assist with clearing and cleaning. For some reason, we have always left the slats open rather than actually lifting the entire structure, and this simple adjustment flooded in sunlight and immediately awarded the room with a warmer quality.
My mum had toyed with the notion of ordering new blinds, but it turns out we didn’t need to: the original style suited the room and there was no real need if we were to leave them continuously open. It goes to show the original perspectives you can discover when inspecting anything from a different angle!
Settling on a dark blue, I headed to our local B&M store as it remained open as an essential shop, and found Johnstone’s Midnight Blue feature wall paint. I ignored the feature wall label and slapped it across all four despite my mum doubting the outcome and recommending I follow the intended suggestion on the tin. B&M came in handy for other essentials, too, like rollers and picture frames.
I started on a Saturday afternoon sanding and washing the surfaces, and had a minor breakdown when cutting in with my brush and comprehending what a big job this was going to be. My parents came home from a walk and hysterically laughed at my innocence, which obviously spurred on my determination to excel.
The evenings and weekends were consumed with the task at hand, which presented a welcome relief and barricade to the flood of impending doom on the news. I found losing myself in the familiar rhythm of brush strokes and paint rolling therapeutic, the well-rehearsed performance accompanied by a blast of rock music or a podcast (usually The Guilty Feminist or the High Low), and with a g&t to take the edge off it became enjoyable. In lieu of any solid social plans it could almost be compared to a night out.
Watching my efforts melt the colour together after a couple of coats was incredibly satisfying, enriching the patience and energy I had channelled into it. My dad and brother loved the ‘tie-die’ effect so much that they pleaded that I leave it like instead of continuing to layer the blue. I momentarily contemplated this as it would mean a lot less effort, but persevered nonetheless.
Foolishly I had only bought one tin of paint (like I said: total beginner), which stretched to about three coats. I thought I was going to have to abandon ship completely as stock ran out and there was absolutely no trace of the colour online, but luckily the palaver was solved when it magically reappeared in B&M after a delivery.
I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t very impressed with myself when admiring my handy work after every inch of plaster was plunged into its deep fate and the woodwork touched up with varnish. In fact, I genuinely sat and stared at the art my scrawny little hands had created for what felt like hours. I rarely admit pride in my labour, however in this case it evidently shone through.
We ordered a new sofa bed from Very, which is delightful to look but not so delightful if you’re the one sleeping on it. There’s also that awful swishy noise that goes right through you whenever anything scratches against the fabric, although this is outweighed by the retro elements and pleasing combination of mottled grey against a navy backdrop.
The millennial pink pot once held a plant that is sadly no longer with us (I think it was originally an Ikea buy) so I collected a succulent to replace it, which is now thriving as I’m able to stick to a strict watering regime. Clashing colours and patterns never cease to intrigue me, so I’m happy with the mismatched environment generated from ornamental additions to the room.
Rattan has become a pinnacle for sustainable yet cool interior staples this year, and when looking for a lampshade I stumbled across this Dunelm beauty that I feel fits right in with the modern aesthetic. I can’t find it online anymore, but there’s a similar one at La Redoute.
The eclectic assembly of vibrant cushions are remnant of my sister’s time here, as when moving to New Zealand her family of three had to sacrifice some belongings meaning these stayed with us! It’s easy to underestimate the power of a cushion, but they bring a lot of character and comfort (especially to this unforgiving bench).
I wanted to pay homage to some of my favourite bands with an affordable art tribute. Initially I was planning on a gallery wall, however this proved awkward as there isn’t the expanse required for such a shrine, and primarily family photos hang in here. I narrowed it down to a couple of artists, Arctic Monkeys and Idles (from a running order of Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Specials and more), mainly because the prints I found to suit them were my favourites.
“Simmer down and pucker up” is a reference from Do I Wanna Know and the funky poster is from Space Oddity Gifts on Etsy. Again I am such a fan of the contrast between the striking red and the gold frame I encased it in, which was a few quid from B&M, made even bolder by its surroundings.
The Idles print was from Redbubble (unfortunately I can’t find it on the site anymore), and while cheap I had a nightmare tracking down an appropriate frame as it’s not standard sizing. Eventually I found an eBay seller in Germany that stocked ones with roughly accurate measurements (you can see a bit of the white mount but truthfully I’m thankful to have even found anything close).
If you look closely you’ll see those bloody silver stars peeking through from under the heavy paint. Really it could have done with another coat but I didn’t notice until I had already packed my equipment up and was past the point of no return. They’re a reminiscent glimmer of another era, which is nostalgically evocative in its own right, so I’ll let it slide.
We replaced the ugly desk with a slimmer, sleeker version from Wayfair that offers drawer space and better aligns to the look of the room. Thanks to the downsizing there is an ideal spot for a mat, so I dragged in the fake Persian rug that my best friend bought me from Ikea; maroon hues flattering the existing colour scheme beautifully.
I was intending to replace the crumbling office chair with a shiny new model from Made.Com, but really couldn’t justify it. I checked the local Facebook market place as well as eBay in case there was anything suitable or that could be spruced up, but with Covid lingering the logistics are complicated and there isn’t a lot of choice. For now I’m quite content having temporarily substituted in one of the dogtooth check dining chairs.
I spent a couple of lunchtimes organising our bookshelf, attempting colour-coordination as well as segments for each topic and trying to account for the tallest books that demanded a seat on the bottom row, so eventually I stopped when I was pleased my arrangement was neat enough.
The ‘Bunk’ jar makes me smile whenever my eye catches it as I pocketed it during my Freshers fair at Nottingham Trent University. Bunk is a cocktail and junk food restaurant in Notts, and while I can’t actually recall if I’ve ever been, it captures those blissfully carefree years of my life. I ran out of pots and on searching for a container for my newly acquired ivy found the glass mug in the cupboard. My brother and I had driven about half an hour to the nearest garden centre only to find out they were still only operating a click and collect system, so thankfully good old Morrison’s came through and I grabbed this for 50p along with foliage in a lovely pink pot.
I unexpectedly miss those misplaced hours spent unwittingly covering myself in flecks of paint and not worrying about anything other than accidentally smudging the ceiling. The redecoration was an unlikely comfort to my brain, although I’m glad it’s over and I can soak up the fulfilment that only completion can soothe you with.
Plus, there are more important movements to focus my energy on right now.