The Savoy hotel in London once threw a party, just before the First World War. If you’ve ever been to The Savoy you’ll know it glitters, and it did so even more back then. Yet the brilliantly rambunctious organisers paid no heed to the fixtures and fittings, and instead covered the space in rubber, filled it with water and sailed guests around on boats, sipping decorously on champagne. Have you ever heard of anything more fun? Wildly, truly eccentric, a moment of whimsy just for the pure joy of it, breaking the rules of supposed fine taste and modern interior design quite simply so a ruddy good time could be had by all.
I think Brits have always broken the decorative rules. Look at our old country houses, bursting with chinoiserie and Italianate marble not because they were authentic to the space, time period or building’s original features, but because the owners were collectors who wanted to make people smile. When Sir John Soane built his house in Holborn, now the Sir John Soane’s Museum, he did so to have a space in which to display his Hogarth collection, so he could host fabulous dinner parties, beam at his guests and say, ‘Can I show you the Egyptian tomb in my basement?’. Imagine the delight he would have seen in their faces. That sense of wonderment, caused by design, is the true definition of style.
The pursuit of that feeling is what I base all my work on. At The Fife Arms, the hotel I designed in rural Scotland for Hauser & Wirth, we hung a Picasso pride of place simply because we were excited to show it off. The property houses 16,000 works of art, not so as to pay them stuffy reverence or create a hushed gallery, but because
we want people to be able to experience them, to share them with the world.
In the garden of my own house in Somerset I have two four-metre Indian vases, while two stuffed giraffes guard the hallway. You’d never find these in any interiors book, but I have them because they bring me joy.
You see, style doesn’t have to be about finesse, or hospital corners, or sticking rigidly to a sense of what ought to be done. My village is far from chocolate-box perfect – against a backdrop of gorgeous cottages you’ll find rusting cars in driveways, the odd plastic bag wrapped around a barbed wire fence and uPVC windows gleaming against old stone, but to me that is part of its appeal. I’d be heartbroken if it was all tidied up. Unlike other tourist spots, where residents have to get their external paint choices signed off by an association (this happens all over Gloucestershire), here anything goes, allowing for true creativity and expression.
After everything we have been through this past year, design is about the desire to bring people together. If your home is not a sanctuary then you’re going to be in trouble, and this is where style comes into its own, the secret ingredient that elevates a room from looking good to feeling good, too. I’d suggest the following:
Pick a sofa not because it looks nice in a photo, but because it speaks to you personally and makes you want to run to it and jump on it and lie back into it. Use restful colours that help you – specifically you – relax. My hero Karen Beauchamp, a former creative director of Cole & Son, once told me that if a colour is to feel like home then it should have a touch of the earth to it.
So instead of going with banana yellow, opt for one with a hint of brown in it; instead of choosing bright white look for softer, more restful pigments. I’m drawn to cognac leather tones right now, palettes that look good in any light. Nothing so bright it smacks you between the eyes when you want to be watching telly.
But above all, style means a good representation of you. Agonise over decisions; ponder whether you can live with some furniture or a colour for the next 20 years. Does it suit your lifestyle, does it make you feel comfortable? Do you really love it, and does it make you happy? Be drawn to things – and people – that do. Create a space in which you love to live. For this is where style is found.
The interior designer behind such legendary hotels and restaurants as The Zetter Townhouse in Clekenwell, London, the Fife Arms in Braemar, Scotland, and the tea bar Teatulia in London's Covent Garden, Russell founded his practice, Russell Sage Studio, in 2005. He lives between London and Somerset, and regularly comments for Livingetc offering his thoughts on design and decoration.
Stuck for storage? These ideas for small spaces will help you find a place for everything, even in a tiny home
These clever storage ideas for small spaces, from nifty built-in features to simple transformative hacks, will give you ample more room
By Oonagh Turner • Published
12 cozy corner ideas for every room in the house that make for the perfect spot to curl up in
With the right ideas, every nook of your home can be turned into a cozy corner to hunker down in
By Aditi Sharma Maheshwari • Published
Florist Angela Maynard on how to care for dried flowers and how to style them in a modern home
Knowing how to care for dried flowers means you can have stylish arrangements that last for years. Author and florist Angela Maynard shares her tips
By Angela Maynard • Last updated
11 beige living room ideas that prove beige can be far from boring
Beige living room ideas might sound not sound like the boldest of color schemes but this pared-back palette can be just as striking a brights
By Amy Moorea Wong • Last updated
How to use color in small living rooms – expert tips for getting the perfect scheme
Bringing color into small living rooms can be tricky, but with the right hues and our top tips, you can make the space look brighter, bigger and just better
By katesleeman • Published
How to choose cool colour combinations for your home
The right colour combinations will look good throughout your home. Dagny Thurmann-Moe of Koi Colour Studio shares the no-go palette pairings and power hues
By Livingetc • Published
Buying a used kitchen could be your savviest design idea - here's what you need to know
Buying an ex-display used kitchen is a way to a high-end home at High Street prices
By Jacky Parker • Published
Home decorating: Tricia Guild's guide to a confident scheme
Home decorating advice from legendary designer Tricia Guild OBE
By Livingetc • Published
How to achieve beautiful paint finishes according to interior designer, Nicola Harding
Beautiful paint finishes transform a room and are easier than you think
By Livingetc • Last updated
Meet Linda Boronkay, Livingetc's brand new columnist
The designer Linda Boronkay in conversation with our editor, Pip McCormac
By Pip Rich • Published