`we just let her do whatever she wanted'

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Case study 1 From dingy lavatory to fishy paradise

Neil Lamb, 48, is a facilities manager; his wife Margaret, 53, is a nursery school teacher. The couple live in Edinburgh.

Interior designer: Mahri Blythe

Cost of work: approx pounds 200-pounds 300

Margaret says: "The downstairs loo was the weaniest wee room and for years and years it had been a nondescript green. I got fed up with it and I wanted to change it but I just couldn't think of anything. I honestly couldn't be bothered, I was going to devote the summer to finding loads of things for the house but when the time came I just didn't want to. It's lovely to hand the job over. We asked Mahri because I knew she'd done an interior design course and I knew and liked her taste - even though she's more into beiges and yellows and we love blue. We've got blue hither and thither.

"I'd never thought of using a designer before but you can really tell it's had a professional touch. She just used effects that I would never have thought of. It hits you now as soon as you go in there. I think it looks fabulous. We let her do what she wanted. And it wasn't what I would have done. When she suggested salmon pink and green checked tiles I thought, `Oh God, that will be hellish', but it looks great. She had the idea, too, to get this girl she knew to hand paint three fish on the tiles to match the batik fish picture that we'd bought on our honeymoon in Bermuda that the room was decorated around.

"It all worked really well. We're using her again now to do our upstairs bathroom. She can go and find all those things that I wanted to look for but don't have time. She is very good value. She charges pounds 50 for ideas and then makes commission on the materials she buys."


Gareth Thompson, 32, owns a PR company; his wife Miranda, 34, works for the company and looks after their year-old daughter, Sanchia.

Designer/Architect: Caruso St John

Cost (including house purchase) pounds 210,000

Miranda says: "Converting our barn took a year from the planning to completion. When we bought it the outside was in a good state, which we have kept virtually intact. The inside was a shell, it had been used for storage. My husband had been to an exhibition of Caruso St John and we loved their style, which was very modern and simple and used a lot of different materials.

"Adam created a very industrial look. Lots of steel and huge sliding doors that you would think came from a factory. Downstairs is completely open plan with a concrete floor, which looks very good. Another ingenious touch was that he has used a lot of polycarbonate, which is a white plastic material like corrugated iron which lets out a lot of light. There are wood stairs and a wooden ceiling which has a subtle warming effect. The downstairs walls have a white speckled effect.

"It is so well designed that we don't need many decorations. The house is decorative itself. Upstairs is divided into white rooms but on the ceilings, instead of a flat finish, each one is finished in different geometric shapes. And there is a huge window which looks out over the orchard.

"We are quite unusual among our friends in having done this. Our house is really different. I love it. People come to see it and they can't normally think what to say, although once it sinks in, they like it. If you use a good architect and designer they can give you something unique. We don't want to move again, which is why it was so important to get it right. We've never used a designer before, but we'd do it again."