Throw out your winter wardrobe

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Indy Lifestyle Online
After a few years of living in an environment so minimalist and uncluttered that it began to feel positively cold, party caterer and food consultant Lorna Wing wanted to add colour and luxury without committing herself to major redecoration or spending a great deal of money on something she might tire of. "I quickly get bored of things in my home," she says. "Every three or four months I want to throw everything out and start again."

She needs an interior that works flexibly, and wanted to create a space where she could have a large, formal, seated dinner party (up to 30 people) but which would also feel comfortable and intimate when she is there alone or with just a few friends. Her one-bedroom flat in a Victorian Gothic asylum conversion, with its open-plan, galleried room and vaulted ceiling, is not, in fact, very large, but she has made it work like a much bigger place, and, at the same time, has created an interior that can easily be given a fresh look.

The trick was to start off with a neutral, pared-down background, and then dress up the flat with vases, flowers, pictures, rugs and small pieces of furniture that she could add or take away in a way that she describes as "seasonal" - although it is still a very controlled look. Because the flat is essentially uncluttered, each new piece has its chance to make a statement: just one or two splashes of colour, a hint of gold, a glitter of beading or a flash of silver can really change the feel.

"It's like living in black all winter, and then getting out all your Mediterranean clothes," she says, trying out this summer's acid colours of lime, yellow and orange in glass bowls and lamps from her friend, the designer Maryse Boxer. Boxer and Carolyn Quartermaine are the design duo behind the interiors department Chez Joseph, at Joseph, the Sloane Street store, where an increasing number of fashionable customers are currently opting to do the same, picking out little treats instead of going to the bother of calling in the decorators. "People no longer want to make a whole commitment to a look. They just want to lift the room by changing one thing. This summer they're going for a mix of Fifties colours, baroque gilts and what I call 'cyber' shades of green and steel," comments Maryse Boxer.

It's a philosophy that relies on getting the basics right: making the most of the light and space you have, and understanding the proportions of your rooms. "My first aim was to make it light and neutral - it had been a dusty pink, and filled with statues, books and ornaments, which wasn't my style," says Lorna. She removed any beams that weren't structurally necessary, sanded floors back to the natural wood, and redesigned the curve of the staircase so that it makes an organic shape in the room. Once the structural work was complete, she painted everything Dulux Orchid White. "I tried historic colours, because it's a period building, but none of them really worked as one colour on its own over a large expanse of space."

High ceilings meant that traditional overhead central pendant lights were ineffectual, so she incorporated a low-voltage halogen light system (which gives a whiter, more natural light than conventional bulbs), on tiny spotlights that sit on a thin track suspended from the ceiling.

Not surprisingly, the kitchen is the heart of the home, with a giant, dual-purpose central island that runs almost the length of the room. This acts as a table for 16 to 18 guests (seated on high stools), provides a good run of work surfaces for pastry and pasta making, and also works perfectly for cookery demonstrations.

It's by far the largest piece of furniture in the house, and shows how it is better to think big, when a limited space needs to operate like a larger one. The kitchen units, set around two walls of the main room, are also designed on this principle. Lorna knew that she could work more effectively as a cook if she had a deeper work surface than the traditional 60cm. So, rather than installing a standard kitchen design, she had a husband-and-wife team, Sue Sutton and Sid Smith, adapt inexpensive Ikea kitchen base units by setting them under a deep wooden maple worktop. "They also made different doors for the units, out of medium density fibreboard with a maple veneer. It all looks more expensive than it really was."

Once the fixtures were in place, she kept furniture to a minimum: "I strongly believe that you should only have what is necessary, and that everything has to have a purpose. That's equally true of cooking, clothes or interiors. But I'm ruthlessly unsentimental about belongings, and never hang on to anything I don't use." People tease her about this - although friends often benefit from the regular clearouts - but the complete absence of the odds and ends that clutter up most people's houses, make her policy of transforming a room with one or two beautiful things very successful. Effectively the only furniture in the main kitchen dining room is the dining table with its chairs, and two easy armchairs. "The table can be expanded to seat ten, and I deliberately chose upholstered chairs so that I could change the covers when I wanted to."

When a vase, a lamp, a picture or a rug is the main statement in a room or a house, it has to be right. Lorna found that trying to buy such ornaments for the flat before all the structural work was completed led to mistakes.

"When you see something in a shop, it's often displayed in a stunning room set. When you get it home, it often looks wrong - too tall, or the wrong shape." She is fortunate in being able to borrow items from friends in the design business, and see how they look in her home before deciding whether to buy them. However, she has no qualms about taking something back to a shop if it doesn't look good: "We bought a zinc coffee table for the mezzanine seating area which I liked, but my partner, Brian, didn't. So it went back, and we'll do without a table until we find the right one."

The instant way to transform any home, particularly a fairly minimal one, is with flowers. Lorna likes florist Paula Pryke's big, colourful arrangements of arum lilies, gerbera or sunflowers. "Pretty, country flowers just don't work in this environment." And she points out that you can achieve more with small blocks of contrasting colour than by matching things up too carefully: too much orange just gets lost here, because of the orange chairs, while the sharpness of the acid-green, beaded lamp, the giant green plates or the lilac silk cushions, draws the eye more effectively. Such instant decorating is a bridge between the over-stuffed interiors of the late Eighties and the stark, stripped-down look of the early Nineties. And, most important for Lorna, it accommodates a changing lifestyle. "Now that I'm living with Brian I've had to add in books. I always used to throw them out when I finished them."

Lamp, china, glass and cushions by Maryse Boxer and Carolyn Quartermaine, Chez Joseph, 26 Sloane Street SW1 (0171-245 9493). Stools from the Conran Shop, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 (0171-589 7401). Flowers from Paula Pryke Flowers, 20 Penton Street, N1 (0171-837 7336)

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