Is it time to ditch the magnolia?

Interior designers give their views
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Fashion in interior decoration is moving to lavish colour, big patterned wallpaper and more ornate furniture, but letting agents are advising buy-to-let landlords to be cautious before they ditch the safe, neutral contemporary look.

Despite interior designers' excitement at the new anti-minimalist trend, anything but plain, understated, contemporary colour-schemes tends to put off all but a few tenants, although a bold and imaginative design can earn a premium rent if the right tenant happens to view the place.

Many builders, however, are throwing caution to the winds at the show apartments in big developments, which are usually conservative to appeal to the widest range of visitors.

The show penthouse at West3 in Acton, west London is a striking scheme by the theatre designer Ashton Taylor Smith, evoking the Art Deco interiors of the 1940s. It features big horizontal bars of purple and blue on the walls, boldly patterned wallpapers and very rich upholstering.

Taylor Smith resurrects quilted silk wall-coverings in the master bedroom, with matching curtains. The bold, black four-poster bed, by John Reeves, is covered with cranberry stripe fabrics. Neutral it isn't.

The designer Tara Bernerd's company Target Living has gone for opulent modern in the show apartment at a converted office-block in Clerkenwell, 1 St John's Place. Black doors, bitter-chocolate coloured tiled floors, black glass kitchen units. Very black, indeed - but it is luxurious.

Peter Broughton of the Furnishing Advisory Service at John Lewis is supplying more lavish interiors to customers, including some buy-to-let landlords.

"The trend this year is to more luxurious fabrics such as velvets, silks and taffetas for a more glitzy look. Even damasks with a modern twist are coming in, with suedes for upholstery," he says. "People are going for less stark shapes in furniture, with a 1930s throwback to curves rather that rectangles and woods like rosewood and mahogany."

Even that derided 1970s item, flock wallpaper, is back - but "not in red and gold, and in very modern patterns. Nina Campbell will be doing a new one later this year," Broughton says.

However, most buy-to-let landlords are following the trend with caution. "When we do rental properties, it tends to be more neutral so when people bring in their own furniture and ornaments it will not clash, although people are using richer chocolates and browns that are more luxurious while matching better. Don't mention the word magnolia these days," Broughton says.

Landlords should look at the market they are in before going wild with patterned wallpaper and bold colours, advises Edward Parker, lettings manager at John D Wood in Primrose Hill, north London.

"In Primrose Hill, there is a slightly different rental market from, say, Notting Hill, where City people look for the Conran style," he says. "Primrose Hill tenants are more artistic and some people do go for it."

In the right market, a rich decorative scheme can reap dividends. "The right person will love it and you can get a premium rent, but you might show the place to 20 or more viewers who prefer magnolia," Parker says.

It is essential to get the scheme right, and to follow it throughout the property. "It has got to work, got to fit and got to be interior-designed," Parker says. "A modern limestone bathroom might not go with an extremely styled bedroom. If the rest of the property is high style, a cheap kitchen will stand out."

Parker is seeing the result of installing the wrong scheme for the market at a house with a dramatic colour-scheme; it has failed to find a tenant and is now being "neutralised", probably with - yes - magnolia.

"We have a house to let at £2,100 a week, with purple in the living room, sky blue in the hall and red and blue bathrooms. It works, and should attract a pop star or TV actor, but one has not arrived yet," Parker says.

West3 marketing suite; 020-8811 2336

1 St John's Place: Hurford Salvi Carr; 020-7250 1012

John Lewis Furnishing Advisory Service; 020-7901 8051

John D Wood; 020-7586 9882