It's all a question of taste

A course in holistic interior design might sound a bit strange, but Hester Lacey found she learnt lots of practical tips to create a room to suit her mood
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Kristine Walker does not approve of design makeover programmes. It's the sloppiness of the approach that annoys her, the way that everything is slapped together with staple guns and tape. "How can you possibly take pride in the finish of your work?" she asks. And it's all too prescriptive, as well. Anything not achingly trendy and up to the minute doesn't feature. "Today nothing is 'wrong' in interior design," says Kristine. "If you like it and it feels right for you, then it's right."

Kristine Walker does not approve of design makeover programmes. It's the sloppiness of the approach that annoys her, the way that everything is slapped together with staple guns and tape. "How can you possibly take pride in the finish of your work?" she asks. And it's all too prescriptive, as well. Anything not achingly trendy and up to the minute doesn't feature. "Today nothing is 'wrong' in interior design," says Kristine. "If you like it and it feels right for you, then it's right."

Kristine, evidently, takes a considered and forgiving approach to décor. This stems from her rather eclectic background. She has a degree in textile design, is a trained interior designer and has worked as an illustrator. But she is also a reflexologist, has worked in colour healing and allergy therapy, and studied feng shui with a Tibetan grand master. She brings all these varied strands together on her one-day holistic interior design courses.

The idea of holistic interior design sounds a little alarming - as though one minute you'll be arguing about the spiritual dimensions of puce versus chartreuse, and the next you'll be dowsing each other's chakras over a cup of herbal tea. Well, there was indeed herbal tea on offer and there was some talk about the empowering qualities of orange versus the tranquillity of green. But the course also has plenty of good practical advice. It aims to help participants put together an individual room that not only looks good visually, but feels good spiritually at the same time - and can be achieved along environmentally friendly lines. No chakras get dowsed at all.

As it happens, I am planning to redecorate my living-room. It's a beast of a space, with three doors opening off it and a bay window and fireplace to work round. But I am an interior designer's worst nightmare. My usual philosophy is to paint walls and ceiling magnolia, woodwork white, and tentatively add colour (usually blue) with furniture, rugs and the kinds of bits and bobs known more poshly as "accessories". And that's pretty much how my whole house looks. I was also unconvinced that paint and paper could influence my state of mind or joie de vivre, or that feng shui from China could hold much sway over life-energy levels in rural Dorset. Would Kristine be able to persuade me otherwise?

The group that met at the Evolution Arts & Health Centre in Brighton was a small and friendly one. Veronica wanted ideas for her guest room, Christine had just moved to a new house and was working with a dauntingly blank canvas, while Gail, studying reflexology, wanted hints for her treatment room. Maxine's new flat had lumps and bumps she wanted to disguise, Ann was a fan of "shabby chic" and wanted general ideas on colour use, and Kelly hoped to train as an interior designer herself - as well as re-decorate her bedroom in the meantime.

Kristine wasted no time in getting down to the basics. The first thing we had to do was create a "mood board" to give us a basic idea of which colours and images we preferred. We leafed through a range of glossy magazines and catalogues, tearing out any pictures that took our fancy and sticking them on to a piece of cardboard to make a kind of collage. It was surprising how quickly themes appeared. Gail had gone for striking purples and greens throughout, Veronica was more of a red-and-yellow person, Christine's blues and browns and yellows suggested Morocco. My own board was mainly lilac and pink, with lots of photos of flowers and greenery. Mood boards, explained Kristine, reflect the colours, textures and images that appeal to us, and make a good basis for selecting fabrics, paints and furniture.

She went on to explain some of the basic principles of using feng shui in the home. For anyone who has missed the feng shui craze that has swept the nation in the past decade, it's an ancient Chinese philosophy that works on the basic principle of directing energy, or "chi", through a building. Different areas in rooms correspond to wealth, family, relationships and so on, and the idea is to concentrate "chi" where it will be most effective.

Colours are important too in feng shui; red, for example, is auspicious, being creative, restorative, and uplifting, where blue stands for serenity, courtesy and happiness. Blue is also the colour of communication and writing, music and language, and thus especially good for study areas. I am writing this in a study that is unashamedly pale yellow and have no intention of re-painting; but if feng shui and the language of colours appeal, then Kristine's application of the principles is extremely straightforward.

For anyone who isn't entirely sure that their "chi" needs adjusting, however, Kristine has plenty of more conventional interiors advice. The fail-safe way of getting your colours right is to go for a monochromatic scheme, for example. That means using different shades of the same colour, with the palest on the ceiling, a mid-shade for walls and a darker tone for woodwork. A narrow room will seem wider if floor and skirtings are the same colour, and a low dado rail makes the rest of the wall seem higher. Wallpapers with squares or grids make rooms seem larger and the smaller the squares, the bigger the room appears. We all scribbled down dozens of hints like this.

Kristine also provided an extremely useful set of contacts for "green" interiors products, including environmentally friendly, solvent-free paints, and natural floorings such as coir, seagrass, hessian, terracotta and marmoleum, which none of us had ever heard of, and is made from a sustainable mix of linseed oil, woodflour, pine rosin, jute and limestone.

Our ultimate aim was to produce a colour and sample board similar to that which a professional interior designer would come up with, from the paint cards, fabric swatches and catalogues that Kristine provided. The idea was that we could go home and repeat the exercise for real with fabrics, paints and furniture we might genuinely consider.

My own board looks surprisingly convincing. The proof: my husband pronounced it not at all hideous. There's a palest-pinky ceiling, a subtle orchid shade for one wall and the paintwork, with the rest of the walls in cream, dusky green curtains, an oatmeal sofa, wooden flooring and accent shades of deeper pink and lilac for lamps and vases. Magnolia doesn't figure at all. I rather like it. Whether or not I actually start thinking pink depends on how brave I feel when the decorator turns up, but I might just do it. But whatever I finally decide, I've achieved what Kristine hoped I would: "a scheme for yourself which pleases you".

For details of forthcoming courses, call Evolution Arts & Health Centre on 01273 204204. The next course will be held on 28 March, and costs £30/£25

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