Ask Alice

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist
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The Independent Online

A. I wonder whether folded paper is the answer, Jamie, as, in my experience, white paper yellows quite quickly, especially when situated near a source of heat, which can look really grotty in a white interior.

Have a look at the beautiful hand-folded plastic shades produced by Skandium (, 020 7935 2077). Many of them are based on original designs manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s, ranging in price from £79 to £159. They are reminiscent of meringues and origami beehives, and will stay white for years.

Purves & Purves (, 020 7580 8223) sell a self-assembly variation, called the IQ light - presumably so that you can assess your intelligence as you struggle to put it together. The kit contains 30 pieces of polycarbonate, ready to be assembled into a variety of shapes, for £83. On a slightly different theme, check out Tord Boontje's beautifully dreamy Midsummer light, cut from synthetic paper, for £59, also from Purves & Purves. And, for a bargain, visit Heal's (, 020 7636 1666), who have a selection of similar shades, starting at around £30.

Q. I've inherited an antique, white-lace tablecloth, but it looks very neutral and I would like to find some distinctive table napkins which could bring a bit more colour to my table. My budget is quite limited - what do you suggest?
Amy Leeming, by e-mail

A. There's a wonderful shop called Sibona in SW11 (, 020 7924 5912), which sells an incredible selection of decorative textiles, quilts and throws, including the Marina collection of napkins - exquisitely hand-embroidered sea-life designs - at the very reasonable price of £4.50 each. Each napkin is a generous 50cm square in fine, white cotton with a drawn thread-work edge. If your tastes are more Bacchanalian, try the Grape range.

Q. We live in a basement flat, which always feels rather dark, despite having fairly large windows. We have kept the colours pale and simple throughout, and spent a large amount on low-voltage lighting. The result is rather dreary, and I wondered how we might liven things up.
Rosie Miller, West Kensington

A. You are right to avoid dark colours, but dark shouldn't have to include bright. A few splashes of strong colour will put life into your rooms. Restrict these splashes to cushions and accessories, rather than furnishings. Then introduce some reflective surfaces to bounce the light around.

Mirrors don't just have to be put on the walls; they can be used to great effect on top of chests and tables. Marston & Langinger (, 020 7881 5717) sell a variety of antique, cast-iron mirrored windows, from around £850, that will provide a broken and more sparkly reflection. And Knowles & Christou (, 020 7352 7000) produce a range of mirrored furniture, and undertake bespoke orders.

Design dilemma?