'Yes, you are a bad person': Peter York answers your design questions

Is a messy flat the sign of a bad person? Was flock wallpaper a terrible mistake?And what's the point of pebbledash, for heaven's sake? We asked you to send your design dilemmas to our esteemed interiors columnist Peter York (and you didn't let him off lightly)
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Do all houses painted in expensive shades from Farrow & Ball just end up feeling a bit drab?
Matthew Dryden, by email

The net effect of too much Farrow & Ball is that your friends think they should hand over a fiver to an elderly retainer at the door of your house. Mix in a bit of black for more welly.

Is there such a thing as a nice modern rug?
Milo Thorold, Brighton

Yes, absolutely. Particularly ones designed by Marian Dorn or her contemporaries in the Thirties. They're still making them now. Or consider a new "traditional" plain dhurrie, which will look modern as anything and won't bore you in a fortnight like the new "designer" ones will. The moment any merely decorative thing becomes ratified you have to worry.

My friend called my new Robin Day sofa a "design cliché" – this wasn't the reaction I was looking for at all! What's the difference between a classic and a cliché?
Ayesha Phillips, Shrewsbury

Tough it out. Seriously, the difference between a classic and a cliché is just elapsed time. York's Law says a classic becomes a cliché when it's seen in the wrong company. So junk your friend because he's been dissing you.

Am I going to regret my flock wallpaper?
Poppy Robinson, London

Yes. Ironic things like flock wallpaper should a) be done very cheaply, so b) they can be changed constantly.

Should I create a contemporary interior in my Georgian home?
Jane Fenton, Yorkshire

Absolutely. But it doesn't meanpulling out the original chimney piece, knocking off the cornices or any of that – otherwise why live there at all? Older houses can make a great background for contemporary art and objects.

Is designer camping gear irredeemably naff?
Katie Hope, Liverpool

A Versace tent sounds a bad idea and would be bound to attract insects. Camping is irredeemably naff anyway.

I embraced the Kelly Hoppen school of thought with gusto, but now I'm bored with beige and don't have much budget for change: what do you advise?
Christina Boyle, by email

Dame Kelly Hoppen has a new style herself nowadays – all camouflage effects and Stalinist posters. There's no stopping her! You could do that with paint effects on a modest budget.

I have some antiques that I'm loath to get rid of – but I want my house to look modern. What do I do?
David Peterson, by email

Don't get rid of them whatever you do – the world is coming back to them. Just a) simplify and change everything else (wall and floor finishes, curtains, etc) and b) spread them around and mix them with new things that you really like too.

Do all energy-saving light-bulbs give off hideous light?
Gabriel Wilson, Leeds

No. It's possible to get bulbs with a rosier glow. They're usually called "warm white" with a "light temperature" of 2700K.

Help! A few weeks ago you were a bit disparaging about Eighties' conservatories – am I going to have to rip mine out and build a glass box?
Liz Allan, London

Depends what you want your conservatory for. The frilly "Vicky" sort is OK for conserving, but less modish for actually living in now. Why don't you tent it out for winter in striped canvas?

I'm thinking of becoming a dictator ... do I really need gold taps?
Ian Moore, by e-mail

How else can you impress your pre-literate peasant subjects with your enormous wealth? And knocked-back nickel doesn't cut it in mass-murderer circles. Being a dictator commits you to living large and shiny.

Is it very unstylish to have a chiming doorbell?
Eugene Coveney, Newry

A chiming doorbell is "classic" naff. It's the kind of thing that featured in Terry-and-June-ish sitcoms. And it's on the old snobs' list of Absolutely Nots. Which means, of course, that you could have an ironic art-schoolish chiming doorbell – if you've got friends who can "read" the art-schooly sub-text. I wouldn't hugely recommend it for, say, Lord North Street or Tetbury, unless you want to make an ideological stand.

Should dining-room tables be rectangular or round?
Mo Samedi, Herts

There's no rule but round is more fun because you can talk to more people, and they can have novelty bits that spin in the middle.

What's more stylish: blinds or curtains?
Ben Ritson, Edinburgh

Neither, depends on the room. Plain blackouty curtains are nice in bedrooms and people miss them when they abolish them to be modern. Blinds are fine when you've got nice windows.

I have a horrible (brown) tiled Sixties' fireplace in my ex-council flat.Please tell me what to do. PS I don't live in Notting Hill – not much cash.
Catherine Ross, by email

If it's really prime Sixties you can make a feature of it. If truly hideous, get it boxed with plywood to look "architectural".

Fitted kitchens: yes or no?
Mary Fischer, Coventry

Fitted kitchens are utterly wonderful. The important thing is the planning – working out where things should go, observing the "triangulation" rule, etc, etc. And you must have an "island", preferably one on wheels. Life is more fun with little rubber wheels. But, of course, if you have a country house with a kitchen 30ft x 30ft or more and a budget of £200,000, then you could consider having a top-end "unfitted" kitchen, which is more a patron-of-the-arts kind of thing. Nice Johnny Grey will design you one (providing you've got a proposer and a seconder as a client and no one blackballs you).

Is this "paint one wall" fad here to stay?
Naoko Jaspers, Ealing

One painted wall is actually a late-Fifties "contemporary" fad, so it's retro anyway.

Where do you stand on chaises-longues designed for pets?
Olwyn Brown, Peterborough

I'm all for them. The Miss Piggy look.

I enjoy your column every week but am occasionally mystified. Where does a total beginner go to find out about design?
Nadia Diaz, by email

Get nicer friends with smart houses and hang out in the V&A. Top it up at the Design Museum.

Do you think the Georgian social model for mass housing can ever be bettered?
Stephen Petch, London

Yes, try Haussmann Paris. Georgian slums just look pretty outside and on-plan.

My flat isn't very stylish. In fact, it's a bit of a mess. Does this make me a bad person?
Harriet Gillett, Petworth, West Sussex

Yes, because you're secretly proud of your "independent" squalor. You obviously need an extreme makeover.

To save space in my bedroom I'm thinking of getting rid of the wardrobe and just having a single rail on wheels. Any suggestions of where I could get one?
Roshan Khan, by email

You can get them at places like Argos or John Lewis. But if you want a really big strong rail, like those you see used in the fashion business, you'll have to locate your nearest rag-trade supplier.

Has the plantation-style shutter had its day?
Jamie Haddon, Dorset

If by plantation shutters you mean those little American mini-louvered affairs, I have to admit they can look rather busy, as if they should go with stencilled borders. But they're useful, quite expensive, and could arguably look OK in the right setting. So change everything else you want to change in the rooms, re-paint the shutters – either in matt white or the new wall colour. Then interrogate the knobs – self-coloured or nickel could make them look better than dinky brass.

I'm sure your house is delectable, but if money were no object, where would you choose to live and what would you put in it?
Jezz Crystal, Glasgow

I'd have a giant flat on one floor on the Haussmann Paris principle but located where I live now (Marylebone).

Does someone like you shop in IKEA?
Ros Mahdad, by email

Yes, often. It's full of good cheap things. Just don't buy everything in the catalogue unless you want the Stockholm University Lecturer look.

Does the obsession with 20th-century classics hold people back from more creative contemporary design?
Hope Ferguson, Aberdeen

Yes, in the sense that shops find it easier to shift knock-off classics than take risks with new boys and girls. But there are too many designers anyway so they'll have to be culled eventually (perhaps sent to Australia?).

I'm on the verge of ripping my curtain pelmets off – should I keep them in the cellar in case they come back?
Harry Watkins, by email

You're doing this just as all great Decoristas as one are thinking: pelmet! Assuming your pelmets are the right kind – straight-across or amusingly Gothicised – you must keep them or you won't be able to live with yourself.

I aspire to be a minimalist, but I've got so much stuff! Do I really have to throw everything away?
Pamela Drennan, Huddersfield

Why? It's a bit late. It's been and gone. These days you just have to edit a bit.

After living in New England, my return to Old England was blighted by the sight of pebbledash. Do you know where it originated? It seems unfortunate that we've adopted it with such relish.
Marylyn Martin, by email

It originated in 16th-century East Anglia, where nobody except the very grandest houseowners could buy a whole wall-full of smart bricks. It held things together. The 20th-century history of pebbledash lies in the development of a cheap kind of brick called "London white" in the city's East End. It was very practical but – like breeze-block now – not tremendously aesthetic. The answer – in the version of Metroland development that spread into suburban Essex and similar places at around that time – was to cover it up with pebbledash, which combined with the right mock-16th-century fenestration to give the "Country Tudor" look.

I have long treasured your book on Sloane Rangers, but need to know: where have they moved to? All the Chelsea residents are now Russian oligarchs!
Blake Pietrasik, London

Over the past 25 years the trad "Breeder" Sloane types (lawyers, City, etc) have gone south to Clapham and beyond – Wandsworth, Balham/Tooting Borders etc. Artier/more media-ish Sloanes went to Notting Hill and thence north-west to Queen's Park etc. They're nervous of north London because they think lefties live there.

Is chintz acceptable under any circumstances?
Min Wright, Cardiff

Yes, under many circs. Chintz is great stuff, for upholstery and in different combinations. It's just the swags- and-tails-plus- four-poster curtains-plus-circular-tables-overkill that's terrible, like a diet of nothing but Pavlovas