Changing rooms: Meet the serial decorators

They're addicted to colour testers, hooked on fabric samples and always in search of interiors inspiration.

Kate Burt
Friday 04 February 2011 01:00

Simon Hill is the founder of, a furniture search engine and marketplace. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife and young child.

When we bought the house about 10 years ago, we almost knocked it to the ground to rebuild it bigger. It was a massive project and, obviously, involved quite a lot of decorating.

My wife and I are quite perfectionistic, a bit OCD – which has resulted in a few changes along the way. If a look doesn't quite work, we do it again. And again. We're serial decorators.

A main reason we didn't always get things quite right was due to difficulty sourcing great stuff. Which is how my business came about.

At first, we bought the best we could find. But as you move on to new rooms you find better ideas and shops. So you go back, buy new stuff that works better, and redecorate slightly differently. And it continues: every time you get to the end, you go back to the start and think the same thing.

In the living room, we had bespoke walnut cabinets built. After a couple of years, we saw we could have done it better, ripped them out and had different walnut cabinets made. How different? Probably not that different. The same happened with the doors. A year after sourcing, hanging and painting original 1930s ones, we had them all replaced.

Because we did so much building work ourselves, it feels wrong just to chuck a few things in a room and leave it for 10 years. It's like a musician practising a piece over and over until it's just right.

We've done a lot of repainting, too, much of it with the Dulux Chalky Downs range – we'd do a room in Chalky Downs 4, then change it to Chalky Downs 5. Then change it back to 4 again.

Funnily enough, I don't enjoy decorating. If I never had to do it again, I'd be happy... Hmm. Is that true? Well, we're selling soon and if I'm honest, I'm excited about making a new house look nice. I just hope whoever buys this one takes good care of it.

Arno Maasdorp runs the Saltoun Supper Club restaurant from his two-and-a-bit-bedroom flat in Brixton, south London.

If people come to eat here two or three times, the place will never look the same. On a Wednesday, everything might be black. On Friday, maybe it'll be green. And the next week, it could all be white.

Food-styling and the various jobs I've had cooking and running the hospitality in restaurants and hotels over the past 20 years is partly what enables me to change the space so often, because I have so many props.

I have a "chandelier" made from a branch hanging above the dining table – that'll probably last until the spring bulbs I've planted come out, then I'll put those everywhere. In the past, I've suspended 30 little Victorian lampshades above the dining table, and for a party I created an Alice in Wonderland theme and hung a giant papier mâché teacup there. I also had the tablecloth running into the curtain – backlit with plastic silver cutlery stuck to it. It's more theatrical than about interiors.

The dining room looks great at the moment lit by lamps and tealights. But when the spring comes, I'll give it a cleaner, more modern look – clear the clutter and use paler colours. And in the hall, for the summer, I'll make some Sixties-style wall art with string and nails. What you'll mostly see is the shadow it creates, changing as the days get longer.

It's never huge structural things; the function of a room stays the same – it's just the skin, the veneer, so you never come back and it doesn't feel like home.

It's a creative outlet and the older I get, the more I realise not everyone has the ability to do what I do. It's a reminder to keep doing it.

Emma Spencer recently moved to a 16th-century manor house in Kent with her husband, Tim, three children, and a baby on the way. She runs Workshop Creative, a graphic-design studio.

Never again. I always say that – and then when it's finished, I can't stop looking in estate agents' windows. Compulsive house-buying is quite a bad shopping habit.

Right now, I'm seven months pregnant and in the midst of total chaos – there's no kitchen, and the house is a building site. Hopefully the baby won't be early.

It started when I bought my first flat, about 15 years ago. The value kept going up and I got the bug. I bought another four in quick succession. Most I've renovated and let out – it's partly about profit, but more than that it's the satisfaction I get from doing a place up: I'd much rather go shopping for the house than for myself – until I think I've got it to how I want it to look. Then I want to go on to something new.

The Greenwich flat didn't have much scope for change. But the next, a Victorian conversion, I completely reconfigured. For a while, I felt settled. But then I found a new project, a boxy Sixties house – I did loads to it and felt really attached to it. Not enough to stay in it, though.

This summer, Tim and I sold our six-bedroom place in London. We extended, built a balcony, a garden room, ripped out the kitchen. Some people love fashion. I love homes.

Now we've bought a medieval manor house. As it's Grade II-listed we can't alter the outside: probably good as if we could, we would.

But at the end of this, I'd like to settle for a bit, put my feet up and be happy not to be among building work. But who knows? Maybe I'll never be satisfied.

Stu Campbell, from Kent, is managing director of Fire, a consumer and lifestyle PR company. He lives in a two-bedroom flat with his partner, Grant.

It's almost exactly four years since we bought our flat – and we've redecorated it six times.

The focus has mainly been the front room. Before moving in together, we'd both lived in quite neutral homes – all mushrooms and creams – and were excited about having a blank canvas and experimenting. The place was a new-build and painted magnolia – so it was perfect.

We started with an olive-green feature wall, and bought a whole set of new accessories to go with it: cushions, rugs, tealight holders, vases, uplighters, photo frames... It lasted about six months. Friends kept saying it looked a bit "Army". Not really the look we were after.

Then we went terracotta. Lasted about two weeks. We'd put all the olive accessories into storage and bought lots of orange and black things to go with it. I didn't mind it too much but Grant hated it.

Then we went blue, and again got accessories to match. It seemed quite cold. After that, we saw a magazine feature on the "Arabic look" – all aubergines, golds and rich reds – and found a stripy cushion in the right shades. We painted the wall aubergine but couldn't stand it.

Nevertheless, we did try to carry the look through to the bedroom, by painting a wall gold. But it showed every brush stroke and the effect was a bit "shabby chic", which didn't go at all with the style of our flat. It lasted nearly two years, though. But now we're back to neutral. I think we've got the bug out of our system now – and maybe grown up a bit.

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