Ever walked past a great house and wondered what kind of spectacular interior style lay behind it’s doors? If the answer is yes, then you’ll be in your element here, as I’ve decided to use my blogging as a cover to get me inside some of these houses, and then kindly spill all the style secrets to you. First on the list is a beautiful Victorian townhouse in east Belfast, owned by Charlotte and Dave Hughes. Stylistas in their own right, their home oozes original charm alongside bold interior schemes, reflecting their eye for design and colour. I had a chat with them to find out a bit about what inspires their style and how they’ve managed to bring this beautiful period home very much back to life.
What attracted you both to this area of Belfast?
Charlotte: At the outset, I don’t think there was anything specific other than it ticked a number of boxes logistically, to be honest. Dave worked in town, so he wanted to be as close to the city centre as possible. I’m from Holywood, so east of the city made sense in terms of being close to family. As it turns out, we kind of lucked out, in that there’s a real feeling of rejuvenation around here at the moment with the amount of great new spots opening in the Newtownards Road area. And we love being close to the buzz of Ballyhack and Belmont, so that was a bonus.
What is it that inspires your home style and how do you decide where to begin with a room?
C: From the moment we walked into the house on our first viewing, it immediately felt like home. The atmosphere was so welcoming; the house itself had just been severely neglected!
In terms of home style I like to use the term ‘Modern Classic.’ By that I mean we love bold colours, patterns and fresh styles, but it was really important to us to balance this with the built-in character of the house.
I felt it was so important to consider the history of the house, why things are the way they are, and respect it, if that makes sense? There’s something about the character and atmosphere in an old house that makes you want to care for it - it’s almost 130 years old, which is pretty amazing in my book! Unfortunately, a lot of the original features had been removed, so it was really important to preserve the ones that were left and make them the stars of the show, as it were, which is where the classic came in.
Choosing a starting point for your interior can sometimes be hard, but by taking an original feature and celebrating it, then working outwards from there, a starting point is naturally chosen — a type of constraint, but a good one, that helps you build a style around it. It also helps to think outside the box a little. Sometimes, when we decorate a room, we begin by thinking of paint and features for the walls themselves. But, by focusing on details such as the skirting or the cornice, you can change things entirely. That’s kind of how we worked in the living room - all of a sudden our ceiling became a real feature, borne out of our initial decision to highlight the cornice.
Your home celebrates an eclectic mix of objects and styles. Where do you go for inspiration, and is there anywhere you know you’re guaranteed to find things you love?
C: I love interior design magazines such as Period Living and House Beautiful. I love reading about the challenges that other people have faced restoring period homes and how they have managed to overcome them.
Dave: I tend to find inspiration from lifestyle-based things. I follow lots of online brands and publications, such as Best Made Co, It’s Nice That, and Design Milk as well as magazines like Lagom. This tends to influence more practical objects in our home. I enjoy cooking so we built a pantry, and coffee, so we made a coffee shelf for all my coffee paraphernalia.
C : When it comes to shopping for interiors, I often shop with nothing particular in mind, then when I see something I like, I'll find somewhere for it. I find charity shops are great for browsing too. I love unique objects and I think when you get something cheap you are less afraid to paint or up-cycle it; we've adapted a lot of accessories and furniture to make them fit in with our style.
You've managed to create a coherent eclectic style. What’s your rule of thumb?
C: We were lucky to have a complete blank canvas with the house, which allowed us to work on our style on a room-to-room basis. The deep pink armchair was the first piece of furniture we bought and it just summed up the feel that we were trying to achieve; classic style fused with a bold modern twist because of it’s colour. Everything else was built up from there. It takes time to gather a collection of pieces you love. So many objects in the house have meaning behind them, based on something that we love, and we wanted to incorporate all of them. So to keep things coherent we've kept a thread running through the colour palette which makes it all fit together... hopefully!
You’ve created a different feel for each space and yet it all fits seamlessly together. Any themes that run through the house?
C: We’ve tried to create some continuity throughout the house with the help of recurring themes or ideas. So in most rooms you’ll find a subtle shout-out to another area of the house. For example, in the middle of the parquet floor in the living room there’s a lovely diamond feature. We tried to build on that when it came to other flooring throughout the house and garden. Paving stones are laid in diamonds and our bathroom floor features a geometric diamond pattern. If we didn’t have the original floor as inspiration, we probably wouldn’t have gone there! Other original features of the house included the incredible arches over the front door and in the hallway. So again, when it came to renovation and restoration, where we could, we featured arches, like in the knock- through between the living and dining areas, and by echoing the arched silouhette with mirrors, too.
Has travel influenced how you’ve designed and styled your home?
D: Definitely. Whether we’ve realised it or not, travelling just makes you look at things differently. I’ve been very fortunate to visit some pretty cool offices and buildings for work over the years - it’s always interesting seeing where people work. Because office space is so expensive in places like New York, there's quite a lot of co-working and collaborative spaces. The energy and mix of people in spots like those is really inspiring. I wanted my home office to feel like a co-working space. So, even though it's usually just me, there’s room for others if collaborative space is ever needed. Also, beyond work, travelling is all about food, for me! Restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, bars - I get inspired by those places as much as by anything else.
We recently went to California for a wedding, hired a car and took in as much of the west coast as we could. After spending a few days in the desert we came home and bought the biggest cactus we could afford. So yes, travelling definitely influences our home style. Charlotte’s summer project is to re-do the bedroom with a Palm Springs vibe. Palm Springs is a pretty strange and interesting place...so I guess we'll see how that goes!