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Feel like I live in a box!! Help!

22 December, 2017
last modified: 27 December, 2017

Our house is an ex local authority one, built I believe just after 1945. The rooms are like boxes, not in the small sense, just plain and boring.

I come from a house where we had features, like picture rails, chimney breasts and still even servant bells. I love the character of my childhood home and my parents have updated it but kept its classic style too.

I would love to have a similar look but am not convinced it’s possible. Even so, no matter what I attempt to do, it never seems right.

I would love some design ideas and help.

Comments (45)
  • PRO
    Louisa Interiors Consultancy

    Perhaps the colour schemes or the furniture materials are taking
    the interior in another direction from the look you envision?

    For a classic-inspired interior, colours such as classic white, light grey, duck egg blue, beige,
    taupe are good primary colours. Accents of gold, silver, black or burgundy
    compliment these colours nicely.

    Also, think about the materials that remind you of your
    childhood home for inspiration. Perhaps there’s a type of wood you had such as
    walnut or oak?

    Even the slightest of soft furnishings such as the curtains,
    a rug or the cushions can change the interiors look completely.

    Don't give up hope just yet. Where there's a will there's a


    Louisa Interiors Consultation

    nicola_newman72 thanked Louisa Interiors Consultancy
  • nicola_newman72

    Many thanks. I have to admit, what we have done since being here, is tried to avoid the beige and browns of our previous home. Which were lovely, but boring after a while. That home was a lovely old terraced house, with chimney breasts and high ceilings and character. Sadly, it was smaller, with no garden!

    I keep wanting to accidentally break the footy table you can see in the dining room! My son wouldn’t be too happy though. And until the rest of the house is done, there will be no room for it anywhere else.

  • PRO
    Man About The House - The DIY & Odd Job Handyman

    I agree. Looking at the choice of furnishings, everything is very modern. You can probably do something with the fireplace, it's a real flame gas fire isn't it? Therefore, you could change to a real flame gas log burner and change the surround for something more traditional, or a real flame fire instead of the log burner.

    Have built in units either side of the fireplace and put the T.V on one of those, thus removing the very modern stand.
    Definitely get rid of the vertical blinds.......................they really don't help at all. Use maybe Roman blinds as well as the curtains, or voiles?

    I like the dining room chairs and table, clearly the football table has to go. Remove the washable tablecloth during the day and stow it away until you eat. Have a lovely table runner? A nice floor lamp near the table in the dining room for some subtle lighting? Place it where the football table is?

    Change the blue for warm grey, it goes better with mustard and the flooring. Carry the theme through to the lounge. In fact, if you carry the flooring through even better. The wood theme helps give it a more traditional feel.

    nicola_newman72 thanked Man About The House - The DIY & Odd Job Handyman
  • Jen P

    I know exactly how you feel. Despite living in a house that is perfect for our family, it is very boxy and it is biggest reason we decided to move :( Having said that, there are loads of ways to add texture, layers and elegance whilst staying true to the age of your home.


    nicola_newman72 thanked Jen P
  • nicola_newman72

    Thank you, Man about the House. My fire is actually one of those freestanding suites. We had a back boiler removed and boarded the hole up. We never got the chimney looked at in relation to having another gas fire, although I assume it would be possible as the back boiler fire still worked. I suppose I could always buy a new surround and then a freestanding log burner. Or, I had been toying with the idea of renovating the current freestanding thing.

    The dining room pics are amazing. I love them. In fact, all of the pics are what I would like. The dining chairs are actually dark brown with covers on, so if necessary, can be swapped. However, I do like what you have done with the lamp. I went for the blue because ‘everyone has grey’ at the minute, but I have hated it ever since it was painted.

    I like the living room too, but can’t really get rid of the sofas and that’s the only place they can go. In addition, my husband has all of his technology on the opposite wall to the window and I hate it.

    May I ask what you used to create the new images?

  • nicola_newman72

    I have removed the cover but going to have to buy a clear piece of acrylic to go on top as I have kids. And although they’re generally quite careful, they don’t always think!

    I’m also definitely going to go for grey paint. Just need to start the choosing process, which I usually hate!! And I fear the footy table may meet its end soon. I also plan on getting a cover for the radiator as it’s quite old and although not rusty or anything, is quite unsightly.

  • nicola_newman72

    Another thing, we don’t have a chimney breast in the middle, it’s like one big bit, then an alcove into the odd shaped bay window. Excuse the Christmas mess.

  • cranked_up
    Have you considered coving to soften the look of the room?
  • PRO
    Man About The House - The DIY & Odd Job Handyman

    Looking good! If you notice in the pics I posted above of the cupboards, they're free standing so that it doesn't matter about the lack of alcoves. They just kind of sit there, just like the fireplace. You don't have to have alcoves to place cabinets either side. They don't have to be tall like that either, they could be more like this:- Any size really!

    You could also try a corner unit at one end, facing the window but also moving the sofa to face the fireplace.

    I still think two cupboards is better.

  • nicola_newman72
    We already have a sofa on the wall opposite the fireplace. Here is a pic.

    On app at the minute so can’t see who has commented, but yes, we had thought of coving.

    I have just discovered the Sketch bit in the app so will try and have a play around as well.

    Am still very grateful for any more suggestions though and thanks again to everyone who has commented.
  • alyper

    Agree with Man about the House - the vertical blinds should go, and the tie backs give a dated look. Also agree the TV media bits do need hiding. Adding colourful cushions and a rug would help a lot too. Habitat have various tv stands/cupboards with slatted fronts in oiled wood which hide everything, and everything works even with the doors closed.

  • E D
    For some reason I sadly can't see the other comments (bar one) so apologies if mentioned before, but the few items of furniture you have, seem to be pushed into corners or against walls.
    This probably emphasises the 'boxiness' of your spaces.
    Moving your sofa further away from the bay window (if you insist on leaving it there) and into the room by at least 60 cm off the window/wall will surely already make an improvement.
  • PRO
    Design Fix Interiors

    Some great recommendations there. Another suggestion to add is that by introducing fabrics with textures and layering items - such as adding a rug, cushions or throws, will break up the space and soften the look of the room. It would make it feel less like a box. At the moment everything is flat or plain.

  • Glug Lug
    To play devil's advocate, why are you trying to reproduce a pastiche of the style of a completely different house in a modern house? Go with the style of the house and play to its advantages. Mock this and that can easily look tacky.
  • nicola_newman72
    Thanks again for all the comments. I don’t suppose I necessarily want to recreate the whole thing and copy it as such, more just introduce some of the things that make it feel like home and add some depth to my ‘cardboard box’.

    Having said that, your idea of working with what I have is very good. Sadly, I still have no sense of style in that respect!

    I have taken on board the other comments though, and am currently scouring the Internet for things that will introduce some texture and personality.
  • K B

    Deeper, warmer colours in your soft furnishings would help a lot I think. Warmly coloured curtains would make the sitting room much more cosy. Burnt oranges for rug and curtains might work with the carpet and wall colours, with brighter orange cushions. Try to get some texture and pattern on and around your leather sofa.

    Ikea do a range of sheer curtains that would give you privacy. I have used the pure cotton ones called Matilda to hide some vertical blinds that I disliked but that are still functional. Only £15 per pair, I cut off the tabs and threaded them straight onto a pole and they look great. There are several new designs in Ikea's latest collection, most with proper header tape rather than tabs.

    The fireplace is fine but I'd put the tv to the left of it on a nice warm wooden unit to hide all the gadgetry. Sheesham would be nice, or walnut.

    Don't forget artwork too.

    Good luck. It's a really good space and I'm sure you'll be able to create the look you want.

  • PRO
    Cormar Carpets

    Hi Nicola, have you considered experimenting with a textured carpet? It can make the floor a real feature whilst adding a stylish, contemporary look. The beauty of a textured of striped carpet is that they add an extra dimension to a living space or hallway. Keep the room classic with light stripes or textures and team with soft neutral walls for a timeless feel. Add interest with lamps, statement chairs and mix classic furniture with contemporary for an elective feel. https://www.cormarcarpets.co.uk/product_apollo-elite/product_apollo-elite.php  

  • soozmacrae

    I agree with the comments above. We to also live in an 1950s ex council house. The rooms are a decent size but devoid of any features. Remove the vertical blinds, move the tv and all the other gagets to a corner(that way you wont need the vertical blinds). Your husband sounds like mine, but here is no need for all that stuff to be on display.

  • PRO
    Homepoise Homestyling
    Hello Nicola

    Most of the suggestions above are really good. However, there is loads of them and still not a scheme to ensure ending up with a cohesive and pleasant scheme. My suggestion is: before investing in any new furniture, rugs, paints, soft furnishing etc. Make a moodboard/styleboard. If you cannot do it yourself get a professional to make it. Is should not be too expensive and it will save you from spending money on the wrong thing.

    Once you have a clear idea (and visual) of what you want, then start analysing what you have against what your goal and see if you can make any of what you have work. There are many ways of amending, up-cycling etc. (you have done something already with your chairs covers which I think it's brilliant!)

    Don't give up. Your space should be welcoming to you and even box-like rooms can look amazing.
  • K B

    Nicola, it would help if we knew what you need to keep and what you are prepared to replace. I'd assumed you are keeping the carpet and sofa and need to work with them.

  • nicola_newman72
    Thank you again everyone.

    K B - yes, that’s probably a good idea. Carpet is staying and also sofa at present. As well as the dining table.

    As we are working our way through the rest of the house (it was my husband’s Grandma’s so still in the 70’s when we bought it), we have the hall, stairs and landing and our bedroom still to do. When we first did the living room, we stupidly decided to put lining paper on the walls, instead of getting them plastered like we have done with the rest of the house. So, we will likely do the whole thing again at some point. But still probably keep the sofa as it’s in good condition.

    That will probably be either the back end of this year, or early next year. I think in the meantime I will try and add some texture and colour with accessories and things that can easily be changed.

    Also, the sofas don’t really fit anywhere else so we may consider replacing when we do the whole thing again.
  • nicola_newman72
    Here is the dining room at present (please excuse the child :-D). I much prefer the table this way. I also have illnesses and my husband often works away so I am not sure when I will get the dining room painted again. Maybe I will try and match things to this colour just for the time being.
  • K B

    That's lovely. Well done with the paint colour.

  • aiexandrina

    I think colour is the key - the jewel colours of oriental rugs for example. You'd only need one to make a difference. Lose the technology feel of the tv stand. A chest of drawers instead would look furnished if there is room and if it would function. The curtains have a modern geometric look and if softened with a plain fabric in a warm colour [- old rose is nice and traditional] avoids doing anything radical to the walls. Dyeing them would distract from the hanging arrangement. What's underneath the table cloth? A change of protective material - floral - would soften, if you can bear it. Good luck Throwing money at it is not necessarily the answer!

  • PRO
    Wolfe Interiors

    Although your home doesn’t have any period features, it is definitely possible to give your home personality and character. Layout is a major way of making space more usable and homely.. as well as knowing which colours will give your home the feel you are trying to achieve.

    If you come to redesign any of your home, feel free to get in touch. I offer remote design services starting from £150 which can be money well spent to avoid costly mistakes.. Good luck with it all!

  • PRO
    Joy Home Interiors
    Have you managed to get started making your box and beautiful home?
  • PRO
    Feature Radiators

    What about a lovely cast iron or column radiator?

    We do a range of 2 column models like the ones pictured that sit close to the wall so would work well in the dining room for instance.

    Radiators for hallways - restricted depth · More Info

    Radiators for hallways - restricted depth · More Info

    In the living room, a vertical steel column radiator might be a good option.

    Radiators in narrow spaces · More Info

  • PRO
    Feature Radiators

    Give me a call on 01274 515734 if you need some advice. Warm regards

  • Gregory Wells-King
    I find the easiest approach to these problems is to set the age of the house as the design date I.e 1945 and then look towards that date in design/art as a starting point towards other design way points you like.

    For example start building a pallet of colours that were popular around that date pick some that you like.

    Look out for technology or emerging ideas of the period in industry or home life, anything that was happening and see if you can grab a detail or two.

    Look towards the fashion of the period and see if you can cross over a theme for soft furnishings or home items etc

    You get the idea.

    Sometimes diverting the eye is all you need, que Vintage film poster. Just a thought. Good luck.
  • Ro Ro

    Actually, I have come in today rather late on this interesting conversation and as I was reading down I was gradually thinking along the lines of Gregory's wise words above.

    However, my instinct would be for you to look at the Arts and Crafts movement. Your solid, plain, oak dining table (keep it!) and wooden flooring seem to resonate with that vibe.

    So, if you do not have it already, my suggestion would be to continue (at your own pace) with the wooden flooring over the entire downstairs.

    My recommendation would be to use just one colour throughout the downstairs. Have muted rugs. With the Arts and Crafts style you have so many interesting 'slubby' colours to choose from (see palette

    pic attached) e.g. from a calm 'putty' shade (top left, second one in) right through to the sages, blue-greys, dirty mustards and so on.

    Homogenising all the rooms in this way will be restful and space-creating. Your big dark brown sofa will fit in.

    Pick accent colours from the palette. I think dark copper or bronze would go well too - as lamp bases, objects etc. Your fireplace surround looks OK - simple and fine. Though, the lack of chimney breast both sides is a real irritation! A simple secondhand piece of furniture (e.g. Bookcase - ideally the height of the mantelpiece) to the right of the chimney breast - painted the same wall colour, and an oak corner piece on the left will balance it all.

    Finally, I think you underestimate yourself. Follow your instincts - they are good!

  • titiankim
    Can I ask where the arts and crafts pallete is from? I'm planning to redecorate a room with am arts and crafts fireplace in the next couple of years so would love to save this for for inspiration
  • Ro Ro

    Hi titiankim. Some time ago I found the palette pic on Google searching under variations on: 'images of Arts and Crafts style'. Then clicked on it and pressed 'save image' and got it on my iPad - not a techno type! Good luck!

  • nicola_newman72
    I meant to post on here. I have changed the covers on the dining chairs and I like it much better. I have a few more things to get (curtains, radiator cover, skip for the football table ).

    We are going to leave the living room for a while and then overhaul it properly early next year so I am going to do a mood board for it.

    We have the hall, stairs landing and our bedroom to overhaul in the meantime.

    Thanks again for all of your comments and tips.
  • jamesanddeirdre

    We own a similar 1940s ex council house. It is a lovely house with large rooms and a big garden. We added picture rails to most of the rooms and a wood burner to the lounge.

  • Lisa
    Hi one thing that struck me about your photos is that everything is square or rectangular! How about round mirror/art, fluffy non angular stuff (throws etc) x
  • Robyn J

    The biggest problem with this question is that it's all so deeply subjective. That said, I used to live in an ex-council maisonette in London, and the way I dealt with it was painting all of the walls in bright colours. I had turquoise in the sitting room, yellow hallway and stairs, a pink bedroom, a lime green loo... but I tied it all together by painting the skirting boards and coving throughout the property in bright matt white.

    The skirting and coving was very simple and had been put in retrospectively (albeit not by me) - in fact I think the coving was made of some sort of polystyrene, so I imagine it was incredibly cheap, although it didn't look it - and I think it made a huge difference. So I'd certainly consider adding that, as it makes the room look more "finished" instead of the cheap standard that council flats usually aim for.

    For me, this was transformative. As I say - it's so subjective. But although it's undeniably a faff to paint a room, remember that it's also cheaper than buying new furniture, and easier to replace and start again!

    For what it's worth, I now rent out that flat and recently had it painted in a neutral off-white colour, with new grey carpets. It looks smart, but not nearly so characterful as it previously did. Like I say: subjective. But the important thing, to me, is walking into a place and it immediately feeling like home. Be brave and paint those walls ;)

  • PRO
    Andrea Sartori Ltd

    DO you own or do you rent? This will influence your decor decisions greatly. I~f owned, consider crown mouldings and rich fabrics to give you the manor house feel. If rented go super modern and coordinate throws on couch to go with the yellow chairs and have one colour merge into the next room. Think lemon and turqoise lemon and brown lemon and light greem etc (not necessarily those colours, but I just picked up on the colour of your chairs, which I assume you don't want to reupholster, but any unchangeable in your existing scheme can be updated and followed though. Electronics are a 'passion killer' and if you wqant character and cosy, hide them away, where possible in dressers or convert a painted second hand furniture with curls and swirls. HIghlight the fireplace with colour and think in terms of mirrors for spaciousness, but not the one you have. This colour is cold and you need warm colours in the space to make it feel less boxy. Hope this helps

  • nicola_newman72
    Thanks again. Yes, we own. As I say, I’m going to create a mood board between now and when we do it.

    We’re just pricing up the hall/stairs/landing and our bedroom for skimming, electrics, a cloaks cupboard!! So that will take priority. But, I agree about the technology! I hate it.
  • Ro Ro

    Wow! Nicola! What a potentially marvellous twist of fate!

  • Ro Ro

    Living in what feels like a box - on the goggle box!

  • nicola_newman72
    I have emailed asking for further information! Watch this space! :-)
  • nicola_newman72
    Sadly, it’s just for people in Greater London and the South, which is definitely not me! Never mind. :-)
  • PRO
    AWESOME Digital Design Agency

    Personality of Color: How Room Color Affects Mood

    Keep in mind that each color has a psychological value. Think about how certain colors make you feel; they can influence any emotion, from tranquility to rage. To create peace and harmony in your home, choose your colors wisely; some colors in large amounts might have the opposite effect on you and your loved ones.Once you find something you like, limit the number of colors in a room to no more than three or four. Too many colors can make a room look busy or cluttered. Paint is fairly inexpensive and transforms a room more quickly than anything else, so you can afford to experiment a little.

  • PRO

    I agree with previous comments about replacing the tv and xbox stand with a more traditional looking cupboard. If you put turquoise blue cushions on the sofa and used blue as a compliment colour to the mustard , this could tie it all together cheaply. Butter muslin at the windows or even opaque film would give you privacy without feeling too officey. finally if you feel up to a spot of DIY you could have the football table on a pulley above the dining table ( maybe even installing led lights and something pretty on the base.... whatever you do enjoy.

  • jbtanyderi
    As long as the room is a shrine to St. Television, it will remain awkward. Start with a good large rug: it will anchor the furniture and provide colours for you to draw on. Put proper, full lined drapes in that whole bay add art and lamps.
    Putting up mouldings and a picture rail is easy, and not particularly expensive (unless you go for fairly large mouldings).

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