Edward Bulmer's dos and don'ts of decorating

In the latest of a series on interior designers' decorating principles, Edward Bulmer shares his top tips for creating a timeless home that respects both the building's history and the future

Do ‘begin at the beginning’

Architects design houses without knowing what the décor is going to be. There is so much that comes before interior design in any building and it is crucial to start in the right place. Consider how a new-build will catch the light, observe what is precious about an existing house and with both understand how you will live in it, now and if possible, well into the future – even if you sell up, someone else needs to want to buy what they can see is a well-considered and practical living space!

Do consider the past

Learn about a house's history as much as you can and how it would have looked over time if you inherit or buy an old place – you can do this through books (better than online) and best of all is to visit old buildings as we live in a country that has an amazing range of them open to the public.

Do scheme

Turn your wish list, mind palace, Pinterest boards, pictures/info torn out of magazines or however you do it into some sort of basic masterplan, so that you can capture what is important to you and then budget it as far as possible. If you find you cannot afford all that you want to do (this is normal), get your priorities agreed and only embark on doing what you can do well.

Edward Bulmer's ‘Invisible Green’ used in an Edinburgh interior by Susan Deliss

Elsa Young

Do consider that behind every decision you will make there is a human story

It may be one you can embrace like a wonderful craftswoman at work, or it might be an ‘invisible’ underpaid and unfairly treated factory worker. We should take no joy or satisfaction from creativity that involves destruction or exploitation. All our decisions have environmental and social impact and we have ignored this for too long now!

Do support others

Share your ‘little black book’ so that the next time you need that fabulous glass blower they are still in business because you have inspired others to commission them. Show their work on your channels and give them due credit.

Do be sustainable

But what does this mean? It requires you to know how everything is made. Explore the ingredients, enquire about the energy use and waste streams in manufacture, make sure it’s not cheap for the wrong reasons. Usually, the easiest way to ensure this is to assume ‘natural’ as your default. This will mean you are avoiding fossil fuels, hazardous chemicals and materials that can’t be composted, reused or repaired.

The staircase at Pitshill, restored by Edward Bulmer

Paul Massey

Don’t fight your building

There is always a way to evolve a workable solution, it may just not be what you first thought of. Embrace old features as they can give you a starting point, even if you don’t like them, integrating them into a scheme will be a better way to reduce their visual impact than decorating around them.

Don’t forget the budget

Never blow your whole budget on some ‘must have’ before you understand the full cost of your project. That said, money spent on quality will usually see you a return and if a moveable piece of furniture will answer your needs, choose that as built in furniture can’t be taken with you (and anyway may be wastefully stripped out by the next owner).

Don’t think there is a right and a wrong when you choose paint colours

There are ‘rules’ about complementary opposites and the right tonality is key to making schemes work, but these will prove to be very helpful to you. Think of paint as a backdrop and reserve your bold colours for furnishings or artwork.

Don’t be led by trends

Never follow fashion unless you know you will still like your choice when it is out of fashion.


Edward Bulmer is a member of The List by House & Garden, our essential directory of design professionals. Visit The List by House & Garden here.