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How to design a calm & colourful sitting room

Interior decorator James Mackie explains how he created a layered, inviting country sitting room in his charming Cotswold cottage in the latest episode of ‘The Scheme’, the series where we delve into the details of putting together a decorative scheme with colours and fabrics. James’ 17th-century mellow-stone cottage in Oxfordshire, which he shares with his partner, gardener Arthur Parkinson, has been a popular one with our readers since we first published it in 2021. Although the historic house is tiny in its proportions, the sitting room is situated in an extension to the house, giving it high ceilings with plenty of room for elegant built-in bookcases, and James has filled it with colour and pattern through his clever use of textiles. Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and nearby Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris, James started with a ‘keystone’ fabric, in this case Bennison’s ‘Wabi Sabi’ design, added in other patterns by GP&J Baker and Robert Kime, and scattered well-chosen plains such as Rose Uniacke’s ‘Cotton Velvet’ to allow the eye to rest. James advises on how to add texture into a room, how to combine patterns, and how to create a calming colour scheme with bright accents. “There are moments of dynamic energy, but there are also moments where we pull the tempo back and quieten things down,” he says. If you enjoyed the breakdown of James’ sitting room, make sure to take a look at ‘Notes from a Garden’, in which James’ partner Arthur Parkinson explains how he put together the tiny rose-filled country garden just outside the window.

Released on 01/27/2023


Hello, I'm James Mackie.

I'm an interior decorator

and I'm gonna show you how I approach

putting together a scheme for a country sitting room.

[upbeat music]

This is a 17th century stone cottage in Oxfordshire,

and the room is a completely new edition

at the back of the house.

This house, like so many of its type,

is long on charm and soul,

but short on natural light and high ceilings.

The room needed to function as a sitting room

for four to six people to gather.

It also needed to accommodate a collection of books

and we needed to make space

where some work could take place.

We thought very carefully about how best

to create this addition to a 17th century stone house,

and we looked closely at the arts and crafts movement,

which was centered in the Cotswolds.

William Morris's house at Kelmscott Manor

is only a few miles away, and so, after much thought,

we adopted the principles and aesthetics

of the arts and crafts movement for this room.

[upbeat music]

So we have our room,

and before we start to look at fabrics and colors and paint,

it's absolutely vital to create the floor plan of the room

with a furniture layout,

which will enable you to identify

the number of fabrics you need, what you need them for

and the scale at which they will appear in the room.

For example, a sofa will perhaps take 16

to 18 meters of fabric,

but a cushion will only take a meter.

Putting a scheme together

is really a series of building blocks,

and the first thing to find is your keystone.

This is the fabric

which you're gonna come back to again and again

each time you make a decision.

So all of the elements are gonna reference back

to this one moment.

In this room, the keystone is gonna be this wonderful fabric

by Bennison called Wabi Sabi.

It's gonna go on the sofa,

so there's gonna be quite a lot of it in the space.

What I love about it is this vibrant blue,

which is gonna bring real energy into the scheme,

and which we're gonna reference back to in other elements.

The next fabric we're gonna look for,

keeping the Wabi Sabi in mind,

is the fabric that's gonna go on the armchair,

which will sit in the bay window of this room.

And what I've chosen is this wonderful fabric by GP&J Baker,

which is from their signature collection,

and it's been in production since 1912.

It was created very much in the arts and crafts aesthetic,

and so it felt just right for what we're trying to achieve

in the way this room overall would look,

but also how it's gonna work next to the Wabi Sabi.

It's got the echo of the blue

but it's also not the main event here.

So this fabric's gonna enable us

to draw in other colors into our scheme.

It's got some wonderful greens here.

We've got the golden orange, yellow, and the red.

So I'm very excited about where we can go

having this in the room.

So we have our Wabi Sabi and we have our Rockbird.

We're now gonna take things down a little bit,

in terms of the temper of this scheme.

I'm gonna show you

this wonderful chocolate velvet by Rose Uniacke.

It's really glorious, dark rich brown.

I love the combination of blue and brown together.

And there is brown in the Rockbird fabric,

which is gonna enable us to tie all of this together.

This is gonna go onto a George the Third side chair,

which is a very handsome 18th century piece of furniture.

Very simple.

It's basically gonna look

like a big piece of dark chocolate.

So with our velvet, we've introduced texture to the room

and I want to amplify that,

and I'm gonna do that with this really wonderful stripe.

It's a weave by Robert Kime.

It's often very good to have something geometric

or striped in a scheme 'cause it cuts through the pattern

and that's what it does with the Rockbird.

It's, again, beautiful with the blue,

which reacts so very well with the Wabi Sabi,

which is a keystone, as you remember.

And it's gonna go on the ottoman stool,

which will sit in front of the sofa

between the armchair and the velvet side chair.

So we've established four of our key building blocks

for the principle pieces of upholstered furniture

in the room, and this is the stage

at which I start to think about paint.

And in this room, I chose a wonderful color,

which is a brown by Edward Bulmer called Mummy,

and it works brilliantly with the blue.

It also pulls together all of these other elements.

So it's so good with the reds, it's so good with the greens,

and we're gonna bring in some yellow,

which I'll show you next.

I'm now thinking about the accessories for this scheme,

and when I say that, I mean cushions and I mean lampshades.

And here, there's an opportunity to play a little bit

because it is a moment where you can look at the scheme

that you've put together

and actually enhance it and enliven it.

It's a bit like seasoning in cookery.

I picked out a pair of scrub cushions,

which are gonna sit on the sofa, on the Wabi Sabi,

in this wonderful ecat by Robert Kime.

And you can see immediately

that it's pulling the blue and the red

and it's sitting really beautifully on the brown.

The brown's activating all of these colors.

Over on the Rockbird armchair,

I bought a vintage yellow silk cushion

from Sibyl Colefax and John Fowler,

and that, again, is amping up this idea

of having some additional colors in the room.

We're also gonna add some card lampshades

by Rosie Dereaux in a yellow card.

And then in terms of green,

I really want to play with that idea too,

and so there's a green lamp to the left of the sofa.

And at this point, I was thinking

I really want to have a rug in this room,

and obviously finding a beautiful antique rug

takes a lot of time, but it got there in the end.

The clincher in buying this rug

was that it had this wonderful, vibrant blue in the border.

When I conceived the scheme for this room,

I didn't include curtains.

But then actually, once we started to use the room,

I decided I really did want to have curtains

'cause we were using it in the evening

and all the year round.

And it really is a good example

of how you don't need to have everything set in stone.

So I chose for the curtains and the Roman blind,

which sits in the bay window,

this very beautiful Ruskin Linen by Morris and Co.

The color's called wine,

and I think, principally,

I was thinking about how it would work

with all of the other elements.

I was also thinking about paintings by Van Dyke

and thinking about this wonderful brown rich velvet

and the brown of the walls.

And then you sort of, you see in those paintings

a lot of this sort of color and it just seemed to click

and it felt right.

So the curtains were the final piece of the jigsaw

and the scheme is complete.

So I think it's fair to say that our scheme here

is no shy retiring wallflower.

We've got quite a lot happening, but it works,

and it works because all of the elements are in harmony.

They're all connected to each other

and there is balance through the scheme.

So there are moments of dynamic energy

but there are also moments where we pull the tempo back

and quieten things down.

And it is that approach

which I think makes this room a success.

[jazz music]

Starring: James Mackie