The Luke Edward Hall aesthetic: conjure some elegant splendour with what is to hand
The Luke Edward Hall aesthetic: conjure some elegant splendour with what is to hand © Lucy Ranson for the FT

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I’m working from home and keeping in touch with colleagues using video conferencing. Compared with my cool workmates’ set-ups, my home-office backdrop looks drab, with its plain white walls and tired Ikea curtains.

Do you have suggestions for quick, stylish fixes to fool them into thinking I live in elegant splendour?

Video conferencing — I am not a fan, but that is because I have always preferred to keep meetings to a minimum. They take up so much time. And these days I find them taking up even more, as I arrange my surroundings before video calls.

Are those daffodils past their best? That pair of purple dinner candles behind me — should they be pale blue? Scratch that, let’s do one pale blue, one lime green. Is that our compost heap on the horizon? Better move rooms.

There are other things to worry about. What is this light doing for me? Are these poisonous-green walls infusing my face with a wraithlike glow? Remember: stay near natural light and make sure your laptop is eye-level. Prop it up on a pile of books.

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I must admit that I am quite used to this level of knick-knack titivation, even in the workplace. I take most of my meetings in my London studio, which is stuffed with trinkets. It resembles my home: shelves, tables and chairs are strewn with open books and magazines, scraps of letters, photographs and bits of old china.

I work best this way, with lots of things to pick up and look at. Now I am working from home, the aesthetics of my environment have not changed. If your home (now also workplace) is drab, how can we spice things up?

Two mugs by Astier de Villatte
Two mugs by Astier de Villatte

A minor note: we can all agree that we have been getting through vast quantities of tea these past few weeks. Do me a favour and get yourself a new vessel. I had been looking at a spectacular mug from 8 Holland Street, made by the ceramicist Prue Piper and decorated with the face of a Green Man, insects and bugs, for weeks until I finally caved.

It is now or never, I decided, while pondering how, in this mad situation, we could all do with elevating our basic daily rituals. Mugs made by Astier de Villatte in Paris feel decadently grand, too.

Now the bigger picture: let’s think of your video frame as a painting or a piece of set design. Composition is key. First, your backdrop. If it is elegant splendour you are after (who isn’t at the moment, quite frankly?), look at drawings of stage sets by two of my favourite designers from the past, Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler. Then banish white walls and replace them with something sumptuous. I am thinking lavish swags.

Mug by Prue Piper with the face of a Green Man, insects and bugs
Mug by Prue Piper with the face of a Green Man, insects and bugs

Fashion them from whatever you have — bed sheets, perhaps — and tie them up with gold cord. Surely you have tinsel leftover from Christmas? Or how about a wall of scrunched aluminium foil or cellophane? Imagine the sparkle.

A stage set design by Rex Whistler
A stage set design by Rex Whistler © Alamy Stock Photo

Think theatrical. In my studio, I have six towering, pastel-pink and green-painted plaster Ionic columns from a set of shop windows I designed a few years ago. They weigh practically nothing and I often move them around. One of these half-hidden behind your draped fabric swags would be exquisite.

No spare columns? Think like David Hockney and make cut-outs. (See pictures of his 1960s Notting Hill flat with its genius faux-leafy palms.)

'When arranging a video call, I might bring in a plaster cast of a classical head'
'When arranging a video call, I might bring in a plaster cast of a classical head' © Lucy Ranson for the FT

Accessories are vital. When arranging a video call, I might bring in a piece of fake coral or a plaster cast of a classical head (tantalisingly, only an eye and an ear are left in shot). Flowers, of course. Big ones, though. Forget horrid succulents. You want giant white lilies for optimum, opulent elegance.

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This has got me thinking of tableaux vivants — a type of stage device most popular in theatre in the late 1800s, consisting of a staged scene with a cast of characters, stationary and silent, surrounded by extravagant props and scenery. Pose, costume, make-up and lighting were important.

That is your checklist for a successful video call, right there.

A word of warning: tableaux vivants sometimes featured virtually nude models. I fear this behaviour would take your video call someplace else, and am not sure I would recommend it.

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