Peonies (Paeonia sp.) arranged in vase and bowl © Getty Images
Room dressing: be generous with flowers © Getty
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This article was originally published on 19 April 2019

Luke answers readers’ questions on design and stylish living every fortnight. Email him at lukeedward.hall@ft.com or follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

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I’m about to sell my house, and the estate agent will be taking photographs for the sale listing. Obviously I will tidy up, but friends have told me I should think about “styling” my rooms to make my sale stand out. What do they mean — and where should I begin?

I have spent approximately 95 per cent of the past six months glued to Rightmove and Zoopla, desperately trying to find a house to rent in the countryside. So I have had my fair share of trawling through estate agents’ grim photography.

What have I learnt? It really is very irritating to see other people’s things in a house that could soon be yours. Sure, the bones of your building might be fabulous: perfect flagstones, windows that flood rooms with light, and, wait, what’s that? A baby-blue Aga in the kitchen. But seeing other people’s personal possessions about the place is not helpful for those with less able imaginations. So pack away as much as you can and try to create a blank canvas for prospective buyers.

That said, a blank canvas does not mean the rooms should have nothing in them at all. Often people will not be able to visualise how a room will look if it is unfurnished. Just make sure to get rid of clutter: shoes, toys, photographs and the like.

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In my case, I would probably want to remove the 378 souvenir magnets and that picture of Cher from my fridge door.

Some things can stay: a nice selection of books and magazines stacked on coffee tables, ottomans and bedside tables. NOT that giant black Tom Ford book, though — the one that literally every single “luxury” developer includes in their bleak CGI living rooms, which then get whacked up on hoardings from Ealing to Essex. (Sorry Tom. Please write a new book.)

Lighting is key when trying to make a house feel welcoming. Make sure your bulbs give off soft, warm light. If you feel like you have got too many blank walls, you could borrow pictures from friends. Last, but certainly not least, get window dressing.

Start with the beds. Make sure they are dressed with fresh white linen and the pillows are substantial. I am absolutely loath to use the phrase “scatter cushions”, but a bed will always look smarter with added cushions. A throw on a bed is always good, too.

In the bathroom, replace towels and remove every last travel-sized bottle of shampoo. It is beyond off-putting to have to be evaluating the soap and face wash used by strangers (might just be me) when really one should be focusing on the plumbing.

Have generous vases of simple flowers in each room, maybe a candle or two burning. Absolutely no orchids. Out of the question.

These final, small touches will help to create a welcoming and calming atmosphere. Good luck!

AGA Dual Control (3-Oven)
Desirable: a baby-blue Aga

Baby steps

I’m keen to avoid gender colour-coding in the room we are preparing for our new baby, but the neutral option — for nursery paint and furnishings, as well as baby clothes — is always grey. Do you have any other ideas?

Oh gosh, not grey. Do not inflict that on the newborn, please.

When I first started considering this conundrum, I thought instantly of the designs of CFA Voysey. The architect and designer’s work was wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings in an Arts and Crafts style, and you can order many of his wallpapers via the Massachusetts-based Trustworth Studios.

Trustworth Studios Hey Diddle Diddle
Hey Diddle Diddle wallpaper by Trustworth Studios

These wallpapers are timeless and feel right for all genders. Granted, I would not call them “neutral”; they are much more interesting than that, with charming names like Angelic Forest, Apothecary’s Garden and Fool’s Parsley. Many of the designs were inspired by nursery rhymes and feature birds, insects, flowers and cats in creams, mottled greens and pale yellows. Childlike, yes, but still as stylish now as they must have been in the 1930s.

I am also a fan of St Jude’s which collaborates with artists and designers on ranges of fabrics and wallpapers, many of which would look wonderful in a nursery. Mark Hearld’s Harvest Hare, say, or the delightful Monkey and Birds by Sheila Robinson.

Mark Hearld's Harvest Hare
Mark Hearld's Harvest Hare © Andi Sapey

Removing ourselves from the hedgerow/farm/zoo for one moment, Angie Lewin’s simple Spey Stripe wallpaper would be a lovely option, and its colour scheme of muted sky blue and dusty quince yellow would surely work well for boys or girls.

If you do not want to put up wallpaper, these colours, along with green — perhaps a grassy shade — could be interesting paint (and furniture and clothing) colour choices.

Bemelmans Bar, Carlyle Hotel
Murals at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, New York

If you want something super special, how about a mural? My interior designer friend Beata Heuman commissioned one for her children’s room inspired by Ludwig Bemelmans’ murals at New York City’s Carlyle hotel.

All those rabbits and squirrels in three-piece suits drinking tea under parasols — just marvellous. I mean, yes, the rabbits are also drinking Martinis, but whatever. Best to start them young.

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