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Elva Mankin

Your living room is a window into your personality. Here, Nina Campbell shares her golden rules of design. In this article Does your living room need updating but you don’t know where to start? Let Britain’s doyenne of interior design Nina Campbell make it easy for you with […]

living room

Your living room is a window into your personality. Here, Nina Campbell shares her golden rules of design.

Does your living room need updating but you don’t know where to start? Let Britain’s doyenne of interior design Nina Campbell make it easy for you with her guide to using fabrics to pull a room together.

“You want to work hard at getting it right but the result has to look as though it’s been thrown together in five minutes.”

Step 1

“Start with a fabric you love and then worry about what to do with it.”

High street department stores, specialist haberdasheries or even markets are great places to find a good selection of materials. Or you may find an accessory, such as a rug, throw or cushion that catches your eye.

Whatever you choose, this will form the basis of your colour palette for the room and gives you something to build on.

Nina Campbell choosing fabrics

Step 2

Use pattern to pick up colours

Patterned fabrics are great for dressing up a room and giving it a fresh look. They can be used in a number of ways:

  • Cover furniture or parts of furniture, from a chair cushion to an entire sofa
  • Create panels or borders for curtains
  • Cover a screen. A useful style tip for the ‘pattern-novice’ as the screen can always be re-covered or moved to a different room if you change your mind. Another benefit is that you can take it with you when you move house
  • Stripes can bring together a range of colours and can be useful for giving you a palette to work with.

Consider the scale of the pattern when deciding what you want to use it for. A large-scale pattern may be too much for a small living room if used on all the walls but can make a feature of, say, an armchair or a curtain. Similarly, a small-scale pattern could add a delicate look to a large room or make a smaller room appear more spacious.

If possible, take samples of fabric and place them over different areas in your room to get an idea of how it will look.

Step 3

Bring in new textures

Texture is important when building a room because it adds homely ‘layers’ and movement. It’s also an interesting way to keep the colour palette flowing throughout, without making it too uniform.

Textures to consider include velvet; sheer; fake fur; suede; leather; flocked cottons and silks; chenille or crewel (wool embroidery).

details of a living room

Step 4

Take a step back

“You don’t want to walk into a room and feel like your head might explode because there’s too much going on,” says Nina and she has a good point. A successful room needs to have balance. Too much of one colour, pattern or texture and a room can look busy. Not what you want from your main living space.

The trick is to blend well

  • Offset a small-scale pattern with a large-scale one nearby.
  • Place stripes next to checks.
  • Break up colours with neutral tones.
  • Similarly, ensure that textures blend together well.
  • Remember: less is more. Too many furry cushions in one place can create a ‘poodle corner’ effect.

Tips for good balance

  • do a floor plan before you start so you can see clearly where windows, lighting and furniture are positioned. You can then decide which fabrics to put where.
  • keep large objects, such as the sofa in a fairly plain fabrics, particularly if the room is small. It can be a canvas for colourful accessories such as cushions and throws.
  • before buying curtains, consider how many windows the room has and where they are positioned. A wall of windows with heavily patterned curtains will look too busy when the curtains are drawn.

Dos and don’ts for creating the perfect living space


  • Use magazines for inspiration. Tear out pictures of furniture items, rooms, colours and patterns and create your own mood board which you can use as a point of reference.
  • Use borders or fringing to revitalise curtains or furniture and to pick up colours from a focal item in the room.
  • Have furniture of varying heights to add interest to a room and create a homely effect.
  • Place lighting at different levels in the room. A combination of uplighters, table lamps and standard lamps will add warmth and atmosphere.
  • Keep lampshades up to date, either by replacing or customising. Shapes change regularly. According to Nina, lampshades are “the shoes and handbags of design world.” Her advice is “be ruthless”.
  • Consider having curtains made to measure if budget allows. Apart from the obvious benefits of being able to choose the exact fabric and colours, they will fit your windows exactly and Nina assures you will see the difference.


  • Have single chairs in a room used for entertaining, as it invites a person to sit alone and will only make them (and other guests) feel uncomfortable. Instead, group chairs in pairs or use sofas if space permits.
  • Hoard old, worn accessories, such as saggy cushions, rugs with holes and frayed curtains. Mend or update with new coverings, fillings etc if possible. If not, it could be time to get rid and start again.
  • Worry about what your friends will think. This is your room so please yourself, literally.
  • Be afraid of colour or patterns. Experiment and have fun! You can always change it back again.

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