Living room makeover: ‘It’s a luxurious, grown-up place to escape to’

A new extension enabled Debra Davidson-Smith to turn the old family living room into an indulgent space full of tactile fabrics and rich colours

Living room makeover: 'It’s a luxurious, grown-up place to escape to'

After 16 years in the same house, Debra Davidson-Smith was more than ready to make a change to her living room. When the family first moved into their five-bedroom Edwardian semi in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, their needs were very different.

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‘Our boys, Max, now 22, and Oly, now 19, were little and there was a separate small living room and dining room, which we made into one space and blocked in one of the doors. We put in two new gas fires and went for a contemporary look with plenty of grey and sofas that could withstand dirty hands.’

A living room that had become dull and dated has been turned into a space full of character and colour, with tactile seating and theatrical flourishes
A living room that had become dull and dated has been turned into a space full of character and colour, with tactile seating and theatrical flourishes

Three years ago, Debra, a media consultant, and her husband, Duncan, managing director of a broadcasting company, extended their kitchen right along the back of the house to make a large kitchen-diner with seating areas and a games zone.

‘It’s been very popular with everyone and the boys have space to invite their friends over.’

A contemporary desk in dark wood is Debra’s mini office – as it’s under the window, it’s a light, bright space to work in during the day
A contemporary desk in dark wood is Debra’s mini office – as it’s under the window, it’s a light, bright space to work in during the day

But having such a well-loved kitchen area meant the living room became a bit redundant, explains Debra, ‘and I’d had my beady eye on it for a while.’ So, she began to draw up plans for a new look and new use for the space.

Debra searched carefully to find the pictures of famous opera costumes to frame and for cushions by the artist, Fornasetti, whose designs inspired the wallpaper
Debra searched carefully to find the pictures of famous opera costumes to frame and for cushions by the artist, Fornasetti, whose designs inspired the wallpaper

As an essential part of the extension plan, Debra had insisted on glass doors rather than an open-plan space. ‘I knew it was important to be able to separate this space off and I became more and more convinced that it should be a snug adults-only living room, as well as an office area for me, as I work from home.’

After making sure everything she wanted would fit into it, Debra chose a theme for the space: her love of opera. She was pleased the glass doors were already in place. ‘It means that if we have a party, everything can be totally opened up. But for the majority of the time the living room is cut off and the doors are soundproof.’

The plain original gas fireplaces didn’t need replacing, so Debra has simply added a fire screen of a flower painting from her parents’ old house
The plain original gas fireplaces didn’t need replacing, so Debra has simply added a fire screen of a flower painting from her parents’ old house

With the walls painted in the same calming grey as the kitchen/diner, Debra’s attention turned to the floor. ‘We’d had contemporary vinyl flooring in there for years, but the whole room looked dated and a bit scruffy, and it was frankly a bit cold at times. I wanted a cosier feel, so carpet was really the only option.’

Shop the look!

Knowing that she was going to buy new furniture, as their old suite was well past it, Debra deliberately looked for a low-cost carpet. ‘I found a heavy-duty one in grey for £16 a metre, which didn’t need a lot of looking after and fitted the bill.’
Good idea! Make more of a footstool by turning it into a small table for drinks and snacks – cover it in a fabric that matches the colour scheme to help tie it in with the rest of the décor
Good idea! Make more of a footstool by turning it into a small table for drinks and snacks – cover it in a fabric that matches the colour scheme to help tie it in with the rest of the décor

With her neutral base in place, Debra was excited to start introducing the rich colours and fabrics she’d been dreaming about since she started the redecoration project. ‘We already had a vibrant yellow chair, so I decided on yellow, green and grey as my main colours.

For me, velvet equals luxury and comfort, and I found a gorgeous green velvet sofa, which was the big investment.’ She added three further chairs to provide flexible seating when entertaining, but Debra still felt that something major was missing.

‘The walls were too plain, so I deliberately searched for wallpaper to tie in with my opera theme, and I found just the thing, which I put on both chimney breasts.’

Good idea! A sideboard provides plenty of storage and keeps anything messy out of sight. Debra has covered the two glass panels at the ends with leftover fabric to tie it in with the overall scheme
Good idea! A sideboard provides plenty of storage and keeps anything messy out of sight. Debra has covered the two glass panels at the ends with leftover fabric to tie it in with the overall scheme

To add even more character, Debra ordered black and white cushion covers to match the wallpaper and brought more colour in with two pheasant designs in mustard velvet.

‘I couldn’t decide what to put on the walls, but then I found some reproductions of old costume designs, which fitted in well, and put them in black frames.’

A much-loved pair of Edwardian opera glasses were the inspiration behind the room’s spectacular scheme
A much-loved pair of Edwardian opera glasses were the inspiration behind the room’s spectacular scheme

Lighting was another item on Debra’s list and, while the large wooden pendant in the centre and the metal arc lamp provided sufficient light for the room, Debra also wanted an element of fun.

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‘I saw the gorgeous monkey lamp online and just had to treat myself. We absolutely love it in here, especially when the two of us are sitting down with a drink at the end of a busy day.’

Shopping list

Edelweiss desk in Walnut and Black, £249; Margot Accent chair in Antique Gold velvet, £399; Sweep Arc floor lamp, £99, all Made.com. Liatorp sideboard, £229; black picture frames, £8 each; white pots with cacti, £7 each, all IKEA. Winston sofa in Fern velvet, £1,799, Swoon Editions. Teatro wallpaper by Cole & Son, £144 per roll, Designer Wallpapers. Harmony Ribbon pendant light, £135; nest of three tables, £150; shelf, £50, all John Lewis & Partners. Seletti Monkey light, £150, Made in Design. Yellow and blue glass vases, £16 each, Debenhams. Walls painted in Polished Pebble matt emulsion, £17 per 2.5l, Dulux. Grey carpet, £16 per m, SCS Carpets. Footstool in Sanderson’s Anthos fabric, £134, Serrina Interiors. Roman blind in Sanderson’s Zagora fabric, £125, Gail Annand Curtains & Blinds. Fornasetti cushion covers, £5 each; costume design pictures, £10 each, all Etsy. Paoletti Hunter Pheasant cushions, £9.95 each, Linens Limited.

This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Your Home magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?