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On a mission to transform my ugliest room into something this beautiful


Charles Clair (1860-1930), Woman in Forest

My home design project was launched this week with our first acquisition!  A large, early 20th-century Barbizon oil painting, imaginatively titled ‘Woman in Forest’.  I doubt experienced designers would recommend that Step 1 of a room re-design should be buying artworks, but there it is.  I fell in love with it and got carried away on eBay … not for the first time!   It will take pride of place above the fireplace, making it the focus of the room.

So, here’s the project.  The ugly dining room at the front of our late-Georgian/early-Victorian house is never used, at least not as a dining room.  I am planning to transform my ugly room into a sort of bookroom-study.   To all intents and purposes it will be a library with a study desk, but ‘library’ sounds not a little pretentious for a house of this size, so ‘bookroom’ it is!  Our current study (a small bedroom) has long since overflowed with books and bookcases, so we look forward to the day when they can all be housed together, with some comfy chairs for reading.

The previous owner obviously had some sort of taste breakdown and imagined that Japanese pastiche would be the ideal theme for the dining room.  It was assumed that realising this theme involved painting all the woodwork in black gloss paint, installing a bright red carpet, sourcing what would generously be described as less than beautiful wallpaper, and mounting Rococo-style gilt sconces.  Whatever beautiful Regency fire surround there once was has been replaced by a plain MDF effort, painted glossy black.  If all this sounds bad, the reality is, I assure you, considerably worse.  I hope this goes some way to convey the size of the task ahead.

The house is Grade II listed, so I will need to apply for listed building consent to reinstate a more fitting fire surround and to repair or replace the window.  I will share the details of that process when the time comes.  I already have my eye on a mid-19th century fire surround for sale online, and I hope to have more news on that front next month.

I have a picture in my mind of how I want the room to look when finished, and I have scoured the internet for images that come close.  This beautiful library in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, designed by Richard Keith Langham Inc., is the closest I have found in terms of size, shape and style.  I’m not entirely convinced yet to go with the Bookroom Red I have always wanted, as our room faces north-east and can be a little dark … but I’m working up to it!

*Floorplan (600x663px)When technical drawing crops up on my course, I hope to share proper floor plans and maybe even some interior elevations of the room, but for now I have only a very rough 2-D mock-up of how the room might be laid out.  Ignore the unsightly colour scheme; I haven’t mastered the software yet!

As you can see, it will be a squeeze to fit my desk, bookcases and a sofa and armchair arrangement into the room, but our new bookroom will need to double as a guest bedroom, so a sofabed is a must.  The room itself is small-ish and square-ish (4.4 x 3.9m) with a fireplace centred on the far wall, flanked by arched recesses (ideal for bookshelves).  It has a single large, square window (around 150 x 150cm) and the ceiling is 2.8m high.

The entire project could take as much as two years.  That sounds like a lot, but it will involve re-wiring, stripping and re-painting all woodwork, stripping wallpaper and replastering walls, replacing the fire surround, building new bookshelves, installing coving, refurbishing or replacing the floorboards (depending on what we find under the bright red carpet), and saving up to fund the project!  More importantly, the room currently houses my younger son’s two small families of degus (rodents) in two large cages and a large playpen and there is only so much that can be done to the room before these beloved little critters eventually shuffle off this mortal coil.

So, bit by bit, I will be stripping paint and wallpaper, re-painting, ‘curating’ (how grand!) the furnishings, fixtures and fittings and sharing snapshots of my progress.  I hope you’ll pop back from time to time to see how the project is coming along!

Your questions and comments are most welcome!

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