home stories: finding my interiors style with Lily Sawyer
This weeks home story is one that comes wrapped up in pattern, colour and texture. I fell in love with Lily Sawyer's bold interior style as soon as I clapped eyes on her Instagram account layered.home. Images of Lily's home always stop me in my tracks because of her unique style blending bold colours and fearless patterns. Lily's home is a masterclass in how to clash patterns, be bold with colour and layer with texture to create sumptuous interiors. A true feast for the eyes and a home filled with botanical and nature inspired patterns.
As well as telling us the stories behind her home, Lily is also sharing how she became so brave with her design choices, which wasn't always the case. Through finding styles which brought her joy, Lily gained the confidence to create a truly unique home. Over to you Lily...
Before we moved into this house, we lived in an ex-council townhouse which had previously been owned by some bachelors for many years so it was fairly plain and functional. There was only so much we could do to that 1960s house which was pared back with no period character whatsoever and I really was dreaming of a period property. We were looking for a fairly large house in the same area we were already in with the idea that I could use a part of the house as a studio. We wanted it to be near the park and the school. That was back in winter 2013. We had already put our house on the market and it sold within weeks. However, we were always pipped to the post with the properties we wanted. People with cash or bigger budgets than us managed to outbid us. It was becoming desperate.
I heard that a friend of mine was moving and thinking of renting her house. I knew it was in the same area we wanted but not quite as big. I persuaded her to sell the house to me and she did! The sale went through super quickly over the Christmas holidays and within weeks we moved in.
Back then I had zero idea on what to do with the interior design let alone the style I had wanted for us as a family. You know they say “put your stamp on it”, well, I felt a bit lost. I didn’t know what type of stamp that was going to be. I had a blank canvas and didn’t know where to start. I didn’t go on Instagram to look for inspiration and I wasn’t connected to the latest design trends at all. I had looked at a few magazines in the past but was overwhelmed by choices. Overall, I think it boiled down to not knowing what I really wanted.
Initially, I went for the Victorian period look to be in line with the property style so we put up some William Morris wallpaper to start with. Over time though, I think I have found my style and I'm becoming braver at it. It's all mainly what I love and makes my heart sing! And always a mixture of eras, eclectic, and not just one type of style. Patterns, dark colours, contrasts, even Boho elements. If I love them I'm happy to experiment seeing how they work in my space.
At the end of 2014 I started looking on Pinterest for some inspiration and experimented with these changes at home.
Eventually in 2017 I joined Instagram and since then felt like I have found many like-minded and normal people who love interiors and whose houses are so inspirational. I love seeing real homes, those that don’t look like they have been styled for a magazine, but that they are lived, authentic homes that see everyday use. Yes, we may all do a frenzied tidy-up for a photo but we all know what Insta-reality really is and we are not in denial of that.
My least favourite part when we moved in was the kitchen. It was too old and too traditional for me – cream coloured melamine moulded cabinets and a hideous black mottled worktop. I could never tell whether it was dirty or clean even after it had been cleaned. The cabinets and cupboards hogged all the wall space but still for some reason the storage never seemed enough. So much of the cabinet spaces were not utilised properly due to poor design. The kitchen had also had white mosaic tiles with black grout that went all around the kitchen. The sink was round! I mean, who has a round sink? It was so impractical. Next to the sink was a round draining board which drained onto the main sink drain and always ended up being clogged. Another poorly designed feature.
Because the kitchen was still functional, it wasn’t a priority space to revamp. We had always planned to do a loft extension first which we did back in 2015. In 2017, we decided to rip the entire kitchen out and start again, changing the entire look but keeping to the same layout. We don’t know why it took us so long to do it as now it feels like we have double the storage and a kitchen that is super easy to maintain. This is due to the clever contemporary design and materials that we went for.
After looking around for kitchen suppliers, we decided to go the Ikea route but with the proviso that we would just get what we wanted, the higher range of products, and not worry about budget constraints so much. Our kitchen does not get much light at all, all year round; it’s dark, so we thought why not incorporate the darkness into the design But I wanted it cosy too and warm and welcoming. I also didn’t want the kitchen to be the main focal point of the space, rather, I wanted every part to be interesting and cocooning. That meant no crazy tile designs as backsplash but a patterned wallpaper is fine because there’s only a small area of wall space to paper anyway for it not to be too overpowering.
I ordered more than 50 tile samples before finding the right one. We both wanted a real wooden worktop which we ordered to be custom- made. However, after reading review after review about the high maintenance of it all, we changed our order to wooden dark laminate which still had to be custom made anyway and we have no regrets. The worktop is hardy and easy to clean, doesn’t leave stains and hot water marks and doesn’t only look smart but also warm. We went for high gloss cabinets to reflect some light in such a dark space complemented with brass knobs. I really wanted some open shelving too so for these I ordered cut-to-size reclaimed wood boards with a dark walnut finish. Finally, I wanted the kitchen to be full of greenery punctuated with neon lighting for that eclectic mix of old and contemporary. We are super pleased with the results and feel that having a kitchen that meets our needs made a difference in our day-to-day living.
Fortunately, the side return was already built when we bought the house which made this otherwise narrow kitchen much more spacious and afforded us enough room for a proper dining table. I’ve gone dark here again and put mirrors and pictures including those my kids had painted for reflecting light as well as to make the space more homely. In this space, being the area of the house that gets light all year round from the Velux windows above the side return, it made sense to have real plants everywhere as they’d have more chances of surviving. I’ve never been green-fingered and I’ve had my fair share of plants I’ve unintentionally killed. But I try my best and so far so good in this space.
In the winter, this space is the hub of the house. We eat here and spend a good amount of time during the day too. It's a natural space for us to congregate in as it's the only open plan space in the house. It also has the piano which is used everyday by the kids. Now that we have pet tortoises, the vivarium lives here too. It's a busy space and I have to be quite strict about putting things back to where they belong after use otherwise it gets too messy and difficult to get on top of!
I’m a recycler by heart. If I can make it without much effort, I will unless doing so would make it much dearer. I scoured eBay for the retro applause and neon lighting as well as the reclaimed wooden shelves. I also checked my local TK Maxx for possible one-off finds. The light fitting, faux plant decors as well as the flap clock were bought in the sale. I was always waiting for the sales to come on as things can be quite expensive otherwise. Many of the smaller items were stuff we already have. It’s always good to juxtapose old and new, so treasured old photographs, an old Cadbury original recipe booklet, vintage tins ... items like these are positioned next to trendy contemporary gold and copper candle holders and suchlike. Some of the items in here such as the red neon lips and the Sinai cactus have been won through Instagram hashtags so that’s a great saving!
This middle living room is the darkest area of the house. It used to be painted a very pale blue, almost white blue with that reflective type of paint which did nothing to brighten this room up. In fact, any light colour on the wall was rendered absolutely dull from the lack of light in this room. So once again I’ve embraced the darkness and went for a midnight blue colour. There is a small Victorian black fireplace which adds character to the room.
I painted the entire room including shelves and radiator and ceiling in the same colour which is Lido by Craig and Rose and painted a mural on the chimney breast. The TV lives here camouflaged in the darkness and my work station is on one corner of the room which is perfect the dim lighting I need for my editing work. It looks cohesive and a backdrop for my rather colourful large painting too. I do have new plans for this room so watch this space!
One of my aha moments in interior design is adding contrast to the floor. With my dark walls, having a dark floor just makes it feel like a big black hole. But put a light rug or floor and it magically opens up the space, reflecting light above and making you feel grounded. Total eye-opener for me! Now all my floors have light rugs!
This front living room has had many incarnations, it must be said. When we moved in, it had a super pale white wall colour with the slightest hint of green. This room gets ample daylight so it felt larger than all the other rooms. It had white built-in shelves on either side of the chimney breast and the original Victorian fire had been replaced with a rather unattractive gas fire, which has now been changed to a more attractive log burner.
I use this room as my studio so storage is a premium. I had MDF doors made to cover the shelves and bought MDF paneling to give the door a contemporary Shaker style, if only to add a bit of detail to the otherwise plain MDF doors. It looks really smart and classic and I have recently painted it with Graham and Brown to match the green ceiling and walls.
Since I discovered my love for wallpapers, I've been much bolder trying out new patterns and colours. I've realised that I'm a floral girl at heart! The latest wallpaper in this room is by Natasha Coverdale in collaboration with Lick.
I'm in love with pink at the moment and this room with pink and green tones makes my heart happy. It's cosy and contemporary with a nod to the country.
The hallway was pale magnolia through and through and it was the dullest space in the entire house as it doesn’t get the sun at all regardless of time of year. When you walk in, you are welcomed by a very bland hallway and I did not want that to be the feeling that people get when they come to my home.
After living with this blandness for 2 years, I decided to paint it a medium warm grey. Big mistake. Any medium colour in this space was always going to be bland. The bigger mistake was that we had a loft then so we painted it medium grey right to the top including the back room. It was one huge job and one big mistake! I lived with this dull greyness for another year and a half before deciding to go super dark grey, this time an elegant noble grey hue.
What a difference the darker grey had made! The transformation was unbelievable! It went from dull to dramatic simply by painting it a very dark colour. It also made the hallway feel not just a lot wider with the dark colours giving the impression of more depth, but also made the hallway more welcoming and warm.
I put some pictures up on the wall that included a mixture of mirrors, gold frames to reflect light, art and festoon lighting. Of course I also added faux greenery which I think is a must in every home. Bringing the outside in especially in a house that doesn’t get much sunlight is crucial to making it feel more outdoorsy at any time of year.
More recently, I decided to add a dado rail and wallpapered the bottom part of the wall with some Linwood Bamboo Garden in the Navy colourway that I had leftover from the living room chimney breast. I also painted the inside of the door pink using Frenchic Paint. The main wall on the house will also be getting a makeover and going pink! I'll be taking down the gallery wall too to keep things less busy. Let's hope it all works out!
Before we had the loft built, the master bedroom used to be the front room, but it is now the front loft room. This was exciting for me to design as we literally started from scratch – when it had not existed to what it is now.
We opted for a separate shower room hence the master bedroom is not an en-suite as opposed to the usual loft rooms. I wanted it to feel like a cave where we can retire at the end of a busy day and have touches of vintage decadence as well as a space for practical family living – the kids do like to snuggle up with us sometime or take turns sleeping with us from time to time.
I painted the entire loft room a dark blue-grey colour from wall to ceiling. I love dark walls as they help make the pictures and other decorative accessories look more cohesive rather than cluttered. It helps with creating contrast and accentuating some special items.
I wanted the colour scheme here to be much more reigned in and only limited the palette to blue-grey, pinks and natural woods.
More recently, I have gone wallpaper mad and have papered the wall behind my bed with Wisteria Wallpaper by Fiona Howard and the opposite wall a Woodlands mural by Murals Wallpaper. If there's anything that instantly changes a space, even better and quicker than paint can, it's a mural! I highly recommend it! It's so easy to put up. I have made installation videos on my Instagram page.
We've also built a DIY built-in wardrobe, painted it a smokey light green and carried the colour through the ceiling, doors and walls. The room now feels like a calm oasis, even with the wallpapers.
The best thing about living in our home now is that it feels home, truly home where we are settled and content with what we have. I love so many homes there on Instagram and though sometimes I wish we had a bigger space, I really feel like we are so blessed with what we have and fortunate to have a place we can be ourselves in without yearning for what other people have. It doesn’t really matter what other people think or say about our home or how many decorating mistakes we make. It’s all part of our journey and story as a family
I have learned three things in renovating your home?
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you can always change things and rectify them.
2. Do what you love without worrying about what others might think.
3. Be open-minded when it comes to changing the look of an entire space. Don’t be afraid to add colour for example or to do something you have never tried before!
Money is often an issue when decorating so if there isn’t much of it, prioritise and see where you could make savings by making things yourself or going for cheaper alternatives that give the same look and feel. Sometimes, it’s also better to wait until you have the money rather than doing something that ends up to be false economy because you are being impatient.
There are a few items that I regret buying because either I didn’t do my research, didn’t wait until I had what I needed or settled for less. I hate wasting things so I have learned to live with them. I wouldn’t want to keep making the same mistakes so yes, if I were to start over, I wouldn’t have bought them!
My immediate family loves our home though my Mum and mother-in-law think it’s too dark. Friends always comment that it’s different, interesting (which could mean anything!) and dramatic. Some friends love it and say it’s amazing. Everyone says it’s really cosy and homely.
The DIY list never ends! The big project is to repaint the whole front of the house, repair the path and front garden, and restore any tiles hidden by ghastly rendering. The hallways through to the first floor bathroom will be changing soon too.
Thank you Lily for sharing your stunning home, such a feast of interesting pattern and tactile texture - even Lily's garden cabin ( above ) is beautifully decorated, I could live right here!
Lily is a photographer and educater, her business Layered Home works with creatives and entrepreneurs to build brands, as well as offering free resources & Instagram growth advice.
You can also follow Lily on Instagram HERE