Decorator Rita Konig’s style is comfortable, cosy and easy to emulate
Interior designer Rita Konig (of House & Garden and T Magazine) bought and renovated her North London garden flat while a swinging singleton, newly returned from a stint working in New York. Then she met her husband (biographer Philip Eade) and Baby Margot was on the way. More space was required. Rather than move again – “everything was just the way I wanted it, I couldn’t bear the thought of moving” – Konig applied gentle pressure to the owner of the neighbouring flat, who sold it to her, allowing her to create a lateral living space of just over 1,000 square feet. Not huge, but here’s how she made it work, with a modest budget, a practical attitude, a priority for comfort and a talent for layering colour and texture …
What attracted you to your flat? There was a garden wall with a door in it and I loved the idea that I could have my own entrance and front door. The garden wraps around the flat so out of every window I see green. There were high ceilings. I set about making the flat perfect for me, which in those days meant a single colossal bedroom, a dressing room, bathroom and laundry room. Now that big bedroom is the kitchen! It’s fantastic for Margot to be able to run the length of the flat, and it’s convenient for me.
Choosing a builder Use one who has done a good job for someone you know. Having a builder who has a background in joinery is great because he will be very happy to build you a lovely simple kitchen and do other things which reduce the overall spend. When I am working with clients, I don’t always appoint the architect or project managers, but I liaise with them on plans (they tend to think about structure, I think about the flow of the house and how it will be lived in) and let them look after timing, budgets and building controls. A regular person running a job is usually a very bad idea.
Balancing the budget I don’t think you should be downcast by a limited budget. Restrictions on a budget are actually liberating. We are brainwashed to think when we move house, we have to rip everything out and start again. If you simply can’t afford to move walls or create a basement, you just get on with choosing paint colours and making the absolute best of what you have. I couldn’t have everything I wanted so I compromised. Functionality and comfort comes first. Having loads of cash to throw at a room does not necessarily mean you are going to get it right. Often, it has the opposite effect.
What do you look for first in a home? The ability to create a laundry room or cupboard. By that I mean just 120cm in width behind cupboard doors – enough to accommodate a washer and a dryer side by side. If space is an issue for a client, I put these in the hallway. You can use the counter for folding and baskets and washing stuff. I cannot bear laundry in the kitchen. Also in the kitchen, bin and dishwasher on either side of the sink – otherwise I like a simple kitchen, with open wooden shelves. I’m not a fan of vast fridges so I have a small one. And I like a kitchen to look soft and in keeping with the rest of the house. I don’t get hung up on anything else, really.
How to get a timeless interior with personality? Mix generations and styles, much as you would at a successful party. A combination of styles makes a room look evolved and interesting, not “popped-out”. You don’t want to have the same interior as your friend. I’m very careful with clients not to use the same items, colours or fabrics. But it is existing furniture, the odd antique, even hand-me-downs, as well as personal possessions and how they are arranged, which makes an interior original and uncontrived and unlike anyone elses’s.
Spending on the sitting room I seem to be endlessly buying tables and chairs for clients, because for me, the most important aspect in a sitting room is a place to sit – a comfortable sofa, with a table to put your drink or cup of tea on, and a lamp to read by. So many do not see a sitting room this way. I recommend never, ever buying a cheap sofa. I suggest buying a good modern sofa or a very well-made antique sofa and waiting until you have the funds to re-upholster it properly. I think you don’t need to spend a fortune on a carpet and paint doesn’t cost much at all. Grouping paintings and pictures and gathering like-objects together on trays on the coffee table or drinks table makes an interior look cared for and interesting.
What about lighting? Lamplight is vital so I would suggest, when planning your sitting room, do a furniture layout so that you can do an electrical plan and brief the electrician to chase the wires: you need lots of sockets behind the television, behind sofas and tables. Consider putting plugs in the floor to keep them off the wall and for lamps on tables in the middle of the room.
How do you inject – and eject- trends? I have Berber rugs and Ikat cushions, both belonging firmly to other eras, in my flat. But I like them, and I like them in my mix, so they’re staying. Have the confidence to keep things after a trend has passed. Likewise with a flamboyant piece. The black and white wallpaper in what was once a bedroom, then became my husband’s study, before becoming Margot’s room, has stood the test of time and has adapted well. I think if you love something, go for it, and stick with it. Interiors with personality include things from every era. You can even learn to love the odd mistake.
Embrace a budget: It’s liberating in its own way
Put the fireplace on hold until you have restored the cornices and skirting boards or replaced dodgy, ugly doors
Spend on the sitting room: specifically the sofa. A cheap sofa will always look like a badly made bed and you will hate it in a matter of months
Look for or add a tobacco lining on a lampshade – shades lined in white give a draining light
Spend on the lampshade, not necessarily on the lamp – I like basic stick lamps
Hang paintings and pictures low where you will see them when sitting down. If clients complain they are too low I tell them. “Well, sit down, then …!”
Paint skirting boards in a tone of your wall paint as an alternative to white
Leave some room in your life to stumble across things that you love while wandering or travelling
SAVE on the kitchen: I prefer a room to a lab – simple tiles, wood counter, open wooden shelves, basic cupboard carcasses and painted doors
Konig was an early proponent of the gallery wall. “No two people will do this the same way.”
Dining chairs by Philippe Raoul were expensive, says Konig. “I re-covered them in yellow leather a few years ago and they still give me great joy.” The pink paint on the wall is Greville Pink by Adam Bray for Paper & Paints
“Decorate with accessories in groups. From paintings to photographs to glasses to plates, everything looks better in a group …”
“Invest in good bedlinen: accept nicely worn cast-offs from others, buy vintage at markets…”
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