The textile dealer Susan Deliss has a deeply thoughtful approach to decorating. Two of her houses have now featured in House & Garden: her own country retreat in Burgundy in the July 2016 issue, and, in the latest issue, a client's flat in Edinburgh. With a wealth of textiles from around the world at her disposal, both interiors are naturally full of beautiful patterns, but in other respects these are very different projects. When you delve further into her philosophy of design, these differences are easy to explain, for Susan believes deeply in tailoring her aesthetic to house and owner. Read on to find out how to decorate with colour and pattern in a way that incorporates both your sense of place and your sense of self.
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Listen to your house
When I'm trying to decide what to do with an interior, the most important thing to do is listen to the house. This most recent project was a Georgian flat in Edinburgh. It has high ceilings, which means it can take strong colour, but the style of flat also requires some elegance. As such I was very keen to keep the fireplace intact, and I also changed the door heights to make them consistent, and made sure to hire the best tradesmen to ensure high-quality finishes.
Listen to your environment
The fact that the flat is in Edinburgh makes a huge difference to the decoration. It can be dark and cold for quite a lot of the year there, and I find that people tend to decorate much more with bright colours to make things feel cosy and warm. In London, on the other hand, where people are stressed and rushing around, I think calmer, lighter interiors are better. I took certain colours from the paintings of the Scottish Colourists, a group of early 20th-century artists who used bright and cheerful shades.
Listen to yourself
Of course it's important to marry what the house itself requires with what the owner wants. The owner of this flat is a writer, and I wanted to make sure the intellectual side of his life was represented. He had wanted a William Morris fabric for curtains, but I felt it was too dark and too conspicuously English. The Arts & Crafts movement felt appropriate for him, though, so we went with the Voysey "Lioness & Palms" wallpaper in the hallway instead - another Arts & Crafts pattern but with more colour and life.
Consider your lifestyle
This flat is all about cosiness - it's a place to hunker down on cold nights. That was the impetus behind the red in the bedroom. I started with the Robert Kime "Susani" fabric for the curtains, and the bright red emerged from that. It's designed to be cocoon-like, and the bookshelves are full of Scottish books, perfect for reading when the weather outside is gloomy.
The importance of layering
I never decorate any room all at once and I never use moodboards or elevations to plan out an interior, it's all in my head and it grows every time I see the place again. I start with one thing, perhaps the colour of the walls or a particular fabric on a particular scale, and then I come back to it again and again and add furniture, more textiles, lighting, and different colours. Everything needs to harmonise and sit organically together. When it comes to furniture, I don't like the idea of worshipping one particular piece and making it the centre of the room - if it's decorative and functional, that should be enough.
Be playful with colour
In general I avoid harsh colours and ones that look unnatural, and I dislike matchy-matchy schemes - they can look overly themed. My best advice is to choose the colours you like. Some colours may emerge from a particular fabric or piece of furniture that you already own, but for this flat quite a lot of the colours came from a trip to Farrow & Ball where the client and I picked out the colours he was drawn to. I enjoy using contrasting colours on woodwork and walls; it creates a playful look. Since there was quite a lot of colour and pattern on the walls in this flat, I kept the ceilings and the floors fairly simple. I always use eggshell for everything - I dislike a shiny finish. My other top tip is to always use a brush instead of a roller, something I picked up from my husband, who is an art restorer. It sounds unusual but it distributes the colour much better.
Pay attention to texture
Comfort was key for this flat, and the textures of the fabrics reflect that. The owner already had a green velvet sofa to work around, and we used a lovely orange Pierre Frey fabric on the other sofa. I like layering on the floors - in this flat the floors were not in great shape, so I painted them white, put IKEA sisal rugs down, and then put kilims and other rugs on top.