Grey sofa image

We Asked Interior Designers Your Most Popular Home Improvement Questions

16th November 2022

Here at Finio Loans, we asked over a thousand people what burning questions they’d love to ask an interior designer if they had the chance.

With your questions at the ready, we reached out to two UK-based interior designers, Lisa and Nancy, to get you the answers you’re looking for. We cover all things design, from what colours are trending right now to their favourite ways to make a room feel cosier based on their years of expertise.

Everyone approaches design differently, even experts, as you’ll see from Lisa and Nancy’s fantastic advice. If you’re planning on adding a little interior design magic to your home, bookmark this page to save you hours of scrolling time so you can get straight to the fun part - finding inspiration.

Meet the Experts

Lisa Gentille

Lisa is a designer specialising in architecture and has been in design for practically her whole life. She studied architecture at the University of Venice. Lisa is a big advocate of functional design that’s also beautiful.

Lisa started her London-based architectural and interior design company, Phase Zero, alongside her business partner a couple of years ago. Phase Zero specialises in everything that makes a home a home: the interiors, exteriors and landscaping.

Nancy Ghattas

Nancy is an interior designer who studied for five years in Egypt and three in the UK. As well as working in a couple of showrooms in the UK, working with developers and as a contractor with her own company, she also works in the Middle East.

Nancy founded Grata Interiors in 2016 offering luxurious residential and commercial interior design services, including design consultancy, colour scheming and basically every aspect of a project from concept to completion.

Colour Trends 2022: Choose a Colour Scheme

Finio Colour Palette

Colour is one of the most important parts of the design process, and our survey respondents definitely know this. It’s also one of the most fun, once you know what you’re doing. But how do you choose the right palette? What paint colours are on trend right now? Are those two shades of white actually different? (OK, maybe not that one). Giving your home a fresh coat of paint couldn’t be easier with an expert touch to guide you through.

Q: What colours are trending right now?

Nancy: Green is the colour of the moment. But of course, it’s not for everybody, which is why I also still go for the natural colours - creams, off-white, grey, and taupe. People still like sky blue, which was last year’s colour.

But it depends on the client, too. What they prefer, what they like. Most of my clients go for something they know they won’t get bored of, and can always have things to match with.

Lisa: For us, pastel colours like very light green and cream colours are trending.

White and light grey always seem to be trending in the market, but they’re actually not. This is because new builds and developments are purposely designed without identity to appeal to the majority of people.

What you should do with your room is give it your identity. A lot of choosing your colour identity comes from your life and childhood. It’s very personal.

Q: How do you choose between bright or dark colours?

Lisa: Go with the size of the room. If it’s small, go bright; if it’s big, dark colours will work. The difference between black and white is that white reflects and black absorbs. I’d only use black if you already have a lot of light.

Black is one of my favourite colours, but I think the best percentage of white to black should be 90% white, and 10% black.

Nancy: I use light colours in small spaces that don’t have much light. I’d use darker colours in rooms like an office where it makes it feel more luxurious. If you have big windows or overlook the garden, I prefer light colours.

Q: What’s your process for choosing a room’s colour scheme?

Lisa: The majority of the time, we propose a colour palette and the client just says yes or no. I prefer when the client is fully involved, and I’m open to listening to anything that helps find that personal touch.

Nancy: I ask the client what they prefer, light colours, dark colours. Most of the time they choose light colours. Maybe we add some wallpapers where one wall is a little bit different. I might add half a wall of dark colours, but I always get light colours involved. Normally, after asking the client what they prefer, they ask me what I think and I give my input.

Q: Should you have a common colour scheme throughout your whole home?

Nancy: I like to go outside the box sometimes. For example, I could have a teal-coloured accent wall, while the rest is a little bit grey, cream, or off-white. I personally like to have some areas a little bit different. You can always add textures, like wallpaper, too.

Painting and Decorating Tips

Flooring sample

Many of us fancy ourselves as handy DIYers, but when it comes to designing your home, you want to get it right. No flaky paint or bumpy wallpaper, just flawless walls and flooring that looks clean and professional, without the hassle. That home improvement project you’ve been putting off just got a whole lot easier, whether it’s home repair or a quick transformation - we’ve got you covered.

Q: What are your top tips for wallpapering?

Lisa: Wallpaper is amazing. It can mitigate sound and be fireproof or waterproof. Start with where you’re putting your wallpaper. What do you want its purpose to be? What extra things do you expect from it?

Nancy: Wallpaper can be a little bit tricky. Not everyone does it properly. The wall has to be well sanded. If it’s uneven, it can be a problem. If the wall is unavoidably uneven, it’s best to used textured wallpaper as it can hide the inconsistencies.

Q: How do you choose what kind of wallpaper to go for?

Lisa: I personally prefer plain wallpapers with texture rather than pattern. I start by choosing the kind of wallpaper I want, then decide what actually suits the room in reality.

Nancy: I choose the wallpaper based on the theme of the room. It’s always good to match the paint colour with a colour in the pattern or texture of the wallpaper. I prefer small, natural textures.

Q: What paint would you recommend for walls?

Lisa: Use paint fit for the purpose. Don’t use the same in the whole house. For example, use one paint for the bathroom and kitchen, and one for the bedroom, etc.

Nancy: There are a lot of different paint types. I normally go for matte or eggshell. Both are durable and easy to clean, plus they both have nice finishes. For the bathroom though, I recommend semi-gloss because it can deal with a little bit of moisture.

Q: How would you recommend soundproofing a room or wall?

Lisa: There are two types of sound: the actual sound and the impact (vibrations). There are different types of insulation for both. If it is impact, you have to insulate the floor - there’s nothing you can put on the wall. For sound, it’s both walls and floors. You can get mats that insulate the floor.

Interior Designing Your Home

Energy efficiency

Now on to the fun bit, the actual designing of your dream home. When you think of interior design, what image comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the images from magazines and property listings - those flawless, almost sterile photos of rooms taken from a perfect angle. But these designers are all about those personal touches that make a home look lived in.

Q: What makes a living room cosy and relaxing?

Lisa: For me, light wood makes a room cosy. Though that could just be personal preference.

Nancy: Make sure that everything you surround yourself with is what you want to see every day. Having comfortable furniture is also a must. Don’t go for sharp edges, softer, more rounded edges make it feel cosier.

I believe that what makes the home cosy is when I have accessories around me that make me feel comfortable. Even the lights. It is all based around the client’s own personality and personal touch - whatever makes them feel comfortable.

Q: How can you make a room look brighter?

Lisa: You need to understand where your natural light is coming from. Sunlight is what makes you happy, so make sure the room you spend the most time in has the most.

Nancy: Choose natural colours and use mirrors, particularly near the windows. Use light furniture, too. Nothing bulky or heavy, and make sure that the curtains and blinds fit the space properly.

Q: Where do you start when designing a room?

Lisa: The big difference between us [interior designers] and normal people is that we have drawing tools and the ability to visualise 2Ds into 3Ds.

My best suggestion is to empty the room and use boxes to move around and design the space. Always start from nothing - a white canvas. If you try and design when the furniture is already there, it’s impossible because you’ll keep seeing the same thing. Move things around and play a lot. Children love this game.

Nancy: Once I’ve found out what the client likes, I take a brief and make a mood board. I usually make a few and focus on certain colours and textures that they said they like, and whichever one catches my eye the most, I start with and begin thinking of ideas.

The first thing I show in my presentations is the inspiration, the mood board.

Q: How can you maximise space in a room?

Nancy: Instead of having two bedside tables, have one chest of drawers that you can use to house your clothes and use as a table. Also, get a storage bed, install high shelves and hanging ones, and use Ottomans to store things in. Storage-saving furniture is the best way, but it’s also important to get furniture that properly fits the room and isn’t too big. Big rugs can also make a room look bigger.

Lisa: Depends if you want your room to look bigger or actually be bigger. Mirrors are amazing for making space. You should also use rectangular tiles if you want your room to appear bigger. You can raise your floor and use the space below as storage, which means you don’t need any more furniture. But of course, this doesn't apply if your ceiling is lower.

Q: What are the basics of good lighting?

Nancy: I like LED lights and for the lights to be in layers and at different heights. Introduce floor lamps, table lamps, and even candles for cosy rooms.

Q: How do you choose a rug?

Nancy: The rug has to match the walls, furniture and floor. Light rugs are better for big spaces, while dark ones feel more luxurious. There are plenty of durable materials ideal for pets and kids that are easy to clean. Rugs keep a room warmer too.

Q: Are there any feng shui techniques you swear by?

Lisa: A lot of feng shui matches what we [interior designers] are taught in school. It’s always a suggestion, not a rule.

For example, I break it in my house. My bedroom faces south, while my living room faces north when it should be the other way around, but if I don’t get the sun straight in my eyes in the morning, I don’t wake up. I rarely have guests in the morning, so what’s the point of my living room facing south? No one’s using it.

You need to balance these things with your personal needs.

Nancy: I mostly like feng shui for the bedroom. For example, the headboard should be against a wall, not a window. It’s not safe, and you should always feel safe in your bedroom. You should have your headboard against the corner diagonally from the door. Not having anything under the bed is good too.

If you can’t see the door from where you sleep, you won’t feel safe. If you can’t change your layout, try using a mirror to see the door.

Q: I want to revamp my bedroom, where should I start?

Lisa: If you have space, add a little private living space with a table and chairs. I suggest this because your living room is not just for you, it’s for everyone. That’s why sometimes we need a small space that’s fully private.

Nancy: Get your measurements right. After looking for inspiration, start with a plan and map out where the furniture will go and make sure it will fit.

Q: I want to update my kitchen, where should I start?

Lisa: My best tip: if you’re planning a kitchen, plan it like you would a house. Think of each cupboard as a room with its own function. You need to think of every little space. Why do you need it? What will you use it for? Where is most comfortable for you?

Start using the kitchen to understand where you need what, what you need bigger and what you use and don’t use. It’s easier to add to a kitchen than take away.

Q: How can you make a kitchen feel bigger?

Lisa: Go for a more linear shape instead of C-shaped. And you should only have kitchen islands if the space allows it. If you don’t have the space, don’t do it. Do you really need it?

Q: I want to renovate my bathroom, where should I start?

Lisa: If you’re on a low budget, work with what you have. Sometimes I find people just don’t know how to properly clean their bathroom.

I had one client who wanted to remove the bath because there was black mould. I put bleach on it, and left it for an hour and when I came back, the bath was completely white. Maybe you need sealant.

How to Improve Energy Efficiency in Your Home

Solar panels

Making sure our homes are energy efficient is more important than ever, not just for the environment but primarily for our energy bills. With a few upfront costs, you can improve the energy efficiency of your home and start making savings almost immediately. But what’s actually worth it?

Q: Are solar panels worth fitting?

Lisa: If you can, absolutely do it.

Q: What are your best energy-saving tips that could lower bills?

Lisa: If you don’t improve the shell of your home, no other changes will make much of a difference. You can check this. Switch on your radiator for an hour, switch it off and see how long it takes for the house to become cold again. If it becomes cold quickly, it could mean your walls are not properly insulated.

There are plenty of solutions to insulate existing walls and windows like filling cavities. You can also add an extra layer externally.

Q: Do you recommend triple glazing over double glazing? Is it worth it?

Lisa: Yes. I know it’s expensive at the moment, but once more people start buying it, the technology will improve and prices will fall.

Nancy: Triple glazing is great. It keeps the room warm and adds to soundproofing.

Q: Do you have any tips for people looking to damp-proof their homes?

Lisa: Whatever you have to do to sort out the problem, do it. And never try to cover it or take it off yourself without protection.

Find out where the damp comes from. Each instance of damp has its own solution.

Always try to keep your windows open. You need fresh air. Ventilation is one of the most important things for a home. If you think of your house as a small, closed box. If you keep the windows closed all day, at some point there will be no more clean oxygen.

If you have the budget, you can install a ventilation system.

Nancy: Ventilation is very important. Open doors and windows. When you’re cooking, cover pans with lids to stop the moisture from escaping. You have to be careful of all the small things that bring moisture into your home.

When you get people to fix things like pipes, you need to get the right people who will do the job properly.

The Interior Design Process

Interior design

So you’ve decided you want to hire an interior designer, or maybe you want to put your interior design hat on and try it for yourself - how does the process work? Understanding the logistics of what you want to do gives you the fundamental knowledge to get started and make informed decisions.

Q: Where can people find good tradesmen?

Lisa: Invitation to tender. I invite trade companies to bid, not with the final price because the final price isn’t enough. You need the breakdown of what they do and don’t include. Not everyone looks into this, they just look at the final price. If you go with the cheap option, you’ll probably end up paying the difference.

Unfortunately, some trade companies will manipulate the breakdown. For example, to get the job, on the breakdown marble would cost £1,000, while other companies charge £5,000. Then when it comes to installation, they’d say if you want us to cut it, it’s an extra £4,000.

Interior designers have better eyes for this stuff, so if you can, hire someone to do this for you. If you can’t, really spend some time understanding inclusion and exclusion. Not all tradesmen and contractors are willing to give a breakdown as it takes a lot of time. Instead, I suggest you give them a breakdown yourself, making it easy to compare and choose the best option.

Nancy: It’s all about experience for me. At the beginning of my career, I used recommendations from people I knew. If the work at the end was really good, I’d keep working with them.

Cheap is rarely the better option. If you use cheap builders, a few months down the line you might start finding cracks. I’ve recently experienced a tradesman ruin £700 worth of wallpaper because they didn’t know how to cut it.

Q: What are your favourite places to shop?

Lisa: I like bespoke things. I would prefer to have a carpenter and marble specialist - professionals from each sector.

Nancy: It depends on the budget of the client. Some like bespoke items that have to be made. I browse random shops for accessories, rugs and small pieces - not the main furniture. John Lewis is typically very reasonable and has plenty to offer.

Q: How or where do you normally find your inspiration?

Lisa: I know it might be a bit strange nowadays, but I prefer books. I go to find inspiration from the greatest. If you like a particular style, research the names that are known for that style, go to a book shop and find their biography. Images in books are a lot more curated than on Google.

Nancy: Instagram and Pinterest. I’m a visual person. Anyone can go on Pinterest but it’s all about how you use it.

Q: How much do you charge for your services?

Lisa: For interior design, we charge £40 per square metre for the basic design. Basic includes space planning and concept design. For the executive design with all the joinery and details, we charge an extra £55 per square metre.

Nancy: I charge per room. Any extra hours I normally charge £18-25.

Q: What are your top tips for home improvement for those on a budget?

Lisa: My top suggestion is if you don’t have money, use your time. You can do a lot of things yourself. Rather than buying IKEA stuff, buy some timber and try to DIY it. There are plenty of YouTube and TikTok videos out there showing you how to do things. If people can build a house themselves, you can build a table.

Even if you don’t have money, you shouldn’t compromise on the quality of your furniture. Learn the skills, buy the materials and make it yourself. I know most people won’t but I believe it's the best way to save money. And who knows, you might find out you love it and then can make money from it.

Don’t forget about second-hand stuff. People will throw things away that are new and probably just dirty. You can make anything beautiful. You just need time and imagination.

Nancy: Focus on the main furniture items like sofas, dining tables - the things that should last for a long time. The rest can be bought from somewhere like Wayfair and be reupholstered to be unique. So many showrooms and shops have reasonable prices, it’s just about finding them.

You can get sofas on finance - one of my current clients is doing that. You don’t have to spend too much. You can have a beautiful home on a budget.

Q: What home improvement projects add the most value?

A: According to experts at Ideal Home, The most popular home makeover projects for boosting the value of your property can be budget adaptable.

One of the easiest weekend projects is to freshen up your home with a coat of paint. However, if you’re looking for a bigger home improvement project with greater potential for value increase, adding a bathroom or converting your loft is a safer bet, which although comes with a higher price tag, also come with the added benefit of a profit margin between £6000-13,000!

Q: Are home improvement projects tax deductible?

A: Yes, some DIY home improvement projects can be tax deductible. However, as the Easy Home Improvement Team explains, this entirely depends on what tasks you’re carrying out.

Smaller and easy to install tasks, such as repairing your roof, mending light fixtures or fixing damp would count as being tax-deductible. This is because they improve the longevity/life span of your home and consequently its value. Energy saving appliances such as solar panels or geothermal heat pumps are also included for the same reasons.

Larger projects are the exception from deductions, as generally improvements on a bigger scale are for aesthetic purposes as opposed to making repairs to be able to continue residing in your home.

Top Tips

We asked Lisa and Nancy what one piece of advice they'd like to share with the world.

Lisa: Think about what you need and what you like. Switch off Google, Instagram and Pinterest and think about you and your identity to express in the design. Really study yourself.

Nancy: I learn by going to the specific expert. If I’m looking for something to do with paint, I’ll go to the paint shop and talk with the people there. They’ll give you information you didn’t even know you needed. You get much better information here than anywhere else.

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