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Achieving Balance in Design

In conversation with interior designer Frances Healy we discuss the fundamentals of spectacular interior design; colour, pattern and texture.

Based in the picturesque Tamar Valley, Frances Healy specialises in luxury interior design throughout Devon and Cornwall. With over 30 years of experience in crafting exquisite interiors – including a tenure at a top London firm and projects across both luxury residential and elite commercial properties in the South West – Frances knows her way around interior design. Captivated by her work for many years, we finally asked Frances, what makes the perfect room? According to Frances, it all boils down to three magic words: colour, pattern and texture. “I use and preach these three words daily and I always incorporate them into my projects,” says Frances. “I don’t think one is more important than the other… I think you need all of them to create the right balance.”

To achieve spectacular design, Frances emphasises the necessity of incorporating colour, pattern and texture into a room. “I aim to achieve a mix of all of these three elements to create something that’s different, that’s unique, that has character. For example, if I have a smooth wooden floor in a room, I would probably add a textured rug to sit on it, followed by maybe a slightly textured sofa, or an armchair in a small pattern, and then cushions and throws in a variation of all three. Even a very plain simple lamp can be enhanced with a patterned or rattan lampshade to just keep mixing up those three different elements. It’s all about layering up so that you have interest across the room.”

Achieving cohesion in a room is a fine-tuned balancing act and needs careful consideration; how these elements all look and work together is crucial. Frances typically begins with an overall room colour: “I often just know what colour will feel right in the room.” However, when a client has a piece of art or furniture they want as the room’s focal point, she may work backwards. Frances explains that colour is important: “because it creates an atmosphere in a room… it can literally transform the space. You could have a white, cold, chilly north-facing room, but when you paint that a warm pink or sunny yellow it will be transformed into somewhere cosy and inviting.”

When selecting the perfect colour, Frances reveals: “if you live in the UK, you have to decorate for winter because that is our weather pattern the majority of the time. A cold, chilly, grey room in winter will feel miserable, but a yellow version will feel warm. In the summer, it doesn’t matter what the colour is because the sun is streaming in through the windows and we are all happy!” Frances advocates embracing colour more boldly and considers part of her job to be encouraging clients to incorporate colour into their interior design. “It’s not about imposing purple on somebody if they hate purple, but I do try and take my clients a little bit out of their comfort zone,” Frances explains. “Most people are very frightened of painting a room a strong or different colour, but when it’s done, they love it,” she adds.

“Once you’ve decided on colour, pattern is the next thing that you choose because that could be the next biggest element. You need to then decide where that pattern is going to be and how to balance it out with other items to keep it under control,” says Frances. This approach ensures that the introduction of pattern enhances the room without overwhelming it, creating a harmonious and inviting space. When I ask Frances why pattern is important, she explains that patterns can transform a home into a personal sanctuary. ‘It’s about relief primarily, as pattern helps to break up the plainness of even a pretty colour, it also enables you to add in a mix of other colours and patterns. So, if you have plain painted walls and patterned curtains, then we can take other colours from this pattern and add them into the scheme elsewhere – in a rug, on upholstery, on lamps, on cushions.”

Frances has her favourite patterns which she frequently incorporates into her designs. “I always use checks and stripes, and I love ikat. That is my all-time favourite pattern. If I see anything with ikat on it – cushions, shades, bags, a picture frame – you name it, I have to have it - I have a lot of ikat patterns in my house, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”  Another favourite of Frances’ is crewel work fabric, which combines all of her key elements – texture, colour and pattern. “This is a dream fabric because it has embroidery on it, so there’s your texture; the design is the pattern, and they are often in four, five, six, or seven colourways – heaven!”

Incorporating patterns into a room can be achieved in various ways, such as through wallpaper, upholstery, or accessories. Frances advises: “Some people might like all of it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have all of it. If that’s what you want, you can have the whole lot – carpet, curtains, upholstery. But to me balance is key, so that it doesn’t become crazy – you do want a room to feel generally restful. Choose the main element that you want. Do you want patterned curtains? No? Then maybe patterned upholstery or a patterned rug and then we take it from there.”

The final element is texture, which plays a crucial role in bringing depth and interest to a space. Frances explains that texture “brings relief; if everything is all very flat, it will look one-level. If you can add a lovely textured rug, some woven lampshades, or even a twisted glass lamp base, it adds relief into the room and stops it from being dead flat.”

Frances has a penchant for specific textures, particularly those found in natural materials. She shares: “I have a thing about wood, sisal, rattan and leather – the earthy textures and tones provide a grounding effect to the colour and pattern. I especially love woven willow... you can ask my husband to confirm that I have more baskets than anybody in the world. These are my favourite textures to add.” For those looking to incorporate texture into a room, accessories often provide the perfect solution. Frances notes: “Texture can also just be in accessories – maybe just a wonderful knotty and grained wooden bowl. Then there are photo frames, lampshades, ornaments, books, a sculpture – all of these sorts of accessories add texture and relief and let’s not forget the simple addition of a bunch of flowers which will add colour as well as texture”

Fabrics also offer opportunities to introduce texture. Frances points out: “You might add a chunky natural fabric or very thick-stitched textured weave. Sheepskin is another classic, because of its finish, its feel, its touch – I love a small rug, throw or cushion in sheepskin’

While Frances insists that colour, pattern and texture must all be present for a room to feel complete, she acknowledges the challenge of balancing these elements while maintaining a cohesive design. The skill lies in working with them simultaneously and visualising how they will interact. “All three swirl around my head the whole time, whilst I am trying to work out how much of this I want and how much of that I want,” Frances explains. It is this expertise that distinguishes exceptional interior designers from the rest.

To achieve the perfect balance, Frances often photographs her initial design schemes, using the images to assess and refine her approach. “A photograph is a very good way to look at an overall idea – it looks quite different from looking at it in real life. You can instantly see, ‘I’ve got too much of that or not enough of that,’ or ‘I need a bit more texture or a little less blue.’ Interior design is just another art form, you’re putting all those elements together to create one big painting; it’s just that it’s a room rather than a piece of art.”


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