An eye for design

Ali Cary, owner and founder of the Cotton Mills Design House, offers a glimpse into her tried and trusted interior design process.


The thought of embarking on an interior decorating project is exciting and daunting, depending on your experience, your budget, and your time. As with any project, it is all in the planning. We hand over to Ali Cary, owner and founder of the Cotton Mills Design House, Truro, to walk you through the key stages of bringing your interior vision to life.

Ali has always been immersed in the world of design. “My father, who initially worked as a set designer, started the original shop, The House of Fabrics when I was ten years old,” she explains, “so I was introduced to interior design at a young age. This background has been a huge advantage in the ever-changing world of interiors!” Ali joined the Cotton Mills 31 years ago, and even now the business continues to grow and evolve. Today, the Cotton Mills is crewed by a range of people from different creative backgrounds, including interior and textile designers, natural creatives, and even a team of in-house fitters, upholsterers and curtain makers! An authority on all-things interiors, Ali, along with her team, caters to a whole spectrum of clients, some simply looking for gorgeous new fabrics, and some who need an expert eye to oversee their entire home’s decoration.

Starting, as it were, at the beginning, I ask Ali to talk through the Cotton Mills’ proven process. Unsurprisingly, as any project should, she explains that interior design should always start with a plan…

Put a plan on paper


Ask yourself what the room needs; is it a sofa, coffee table, new curtains, blinds, or shutters? Will you choose paint, wallpaper, or a combination of both? Do you like formal or casual? Do you love coastal style or do you long to live in a mid-century style home? By spending some time to identify the style elements you love, and then finding images that reflect that, as Ali puts it: “You’ll be happy you spent time to plan.”


Start with what you have


Not everyone (in fact, very few people) can start with a fresh, empty room and begin decorating. “Most of us already have some pieces of furniture, or our homes have carpeting, tile floors, worktops, or architectural features that we’re not ready to discard,” says Ali. “If there are things you like, focus on them, and make them important. If there are things you don’t like but cannot change, find ways to camouflage or downplay them in your newly decorated space.”


Do you have decorative pieces?


“If you have a collection of beautiful coloured glass, ornate china, or even a collection of rowing oars, these can be the start of a decorating plan,” Ali continues. Based on the colour schemes, decorative themes, or formality of your collection, Ali explains that you can use them to identify the start of your decorating project.

Do you have a favourite colour?


“I have a friend who loves anything blue,” says Ali. “Of course, then it is only natural that her home would be predominantly blue, too! If you have a favourite colour, use it to guide your colour scheme for your home. Use hues of it on the walls, in patterns, on upholstery, and in the accessories. And look at what complementary colours work with your scheme; is there a piece of art, or maybe pottery that has a burnt orange hue that you could use for the cushions? This natural organic inclusion helps to create a cohesive scheme.”


If you have a north-facing room


This, Ali tells me, would suggest that the light is cold, meaning it would be best to use warm colours. “Equally,” she explains, “a south-facing aspect can take dramatic colours as light is always available.”


Choose a fabric with colours you like


Possibly the most common way of beginning a decorating project is to select a fabric with colour, a pattern or an interesting texture, and then to use the colours in the fabric to complement colours you’ll use on the walls, on other pieces of furniture, and in the accessories you choose. “It can often be useful to look at a colour wheel,” says Ali. “There are only a few basic rules to follow; blue complements yellow, as do red and green. You could use a coral with a turquoise, bending the rules and creating more of a statement, or just keep to a Scandinavian palette of neutrals, including dark spruce greens with greys, charcoals and white.”


Choose an interesting pattern


If you want to be on trend then, as Ali puts it: “Pattern is the new grey! You can choose a pattern in the wallpaper, wall tiles, curtains or cushions. It can be scrolling, geometric, bold, or subtle. Use it as the foundation for the other elements in your home and carry the pattern into lamps, fabrics, and accessories.”


Why not start with an area rug?


With a patterned area rug, Ali explains how you can keep other elements simple, focusing on the rug instead of fabrics or walls. But if you want to use the rug as a starting point for everything else, pick colours from the pattern and use them throughout the room on walls, fabrics, furniture, and accessories.


To help me visualise these ideas, Ali points me to a recent project, undertaken by the Cotton Mills team for a client in their beautiful Cornish home. With the brief of creating an uncluttered interior, keeping the colour palette complementary but without being shy of colour, Ali says: “Our client just didn’t want to complicate it and add too much into the mix.

“They understood that their open-plan living space meant that they needed to be a bit bold and use a colour they liked that was still strong enough for a vast area.” Ali’s client already had a stunning charcoal grey velvet sofa. “They understood that they needed some contrast, so we used some dark navy fabric which complemented the room and also worked well with grey. The light coloured floor was a great backdrop to the navy and white embroidered curtains, the light embroidery giving relief to the dark navy, and also picked up on the light tiled floor.”

Into the snug, and Ali explains that she and the team used a golden yellow. “This naturally complemented the main open-plan area, and also created that ‘snug’ feeling!”


As we continue our tour, Ali tells me how upstairs, they were able to maintain each of the bedrooms’ coastal theme with the use of washed out linens. “The guest bedrooms are opposite each other, and we came to the conclusion that rather than change the style of the fabric, we would use the same designs but in different colours.” Similarly, in the master bedroom, there was already an existing (and gorgeous) bluebell headboard. “We built the scheme around this,” continues Ali. “A border, similar to the headboard, was added to the curtains, creating a seamless flow to the room.” They also added white contrasting shutters and a light-coloured love seat, which, as Ali says, “gives contrast and texture to the scheme”.


“We thrive on helping our clients create a cohesive interior,” finishes Ali. Indeed, the finished result for this home is outstanding, and truly testament to Ali and the Cotton Mills’ experience. In an increasingly busy world where we find ourselves with less time than ever to dedicate to the decoration of our homes, it’s comforting to know that in the ever-changing world of interiors, the steady hands of the Cotton Mills Design House team are there to be counted on.


cotton-mills.co.uk