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The power of design

Creating a beautiful home-from-home with the help of an interior design expert is the secret to creating a successful luxury holiday retreat.

Words by Hannah Tapping

Helen Grundy-Smith started her career as a stewardess, working aboard super yachts from the age of 18 and so is no stranger to luxury spaces. After 12 years at sea, it was important to Helen that she created a home on dry land and so she changed her career path, using her eye for detail and experience of dealing with VIPs to train private staff and butlers. Since having a home of her own, Helen had fallen in love with soft furnishings made from beautiful fabrics and worked on managing a number of interior projects for private clients. During this time, Helen built up some close working relationships with a number of interior designers, which inspired her move to purchase the Cotton Mills Design House in Truro.

The Design House, as Helen tells me: “specialises in the production of predominantly bespoke, hand-sewn curtains and window dressings. The range includes blinds as well as shutters and all of our window treatments are made in local work rooms. Not only does this mean that we are able to support local businesses and creatives, but also that our finish standard is really high. We curate all of our suppliers and materials as sourcing a quality product is very important to us.” Helen and her design team not only offer window treatments, they can also provide turnkey interior design projects which are very popular with both developers and holiday home owners looking for a property makeover. This begins with floor plans as well as mood and sample boards designed by Helen. Empty rooms in new builds are transformed with a top to bottom transformation, including styling, something which Helen really feels brings a property to life, especially if you are looking to have professional photography taken to promote your holiday home. Even if the design and furnishing scheme has been done Helen can offer styling for resale, promotional or editorial purposes.

Helen is self-confessed as being a minimalist at heart: “I like fresh, clean and minimal interiors, with an emphasis on functionality. Something can look beautiful, but if it doesn’t function either aesthetically or practically then there’s no place for it. I think this emphasis is there in my designs because I worked on superyachts for such a long time. Due to the small environments, I had to learn how to organise and make good use of the space available, both in terms of light and storage, and it’s these impactful elements in a room that are important. I’m not afraid to use pattern but I prefer to use it, and bold colours, as an accent rather than a major theme. Especially for holiday rental properties, I believe the design needs not only to stand the test of time but to be timeless as well. This is what we aspire to at Cotton Mills. Everything we do is geared towards curating dream homes for our clients that they will love to spend time in, and not just until the current trends wear thin.”

In terms of furniture, Helen works closely with a couple of Cornish businesses. Richard Lee specialises in handmade bespoke cabinetry from natural materials and Ross from Seasaw Design is also a favourite – both are able to create bespoke, standalone and fitted furniture pieces that are unique to each home. From a beautifully simple coffee table or a fully bespoke kitchen to a set of fitted wardrobes, by working with local master craftsman no piece of furniture is out of the realms of possibility.

Alongside the interior design of a house, working with Helen and her Cotton Mills team means that as part of any interior design project, window dressings are always exquisite. Fabrics from the Romo group, Sanderson, Clark and Clark and ILIV can be viewed in the studio or as samples. Helen always keeps an eye out for eco-friendly and sustainable materials and tells me the new sustainable plains from ILIV are a current favourite: “It’s really important to me that we do our research on our suppliers, and that we take every step necessary to ensure that the fibres used to create a fabric are ethically sourced. Sustainability is an extremely difficult balance to strike with textiles, especially because the process is so long and intensive and often involves the use of harsh chemicals. But strike we must!” For any window dressings Helen recommends first booking an appointment to visit in-store in order to select fabrics before having a design and measure visit. “We have an in-house senior fitter, who takes care of all of our measuring and will return to fit your window treatments professionally on completion.”

Due to the bespoke nature of the window dressings, the making can take anything up to six weeks, but the wait is more than worth it as customers are assured of exceptional quality and a perfect fit. In terms of fabric, Helen tells me that there is currently a trend towards good quality linens, cottons and hemps as well as recycled materials: “Clients often request these fabrics and their provenance is also important so we try to source them from those companies who have good practices. We endeavour to avoid ‘throw-away’ fashions, focusing more on quality and although this can sometimes prove to be more of an initial outlay, our customers appreciate that they are making investment purchases.”

I’m keen to discover if Helen has any advice for those looking to furnish a holiday or second home: “Guests are looking for that little bit of luxury. I think where you can afford to spend a little more, making really good decisions and curating special pieces that are going to last and are of really good quality will set your property apart. Bathrooms, for example, which are often overlooked, are worth the investment of extra consideration and perhaps a little bit more of the budget in order to create a really nice sanctuary.”

“Competition can be so fierce in the holiday letting industry, especially in Cornwall. Cornwall speaks for itself in terms of marketing, it has worldwide renown. So, if you’ve got a letting property, you’ve really got to try and stand out amongst the crowd and going that extra mile with certain details and finishes makes a big difference. Guests can be very discerning and have come to expect quality. As an interior designer, I’m here to help maximise either your profit from the return of your guests, or the finishes and items that you choose so that you’re not having to replace them as often.”


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