Art, some colour and no clutter: at home with interior designer Paul Warren

Art, some colour and no clutter: at home with interior designer Paul Warren

The designer assesses his flat from an eco angle, as well as sharing his tips for a stylish home

Photography by Ben Reed
Art art and more art...the key to an interesting home

'My flat is far from huge, but it has the considerable advantage of a large front room which works as an office, dining room and sitting room. It's the culmination of years of work - and I can say that I'm much more conscious of eco issues than I was 10 years ago. People always ask designers for tips and for me, if you want a home that's interesting, you do need pictures on the walls.' Artworks: the triptych on the left and the picture on the right are made from old newspapers by artist John Lee Bird. The oil painting over the fireplace is by British artist Alec Cumming.

Paul Warren is a London-based interior designer who specialises in contemporary design. 

'I'm not rabidly eco, but as I've become more aware of man-made climate change, deforestation and its effects on the environment, the more I try to design homes that have environmental integrity.

For example, I look at the provenance of materials and products and try to choose those made ideally in the UK and certainly the EU. Having talked to an expert at Friends of the Earth, I try to avoid materials that are mined or from deep quarries - I look to recycled metals and reclaimed stone. I use UK/EU timber that's FSC or PEFC-certified and I'm generally thinking is this or that product made from renewable/sustainable materials or can it easily recycled at end of life? 

I like products that contain recycled content - such as the Finnish solid surface material Durat -  though while new composite materials are interesting, I do like ceramic basins and baths because ceramic is inert in landfill. I urge clients to have water-saving taps and shower heads, triple A-rated kitchen appliances -  and I do now look at companies' websites and carefully read their environmental policies. 


The window end of the main room is the dining area with a large dark wood veneer table
Paul loves the glass console table by Fiam and has simple wood Venetian blinds
The coffee table surface is made from an offcut of marble. The red painting is by Andrew Bonacina while the four prints are by artist Kate Banazi
The bedroom has a bespoke walnut headboard by Gary Wild, grey linen on the bed and wool throw from Skandium. Artworks are by Kate Banazi
Gary Wild built the bank of wardrobes using formaldehyde-free MDF. LED strips on the top provide uplighting
An old B&B sofa system was re-upholstered in a grey mohair and is now as good as new
Have shelves put up or a display unit to show off ceramics and glassware, says Paul
A jute runner with linen binding from Nina Burgess carpets enhances the narrow hall

For floor coverings, it's got to be wool or bamboo, and when rugs and carpets are made in Nepal and India, I look for Goodweave certification. So while I'm not an expert, I feel strongly that designers should take be interested in the environment and developments in sustainability as it relates to our work.'

My own home

Can I say that this is the first time I've been asked to assess my own flat from an eco point of view! I will say now that it's in a Victorian terrace so is definitely nowhere near Passivhaus standards alas!

It's been a labour of love over many years and the main refurbishment work happened about 15 years ago when it was pretty derelict and walls and floors had to be stripped out - and I wasn't so eco conscious. So due to budget constraints, I asked my carpenter/joiner/furniture maker Gary Wild to cover the floors with 18mm MDF. Opinions differ about MDF but I use a no-formaldehyde board and as MDF is made from waste wood, I'm not averse to it.

'And the floors have worked really well. I sanded and painted the MDF and did have to give it an acrylic coating to protect it, but I'm confident it'll still be looking good in another 30 years' time. And recently I've put down some flatweave wool and jute rugs to soften the look. 

The walls in the flat are painted in various taupe/cream hues from Farrow & Ball. I like their colour palette - it's not too huge - and the quality of their paints, which are made in the UK and are very low VOC. 

The main living space is the room at the front of the flat, looking out onto the street. As it's a good 20 foot long, so it's been easy to segment it into sitting, dining and office areas.

I strongly believe in commissioning local craftspeople to make storage to measure and I've worked with Gary over many years. He made my desk, storage units, wardrobes in the bedroom and he built my kitchen, all using MDF and birch ply, which he also painted. I have switched to energy saving LED lights throughout - and I'd also like to say that last year I got rid of my tumble dryer and replaced it with a £30 clothes airer from John Lewis!

My furniture.. well, a friend was getting rid of fairly worn B&B Italia sofa unit, so I took it and got it reupholstered locally in a dark grey mohair (from Kothea) and I'm thrilled with it. I also had an offcut of marble left over from a job so I had it made into the top of a coffee table. I feel I score quite highly on re-using/upcycling. The leather chairs are from Camerich. I think the styling and relative affordability of their furniture but the environmental downside is it's made in China. I have a glass console table by Fiam which I bought years ago and it would be recyclable were I ever to fall out of love with it. 

The kitchen was made by Gary Wild using birch ply and MDF.  The orange glass splash back was made by a local glazer. The floor is Amtico vinyl
Paul doesn't like being overlooked so has frosted glass in the lower sash

Homes need art

I do urge everyone to buy pieces of art - paintings, prints, posters, photographs - because art lasts forever, artists aren't mass producers or polluters and art gives character to a space. I love to collect ceramics and glassware and I've bought some pictures over the years - and been given a few.

For example, my artist friend John Lee Bird made the triptych that takes up one wall, as well as another large artwork he made as part of a series for the St John Ambulance. A few years back I maxed out the credit card on an abstract painting by then up-and-coming artist Alec Cumming, while the wall behind the sofa has a dark red painting by my nephew Andrew Bonacina - who's now chief curator at the Barbara Hepworth Museum in Wakefield. I also have some prints by English artist Kate Banazi, who, incidentally, is now based in Australia.

I feel I do well on the eco front when it comes to soft furnishings. I have switched to organic cotton towels, I have linen sheets and duvet covers, wool throws and felt wool cushions in the sitting room. I have wooden Venetian blinds and the bedroom and kitchen have the original wooden shutters, which are lovely. 

I feel the kitchen is fairly eco as it's made by Gary from birch ply and MDF and the splashback is glass. As you can see I went for a bright colour to contrast against the dark units and floor. The flooring I chose is a dark wood look vinyl by Amtico. I didn't have the budget for a solid wood floor so went for a quality vinyl that looks convincing. Amtico is a company with ISO 14001 accreditation for its environmental management and vinyl is recyclable. It'll last for a good 30 years, so I feel ok about my choice.  

Can I add for good measure that I do compost my vegetable peelings and food waste and recycle as much as possible - papers, cans, glass, tin foil, plastic etc. Even though I have LEDs I'm a zealot for turning off lights when I leave a room and I have started to turn the thermostat down by a degree in winter.

Paul's interior design tips:

* Have smooth clean painted walls and hang some pictures on them. Small pictures look good grouped together. Don't hang you pictures too high - the centre of the picture should be at eye level.

* Make a huge effort to de-clutter and put things away. Piles of papers and books everywhere look awful as do clothes strewn over the floor and kitchen surfaces covered with jars, tins and bottles.

* Invest in storage, built-in is best but high street stores such as IKEA, Habitat and John Lewis have good freestanding storage ideas.

* Pick your favourite colours to use throughout your home, but don't choose too many. Be wary of too much pattern. Cushions are nice, but you don't need millions of them. And don't put them on an angle, have them straight and do plump them regularly!

* If you have dirty carpets, hire a steam cleaner. Clean carpets will improve your home no end.

* Good quality faux flowers are worth spending money on because they look very convincing these days - just dust them regularly.