Designed to succeed: A Fresh Design interview with Fiona Watkins, interior designer

Over the last few years, Cheshire-based Fiona Watkins has seen her design business flourish from its low key, informal beginnings. Here she shares an insight into her design experiences, plus provides her top tips and tricks for adding contemporary style into period homes.

Image credit: Tigermoth Lighting

“I spent some time working in hotels, which gave me a sense of how design worked on a big scale,” she says. “Ever since then, I haven’t been afraid to use bold patterns and statement colours. Living in Holland was a fascinating glimpse into another culture, from a designer’s point of view. It’s helped to give me a different perspective on projects, to inject a little European style, and to understand what else is available.”

She describes her personal style as ‘bold and colourful’.

“I love colour – I think it’s something to do with living in Manchester now, where the skies are often grey for weeks on end. I’ll usually pick something special out for a room, whether it’s a dramatic wallpaper, a beautiful fabric, a bold rug, a piece of artwork or maybe something the client already owns, and build the design around it.”

The design process starts with a detailed talk with the perspective client to find out what they want to achieve.

“It’s really crucial to take your clients’ thoughts and ideas into account; my job is to advise, guide and suggest. I’ll give new clients a questionnaire to fill in, to encourage them to really think about how and when they use the space, although it’s the property itself that dictates what will work.”

Fiona’s current projects include a new cellar added to an existing house.

“As this cellar is being built partly under an existing property, we’ve faced all sorts of practical problems, not least how to link it to the house,” she laughs.

“As there’s little natural light, the staircase will be a modern glass atrium to maximise the light we have. We’re giving it a contemporary edge with flat stone walls, which will help marry up with the more traditional style in the cellar itself.

“Another work in progress is a Victorian house with a new kitchen extension constructed at the back. We’re opening up one side of the house to create a new sitting/dining/kitchen area, and that’s involved adding double doors from the beautiful original panelled hallway. We’ve gone for double doors that are part glazed, to give a feeling of light and space right through to the garden – it’s a real transformation.”

Tips and tricks for adding contemporary style 

If you’d like to give a period property a contemporary edge but need to keep the costs down, Fiona shares her tips for a low cost makeover.

  • Keep any period features where possible. You might be aiming for a contemporary style, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate the character of the room. Also, changing as little as possible will help keep your costs down – removing original features can also leave holes in walls or bring down showers of old plaster, leading to unforeseen re-plastering costs.
  • Paint everything the same colour! More specifically, paint the room with shades of the same colour. Companies such as Farrow and Ball and Little Greene have a great range of shades of one colour, such as beige, taupe, and cream, which help create a contemporary feel. If possible, I like to paint the floorboards as well. There’s a fine line between making a room feel boxy and cold and creating a feeling of space, so using varying shades of one colour helps keep a feeling of warmth. Painting the room one colour including dado rails and picture rails, removes lines and helps delineate the space, making the room feel more spacious.
  • Consider mixing surfaces textures – a wooden floor pairs well with the industrial look of steel, similarly the contrast of white gloss flooring and sleek dark kitchen units give a modern feel.
  • If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to buy all the latest modern furniture. Use older well loved pieces, but consider having them recovered or any damage attended to. A few well chosen items of furniture arranged in a modern way will give the space a contemporary look.
  • Painting the room in neutral colours means it’s a blank canvas. You can use really bold curtains, cushions and rugs, to add your personality and warmth and plain walls also provide a great backdrop to display pictures or a statement piece of artwork.
  • Lighting is really important, and you need to take into account the orientation of the room, the times of day you use it, what you use it for and the amount of natural light. Using lamps is an easy way to soften a room and make it feel cosier. Install dimmer switches so that you can tone down harsh overhead lighting and give a softer feel for evening. Mirrors are a great way of creating light in a dark room, and positioning a lamp in front of the mirror will reflect light back into the living space.
To find out more about Fiona and her work, please visit

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