The Red Thread – Slowly Developing a Cohesive Home

Image: Lived In 365

The concept of the Red Thread (or röda tråden as it is known in Sweden) is something that has been floating around in my head for some time but which has really resonated since I started to design whole houses for other people, rather than working on my own piecemeal, as budget allows.

If you’re not familiar with the idea, the Red Thread of the Scandinavian example describes the essence of something creative, such as a story or work of art. Something that sits at the heart of a piece of work and anchors everything around it.

The concept also exists in other cultures too, perhaps most notably in the legend of Theseus finding his way out of the minotaur’s cave, but also in Asian mythology in which the red thread of fate around an ankle ties together people destined to meet – how aptly sappy for a February post (that reminds me, must buy a Valentine’s card).

In interiors however, the red thread is something which is used throughout a house, or interior of any kind, that makes a scheme feel cohesive.

Image: Lived In 365

The thread could actually be any number of different things – a colour, a wood tone, a period of design for example – what is important is that it exists throughout, whether in the fore or background, so that as you wander through a space nothing jars as you move from room to room and the effect is that the whole place feels well put together.

Funnily enough as I started to think about this post I discovered that Kate Watson-Smyth has also written on this subject, you can find her post here and I also notice this again and again as I try to complete Instagram (new year’s resolution to do that less but still…) and see the cohesiveness in some of the best loved homes on social media.

If you look at the home of Sandra Baker, @theidlehands, for example, there is a consistent use of highly patterned wallpaper and fabric, not always using the same colourways, pink in the hall, blue in the office, green in the WC. Here it is that similar use of pattern that ties everything together and allows her to have fun with other elements without disrupting the flow.

Image: @theidlehands

A glance at my Instagram page might tell you my red thread is reddish/orange hues. From the bright tone of my kitchen cupboards in Little Greene’s Heat, to a subtler, redder tone of Farrow & Ball’s Picture Gallery Red on the window reveals of my newly decorated downstairs loo.

I’ve also got a pretty major thing, as so many of us do, for mid-century design which you will see in much of my furniture which acts as another red thread. The orange tones however, mean I can happily deviate from this style and still have a home that feels well put together.

Image: Lived In 365

So how do you find your red thread?

Well for many of us, unsurprisingly, it is something that develops completely naturally. You love blue and before you know it, it starts appearing in various rooms around your house. A Stiffkey Blue feature wall here, a stripey blue vase there. Another person may be led by the architectural features of their home, using elements from the same era throughout even where they have been stripped out and must be replaced.
But what if you don’t have a strong feeling about a particular colour or design period?

This is sometimes true when I start a new project. A client may have a penchant for pink but equally they frequently say, “I have no idea where to begin, that’s where you come in.”

To develop the red thread from scratch can be a great opportunity – when you’re renovating a whole house it is a good time to create that sense of consistency – it’s just knowing where to begin.

With one client, for example, it was with a Gustav Klimt painting that she knew she wanted to hang somewhere prominent. It was full of golds and green but also pattern which inspired some of the suggested wallpaper options.

For another, it was with the setting, a rural Cheshire location which seemed to require the use of greens, with a hint of sea as a nod to their naval backgrounds, and natural materials throughout to make it work with the surroundings.

So if you’re starting from scratch take a good look around you and think about what you love most about your home, whether that’s the actual bricks and mortar, a vase that you cherish or a tiling detail that fills you with delight.  For me your red thread should be the parts of your house that make you smile when you see them, even if it’s in the middle of a particularly challenging bedtime routine.

It is a real treat to be able to plan a whole house from scratch but for most of us, we’re doing things more slowly and perhaps even undoing mistakes we’ve made along the way as we figured out what our essence should be. And whilst Instagram is packed full of inspiration one thing that it is liable to do is tempt you away from sticking to your red thread with tempting visions of beauty that work so well in somebody else’s home.

I was tempted, for example, a while back, to paint my living room a dark shade of green that I loved on paper. But it just didn’t work. In retrospect it was just too far away from the design essence of the house and no matter how hard I tried to accessorise it (and my god I tried), in the end I just had to repaint (my husband was so pleased).

Since then I’ve been far more focused. I know what works and every time I think about decisions for a new room, I think carefully about how it ties back to what already exists. That doesn’t necessarily mean I use the same paint colour or wallpaper again, it doesn’t need to be boring, but it does mean that I want to use tones that sit in the same family in some part of the room.

Image: Lived In 365

In my own home that has been:

• The sienna in the tile pattern in our hallway;
• Choosing the Little Greene colour when we decided to invest in a new larder cupboard for the kitchen;
• Repainting the bannister to the top of the house in Farrow & Ball’s bright Charlotte’s Locks;
• The window reveal mentioned earlier;
• Accessories including an amazing rug with terracotta lobsters, an Anglepoise lamp in the “Sienna” colourway, and orange hairpin legs from The Hairpin Leg Company in the office.

The backdrop for this is mostly neutral tones, light downstairs and slightly darker in the bedrooms, allowing the other elements to pop.
For us, budget and time restraints mean that we aren’t in a position to redo the whole house in one go, even if we wanted to. So that means the slowly slowly approach to the red thread as we get round to each space.  Which has got me thinking, what am I going to do about that yellow bath?