Saturday 18 November 2017

Interiors: See out the long dark winter by creating a warm Icelandic-themed space

Heath's Icelandic Shelter timber-clad living room
Heath's Icelandic Shelter timber-clad living room
Gudrun Sjödén tablecloth
Oliver Heath beside his timber-frame bed
Gudrun Sjödén interior
The hanging Cacoon hammock/tent

I'm heading into 2017 with high hopes and good intentions, especially regarding my bedroom curtains. Currently, they're a disgrace. For a start, they're totally failing to do their wintertime job of protecting the room from heat loss.

Their summertime job is regulating the natural light. They're not much cop at that either. Plus they look limp, raggedy and depressing. Their days are numbered! My New Year's resolution is replace them with curtains that make me feel good - physically, mentally and emotionally.

I'm taking my inspiration from the English interior designer and architect, Oliver Heath, who has just redecorated his own bedroom in conjunction with Hillarys, a company that specialises in curtains, blinds and window treatments. His brief was to create a room inspired by the theme of "Icelandic Shelter" (well they're paying!).

Icelandic Shelter, for your information (and mine!), is a current interior design trend. On a superficial level, it's a cool grey-blue palette with touches of coral, organic shapes inspired by the Icelandic landscapes, natural wood tones and rustic cosy textiles. But, for Heath, Icelandic Shelter is more than just a look. It's a response to the long dark winter and an uncertain political environment. Because those Icelandics know better than any of us how to furnish for winter. At times like this, you need your home to be a warm, safe, protective space.

The hanging Cacoon hammock/tent
The hanging Cacoon hammock/tent

Heath's design ethos is about creating homes that make people feel happier and healthier. He places less emphasis on the visual spectacle of his designs and more on creating a space that makes you feel a certain way.

"For a long time, interior design has just been about impressing other people. It's a bit crazy, isn't it? I want to design a home that makes people feel great."

He sees this as part of a fundamental shift in interior design.

"We're moving from a time of personal expression towards a time of improved personal experience. It's less about telling the world about who you are and expressing your identity, and more about creating a space where you can improve your health and well-being."

In his own house, all the elements play their part in creating that experience. The bed, which he designed himself, has a timber frame and headboard. He cites an Australian study, commissioned by Planet Ark and conducted in 2014, which found that people's heart rate dropped when they slept in a timber bed. It also found that sitting in a timber-clad room lowered the blood pressure.

"It's important to remember that natural materials create a sensory environment," he explains.

Gudrun Sjödén tablecloth
Gudrun Sjödén tablecloth

"You have the contrast between the driftwood headboard and the white cotton sheets, and soft felted wool blankets. You climb out of bed and put your foot on the natural sheepskin rug and then on the wooden floor. It feels lovely.

"In modern life, there are so many distractions and each of these little sensory experiences creates a moment of mindfulness. You're fully present, not worrying about the future."

Heath lives in Brighton and, like most urban dwellers, needs a window treatment that offers a bit of privacy. For this, he chose Thermashade Mist blinds (from €80), combined with floor-to-ceiling Bardot Denim curtains (from €258), both from Hillarys.

"Controlling the natural light, both in summer and in winter, is really important in terms of our health and well-being."

There's also the fact that layering up fabric against the windows makes a significant difference to heat loss.

"It's not just a functional thing," he says. "When you drop the blinds and draw the deep blue curtains, it changes the mood and the atmosphere in the room."

In the rest of the house, he has used Tatum Beige recycled cotton roller blinds (from €117, also from Hillarys) and continued the wood cladding through the living room and kitchen. The wood is seasoned larch and came from a tree that blew down in Kew Gardens in the storm of 1987. "It's got a wonderful sense of warmth and age and texture, but it's not a perfect material."

For a family kitchen, where he has used the boards horizontally over conventional cabinets, the rough wood, treated with beeswax, is a forgiving surface.

Embroidered and printed textiles are a feature of the Icelandic Shelter trend. If you're in the market for cheery textiles, the Swedish brand Gudrun Sjödén is original and not too expensive. Cushion covers start around €28, tablecloths are between €20 and €48, and floor rugs range from €90 to around €300. The company is clearly making efforts towards sustainable and ethical production too.

The trick to bright colour, according to Heath, is to use it in homeopathic doses.

"People used to feel they needed to use colour in a big way to express identity, but this is about using little bursts of colour to create a sense of energy and vitality." As with his overall design ethos, it's less about personal expression than personal experience.

Speaking of which, I've got my eye on a totally ridiculous object that would make me feel very happy indeed. It's the Cacoon, an indoor hammock/tent that hangs from the ceiling (€299). I love the idea of dangling above the hurly burly of the living room, peacefully reading a book, but I'm still saving for the bedroom curtains.

One possible solution is the Snuggly Bundle online competition with a prize of £1,000 (€1,152) worth of Hillarys thermal window dressings, a woollen throw and sheepskin rug similar to those featured in Oliver Heath's home makeover, and three cushions covered in fabrics inspired by the Icelandic Shelter trend.

Full details are on https://www.hillarys.co.uk/oliver-heath-competition/. See also oliverheath.com, hillarys.ie, gudrunsjoden.com and cacoonworld.com or ksl-living.fr.

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