Making your period property work for modern living

By Emma Sims Hilditch

Emma Sims Hilditch, one of the most influential and trusted interior designers in the UK, shares her top tips for creating elegant homes which combine the best of old and new.

At Sims Hilditch, many of our clients come to us because they have heard of our fresh take on elegant English country living. We may be based in the Cotswolds, but the service we offer is London-class.

We believe that good design can truly transform lives. To us, a successful project is all about making your home work for your lifestyle and this is especially true when it comes to transforming heritage properties like manor houses or period townhouses into modern family homes. We find that people want the charm that comes with an older property, but they also want their home to be practical and to work for their needs. Here are six key lessons about designing a contemporary period home.

Think about the hierarchy of the rooms

Old houses have beautiful character but very often the layout is not suited to modern living. We start every project by looking at interior architecture and ensuring that the flow from room to room makes sense. For many of our clients, a good kitchen and entertaining space is a must and this sometimes requires rejigging rooms, or getting planning permission to knock through walls to make the most of the available space. The results are always worth it!

Let there be light

Many of the heritage properties we work on come to us in a state of gloom because of dark furniture, heavy curtains and dark colour schemes. A simple way to transform a property from its manorial past is to go lighter. Sometimes this may mean making architectural changes, such as adding skylights, but most often simply using lighter materials can breathe new life into a countryside home.

Choose materials wisely

Furnishings need to have a little give to withstand the constant flow of the elements into the home. Natural materials like wood and stone age beautifully, adding immense charm to a property over time, and we love using natural wood furniture. When it comes to fabrics, we tend to favour linens and wools that are robust yet refined. If young children are part of the picture, we consider using patterns like contemporary checks to help disguise sticky finger marks.

In the country, plan to have a boot room

Countryside living inevitably means mud. We always try to plan for an area where muddy boots and shoes can be kept - whether this be a room all of its own or part of an entrance hall. Fitted joinery offers a great space saving solution and many options to combine seating and storage. It also looks great - especially when accessorised with wicker baskets, wall lights and cushions.

Mix antiques with contemporary pieces

Antiques lend immense gravitas to a property but too much dark wood can be oppressive. To combat this, we often combine antique pieces with contemporary furnishings. This not only softens the look but adds layers of interest through contrast and texture.

For those renting their home...

..the above recommendations still apply. A rented home should feel every bit as welcoming and practical as a home that is owned, so the space should still flow, be full of natural light and have plenty of storage space available. These features alone will make a rental property more attractive to prospective tenants, whether they be making the move out of London in search of modern country living, or have lived in the country for a number of years and are moving back to the city.

Sims Hilditch

If you are interested in finding out more about Sims Hilditch interiors, and the services they offer, find out more here.