‘I like unexpected
elements: things that confound preconceptions and draw the eye. Every room should have something surprising: it might be an object that’s underscaled or overscaled, or a bright colour, or a piece that doesn’t match,’ muses interior designer Nia Morris. ‘I think interiors should be a bit daring: that’s what gives a home energy. Too much taupe and tastefulness is just bland.’
Easier said than done you think. But it’s a decisive philosophy that Nia has put into practice at the Gloucestershire house she shares with her husband Paul Baines. What began life as an unwieldy cottage with ‘low ceilings, dark corridors and too few windows’, is now a home that feels both modern and individual. Striking an assured balance between rustic and urbane, white walls are punctured by expressionistic swathes of blues and greens; muted rugs sit with mid-century furniture and rooms bask in rural views through new, wide windows.
The exterior, with its gabled roof line, still feels traditional. Step inside, however, and it is the sense of space that corrals your attention. The original hallway was low-ceilinged and gloomy, but now it’s a double-height space that feels light and welcoming. ‘The entrance of a home is so important; if it’s miserable, it’s hard to shrug off that first impression,’ says Nia, who worked with architect Richard Parr to create the striking entrance. ‘What we lost in space upstairs is made up for downstairs.’ The oak and steel staircase drifts upstairs like a piece of modern sculpture. ‘As it’s viewed side-on, we designed it to be beautiful in profile,’ says Nia. ‘We’d considered concrete, but thought it would be too contemporary, so we chose oak, cutting it to look like concrete. I like the way you can see the grain of wood in each tread.’ The vertical panelling – a pared down version of tongue-and-groove – echoes the rural origins of the house. ‘The house was originally a mill and it has grown over the years,’ says Nia. ‘I wanted to preserve the feel of its origins in a contemporary way.’
To connect the house to its location, a back wall was removed and the kitchen extended to include picture windows with views of the wood-fringed acreage. The simple layout, with a capacious steel-surfaced oak island and practical breakfast bar, was determined by the needs of a large family: ‘Paul and I have seven children between us and everyone likes to cook,’ says Nia. Instead of cupboards, exposed shelving houses easy-access essentials: Kilner jars, Swedish pottery and glasses.
In the utility room, apple-green joinery sings against white walls. It’s a painterly juxtaposition that works on two levels: as decoration and to define the space. Nia’s taste for ‘bold, clear colour’ also appears in the swan-white master bedroom, where a deep-blue half-wall behind the bed screens a bank of wardrobes. ‘As the room has no straight walls, it was a practical way to create a dressing room,’ she says. ‘It also allowed us to break up the room’s cavernous feel and reposition the bed to take advantage of the views.’
Moody-blue envelopes you in the living room, where walls, ceilings and joinery are washed in the same tone, a ‘daring choice’ that has the desired effect: ‘it feels formal but cosy’. There is more drama in a pair of high-backed, mid-century chairs and a Gothic bank of flickering candles on the restored mantelpiece. A 19th-century sofa, upholstered in an overscaled white and gold brocade, adds that frisson of the unexpected. ‘It’s a slightly ridiculous fabric, but it works,’ says Nia. ‘I don’t think there is one right way to do things. There are lots of approaches that work. The key is to take one idea and follow it through.’
See more of Nia’s work at niamorris.co.uk