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Can the new John Lewis interior-design service update my living room?

Jessica and Ellie look at fabric samples
Credit: Russell Sach

As John Lewis launches a free interior design service, Jessica Doyle books a 90 minute consultation to find out how its experts would revamp her dated living room

As the Telegraph’s interiors editor, I look at pictures of beautiful homes every day. It’s one of the best parts of the job – but it’s also a constant reminder that parts of my own home are not quite up to scratch. Take my living room, for example. There’s nothing especially wrong with it, it just doesn’t look as pulled-together as I’d like. So when John Lewis invited me to test out the new in-store interiors advice service at its revamped Southampton store, I was interested to see what the stylists there would do with my room.

My main problem with it is the windows. It has a curved bay, almost four metres wide, which is great for letting in light but makes fitting curtains tricky (not to mention wildly expensive). That’s why the hideous, cheap Venetian blinds we put up as a temporary measure when we moved in five years ago are still there. They don’t bother me so much in summer, but in winter, when they’re closed from about 4pm every day, they make the room feel cold and bare.

The charcoal-grey sofa is another sticking point. It was a practical choice at the time, rather than an aesthetic one: we have two small children, so it has removable, washable covers. It’s done a good job, but it’s not as comfortable as it used to be, and I’m completely over the colour. Toy storage is an issue, too: the built-in cupboards are stuffed full, and there’s no room for another storage unit.

I love the paint colour (Plaster II by Paint & Paper Library), so I’ll be keeping that as it is. And the vintage Ercol chairs took months to find on eBay and then have re-covered a few years ago, so they’re staying, too. The rug is nice and big, and very cosy, but I wouldn’t mind moving it into the bedroom and having something else here.

To start the design process, I book in with Ellie, one of John Lewis’s in-house stylists. With their Home Design Service, you get 90 minutes of one-on-one advice, completely free of charge. I email her a photo of my room and my thoughts about it, but you can also send a 360-degree video taken on your phone. A few days later, I travel to the Southampton store to discuss her ideas for a possible new look for the room. 

We start by having a chat about my main priorities – what to do with the windows… – and then look at options. I’ve given her an admittedly rather tight budget of £5,000, which, I quickly learn, would be eaten up almost entirely by curtains, due to the amount of fabric and the bespoke bent pole system we’d need. It’s a dispiriting start – but, luckily, Ellie has some solutions.

One is to go for Roman blinds, one for each window (there are six in total), which would be a cheaper way of adding some colour and pattern. Another is to opt for shutters, which wouldn’t add colour, but would be a far smarter solution than our current one. The most cost-effective option would be new, made-to-measure Venetians with wider slats and a white tape running down the centre to give them the look of shutters – essentially a better-looking upgrade on what we already have. We could add ‘dress’ curtains, which stand at the side of the windows but are not wide enough to be pulled across, thus saving on fabric costs, although personally I’m not entirely convinced by this scenario.

We start by having a look at fabrics. This is where having an in-house expert to guide you really helps: there are thousands of fabrics in the store and I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start, whereas Ellie can suggest designs that would go with my wall colour (and brands that are within my budget). I find it difficult to decide what I’m looking for – do I want a plain colour, or a pattern… and what kind of pattern? A soft textured oatmeal linen seems a safe choice, but also a bit of a cop-out.

After looking at a few splashy floral designs I’ve decided not to go down that route, but then Ellie points out a Morris & Co pattern that takes me by surprise. It’s a much bolder look than I’d normally go for, in a mix of pink, yellow, blue and green, but somehow I can see it working.

Not, however, with my grey sofa. If we did decide on curtains in a pattern like this, it would definitely have to go (probably taking the last vestiges of my budget with it). And if you’re going to replace a sofa, you might as well go for something completely different. I love velvet upholstery, but had discounted it due to its impracticality. Ellie shows me a sofa in a special treated velvet that, she insists, can be wiped clean just with water. I’m not sure that’s enough to withstand the assault of a three-year-old and a five-year-old, but can’t resist the mustard yellow colour, which would contrast so well with the walls, and pick up the pattern in the curtain fabric.

My grey footstool would also be out: Ellie suggests replacing it with a storage footstool, which would add a useful compartment big enough to hold remote controls, magazines and a few toys. We agree that a cocktail trolley would probably be a good idea, too, to act most of the time as a side table for my stacks of magazines, and then double as a bar when friends come over for drinks.

Choosing a rug is next, and is surprisingly difficult. With all the colour and pattern in the fabric and furniture, it needs to be neutral and understated, so a jute one with a lattice design eventually fits the bill (and is good for the budget at £80).

Later that day, Ellie sends me a full list of all the products we looked at, including cushions and a throw to dress up the sofa, and a woven trunk for extra storage. The next step would be to go for a design consultation, where a designer visits you at home, takes window measurements and creates a digital moodboard (this costs £250, redeemable if you go on to spend £1,500).

Obviously, one limitation of the service is that designers can only recommend products stocked at John Lewis – although if you did want to include a fabric or piece of furniture by another brand, you can take a picture of it along and the designer can work it into a scheme. But my experience has certainly given me plenty of food for thought, and several ideas for tackling my windows. Perhaps I’ll even plump for that velvet sofa, after all.

Other affordable interior-design services to try

 A living room by Design & That Credit: Leo Davut
  • Neptune A designer from your nearest branch visits you at home to advise how to get the brand’s trademark neutral, calming look, with advice on paint colour, window treatments, flooring, furniture and lighting, and a full room design; £300 per room neptune.com
  • Design & That Get advice on how to create a cool, contemporary look at this east London store and studio. An hour-long in-store consultation and moodboard starts from £150 per room. designandthat.com
  • RoomLab An online service that is aiming to disrupt the design sector. Customers are paired with one of 24 designers, depending on what style they want to go for, and receive a 3D visual with furniture suggestions from a variety of brands, and a discount on what they choose to buy. From £79. roomlab.co.uk
  • Studio Tallis London-based interior stylist Lizzie Crocker will visit your home, create a moodboard, a personalised to-do list, and a shopping list of everything you need to get the look. As an optional extra, she can also come back and help you set up the space. From £400 for a half-day consultation. tallisinteriors.com