Designing somewhere to retreat to

WHEN your house is absolutely full of people it can sometimes be essential for your sanity to have a bolt hole where you can get a few minutes privacy.

This allows you to let off steam and calm down from all the frenetic festive celebrations. It is amazing how much work goes into a "relaxing family Christmas" – particularly for those domestic goddesses out there.

With this in mind, we try to encourage householders who have the room to always develop a television-free space in their home. Having an area like this can feel a bit of a luxury, but it is amazing how life can be enriched by reducing background noise and sitting in a snug room just enjoying the quiet and taking time to read a book or newspaper properly.

This was very much the remit of a family drawing room that we developed for a client who had a large and boisterous household. The area was created as somewhere all the family could retreat to. The emphasis was on old world charm – fashioning a design incorporating treasured family pieces to ensure the room looked as though it had evolved naturally.

We started by selecting pieces of furniture that were firm family favourites to ensure the room had an immediate feeling of familiarity. The two key sofas featured an incredible vintage William Morris print which set a wonderful tone for the room. One of its main colours is a rich peacock blue which we decided to reference for the main wall and ceiling colour. Peacock blue is an under-rated shade, but extremely useful in rooms such as this because it creates an instant feeling of calm, without being too harsh or cool which is a frequent problem with blue hues.

We then identified three armchairs that had been retired from use, re-upholstered them to provide contemporary comfort; covering them in modern antique effect velvet for a long lasting luxurious finish that would be consistent with the overall feel of the room.

Floor length silk curtains were designed to frame the windows, but also to provide warmth and reflect fire and lamp light in the evening to create an especially inviting area. The leading edge trim in orange, turquoise and gold also referenced key colours in the William Morris print of the sofas. In a room without a television it is important to create a natural focal point.

One of the joys of working in a period property is that many rooms retain fireplaces. In this room we created symmetry and focus by grouping furniture around the fireplace. This can be done by balancing pieces of a similar size, rather than slavishly mirroring an exact copy as you often see in modern homes. Creating visual harmony in this way avoids a room feeling too staged and works equally well in a contemporary design.

To help cut down on visual clutter, which can be as disturbing as background noise, we worked with a master carpenter to create a bespoke shelf and cupboard unit on the wall opposite the fireplace: painting it in the same peacock blue as the other walls. This helped to further balance the room and provided a neat home to hide books and journals as well as a display area for special family pieces.

As in many period properties this room had high ceilings which could make it feel less intimate. To overcome this we painted the ceilings in the same colour as the walls and installed a dramatic Venetian glass chandelier which casts a marvellously warm light. The overall effect is calm and serene, but also warm and inviting. The perfect place to kick off your shoes, grab a glass of wine and spend time completing the crossword in front of a roaring fire.

Jamie Hempsall is the winner of the Best Interior Design – North East Award in the UK Property Awards in Association with Bloomberg Television. Visit www.jamiehempsall.com or call him on 0800 032 1180.

create your christmas refuge

Choose an area away from any regular footfall in the house.

Clear away any clutter to reduce visual disturbance

Ensure you have somewhere to sit or lie comfortably

Add a warm throw or blanket and cushions or pillows for extra cosiness

Choose some magazines you want to catch up on or a book and keep them in this location so you have easy access to them

Agree with the family that this is a time out area and that you are not to be disturbed while you are relaxing in it

Enjoy the peace and quiet.

bolt hole: The bespoke shelf and cupboard unit that cuts down on clutter, top. Period rooms have the advantage of having a fireplace which provides a natural focus to cluster furniture around, above left. The floor-length silk curtains which reflect the firelight, above centre. The symmetry achieved by balancing pieces of furniture.