Home of the month: Timeless design in Essendon

Mixing contemporary and raw materials with period features was key to this home design (Cherie Lee I

Mixing contemporary and raw materials with period features was key to this home design (Cherie Lee Interiors) - Credit: cherie lee interiors

Cherie Lee, whose recent renovation of part of a Grade II Georgian mansion house in Essendon is shown here, talks to Pat Bramley about her journey from law to interior design and her love of timeless interiors

To improve the flow of light, dividing walls were removed in places (Photo: Cherie Lee Interiors)

To improve the flow of light, dividing walls were removed in places (Photo: Cherie Lee Interiors) - Credit: cherie lee interiors

Cherie Lee was a solicitor before she set up her interior design consultancy. It wasn’t part of the business plan to give up the legal career and become a designer when she began buying and doing up properties seven years ago to create a nest egg; it came about almost accidentally through contacts she made.

‘I was always drawn to conservation and listed buildings for their character and quirkiness. Buying and renovating properties gave me a sound understanding not only of the technicalities behind building and finishing but also the planning and conservation guidelines. I formed relationships with trades and suppliers which organically led to me consulting on other projects and offering design input.’

As a result of the success she was achieving with her own properties, word spread and eventually she was receiving so many offers of commissions she had to make a choice: law or interior design.

Four years ago she made the life-changing decision to give up her job with a Cambridge solicitor firm and become a freelance designer. The next step was to set up her own company and Cherie Lee Interiors was launched in 2015.

The ultimate luxury of a bedroom fire (Cherie Lee Interiors)

The ultimate luxury of a bedroom fire (Cherie Lee Interiors) - Credit: cherie lee interiors

She admits that even before she left school she had been torn between going into law or something arts-based.

‘I did work experience with a magazine and loved the creative side of the job but in the end I chose to take a law degree.’

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People who don’t know Cherie, only that she was a solicitor before she became a designer, might ask themselves what they’ve let themselves in for – will she be one of those experts for whom a consultation is a one-way dialogue? There’s no fear of that with this lady. She is immediately friendly and full of enthusiasm for the project ahead but most of all she wants her clients to finish up with a result that is even better than they’d hoped for.

Her design consultancy is based in Essendon near Hertford and increasingly her name is becoming known beyond Hertfordshire, in London and across the home counties. Classic buildings of any age, style and purpose – from restoration projects to new builds, conversions to revamps of commercial blocks – all give her the buzz that fires her love for creating something beautiful. And it is a creative process that fully involves the customer.

‘I want clients to be honest and upfront,’ she says. ‘I’d far rather they say at the time “I don’t like that, Cherie” than they end up with a scheme which for me reflects their personality and lifestyle but they are not happy with. I want us to have a relaxed relationship. I want them to feel free to tell me if they’d like to change something rather than say nothing, then complain about it ever afterwards to their friends.’

As well as focussing on the design details at initial meetings, the budget and timescale are agreed before the job starts too. Whether the project is a new build scheme which could necessitate monthly meetings stretching over a year and a half or a makeover of one room that will take no longer than a day and a half, her commitment is the same: full on.

Having always lived in Hertfordshire, the designer makes a point of using local craftsmen and suppliers whenever she can. ‘I find that as a model this works really well. There is the convenience of having trades close by who can visit projects at short notice but it is also cost effective for clients. There are no expenses to compensate for lengthy commutes to projects that are out of the area. Trades often give a more competitive price for local work.’

Cherie’s interiors are all about functionality as well as a timeless classic style. She says the style forms the backdrop and accessories provide the interest, while splashes of colour can be changed to update the look with minimum cost and effort.

The designer is frequently asked for advice. Two regular queries are how to make a small room look more spacious and how to make a large space welcoming and comfortable.

‘Removing just one item of furniture from a small room can make the difference between a cluttered disaster area and a room which is practically perfect from every angle.

And the golden rule for those with a large space to furnish – don’t arrange the furniture in the middle of the room, leaving the sides empty. Look at the space as a whole. Divide it into zones. Use the sides of the room, and arrange the furniture to form different areas – dining area, sitting area, office etc. And use rugs. Rugs are brilliant for zoning a very large room.’

Her advice for furniture selection is equally useful. She says start with getting the dimension right. ‘Be sure the size of the furniture is in proportion with the size of the room. Don’t be carried away, like I have been in the past. You see something you love in a shop and think I have to buy it. Before you hand over your credit card, think where your object of desire will be placed. If it is too big or too small for the room where you intend to put it, stop. Walk away. There’s no point coming home with a sofa and then find it’s one-and-a-half yards deep and swamps your room.’

Cherie’s love of white

Cherie’s blog All white everything, is a love letter to clean styling or ‘decorating with classic white and getting it right’ as she says. Follow her tips and you’ll end up with a room that is inviting – clean lines without a clinical chill.

‘If you want to pull off an all white scheme, texture can be the key. Exposed brick and stone look great painted white or white-washed for a less uniform look. Other options are concrete effect cladding or tiles or polished plaster. Don’t despair if you don’t have gorgeous exposed brick or stone walls at home. We recommend using reclaimed brick slips from the Reclaimed Brick Tile Company. They can be applied to walls in a similar way to standard tiles.’

‘Even the simplest plaster or pine moulding adds depth and interest to white walls without over complicating the simplicity.’

‘White walls create a perfect backdrop for displaying art work, whether your collection is strictly monochrome or in bright and bold colours. We like using white frames to make the art the main attraction.’

‘White walls and large areas of glass are a class combo particularly when rustic wood provides a contrast – chopped logs stacked in a fireplace add warmth to the décor. No need for matches. Just the look of wood does the job.’

‘Flowing white floor-to-ceiling chiffon can conceal open cupboards or partition a room better than solid doors. White fabric can easily be pushed back to open up the space. Use a wave ceiling track to achieve perfectly self-pleating runs.’

‘Accents of chrome or polished nickel or stems of cow parsley in a clear glass vase in an otherwise all white room can be all you need for a wow effect.’

Cherie’s Herts trades & suppliers

Builders: J G Matthews, Hatfield

Antique oak flooring: Heritage Reclamation, Hemel Hempstead

Marble work surfaces and floor tiles: Stone of London, St Albans

Painters and decorators: AJS Painters and Decorators, Buntingford

Bathroom suppliers: Ware Bathrooms

Audio Visual: Home Entertainment Direct, Cheshunt

Carpentry: Castle Joinery, Hertford

Landscaping: Chelsea Flower Show award winner Anne Godfrey who owns the Hertford nursery Daisy Roots collaborates with Cherie on landscaping projects.

More details about Cherie Lee and her blog are on her website cherieleeinteriors.co.uk. The Herts-based consultancy can be contacted on 01707 817470.

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