Whether it’s a Russian doll from Moscow or a straw donkey from Malaga, we’ve all brought back a souvenir of our favourite holidays.
But Kel Harmer went one better and returned with a complete restyle for her home.
In January last year, just before lockdown, Kel took a road trip across Florida with partner Dan and children Isla and Emmie.
Always a lover of the American pre-war style, she soaked up the art deco architecture of Palm Beach and the Colony Hotel, bewitched by the sun-soaked pastels of pinks and blues and the pronounced 1930s curves juxtaposed by the linearity of the gently swaying rich green palm trees.
She decided this was the perfect look for her four-bed new-build home in Portishead, Somerset, just outside Bristol. It was a brave move, but Kel is used to following her instincts.
After losing her best friend suddenly in 2016, at the same time as returning from maternity leave to an unloved marketing job, she realised that life really is too short to not fulfil your dreams.
She decided to follow her lifelong love of interior design and set up her brand Oh So Kel, a combination of home styling sessions, brand styling, workshops, blog and a bespoke collection of products for the home.
Kel’s ethos is to provide styling that doesn’t break the bank.
Instead of complete redesigns she changes a few key elements to create a strong new look, with a bit of DIY, upcycling and clever eBay finds thrown in. It was time to put it to practice on her own home.
‘I got really influenced by our trip to Miami — the art deco pastel buildings and tropical prints, the flamingos — and I thought we do live in a pretty boxy house with not much character. Why not bring a bit of that trip? The results just make me so happy.’
When the couple bought the magnolia-walled property seven years ago, Kel kept most of the high-price items — the kitchen cabinets, quartz worktops, flooring — all neutral.
This means she can change the look on a whim with minimal fuss and expense just by changing the wallpaper, accessories and soft furnishings — and change it back too if it doesn’t work out.
‘Don’t buy all in to a trend,’ she says. ‘It’s expensive. You can get a unique look without spending too much.’
The end result for the kitchen is bold, dramatic and anything but cheap looking. Creating a tropical statement wall with Baja wallpaper from wallpaperdirect.com fills the room with 1970s exuberance.
The neon Punk Haus ‘Find Your Wild’ print cost less than £25 and the plastic garden flamingo from eBay received a quick coat of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to take it from neon to dusty pink.
The Chippendale-style chairs took three months to find on eBay and came as a set of 19 for £142 — the rest are in the garage. No credit cards scorched, just a bold statement.
The living room also has a neutral base that’s changed with different accessories. The grey sofa is from Pied a Terre and joins simple, classic lines to plantation shutters and a shaker-style television cabinet.
The large rug is from Crucial Trading and is topped by a small ethical Sukhi rug. It is transitional design, a mixture of modern and traditional styles.
‘My advice is to start with a Pinterest board and save all your inspiration on there,’ says Kel. ‘Hone in on what appeals to you and that’s when you can think about upcycling furniture. Once you know the look you want then you can achieve it.’
The Miami-nice look has spilled out into the back garden too. The compact outdoor space is more Sunset Drive than Somerset, thanks to real palm trees, an outdoor cinema and a washed-out nautical look.
The original dark red brickwork and sombre fence were painted white to create the illusion of more space.
A small electricity substation filling part of the garden has been transformed into a statement with porthole-like mirrors and a £12 fireplace from Gumtree that is painted the same fresh rosemary hue as the summerhouse. The grey and white striped awnings is from Wilko.
‘The garden just has a joyful Miami vibe to it. We’ve been really playful with it and it didn’t really cost anything to do.’ The Wayfair seating brings the indoors out and outdoor rugs finish the whole look off cosily.
When friends come, out pops the pink bar — created from an Ikea chest of drawers with purple boxwood stapled on the front. The neon lips in the middle light up for added effect.
Kel set up her home-styling service for those who can’t afford a full-blown interior design service but need a hand to realise their ideas.
‘Many people know what they want but not how to pull it together. I’ll put product suggestions and ideas together. In the end, just like my home, it’s easy to make it fun, stylish and still not break the budget.’
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