A 445-Square-Foot English Apartment Doesn’t Shy Away from Dark Colors

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Credit: Fiona Marr

Fiona Marr has owned this apartment for one year: I still pinch myself that I live in Cheltenham — a Regency Spa town in England known for its classic architecture and its festivals, which include literature, jazz, and science, to name a few. My apartment is a retirement property and as such caters to the over-55s (think: tiny kitchen, all-white walls, bulky radiators, wall-to-wall beige carpeting). Not a problem — I don’t really like to cook, am happy to paint and create gallery walls, and have loads of rugs I bought while living in the Middle East. But what probably cinched the deal was my view from my Juliet balcony of a quintessential green British lawn that extends toward a horizon of tall trees backed by rolling hills.

Credit: Fiona Marr
The bedside table formerly lived in the garden of the Welsh cottage I inherited from my parents along with all their belongings. I also upcycled the dresser drawers giving them a new lease on life.

Contrary to the adage that if you want to make your space look bigger keep the walls white, I knew I wanted to experiment with a bold color palette. After a few trips to my local DIY store to buy some tester pots, I settled on three basics: a dark taupe, a forest green, and a dusty red. Every room in my home has a combination of those — even the hallway. The artwork I have bought, as well as much of my own works, combined with random objects such as wooden saints and huipiles (indigenous women’s wear) I bought in Guatemala, mirrors and ceramic plates from Asia and Central America, as well as my carpets feature many of the jewel tones and I wanted to repeat in my design aesthetic. The cushions also pick up this palette, where I also added ochre after buying a velvet office chair, which does double duty as dining seating. The textiles I used for most of my throw pillows all have some sentimental meaning and were usually gifted to me and repurposed. I absolutely love the vintage ochre velvet tufted curtains a friend gave me when she was cleaning out her thread shed.

Credit: Fiona Marr
This bench displays some of my favorite things -- throw pillows from around the world, an Amish doll, and a crocheted pumpkin -- as does the gallery wall behind it.

Describe your home’s style in five words or fewer: A home well lived-in.

Credit: Fiona Marr
The kitchen walls are an extension of my gallery. I do not do much cooking and when I do it is mainly courtesy of Marks and Spencer's Food Hall! This means I can use cabinet space to store my art supplies, tools, etc. and open up the folding table to 'craft' on demand.

Furnishing and designing a new home during the COVID lockdowns meant I relied heavily on the internet. When I posted some old and tired reproduction furniture on an online platform and received much interest in pieces that could be chalk painted, I decided to give it a try myself. When it came time to finally move, all my artwork and newly upcycled dressers, tables, and drawers fit in a horse trailer. My philosophy for new furniture was that I had to be able to have it delivered and that I could assemble it myself without any prior DIY experience.

Credit: Fiona Marr
My queen-sized bed, which I assembled myself, is covered in an eclectic choice of textiles, which pick up the colors in the wall hanging.

What is your favorite room and why? I wake up super early and cannot wait to get out of bed to have my morning coffee in my beautiful living room. But lately, maybe because it was my first winter in my new home, I started opting for my flat latte in bed with my laptop perched on my cushioned tray top and my white duvet and pillows crumpled around me. Sometimes hours go by before I emerge. When I bought the place I was pretty sure I would need to do something about the mirrored folding closet doors. They were so pseudo-modern. But now I just love them. The way the light reflects off the four panels — it almost looks like a fractured collage image that highlights the best bits. Plus, the mirrors are invaluable for helping me put together my layered looks as I leave the house prepared for all kinds of weather.

Credit: Fiona Marr
The napping chaise doubles as a fold down bed for when overnights guests come to visit. Desks serve as dining tables and the upholstered swivel chairs work easily wheel into place where needed.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? My best 2023 purchase is a folding table I ordered online from Dunelm. In keeping with my self-imposed rule that if I can’t assemble it myself I can not buy it, I chose this because it fit exactly in the space I had for a drop-down table in my kitchen, and more importantly it did NOT have to be attached to the wall. I use it to do my artwork; rather than whisk away all my “glorious mess,” I can just close the French doors to the kitchen. The table is also very sturdy and almost a perfect match with the existing kitchen cabinets.

Credit: Fiona Marr via Publisher
One of the many makeshift floorplans I created using my old Publisher program. It was a great way to play with proportions, color, and helped to me figure out just how much I could fit in my new small one bedroom flat.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Make it personal! What I mostly get when visitors comment on my home is, “I can’t believe you have only been here for a year — it looks so lived-in.” Admittedly I would have preferred for them to say, “Wow, your place is so beautiful it should be featured in some interior design magazine.”

Thanks, Fiona!

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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