The best room
Do any of you, reading today have an old Scottish grannie or a maiden aunt who hails from the Highlands? If you do, and if you’ve ever visited her at home, then chances are you’re familiar with the concept of “best room.”
“Don’t go in there,” she probably chided as you twisted a door knob and endeavoured to enter the secret, shadowy world. “That’s my best room and it’s only used on Sunday. I don’t want your grubby fingers all over it, thank you.”
Quite why so many older Scottish homes contain these furtive hallowed places remains a mystery. For us, every room should be used and enjoyed. Our parents didn’t believe in locked doors or standing on ceremony. Our homes were built to enjoy. Our friends, too, were welcome and virtually nothing was considered off limits.
Our maiden aunts, however, had different ideas and we clearly remember lost weekends in their strict charge. They’d obsess about us breaking a piece of cherished Lladro, or perhaps spilling tea on a favourite rug. And they’d protect their “no go” zones like mother hens defending their chicks. One of our aunts, God bless her, even ran silicone seal around the best-room door to deter overzealous uninvited guests. This hermetical barrier would be broken — with some ceremony, we might add — when visiting “dignitaries” (posh family members, for example, or the local minister) called by.
What we’ve learned, since discovering Canada, is that best rooms aren’t an exclusively Scottish preserve. Cue the “secret world” of Susan and Neil. Contained within a typically spacious suburban bungalow, it bore more than a passing resemblance to a chapel of rest. With floral wallpaper redolent of the 1980s and pink carpet boasting all the allure of a maximum security twilight home, it really needed our help. OK, so its door hadn’t been sealed by some stern-lipped, never married, mastic gun-toting 60 year old, but the room was definitely, by our client’s description, reserved for, ahem, “best” use.
To cut a long story short, we fell in love with the style-troubled pair. They couldn’t have been any lovelier and purred their trust in our work in time to their heartbeat. Fortunate enough to have a primary living zone at the other end of the house, they revealed a dream, nonetheless, for a casual dining and seating area where anyone who wanted to chat (rather than watch TV) could convene. With their — for the most part clear — instruction we moved ahead.
Our plan was to create a modern take on the parlour, a term that derives from the French word parler, “to speak.” Having entered the English language at the turn of the 13th century, the world described a special place set aside for verbal interface in an “audience chamber” and, over the years, the world parlour was born.
So, a lot of work — and conversation — to fashion a bright new world? Well, let’s just say our before shot resembles, to all intents and purposes, a spartan backdrop to some 12-part, wobbly set World War II TV drama. Hmm. Our fight against bad taste continuing, here’s our latest battle cry!
Drum up some shade
The cream drum-shaped lamp shades and pendant lights gently diffuse light, thereby producing soft, flattering illumination. Because we mixed overhead and surface lamps, our clients can now adjust the mood of their smart new room; overhead for family gatherings or low level to create an intimate and altogether cozier feel. With an eye, as usual, trained firmly on budget, we embellished inexpensive shades with grosgrain ribbon (applied with fabric glue) to add a little extra designer flair.
Shine at home
Blimey! The dated pink carpet had to go. In its place, we installed polished lumber laid front to back to elongate the feeling of space. Had we needed to visually “widen” the room, we could just as easily have selected to arrange the boards from side to side. Little tricks like this make all the difference. The reflective finish bounces light and, as it does, lends an altogether pristine appearance underfoot. Imagine the old carpet as dependable — if rather weary — slippers and the replacement floor as a pair of shiny new shoes. Which would you rather wear when dressing for dinner? Enough said.
Traditional and modern pieces easily combine to create an individual — and very personal — look, so, this in mind, don’t be afraid to mix a little past tense with a spot of future perfect. Here, for example, an X-framed glass dining set up, a mirrored console and a circular two-tier coffee table bring a degree of modernity that contrasts perfectly with traditional armchairs and a pair of Parsons dining benches.
Just as designer hotels create comfy seating zones that feel intimate and special, so too can you, with careful planning, achieve similar results at home. As part of this project, we replaced the old sofa with four Bergere chairs positioned to create a circular parlour-style seating area that’s perfect for conversation and sharing. Imagine spilling into this zone for a relaxed, post-prandial nightcap to get the gist of the mood we hoped to create.
Adding features adds value; we’ve long since advocated this principal and, even in a small room like this, you can still make a big impression. The wall panelling has a stately feel but we scaled it to fit so it doesn’t dominate the space. Achieved with just $300 of ogee-edged timber DIY store stripping and picture rail, the soft cream painted lumber works well against the green walls to give the newly reworked space a quiet sense of quality and style. Illusions of grandeur or what?
For our custom dining benches and tailored window blind, we used striped fabric to further bolster schematic grandeur. Banded patterns are gender non specific and appeal to all age groups so they’re perfect for family homes. It’s also worth noting that striped fabric is much more forgiving than plain when it comes to dirty finger marks so the project will look better for longer.
Work complete, Susan and Neil are thrilled with their lovely new parlour. They still call it their best room, yet now it’s a best room that everyone can enjoy — on a daily basis — without fear of familial reprisals or social banishment. No locks on the door, no sealant to prevent entry . . . and not a grim-faced maiden aunt in sight.
Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are the hosts of HGTV’s Colin & Justin’s Home Heist and the authors of Colin & Justin’s Home Heist Style Guide, published by Penguin Group (Canada). Follow them on Twitter @colinjustin or on Facebook (ColinandJustin). Check out their new candle and room spray ranges at candjhome.co.uk. Contact them through their website colinandjustin.tv.