Interior designer Emily Bizley explains how she and her husband, an architect, co-designed their RIBA shortlisted self-build home.
Interview with Emily Bizley
Emily wanted to be an interior designer since she was very small, but ended up studying French and Psychology at university before deciding to go to Chelsea Art College to pursue her childhood dream. After gaining more qualifications, Emily worked for architects to get some experience. From there she went to work for an interior designer in London, and now has her own practice based in Somerset.
The interior shouldn’t be an afterthought
If design decisions aren’t guided by “a bigger idea about what the building is supposed to be”, there’s a risk that the interior and exterior won’t be coherent. Emily explains they wanted to build a timber house that was sympathetic to and connected with the surrounding countryside and nearby agricultural buildings.
She says she’s visited a lot of timber clad houses that look fabulous on the outside but whose interiors are “a crashing disappointment because it’s all white plasterboard with twinkly down lighters and absolutely no atmosphere.” She finds it surprising these houses aren’t made of wood both inside and out, like those she and her husband visited in Switzerland.
Ask yourself how you want each room to feel
Emily and her husband both did a lot of sketching for their self-build. They focused much more on how they wanted a room to feel, rather than how it would look. Sketches of room scenes helped them imagine their lives in the new house and captured the desired atmosphere.
Design the interior and exterior in partnership with one another
Focusing on how they wanted the kitchen to feel took them through a series of questions; the answers defined the design inside and out. For example, thinking about what they wanted to look at while eating breakfast, and where the sun would be coming in, suggested the size and position of the windows. But then they had to consider how this would affect the elevation outside, and the design needed tweaking to get to the point where it worked inside and out.
Emily says they decided to have their sitting room separate to (but adjoining) the open plan kitchen dining area. They designed this room to be a half level up with the ceiling following the roofline down, making it a cosy snug. She explains the materials they used are the same, it’s just that the space has been slightly manipulated to create a different atmosphere.
Think about how natural light will reach all the spaces
Emily’s house has light from all sides. She says it is really important to ensure that the darkest parts of the house still get natural light. They incorporated skylights into the design for their self-build, to avoid any “dark dingy corners”.
Create interesting relationships between spaces, inside and out
The sloping site presented challenges. Emily explains, “A developer house would just be plonked on stilts at the front to make the site flat, but then you lose the relationship to the garden”, adding, “We didn’t want that feeling of being on the upper floor and feeling really disconnected from the garden.” Instead, they dug down to enable the house to sit back in the hillside and decided to go for an upside down layout, taking care to create access to the garden from different places.
Their self-build uses internal glazing to create interesting relationships within the house – the rooms aren’t “a series of boxes with doors”. Emily says that internal glazing was something she and her husband had always liked about French houses and had been on their list of things they’d wanted to incorporate into their designs.
Be generous with some spaces to create the right atmosphere
Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a bit of space to be generous elsewhere. In the case of Emily’s self-build, the design for the lower floor incorporated a wider hallway. She doesn’t see this as wasted space as it avoids the feeling of going downstairs into a rabbit warren of bedrooms.
Restrict the palette to avoid a “mishmash of everything”
There are a lot of options when it comes to interior finishes. Emily says they were quite disciplined in having just a few ideas for their interior and carrying those through with some rigour. She describes the house as having “two quite distinct overall sorts of atmosphere”. The rooms are either lined with oak or painted plywood; no walls are just plastered. And some of the ceilings are crafted from rough-sawn softwood and painted.
A joiner made their bespoke kitchen and he sourced the wood from the same supplier used for oak lining the walls. Emily comments, “The kitchen is intended to look like the walls, and blend in.”
Think about furniture early on as it impacts the design
Although Emily believes it’s good to let ideas develop and to be able to respond in an organic way, it’s also important to have an overall idea when it comes to furniture. She uses their veranda as an example, explaining that it is pretty much square in plan, but as the house is not a square box the corner of the deck intentionally gets wider to accommodate the table and chairs.
It also helps to know what you’re planning to do furniture-wise to produce electrical plans. For example, do you want to sit in a particular well-lit corner and read? The position of an extractor fan in the kitchen is another important consideration – what type of cooking do you tend to do, and does that require extraction directly above the hob?
Factor in storage during the design stage
Emily comments, “If we did decide to put everything away, there would be a space for everything.” The big store at the back houses the plant, store and utility rooms. They also incorporated really big wardrobes into the kids’ bedrooms and Emily and her husband have a lot of storage space in their dressing room.
Other tips for self-builders
- Collate images of anything you really like into a folder
- Have some clear ideas and follow them through – don’t get distracted
- Think about how materials and texture can achieve the atmosphere you want