Set the scene

A survey by letting firm found there are 425,000 British-owned homes overseas, including 35,000 bought in the year 2007-8. Overall, the sector is worth £58bn, a rise of £5bn on the previous year. Evidence points to new…

A survey by letting firm found there are 425,000 British-owned homes overseas, including 35,000 bought in the year 2007-8. Overall, the sector is worth £58bn, a rise of £5bn on the previous year. Evidence points to new uses and goals for holiday homes – a drive away from the investment-fuelled market of the last ten years – to a revival in the use of overseas pads as a lifestyle choice. This shift means a new emphasis on the holiday home as refuge from everyday working life. More than ever, the design of a holiday home sets the scene for cosy sanctuary that owners, and those renting for a holiday, can retreat to.

Linda Barker, interior designer and founder of, says this element of escapism is the essence of being on holiday: “Your home overseas should deliver superior style and comfort. For me, my holiday home should be as good 
as a hotel, if not better.

“The recession may require that you eat at home, rather than in restaurants, but it’s a waste of good money buying cheaply, as the chances are, more money will have to be spent in the long run. Buy wisely and carefully, of course, 
but never compromise on quality.”

So how should you go about approaching the interior design of a holiday home? For Barker, the key revolves around where in the world the house is situated. Barker’s own holiday home near St Tropez uses lots of classic French linen, combined with a soft palette of lime washed whites and elegant greys. There are threads of pure white and contrasting black. She explains: “A modern feel for me is key as it’s easy to look after and will always look smart. The last thing I want to be doing on holiday is cleaning up or dusting the shelves, but never sacrificing comfort. It’s no effort to plump up a few cushions on the sofa and make a beautiful bed. There is no substitute for elegant pieces of furniture and your beds must be of the very best quality.”

Heavy usage
Design aspects aside, a holiday home should be hard wearing, Barker points out – if paying 
guests are using the house, there will be heavy usage of furnishings. Bear in mind, also, that strong sunlight can damage fabrics quickly and salt or pool water is hard on outdoor furniture.

She adds: “Guests are often 
wet from the pool or greasy from sun lotions, so sofas and chairs need to be easily laundered. Floor surfaces need to be robust to cope with the continual inside/outside movement of people. I would say hard floor surfaces are essential 
as they are easy to look after.”

LK Interiors (, which was short listed for The Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year Awards last year, specialises in inspirational contemporary design for luxury properties. Founders Amanda Kaye and Lisa McCartney recommend personalising your new interior as much as possible, and peppering it with familiar objects. They advise: “Candles that smell of home are great for evoking memories. Photographs or images put onto canvas are inexpensive and allow you to create an impact and means you can take loved ones with you!”

They also suggest keeping 
your overseas interior simple and rustic: think driftwood tables and mirrors, coral imagery on fabric and walls, recycled paper creating texture and reflecting natural surroundings. Kaye and McCartney add: “Keep walls and soft furnishings to neutral tones, adding colour in paintings, cushions, throws and mirrors. 
It is far easier to decorate a second home economically in this way 
and you are always able to change and update when you need to.

“If moving to a hot country, consider reclaimed wood floors in maple and light oak, consider simple shutters for the windows, great for blackout, extremely low maintenance and great for keeping rooms cool when angled away from the direction of the sun.”

For Steve Dobinson, head designer at Blendworth fabrics (, keeping » things simple is also important to retain a calming, somewhat exotic, feel. “I recommend no clutter; a clean, bright space in colours 
that reflect a warmer climate. Think about neutral or white walls with a Paper Trail feature wall. Your interior would be cost effective and contemporary.

Stone tiled or ceramic floors work well in hot climates, he advises. Simple, classic Roman blinks in a natural linen look fabric are great: “They could also have contrast binding in the same fabric as feature cushions. Or, for a really simple idea, lengths of self-lined linen, rolled up with contrast ribbon ties, set at different levels. Also, consider fresh colours such as beiges, citrus yellow or duck egg.”

European design
Joanna Bichet is managing director of VillArt (, a family-run design company based in Tangier, Morocco. The firm uses techniques and typical materials of the Moroccan craft industry, tailored to a European style familiar to Western holiday homeowners. Bichet says owners of holiday homes in Morocco are currently influenced by European design 
with a local twist. “People buying here are either investors or looking for a holiday home to rent out. In both cases they are looking for comfort, home from home touches and a place in which they can relax, de-stress, and feel like they are away from home, experimenting with a different country.”

In Bichet’s opinion, investors are moving away from flat pack style furniture packages towards durable, solid and unique furniture that is not mass-produced. Warm colours and soft lighting are de riguer; as are styles that combine East with West.

“This is a trend rapidly spreading across Europe and people are keen to not only use the style in holiday homes. You can see the opening of hammams in Paris, a real surge of Moroccan themed restaurants in London, homes in cool Ibiza, Tuscany and Spain – all being influenced by the stimulating colours of mysterious Morocco.” Hence, she adds, the popularity of warm terracotta colours, mosaic style bathrooms and tables, oriental rugs and wrought iron furniture.

David Batt, chief interior designer at the Liverpool office of Austin Smith Lord (, also stresses that the interior style of a holiday home should reflect its location. For example, a log cabin for skiers would be completely different to a beachside villa.

He says: “Each location comes with its own set of considerations. My advice for holiday homes, particularly those that will be rented for part of the year, is to keep things neutral and classic. This isn’t to say be bland and boring, though.

Holiday homes need to be timeless, he says – and if the home is rented, there should be an element of “something for everyone” in the design. “Strong fashion statements become dated very quickly but you can inject colour and patterns with soft furnishings, cushions, throws, rugs, pictures and so on. This helps bring a neutral palette up to date.”

Another important consideration is how the home will be used. For example, a log cabin will need to withstand wear and tear from ski boots and snow. Materials need to be able to withstand that usage; likewise, being by the sea brings another set of considerations such as wet clothes, sand and sun lotion. Be mindful that the interior finish and furniture need to withstand this type of usage. Practicalities aside, Batt says, holiday homes are also for relaxing in and must be taken into consideration: “Having a really comfy chill-out area is crucial. The layout is important here – social interaction needs to be easy and natural. Storage is always important, and often overlooked – getting it right so that bulky ski gear and equipment is stored and dry for the next day.

Also think about lighting; setting the mood for an evening drink can add atmosphere and make a real difference to your experience, especially in the current economic climate, when people are spending more time at home.

It’s also true to say that people come to holiday homes with certain expectations. In a ski chalet, they want to see a big fire and exposed beams, but with soft furnishings, cushions and throws you can give these classic staples a contemporary twist. Batt says the interior design of homes overseas is influenced by general design trends: “Aspects of current trends can be taken abroad but you want to keep it fairly clutter free, especially if you are renting it out. You aren’t there all year to maintain it and you need to bear that in mind. In that sense, think of it almost as a hotel. Although, this isn’t to say it needs to be soulless – you can inject a bit of your own personality into it.”

Batt reflects that designs from Japan and Asia are enduringly popular because of the use of graphics and the way materials and textures are layered in a complementary way. “During a recession you will see people who are re-designing their primary home bring their left-over items abroad. Doing that will give you an eclectic mix of home grown furniture and locally sourced crockery and glassware. This can work really well and there is no reason why older furniture can’t work with ultra modern designs.”

So how about popular colours right now? Raspberry, blackberry and plumbs are hot, says Batt, especially when set against vivid greens. Summer colours and yellows are always popular and work well in holiday homes. He agrees with Linda Barker that buying cheap items for holiday homes is a false economy; spending more means buying a piece that will last for years.

The message is clear: gone are the days of high-fashion, overnight makeovers. People are now fitting their overseas homes for the long haul, keeping the themes of simplicity, durability and enduring style firmly in mind.

Tagged Live, Interiors


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