Q&A: English decorator Cath Kidston on how to create charming rooms using color and pattern

Sep 24, 2020

English designer Cath Kidston is known as ‘The Queen of Print’. With a background in interior design and styling, Cath founded her brand in 1993 and made it a global name selling home furnishings and fashion products. In 2017, after stepping down from the Cath Kidston Group, she founded a new solo venture, Joy of Print, a creative design studio specializing in designing prints for the interiors and fashion world. Her new book "A Place Called Home" highlights her 17th century farmhouse and garden in Gloucestershire which is decorated with her collected treasures and textiles and floral paterns from around he world. It's a riot of color and pattern in a charming old house.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Welcome across the pond to Cath Kidston, who is one of England's most beloved designers. Cath's latest book "A Place Called Home" is a delightful tour of her romantic house in the British countryside. It is a picture book of Cath's own stylish way with color, pattern and print. Let's chat.

Hello, I am so excited to join you all for our chat today. Jura, Thanks for inviting me! I'm sitting in my home in the English countryside, with a log fire burning, looking forward to answering your questions. For those unfamiliar with my work I have a distinctive style. I love colour and pattern, collecting art and antiques and making beautiful homely interiors combining all those things. 

If you could design a kitchen from scratch, what colors would you use for flooring (wood), countertops, cabinets, and backsplash? We're building a new home and we have to pick all this in the design center and I'm just overwhelmed and want to make sure things coordinate.

Great question! Designing a kitchen can be quite overwhelming as its such an investment. My rule of thumb is to try not to follow trends as you don't want the room to be out of date in no time. I usually keep my cabinets white and chose classic wood or stone flooring and countertops. I then accessories with lots of colour, be it with pictures, table top etc as this is more flexible and a great way to make the room individual. 

How do you think English houses are different from American in terms of decorating? Have you spent much time in the States? Do you think decorating is more part of the culture in Britain?

American houses tend to be neater and more styled than those in the UK. We are famous for our country house taste which celebrates faded grandeur and dogs on the sofa. etc. Americans tend to be much chicer! I have always been fascinated by American taste- people like Bunny Mellon and one of our best decorators was Nancy Lancaster - An American living in the UK.  My feeling is we influence each other.

Do you have any favorite online sources for charming print sofa pillows, lampshades, quilts and the like?

There are so many great small supplies out there!  Block prints are really popular right now and I love Molly Mahon's pillows and prints.  I have recently collaborated with a wonderful lampshade designer called Rosi de Ruig  via my design studio Joy of Print.

I have to ask this. Do any of the Royals have Cath Kidston fabrics in their homes?

I hope so but they would never say!  Over the years a number had been customers  and I remember Prince George being photographed in a shirt. As I am no longer involved with the company I can't tell you any recent updates. 

What is it about faucets, especially bath faucets, that seem too shallow - they're too close to the side of the sink bowl, so the water just splashes everywhere. IS there a good rule of thumb for the size/reach of a faucet to make sure the water goes in teh sink rather than getting all over when you wash your hands? Thanks!

You are right - faucets can be such a problem if they aren't planned properly! I always design to a scale plan which helps  I like lots of  space around a sink so I have just selected bath faucets for a sink on a new project as they are longer and I can have more countertop space. 

What is your all time favorite pattern? What pattern do you consider a neutral? Is there a pattern that you would never use or regret using?

Great questions and hard to answer! 

My favourite all time pattern is a bold floral 1960's chintz by the theatre designer Oliver Messell. Its bright coloured bunches on a white ground. I have uses it a guest room with plain white walls and kept the room very simple.

I don't consider any patterns neutral but stripes and plaid are always a good calming combination with bold florals.

I tend not to use much beige - if I want a neutral I prefer to go for chalky whites  

Do you think prints are soothing? Sometimes I think too many prints in a room makes it look messy.

I like the notion that a room full of objects can be more soothing than a plain space as the eye has something to rest on. I love colour and print but that being said I like a room that feels quite edited and tidy. The right prints can really lift a room and bring colours together like nothing else but I agree too much of a mix can be a bit much.

What is your opinion on gallery walls? I am afraid that a gallery wall will make my already small home/rooms look even smaller, yet they seem to be all the rage, at least in U.S. interiors.

I LOVE them ! I can't resist collecting art so I love hanging things together in this way. I reckon it can really help a small space to have feeling of scale if you group pictures together on say one wall but leave more space on others to prevent the room feeling crowded.  

You are renowned for your distinctive prints. How has print influenced your style?

Massively! I have always loved print . My childhood memories are full of rose chintzes and somehow I have developed a near photographic memory for colour and prints. I send most of my work life either designing or researching print so its a big part of my life. 

Style wise I was bought up with 'English Country House' taste in my DNA. I have gone though phases of designing more modern pared back interiors but somehow always come back to working with print in some way on another.  I tend to use it a lot when decorating but mainly in the bedroom areas the days.

A Place Called Home is in the same vein as Bunny WIlliams' An Affair With A House. Did you find it harder to put this book together because of the personal nature of it v. a more traditional monograph highlighting work for clients?

I was surprised that I found it easier to write about my own home. I guess decorating is really quite an emotional thing - making a place personal, giving it a character , altmosphere etc and  I understood all the nuances of that I had done and the history of how I had got to that point of making it the way it was. 

I think what appeals to me most about the comfy English look is the comfort. There are so many synthetics here and I know they wear much better but they are not comfortable. What do you think about that?

I agree - Comfort rules! There are lots of ways of being practical though. I always look to the most comfortable seating I can find and that is usually with a natural filling but then use covers that are easy to have cleaned.  

1. How do you know where to start when designing a room?

Its always so tricky to decide where to start! I usually look to one key items to build around - so it may be a rug or a picture I already own which is the trigger point. I will then try and decide the wall colour. I always collect images of rooms I like and have a library of reference books so these are a go to places as well. 

I have a small kitchen in a large open floor plan home. The dining, living, and kitchen areas are all open but the kitchen has very little counter space or storage. I thought of extending it but the garage door is right where it would be able to be extended. Also there isn't really any space for an island in the kitchen either. There is an area between the kitchen and living room that is currently empty and I was thinking of adding some sort of coffee bar/ china cabinet there but I have no idea where to start. Should I try to match it to the dark wood of the kitchen because I would like to use it primarily for kitchen storage? I have been looking for solutions for months...

It sounds like that empty space between the kitchen and the living area is a great place to create more counter space and storage. I would think about building in a unit and painting it a colour that links the two rooms. A cabinet with glass doors above can be great to store and display china.

This is the perfect chat, as I have just bought my first house (yay!) and am having a hard time putting my mind around creating some sort of cohesive (or semi-cohesive) approach to decorating. I LOVE color and want plenty of color around, and am working with a small rowhome that has some cool built-in features, such as exposed stone walls and wood beams. Any suggestions for how I figure out what my style is? I do have a toddler, so playfulness and practicality are important.

How exciting to be starting a new project. I would start by looking at books and Pinterest etc of rooms with the same stone and beams  etc and see how other people have used colour in that environment. Good luck with it and enjoy creating your new home! 

Thank you for having me on the chat! I have so enjoyed it. Sorry not to get to answer more questions. That has been SO much fun! Do check out my new book for a personal tour of my home. Its called A Place called Home - published by Rizzoli - just out now !

Thank you Cath. I loved reading your book and I am thrilled you did the chat by a roaring fire today as I can imagine you in one of your treasure filled rooms on your laptop. Next week join me for a chat about how to extend your life outdoors during this pandemic. I'll have a story about that next week and my chat guest will be Terry Lin, who has developed a new outdoor furniture line called Outer and who spent time at Pottery Barn developing lots of products. Click here to post questions. Thanks and see you then.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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