Home Improvements – Learning From the Masters

Improving the look and feel of your home can be an exciting – but daunting – challenge. It’s not surprising that people often try to keep things as simple and affordable as possible. But great ideas in design and architecture don’t always have to break the bank, and there’s sure to be a way for you to adapt them to suit your circumstances.

Explore what the modern masters have done, and you’re bound to find a way of sprinkling some of their magic throughout your own project.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Not many designers or artists seem as universally admired as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. When his beloved Glasgow School of Art building suffered a devastating fire in 2014, the widespread shock and sadness was a testament to his vast appeal. Mackintosh’s architectural designs and other artistic outputs (including water colours and furniture design) are incredibly easy to like, in no small part because of his liberal use of motifs.

A motif is an image or shape that is repeated (often with subtle variations) across different aspects of a design. Mackintosh was often keen on large expanses of plain white surface, and this allowed his motifs to become particularly vivid and distinctive. Floral designs and geometric shapes were his stock in trade, and there’s no reason you can’t follow his lead by adopting a motif. Maybe your door already has some interesting shapes, or your favourite furniture takes on unusual shapes. Whatever you choose as your starting point, why not try turning it into a motif?


From the distinctive vision and recognisable patterns of an Art Deco genius to the collaborative and eclectic approach of a contemporary design collective – Commune. Here, the lesson is not so much about a particular design trick, but more a general philosophy. Commune established themselves a little over ten years ago in California, and have grown into a very well respected team. The houses they work on will be out of the price range for most of us, but Commune can still teach us a thing or two about collaboration.

Developing ideas for your own living space can be a wonderfully rewarding personal project, but there’s always a danger of getting too carried away with your own prejudices and hang ups. A brief look through the Commune portfolio makes it instantly clear how their wonderful interiors arise out of the coming together of different styles and tastes. Maybe you could consider asking friends and family to make suggestions, or keep a design-inspiration blog and encourage feedback.

Le Courbusier

One of the most famous architectural declarations of the last 100 years – Le Courbisier’s statement that houses are ‘machines for living in’ – can seem pretty disheartening at first. If you’re looking forward to an exciting and creative project on your own house, the vision of it as a ‘machine’ is likely to leave you feeling pretty cold and seeing Le Courbisier’s proposed vision for bulldozing the centre of Paris probably won’t make you any more sympathetic!

But have another think about it. Too often, interior design can get distracted by textures and lights and patterns, and lose sight of the fact that houses are for living in. When you’re planning your design, take some time to imagine day-today tasks in your new space. Is there room to hang your jacket? Picture yourself cooking a meal in your new kitchen; are the cupboards handy? After all, machines may be inhuman, but they tend to make our lives easier and more relaxing…

Joseph O’Brien writes on design and domestic building for Kent Home Improvements.

Author: Editor

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