Hello! Can you tell us about yourself? I’m Nicola, owner of Nicola Holden Designs, a…
Hello! Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a professional interior designer, registered with the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), and also a House Doctor consultant. This enables me to offer a range of interior services, from luxury and high end bespoke design through to high street affordability.
I have my design practice, GA Interiors, based in St Albans (Hertfordshire), but many of my clients are London based (Kensington, Chelsea, Pimlico). They range from professional couples to busy families, and from bachelor pads to girly hangouts. Sometimes my clients just need my guidance to confirm their ideas, but most of the time they want my professional expertise to design and create an interior that reflects their personality, is organised to suit their lifestyle, and looks amazingly stylish.
My designs have been showcased in several national interior design magazines, and I’m sought after as a speaker within my areas of expertise; Interior Design Trends, and Health in the Home.
In 2019, my interior design book ‘A Home to Cherish’ was published. It was written to help people to create a stylish and healthy home; a space that feels great and looks amazing.
What’s your backstory and what attracted you to design?
I’d never planned to be an interior designer, and it certainly wasn’t my life’s ambition. In my book, A Home to Cherish, I share the full story of my journey, from a career as a Client Delivery Manager in computing, to my successful career as an Interior Designer. For now, I’ll give you a synopsis of the highlights and how it gave me the impetus to change career and become an interior designer.
My journey began when the death of my father collided with the birth of my son. Both were sudden, shocking and surreal events. My saddest and happiest of times came together to create my most precious memory to cherish: my father holding my son for the first and the last time. It made me realise that even on the dark days, when the grief shark is biting at your heels, there’s a glimpse of hope with a fond memory that’s left behind. This moment was a seed that made me appreciate how precious and important memories can be.
To help me overcome the grief, I completed a self-study course in interior design, whilst on maternity leave with my baby. I thought it would be interesting and practical, whilst distracting my thoughts from the loss of my father. I decided to take a year out of working in computing, but I never went back because I was no longer the person I used to be. Opportunities came my way that were exciting and interesting. They were events that fuelled my creativity and took me a step further to becoming an interior designer.
I qualified as an interior designer and trained as a House Doctor consultant, working as a visual merchandiser, I decided that I had the right skills and sufficient confidence to set up my own business with my professional practice GA Interiors. My focus is creating stylish, organised and healthy homes with memories to cherish.
What do you love most about designing?
There are two things that I especially love about designing. Firstly, I love the variety of people that I have the opportunity to meet, discovering how they like to live and what’s important to their wellbeing. I enjoy improving and enriching their lives so that they have a space to enjoy, and feel comfortable sharing with friends and family.
Many of my clients recommend me to their friends and family, which is a lovely heartfelt thanks for my creativity. My designs are never the same because they’re tailored to each individual. It’s exciting and extremely satisfying seeing my clients’ delight in their new home that feels like their dream come true.
I also love the challenge of interior design because it’s constantly changing and evolving. Technology and trends keep interiors fresh and exciting so there’s always something new and creative to explore. But, no matter what changes, I always focus on creating a consistent design that enables my clients to fashion their own precious memories to cherish in style.
Who, for you, has been the most influential designer/designers?
I’ve been influenced by my heritage rather than designers. My father worked in one of the last surviving weaving mills in Lancashire. As a young child, I remember standing in the factory, staring up at a giant-sized wooden door. My father stood next to me in his blue overall that was splashed with oil and cotton threads. As he reached out, with all of his strength, he prized open the door to reveal an orchestra of noise and a visual delight. The room was full of cotton looms with the shuttle running back and forth, like a squeaky mouse looking for cheese, in and out of every thread so quickly. It took my breath away to see the cotton being turned into beautiful fabric. It was magical.
As a consequence, I’m inspired by pattern, texture, colour and structure. I enjoy the sensory elements of interior design and appreciate the expertise of hand crafted. My design style is elegant, focusing on design in the details.
Where/how do you find inspiration for new designs?
I enjoy anything linked to design and will always read around the subject (both past and present), attend creative events, checkout social media, or just walk down the street and take notice of its surroundings. Everything around me stimulates my creative senses, so I make sure that I get out and about or do something new for a few hours every week.
My biggest problem is finding the time to fit in everything that I want to achieve because, as a creative, my head is bursting with ideas. To help find more time, a friend recommended the book ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. It basically recommends waking up early to spend time on yourself, making time for me with an hour of self-development.
What I enjoy the most, in my miracle morning, is reading and exercise. I love to read business books that educate me on how to be more productive whilst expanding my skills and knowledge. Since my Business Studies degree, I’ve always been intrigued with psychology, looking into how and why people react in different situations. Recently I’ve been ready ‘Small Giants’ by Bo Burlingham, companies that choose to be great instead of big. My focus for the future is to be better without being bigger.
Exercise is also really important to me because it helps to manage stress as well as keeping me physically healthy. Interior design naturally comes with issues because projects are complex and need to be managed carefully so that the design isn’t compromised. When I’m feeling anxious it can become difficult to think. Exercise helps to relax any tension and clear my thoughts so that I can think creatively without being bogged down with problems. If I haven’t time to get to the gym or go for a walk in the park, then I’ll throw on a motivational YouTube video to take me out of the moment, creating a spark of happiness to release endorphins and boost my energy levels.
Self-care is vital to ensure that my mind is feeling refreshed and open to new ideas that enhance my creativity and inspire my designs.
Describe your approach to functionality v aesthetics.
What’s the most important, how it looks or how it feels? From my professional experience, both are equally important within interior design.
I was talking to one of my design students who had bought a super stylish chair that she had coveted for many years. Initially, she positioned the chair in pride of place within her living room, but it was soon relegated to a dark corner because it wasn’t at all comfortable. It looked great but it had become an ornament because it wasn’t functional. She couldn’t bear to get rid of the chair because it was expensive and she’d saved up for a long time to buy it, but it cluttered the room and reminded her every day of the mistake she’d made. Aesthetics are compromised if you need to use the item and the piece isn’t fit for purpose. The chair is now an eyesore rather than a joy to look at.
On the flip side, how important is functionality over aesthetics? A lady that I’d met at an event was asking me if she needed to renew her sofa. The sofa was worn, with the legs now broken and propped up on books. There was also an abundance of cushions to bolster anyone sitting on it, as the springs bounced out of the seat. It was no longer functional but she couldn’t bear to get rid of the sofa because it had so many fond memories of times with her children. Functionality was compromised. She was hanging onto the sofa but it had got to the stage where it was giving her severe backache. Her emotional connection to the piece was greater than the physical pain she was in. She knew that something had to change because that’s why she asked for my professional advice. She wanted my permission to let it go, but, even though she replaced the sofa, the lovely thing about fond memories is that they stay with you forever.
For a stylish and healthy home, aesthetics and functionality go hand in hand. Together, they create a home that looks good and feels amazing.
Describe your approach to choosing/using colours.
When decorating any room, it’s useful to think of your home as a book, with each room a chapter in that book that tells your personal story. Within each room you’ll have the backdrop to the scene (paint, wallpaper, carpet), the characters (furniture) and highlights in the plot (accessories).
If your room lacks interest then it would feel bland and you’d get bored, so you’d stop reading the book. On the flip side, if there’s too much going on in the story then you’d feel overwhelmed and confused so you’d stop reading the book. Just like any story in a book, decorating a room is a balancing act.
Colour, texture and style blend together to create an attractive space. Choosing the right colours, particularly for wall paint, can feel overwhelming but that’s often because you’re looking at it in isolation. Colour is complex and should be viewed in the context of the room. How does the natural daylight of the room affect colour? Do you want the colour to dominate the walls, to be prominent in your story, or be more subtle and fade into the background?
I always recommend that you start with identifying your keywords, ie: how do you want your space to feel? You then use these words, which are linked to your emotions, to choose the most suitable colour scheme. For the most popular interior design colour schemes, check out my Youtube channel video ‘Top interior design tip on using the colour wheel to create successful colour scheme for your home’. It will help you understand the most successful colour schemes to use within your home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLuB6qfmehQ
Take us through your process of designing for a client.
I’d like to share with you an overview of the interior design process because I believe that, to understand what I do, you firstly need to understand the full extent of what needs to be done when renovating, extending or modernising your home. It’s much more than slapping a bit of paint on the wall and fluffing cushions.
My design process begins with the concept of initial thoughts and ideas, taking a client’s ideas and conceptualising them into a skeleton design. The ideas and then tailored into a detailed design to include a mood board (with product samples for paint, wallpaper, fabric, tiles, flooring etc), furniture and room layouts, electrical plans, bespoke furniture designs and a budget breakdown. These enable my clients to completely visualise the space, understanding how much it will cost and how it will all come together to create the space of their dreams.
The next stage of my design process is organising the space. With decluttering, I’ll help you clear out the clutter whilst making space for your treasures. When your home is organised to suit your lifestyle, it’s quick and easy for you to tidy up, so that you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy with the people you love.
Once the design is finalised, it’s time to go shopping and sourcing. This is the art of finding the perfect items for your room. It can often feel overwhelming not knowing where to go for things, so I’ll either go shopping on your behalf or I’ll take the time to share with you my favourite finds. I can introduce you to antique, vintage, hidden high street gems or bespoke specialist suppliers. I’ll help you find the perfect items to create your stylish space.
Once everything has been bought and delivered, it’s time for staging. This is the skill of furniture layout. Just like characters in a book, furniture can be given a different feeling depending on what it is and where it’s placed in the room. For example: there’s the main character (protagonist) that the story revolves around, such as the sofa, bed or dining table. The second in command (deuteragonist) supports the main character, such as a bookcase, wardrobe or dining chair. Of course there’s a villain (antagonist) who’s fighting for attention, like a feature chair to stimulate the senses. Changing the furniture layout stirs the story, helping to energise and invigorate your space.
The final step of design is styling all of the beautiful finishing touches that add the designer wow factor to your space. Subtle nuances with accessories help to elevate your room so that it looks fantastic and feels amazing.
Alongside interior design is the build and construction. Some of my clients like to use their own trades but I also recommend my own reliable and highly skilled experts for the times when you don’t know who to trust to complete your project to a high specification.
With every interior design project there are challenges at every step, so I offer my expertise to project manage the makeover from a time, budget and design perspective. Your makeover will be finished on time and look amazing without overspending. This gives you the confidence that your home will be everything you always wanted, your dream come true.
What do you like to hear people say when they view your work?
I created a relaxing blue bedroom for a teenage girl and she said, “that’s exactly the dream that was in my head”. I love to make my clients’ dreams come true.
What is your all-time favourite design (yours)?
I have many designs that I’d like to share, but I think the one that stands out the most this year is the master bedroom for a bachelor pad in London. I was initially asked to reconfigure his apartment to create an open plan living, dining and kitchen space but, after giving my advice on his bedroom, he decided that the priorities had to change. He was having trouble sleeping and feeling lacklustre when waking. He knew something was wrong with the space but he didn’t know what the problems were until I highlighted the issues.
A fitted wardrobe dominated the space making the room feel dark, cluttered and cramped. The bed was squashed into an alcove with no space to step out of the bed. It’s fun scrabbling over the bed when you’re a child but it’s not very convenient when you’re an adult. The room felt cold and the decor was dated. The bedroom wasn’t practical for him and didn’t suit his personality or his aspirations.
My design focused on a reconfiguration of the layout, highlighted with a stylish and relaxing blue colour scheme that was balanced with modern features; in particular, the curtains were electronically controlled so that he could introduce the daylight without getting out of bed. A touch of luxury and a great way to start the day. It’s now a sanctuary of calm and tranquility.
Through real-life design projects, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The most important advice I recommend is to create a space that suits you.
I had a client who sought my advice after she’d copied a kitchen/dining room design from a picture in a magazine and was deeply disappointed with it. She’d spent a fortune on the expensive kitchen, buying exactly the same dining suite and then styling the dresser to match the photograph, but it didn’t turn out how she imagined. What she created was someone else’s idea of a perfect kitchen/dining room, but it didn’t connect with her personal style, her home or the way she liked to cook and use the space.
Whenever you modernise a room, it’s useful to take inspiration from others but it’s mindful to make sure that the design and the style suits you, your personality and the way you like to live.
Advice for readers who want to redesign their homes/workplaces?
97% of homeowners are disappointed with their makeover even after they’ve decorated. The main reasons include overspending on the budget and feeling overwhelmed by choice of products.
The first step to any successful design is to understand your space. Begin by asking yourself a couple of questions:
- How does the space feel at the moment?
- How do you want it to feel?
You can then use these words to identify the problems that need to be addressed. Focusing on the problem areas will help you create a space that not only looks good but it also suits you and your lifestyle. For example, if it’s dark but you want it to feel light and airy then you could review the lighting in the room. If it’s cluttered and you want it to feel spacious and organised then you’d be looking at storage solutions. If it’s bland and you want it to feel stylish then introducing colour or texture would be a great starting place.
By focusing on the problem areas you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed with the choice of products because you’re narrowing your search. Understanding your space enables you to think first, which helps you to create a solid design. With your design you can then cost out the project so that you have a realistic budget and avoid overspending.
Plan it – Price it – Perfect it.
What interesting projects are you working on right now? And what does the future look like?
Next year is already busy with several projects focusing on bathrooms and kitchens. They’re the spaces where you spend the most time so they need to be perfect because they’re expensive to change and modernise. You don’t want to make the wrong choices, waste your money, and be disappointed.
It’s particularly important to ask a professional interior designer to validate your kitchen design because it’s a space that’s multi-function and, in many modern homes, it needs to blend seamlessly with the rest of the house. I’m frequently asked to review kitchen layouts from architect plans. For one client in particular, the architect had made the kitchen too small to accommodate her large and growing family. I redesigned the space to create a large and practical kitchen with family space for entertaining.
For another client, the kitchen had been badly designed by a kitchen designer. It was bland and kept the existing layout that wasn’t working for the family. Instead of the traditional L-shape layout, I designed a modern linear style kitchen with a large breakfast bar for parties and interesting features to reflect their personality.
I’m looking forward to showcasing these projects in my design digest newsletter next year.
Where can we go to learn more?
I have a design digest, my free newsletter, where I’ll share with you the latest interior design trends, showcase my client projects and keep you updated on my upcoming courses and interior design books. To sign up to my free Design Digest:
To find out more about me:
If you’d like to order my interior design book ‘A Home to Cherish’ on Amazon, it’s available in paperback or kindle: