Interior design addict Fifi McGee has meticulously documented the process (including trials and tribulations!) of renovating her 1930s semi, with the aim of helping budding DIY enthusiasts learn from her experience. We caught up with Fifi to take an exclusive look at her finished Master Bedroom project and to quiz her on how she developed her passion for interior design into a full-time career...
Hi Fiona, What inspired you to start your renovation and interiors dedicated website?
I'm so pleased to be featuring on the Button & Sprung blog!
My career in renovations unknowingly began in 2016 when me and my partner (and business partner) Neil got the keys to an ugly duckling 1930s semi-detached renovation in need of serious work!
We reluctantly abandoned our gorgeous flat at the time to get a larger property. It was the biggest project we had ever taken on and we decided to document the entire renovation process from the moment we got the keys, to the reveal of every finished room.
The time spent renovating my dream 1930's semi shaped the start of my career as an interior designer. I had formally trained in the sector, but my most valuable experience came from being ‘on site’ (it feels weird calling it that, this was my home!). I furiously made notes at each step of the process and began to understand everything from light installation, worktop finishes, tile patterns, sub floors, stud wall measurements, window construction... the list goes on. With this wealth of learned and lived experience, I felt inspired to make it my mission to help other budding renovators create the home of their dreams.
A few years later, Neil and I have abandoned our careers to focus full time on helping renovators get peace of mind in their projects. It’s such rewarding work supporting first timers with all those unknowns, to give them confidence and show them the right ways to invest their time and money.
What were the biggest obstacles that you encountered designing and renovating your Master Bedroom? How did you overcome these?
No renovation is without its ups and downs. Luckily Neil and I make a good team when we work on projects together, whether they are our own or I’m asking for his input on clients’ proposals.
The key to fewer obstacles is all in the planning you do before the project begins.
As a new renovator, you need to be familiar with the order everything must run in, you need to be clear on your vision, layout and design choices early on and keep a very tight hold of budgets while retaining flexibility and resilience if things don’t go to plan. We pass on guidance in these areas to members of our online course How to Renovate a House and Home Design Lab to get people tooled up and ready to master their renovations and interior design.
Some people are surprised when I tell them Neil and I start all of our projects with the same exercises and templates that we share with clients on our online courses. It’s taken us years to build this fail-safe approach and working to a rhythm in this way means we won’t do things in the wrong order which can lead to mistakes and undoing of work.
So on the whole no major obstacles (not any that were out of our control at least!)...with the huge exception of Covid!
Like much of our Reno Club community, we were in the middle of the master bedroom renovation when the pandemic hit. The supply chain was flattened and lead times became crazy, with so many items taking months to be delivered. We didn’t want to compromise on anything so we started, stopped, started and stopped again, experiencing all the elation, exhaustion, and relief now that it’s done. Only renovators will know that cocktail of emotions when you finally get a room complete. It's an emotional ride, but all worth it!
We think our Camelia Bed Frame looks fabulous in your bedroom. How did you develop the interior design scheme for the room?
Thank you, we are completely besotted with it! My belief when it comes to choosing an interior style for your home, avoid trends and listen to your interests as a person or family (depending on who you’re decorating with).
Identifying your own unique style has given many of the renovators in our community the ‘a-ha’ feeling. Their decisions fall into place when they know what colours, materials and style makes them truly happy. I have some very fun exercises that help people achieve clarity with their design.
Neil and I get energised by walks in the countryside. We were adamant that we wanted a look that was calm and fresh in this room, with an 'outdoor-sey nature' theme running through our design choices. Looking at it now, it definitely has New England / coastal vibes which I’m really pleased with.
Training as an interior designer has given me the tools and skillset to develop a room layout and scheme for clients. Our Master Bedroom project was particularly special for us because it was the first time that I really put these learned techniques into practice. In terms of developing the design, you could say that this project was a testing ground for our brand new interior design program (Home Design Lab) which became a huge success even in the first pilot launch. It’s now supporting renovators and home decorators to build their own skills in design without necessarily hiring an interior designer.
What drew you to the Camelia model in our ’Natural’ (Grade 4) fabric?
The softness and flecked finish of the fabric sold it for us! It’s a neutral colour that complements the muted alpine green we painted on the walls and crisp white wooden cladding. It’s versatile too. For instance, if we ever decide to change the colours in this room, the fabric will suit a wide variety of schemes.
The bed frame itself is heaven to sleep on. We particularly love how it has a noticeably heavy base whilst still being raised from the floor. You perch your bum on the end and nothing moves but the mattress beneath you. Our old bed creaked and shifted about 5cm to the left or right whenever you sat on it! We keep saying what a huge life-upgrade it’s been for us to own it.
Any tips and tricks for creating a calming bedroom space that’s perfect to unwind in?
When you think about a bedroom that’s NOT calming, what do you see? Bold colours, loud patterns, possibly clutter on surfaces or walls. So my advice would be to spend time considering your colour palette and possible storage solutions. To achieve a calm bedroom it’s all about neutral colours and simple textures. Having ample storage space that you can quickly stash things away in keeps your surfaces clear and the whole room feeling like a calm oasis.
Where do you go to draw interior design and styling inspiration?
The more time I spend on country walks, mooching around quaint villages near us in Sussex, the more interior inspiration I come home with. I often go out on walks and build colour schemes in my head and on my phone using nature as a guide – colour schemes like stone, sage, and muted blues look amazing in nature, so they’ll definitely work in your home. I also really love chatting to established interior designers like Hannah Llewelyn Interiors, learning from their projects and fantastic eye for interiors.
Finally, do you have any tips or tricks for picking up one-of-a-kind pieces that add a finishing touch to a bedroom?
The more I work in interiors, I realise how limited the U.K. can be when it comes to furniture suppliers. In the U.S.A. furniture and lighting options are boundless whereas over here it takes a lot of time to source quality furniture with the right design, in the right dimensions at a reasonable cost. My advice would be to explore the companies that are offering U.K. built furniture in a substantial variety of fabric options – or even custom fabrics to truly find the right fit for your room and interior style.
Interview by Sophia Freeman