Helen Turkington's top tips for designing your living room

Meet talented interior designer Helen Turkington, who has a beautiful range of fabrics and furniture. Following on from her success in Dublin, she opened her first London store ‘Helen Turkington Fabrics’ at the beginning of the year and her inspirational designs are going from strength to strength. Get to know her here and find out her top tips on how to design your living room...


How long have you been sourcing fabrics?


For over ten years now – the store sells over 300 fabrics on the roll, which you can take away with you without having to wait for it to be delivered. It’s a real passion of mine observing the trends every season and assimilating new ideas and colours into our interior design projects. There’s an endless scope in fabrics and so much variety. Each season I make sure I have the trend forecasts for the following season foremost in my mind when I’m buying.

How did you get into working with fabrics?

My parents have an interiors business in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone so I’ve grown up working with fabrics - it’s always been a part of my life from a young age. I used to spend hours devising different schemes as a teenager in the Co. Tyrone countryside and learned the interiors business working for them. An idyllic playground for anyone who loves design!

Where does your inspiration come from?

I like well-crafted authentic fabrics - those that reflect a tradition and skill, such as the beautiful linens that are produced in Ulster. It’s an old craft and inherent to the people and the place. I know that certain countries really excel at producing certain fabrics - Belgian linens are amazing, for example.

I adore mixing these fabrics in subtle layers to build a look that’s harmonious but is made up of lots of textures and colours that complement each other, yet always retaining a point of interest.

I’m very much inspired by fashion trends and travelling, from a beautiful cashmere cardigan to incredible Indian silks.

What should we think about when buying fabrics for our homes?

There are endless possibilities with fabrics. Durability and longevity is of course important. I usually favour plain fabrics instead of patterned fabrics. If you want a rich luxurious drawing room, a mix of fabrics such as silks and velvets can create a formal glamorous room.

For a cool relaxed beach house, your window dressing and soft furnishing can be made up of natural linens, or voiles can be used to diffuse light.

For furniture, durability is paramount; nobody wants a sofa that is worn out after a few years. Therefore using the best upholstery fabrics is essential when designing. Coloured fabric can be introduced to great effect by just adding a few scatter cushions. Similarly patterned fabric used in small amounts such as a cushion can add a contrast to a very simple colour scheme.



What's the best way to go about designing a living room?

When planning the design for a room I always try to imagine how the owners will experience each space. I would consider my design style to be strong in symmetry and rich in accent colouring. I like to layer different textures of similar toned fabrics to lend depth to a room. Mixing panelling and mirrors adds richness while it also adds light to achieve a calming, clean and uncluttered look. I like to use velvets and silks on sumptuously shaped furniture such as a Chesterfield sofa to make a formal space warm and inviting. To finish a room I love to use fresh floral arrangements to breathe life into a space.

You use a lot of grey in your schemes - how do you make it work without it becoming too cold?

Grey is a great neutral colour to put in your home. I love to use grey on walls and woodwork. The greys in my Paint Collection are mixed specifically using warmer tones so that they won’t be cold. I like to add vibrant accent colours, which work great with grey such as purple, greens and pink hues.

How do you know where to position furniture?

Depending on the space available I will tend to put the furniture away from walls - when the walls are not backed up with furniture this creates a feeling of space. But, this is not always practical. I like to create a balance with the furniture in the room – working with pairs of tables or chairs will create a sense of balance and symmetry in a room.

How do you decide on where to put art or mirrors on a wall?

Mirrors add light and depth to rooms and are an essential in any living room scheme I work on. When deciding on the use of mirrors, I usually assess how much light is needed and take in to account alcoves, which can be transformed with the addition of mirrors. I like to hang mirrors in pairs also. Or if using one mirror a large scale mirror can add a lot of drama to a room. In many of my clients homes we have introduced panelling with inset bevelled mirror to great effect. This look is elegant, brightens the room and makes it feel bigger.  When hanging artwork I like to add these in pairs or in a triptych series, which adds order to the walls of the room. I love botanical and architectural prints with mirrored frames.

How do you warm up a room with accessories?

My schemes are all about layering. I warm up a scheme by adding accessories that are textured, such as wool and felt cushions and throws. Fabric lamp shades and ceramics work well also to warm up a room. I also love to add a punch of accent colour to my schemes. At the moment orange is what I’m really enjoying working with as an accent colour.

What’s your top decorating tip?

I have found that by painting the ceilings and woodwork of rooms in darker shades it adds an unexpected elegance and depth to a room. It feels more grown up and sophisticated! A simple idea that looks very effective is when using tie backs on full length curtains is to tie them high up, curtains hangs beautifully and allow more light in.



What trends do you see coming through in homes this season?

This season we can see the emergence of warmer textiles such as tartans, wools and tweeds. Orange is making its comeback – and Indian Blankets are enjoying their new found fame.

What’s next for Helen Turnkington Fabrics?

Helen Turkington Fabrics will shortly be available online. This is a very exciting prospect for us. Our new website will mean you can browse our range of over 600 fabrics in the comfort of your home.



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Emma Morton Turner, Guest Editor

View all posts by Emma Morton Turner, Guest Editor