130 bedrooms in six weeks: Q&A with the SweetSpot designer

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SweetSpot grew this summer, but with growth comes challenges. Our resident interior designer Hannah Collins had to work day and night to transform the old unloved buildings into homes suitable for our new tenants. We caught up with her now everyone has moved in, to ask her about why she made certain choices and her thought process when designing under pressure.

How many houses did you refurbish this summer?
We refurbished sixteen houses, averaging six bedrooms each in Nottingham and five houses in Exeter. That’s nearly 130 bedrooms in total – and we did this in six weeks!

What’s the most important thing to you about refurbishing a home?
That’s a tricky question. First and foremost, the most important consideration when refurbishing any property is to carefully consider the budget and the client’s expectations. If both these are managed correctly, then nobody will be disappointed.
Secondly, I have to focus on the brief. I need to think about why we’re doing this, who we’re doing this for and what we need to achieve out of it.

Our clients are students and they are the most important consideration in planning and designing each room. Of course, I would love to run away with my ideas most of the time but I am constantly having to pull myself back as practicality is of the utmost importance when designing any student home and surprisingly design and practicality tend to contradict each other. The challenge is achieving a happy middle road between stylish contemporary design and comfortable living on a competitive budget.

What’s the most stressful thing about doing a big scale refurb like this?
Managing everyone’s expectations. On a project of this scale, in such a short space of time, we could not achieve anything if we all didn’t work as a team. I know it might sound clichéd but there were so many different people involved that project management was of the utmost importance. It was critical that one job was completed before another could get started. For example, after every wall had been prepared and decorated, the carpets had to be laid. Until this happened, the furniture couldn’t be delivered and therefore the rooms couldn’t be made up. It was an extremely fast paced and finely tuned process by the end. We were turning houses around in three days in the last two weeks. It was an organised chaos. We had a great team behind us and overall everything went very smoothly considering the pressures we were all up against.

What’s the best thing?
The end goal! After the houses have been professionally cleaned and they’re all shiny and new, I love the styling process and the final stages working closely with the photographers to achieve the finished look. It’s all in the detail.
It’s such a super feeling of achievement when we put that over-worked dusty old kettle on for the very last time to make a cup of tea and everyone sits down and takes a step back to see what we’ve all created: from a tired unloved building to a sparkling stylish and comfortable new home. That’s the best thing.

What’s your thought process when it comes to designing for a new home?
Making an impact. That doesn’t have to mean a radical makeover but it does mean doing something to make a difference. I place a huge importance on colour and the effect colour has on a room and how it makes one feel. Of course, it goes without saying that a beautiful view and natural sunlight is one of the crucial elements of careful contemplation when designing any room. In a bedroom for example, ideally I will design a room around its natural features. It’s always a luxury to look out of a window from bed and to have a window to look out of while studying at your desk. Because space is at a premium I will always do my best to focus on the comfort of sleeping and study. Secondary to this, is storage. We all know how important storage is.

When designing any room I always try and imagine myself in that room. Is it somewhere where I’d like to be? Most importantly, the bedroom needs to feel secure and comfortable.

How should a home make you feel?

Somewhere you look forward to coming home to. Our homes are who we are.

A home should offer a sense of identity. Somewhere we can call our own and shut the door away from the stresses of everyday life and relax in our own private space, share with friends and enjoy in company. Your home should be welcoming and comfortable, safe and warm.

Why do you think so many student properties are sub-standard?
Because not everyone places as much importance on student accommodation as we do. We care about our students and want to offer them a luxury standard of living whilst they’re at university. We know what a positive impact our SweetSpot homes will have on our students and therefore place a huge amount of importance on this. We also feel that for many students a SweetSpot move will be their first move away from the security and all that they know of their home environment. We want to make their ‘flying the nest’ not only a positive one but a move that they’ll always remember as it’s such an important transition in a student’s life.

The rooms this year are almost colour-coded; red rooms, blue rooms, purple rooms, what was your thinking behind that?
I wanted to give each room an identity so I did this by expressing colour in punchy bursts of moody blues, earthy greens and tonal reds on statement walls in every bedroom. I wanted to highlight and define the space for study. As a team we all thought this was very important. I chose a versatile and universal palette of bold colours. I then coordinated the window blinds and the desk task lamps accordingly to tie in with the chosen colour scheme. To complete the space with designed a bright white beautifully bespoke clean-lined sharp Corian desk worktop. Therefore every room was defined by a different accent colour and this created a focal point and identity to each bedroom.

What makes the homes you design special?
I enjoy the aesthetic of beautifully worked clean lines. For example, every piece of furniture has to be thought out and it’s critical that a work of art is placed and hanged correctly. This artwork then has to work perfectly together with perhaps a mirror that has to be placed thoughtfully so it emphasises its best use of the light or refection from the window. Positioning and scale are incredibly important when designing a room.

It’s always very difficult to design any space with a limited budget but I’m very good at sniffing out my one-of-a-kind finds and special treasures. I have a keen eye for colour and detail and simply adore unique pieces and original artwork and uniting them all together. I have put some exquisite wall art in to our SweetSpot houses over the years. I find heritage pieces here, there, and everywhere and enjoy the history and authenticity. I love colour and I love statement. I will always shy away from mainstream mass production or ephemeral fashion trends. I feel the art of great design is keeping it classically simple but thoughtful. I can always spice a room up with a twist of colour and intrigue after all.

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