Interview with Karen Hughes

Interior designer Karen Hughes, director of Emerald Interior Design in Dublin (, answers your questions...

Q. I’ve inherited an old sideboard from an aunt, and though I love it, it doesn’t go with anything in my home — should I paint it?

A. Most people are far too quick to take a paint brush to pre-loved furniture. Often, it’s the little imperfections that add character to a piece. In this case however, you may want to paint it to better suit your home. Here’s how: first remove all the handles and hinges, strip any existing paint or varnish and sand it down. Give it a good clean and once dry, apply the primer and paint. If there’s a grain in the wood, apply the paint in the direction of the grain. To give it an antique look again, simply lightly sand some of the raised edges, corners or legs to give the appearance of wear and tear. Finish with a coat of bees wax to protect the wood.

Q. My bathroom is cold, dated. I can’t afford to install a new one – help!

A. Sometimes, it’s the smallest room in the house that proves the most difficult to decorate. The secret is the three S’s: Surroundings, Sight and Smell. Surroundings: Use a big, bright bath mat to hide an unsightly floor and matching towels or shower curtain to introduce a splash of colour to the room. Sight: Hide the clutter such as rubber ducks and shampoo and only keep decorative items like perfume on display. Tilt-out bins at the end of the bath are a great use of wasted space. Smell: Light a scented candle or add a few drops of essential oil to bath water to transform a bathroom into a spa sanctuary.

Q. We’ve just finished renovating our house and are down to painting the kitchen walls. Our kitchen units are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Matchstick (pale mushroom) – do you think I should go lighter or darker?

A. F&B Matchstick is a warm, neutral colour that works well with yellowish hues — so I’d go for creams or greens such as F&B’s Cat’s Paw or Savage Ground. Before deciding on a colour, consider: the size of the room, amount of natural light it receives and aspect (whether it gets sun in the morning or afternoon). If the room is already dark, go for a light colour on the walls — and vice versa. Be sure to test your chosen colour. One little tip is to paint a sheet of white cardboard and Blu-Tack to different areas during the day so you can see how it catches the light.

Q.With two small children, our living room is a mess of toys — any ideas as to how my husband and I can reclaim our living room in the evenings?

A. Most of us don’t have the luxury of a separate play room for all those toys. But with proper planning and storage, your living room can function as a play room by day and adult haven by night. Multi-purpose furniture such as coffee tables with in-built storage and window seats or foot stools with lift-up lids will help make your space work harder for you. Floor-to-ceiling cupboards fitted into the alcoves either side of the fireplace add symmetry to a room and are great for displaying what you want – and hiding the rest. Try Boon Inc’s ‘Animal Bag’ storage sack ($49.99 from

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