In an age of identikit Instagram interiors, defining your style is hard. But not so with the Margate home of singer-turned-designer Whinnie Williams. Elvis Presley’s Graceland meets "posh old lady", it's a great example of mixing old with new to create a look that's totally fresh. Her approach to interior styling? If you can imagine it, you can create it. Here, she tells us how she turned a derelict property into a 70s-inspired dream home.
Reclining on a velvet shell-shaped bed surrounded by fluffy scatter cushions and two (even fluffier) dogs, Whinnie Williams is a vision of retro glamour. "My dream was to get my own place to do up, and buy a poodle." Discovered while doing a degree in set design, the singer-songwriter, DJ and now homewares designer has always been interested in interiors. "I saved the advance from my first record deal. Soon I had the deposit to buy my first place — and the poodle."
Two years ago, after becoming "smitten" with seaside town Margate while visiting a friend, Whinnie moved from London with her video director boyfriend Tom and their "mini farm" of 18 animals. The house had been on the market for six months when they viewed it. "It was divided into half-finished bedsits. The bedrooms had sinks in and there was endless 80s carpet. It was overwhelming for sure." So how did she give her home the ultimate glow-up?
"We spent a year gutting it, renovating in stages. We set a budget for the structural and boring work — moving boilers is the most expensive job in the world for some reason. With floors and bathroom fittings, we worked out what needed to be done the proper way and what we could do cheaply ourselves."
Whinnie has a knack for using materials in ingenious ways, like the striped lino floor in the living area, designed for use in schools. A true labour of love, they laid it themselves. "I always wanted a stripy floor, a bad 70s stone fireplace and a bar. Somewhere for good dinner parties and watching telly."
"When you're choosing colours, it's nice to work in threes if you're a bit nervous. So, a dark colour and then two poppier ones. But to be honest, there are no rules. My goal in the living space was to see how many colours and textures I could fit in."
"To get a 70s touch, add a mid-century piece in teak wood, like a chair or sideboard. Velvet is a great texture, so try a cushion. The colours are also really important, like peacock-y blue, green, orange. All those earthy tones."
Metro tiles saved money in the kitchen, despite the tiler's reluctance to apply them vertically. "Don't be scared to stand your ground on creative ideas. Our tradesmen didn't want to build a 70s wooden wall or fit an antique swan tap. They'd try to sway us to something easier. But you're paying for it, so make sure you get your vision."
Whinnie definitely does more disco dancing in front of the mirrored wall than actual cooking in the kitchen, but she's got a hack for making meals look amazing: "Everything looks nice in the MADE Krisha bowls, even pasta with pesto — it makes me look like a professional chef!" Result.
The fireplace, featuring shells hand-applied by Whinnie, set the scene for the master bedroom. "All my rooms are based on one thing — a bit of furniture, or a mirror or a light. It helps to flow the idea through, with shapes or lines. When your mind goes, 'I have a shell bedroom now', it just evolves from there. Once you know what the vibe is, it's easier to pull it all together."
"The great thing about buying old furniture is that you can swap it out all the time, and get your money back." Case in point: Whinnie's powder blue shell bed set-up, that her friend spotted for sale on Instagram. "I didn't have the money, so I just sold some other stuff."
"Mixing textures together makes a room look more expensive. Cut out bits of fabric and wallpaper and put them on a sheet of paper to see if they work. It's like putting an outfit together when you want to show off your best bits! Think about what's most flattering for the space."
"People always forget how important ceilings are. They're just a magical thing to add colour to. Paint or wallpaper a ceiling and you've instantly got a special place. People never do it because of that weird rule of keeping them white. So think of the ceiling first."
If you love something, you'll find a way of making it work. Like the shell bed which came in parts with no instructions, the bargain brass swan tap (found on eBay for £40), and the heavy 70s bath: "It took five people to carry [the bath] upstairs. I'm convinced that one day it'll come through the ceiling and end up in the kitchen…"
"It can feel so secretive in the builder world. But when a decorator didn't turn up for a friend, I ended up wallpapering their lounge in two hours. You've got to just go for it. You can paint things back if you don't like it. Don't muck about paying someone else to do it."
"The space is constantly evolving; it's great to replace stuff and keep it fresh. As my boyfriend's a music director, we work like we're planning a shoot. We set a deadline date, a rough budget and just get stuck in. It's a messy, weird approach but it works for us — and we always love the outcome."
Want your home to look as good as this, but need a helping hand? Check out our interior design service to find out more.
Article written by: Natalie Wall
Photography by: Phill Taylor