Here’s how to take layering to the next level: from wallpaper to lighting to window dressing
Interiors are like onions. You have shifts. It’s always been like this – you start with bare brick and concrete and build from there.
As with a bodice, the layering on base layer may not be immediately apparent. It does its job of holding everything underneath together. Exceptions are exposed brick and plumbing, which are always a bit cheeky. In recent years there has been a trend towards a more conscious approach to layering, ranging from an awareness of practicalities such as insulation and acoustics to an exploration of the aesthetic potential of cozy curtains.
For interior designer Ruth Noble, the process begins with the architectural plan. “Even at this point, I would consider layering the interior,” she says. “I’ve always used wallpaper, patterned or not. A subtly textured wallpaper adds detail at a level people may not be aware of.”
Lining a room with a layer of softer materials creates a sense of visual warmth. It will also improve the acoustics. Unyielding hard surfaces throw noise around a room like a rubber ball, often creating an uncomfortable atmosphere inside. Soft things absorb sound. “A painted wall can look a bit bare, although it’s more practical in a kitchen.”
As always, the balance between hard and soft materials is determined by both practicality and style. “I tend to go for hard floors like engineered wood or tile, which are more durable than natural stone but to soften them with rugs in the living room or playroom.” She prefers flat-weave rugs in high-traffic areas and natural materials, especially near children. “Wool is a hypoallergenic material and that’s often a priority for parents, although most rugs are a bit mixed for wear.”
Then there is light. This too must be considered from the start. “It really matters where you put your energy,” says Monica Duggan of Willie Duggan Lighting. “It’s dark six months of the year in Ireland. You can have the most amazing architecture, but if you don’t know where to place the lighting, you can’t see the space.” Lighting is typically broken down into four layers: task, ambient, decorative, and accent lighting. “We tend to think we just need light and don’t think about the layers.”
The workplace lighting is purely functional. As the name suggests, it provides enough illumination to get the job done and is particularly important in work areas such as the kitchen and home office. Typically, task lighting is provided by downlights, often recessed into the ceiling. If you place them wrong, you will be forever frustrated at the cutting board. “Millimetres get it wrong,” explains Duggan. “We want the lighting to take a back seat. We don’t want a ceiling full of lights and we don’t want glare. It’s actually pretty bad for us.”
Her top tip for downlighting is to make sure each light source is slightly recessed into the ceiling. Ambient lighting is atmospheric. “It gives us enough light that we don’t feel uncomfortable,” says Duggan. Again, this lighting layer isn’t about customization. It’s about creating a certain mood. “Lighting is magic, but you don’t want people to know that it’s the lighting that creates the magic in a room. You just want to feel it.”
Fancy lights fall into the decorative category and often include pendants. “Not every room needs a pendant light, but they can add sparkle.”
One of her favorite brands is LZF, a Spanish company specializing in wood veneer lamps (from 200 to 2,000 euros). “Every single one of us Duggans has at least one of these,” she says. The final layer, accent lighting, can be used to highlight specific parts of the room or architectural features.
The lighting company now known as Willie Duggan Lighting was founded in Kilkenny in 1935 by Monica’s grandfather Billy. Her father, Willie Duggan, continued the business. Working at the Kilkenny Design Workshop sparked his interest in design, but he is better known as an international rugby player and part of the team that won the Triple Crown for Ireland in 1982. After his unexpected death in 2017, Monica and her brother Willie took over the business. A fundamental rethinking of their showroom followed.
“We cut it right back,” says Monica. “Usually you walk into a lighting showroom and it’s completely covered in lights. But we found that people just threw light into rooms without really thinking about it. So we went in the opposite direction by creating space sets to walk people through the process. We even have a dark room where you can play with lights so you understand what we’re talking about.”
Even on a budget of almost nothing, there are things you can do with light. “You can buy a Philips Hue bulb and dim it via an app on your phone,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.” Philips Hue bulbs start at around €20 and are widely available.
When people speak of layering in a decorative sense, they are often referring to home furnishings and window displays. Layering works well with windows, often starting with a purple curtain. This sheer fabric is the cool younger cousin of the much-maligned curtains (we’re still waiting for a generation brave enough to revive them). Voile filters light without darkening the room, provides privacy, and can create a sheer undergarment for a heavier curtain.
At a time of highly variable weather conditions and high fuel prices, layered window displays have a practical aspect as well as an aesthetic one. Especially in combination with a thermal lining, a cozy curtain can be an important layer of insulation. A thermal curtain liner from Hillarys, a window covering manufacturer operating across the UK and Ireland, will add 10 per cent to the cost of your curtain, but the company claims it can reduce heat loss by up to 41 per cent.
Likewise, thermal blinds (from €62.54) can reduce heat loss through the window by up to 60 percent and made-to-measure Roman blinds (from €133) reduce heat loss by 41 percent. Roller shutters (from €509) can reduce heat loss through single glazing by up to 62 percent; Installing double glazing and shutters in a standard sash window can reduce heat loss by up to 75 percent.
Obviously it’s not an exact science. It’s safe to say that carefully chosen window dressing will help keep the house warm for a fraction of what you would spend on a retrofit project.
See willieduggan.com and hillarys.ie. Consultations with Ruth Noble start at €200, see ruthnobleinteriors.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/interiors/how-to-take-layering-to-the-next-level-from-wallpaper-to-lighting-and-window-dressing-42325494.html Here’s how to take layering to the next level: from wallpaper to lighting to window dressing