Do you love your home? Be honest. Aren’t you tired of trying to keep up with the ever-changing trends? Why do you worry about what people may say on social media?
I’ve been there too. Always looking for the next best thing. A bigger house, another renovation project or the latest home decor craze… But then I took part in a TV show that changed everything.
Why wait for that forever home when you can be happy wherever you are, regardless if you own or rent. I sat down with my fellow TV experts to reveal the secret “Love Your Home” formula.
Meet the “Happier at Home” blog series
This blog post is part of the Happier at Home blog series. A collection of articles packed with practical tips and healthy habits to help you boost your happiness at home. Make sure you check out the first blog post of the series to get started: 10 science-backed ways to make you happier at home.
This is how I ended up on national TV
Sometimes great opportunities come unexpectedly. One day, they offered me the chance to take part in an interiors TV show. My natural response should have been “No, thank you” because of my fear of the unknown. Let’s say my comfort bubble is cosy and everything else is not Juan-approved. But I said yes.
It was the right opportunity at the right time — and the right mood. And guess what? I had a fantastic experience. I went there as a judge but I came back as a pupil, feeling inspired with fresh ideas to decorate my home. And now, as one judge said, “I look at my house and think: now, that would look better if I..?” (Alexis).
A TV show of house-proud owners
The Best House in Town is an interior design and property competition on BBC One. The show takes place in different cities in the UK. Including York, St Albans, Leicester and Cardiff. In each city, proud homeowners compete to be crowned the best house in town. For five days, a group of five local judges — that’s me! — visit the finest homes across several categories.
It’s easy to assume that homeowners with the most cash to splash will make the biggest impact. But the reality couldn’t be any more different. Esther, one of my fellow judges, was “blown over by the creativity of the homeowners and their ability to stretch their imagination — rather than their budget — in order to fulfil their vision.”
Meet the expert local judges
Nosey neighbours or property experts? Well, you could say we’re both! The most wonderful and insightful people joined me. These design and property professionals shared their knowledge on and off the screen.
- Esther Milardi is the founder of Di Oro Interiors. She brings effortless elegance and timeless modernity to any space. Follow Esther on Instagram.
- Alexis Psaila is a master joiner. With over three decades of experience, you can understand why his services are sought-after. Follow Alexis on Instagram.
- Jo Ridout is the property editor for WalesOnline. There is nothing she doesn’t know about bungalows, wreckers and dream homes. Follow Jo on Twitter and Instagram.
- Glen Thomas is an award-winning architect. His work has been featured on Elle Decor, Wallpaper and Vogue. Follow Glen on Instagram and Houzz.
We had the chance to visit some jaw-dropping properties, from cottages to ultra-modern dwellings. I couldn’t agree more with Jo: “although every house was unique in its interior design there is one thing they all had — their owners loved them dearly, put their heart and soul into them and made them personal to them.” But how did they do it? I had to find out.
Meet the homeowners
You have to be confident — and brave — to let five strangers and a TV crew into your home. Over a million people will see your home! I contacted four contestants that stood out to me from the beginning. Their interior style is impeccable and you can’t help it but feel good in their homes. And trust me, we spent quite a lot of time sitting on multiple surfaces…
- Andrea Curtis turned her Victorian home into a contemporary space that honours its heritage. Follow Andrea on Instagram.
- Robin Hamaker-Taylor wowed us with her bold botanical influences with a focus on sustainable living. Follow Robin on Instagram.
- Louise Misell’s sophisticated open-plan pink home won the terraced house category. Follow Louise on Instagram.
- Miffy Shaw was crowned the winner of the Cardiff episodes with her home full of personal handmade touches. Follow Miffy on Instagram.
These homeowners know something most people don’t. Do they drink a forbidden potion every night (other than gin and Prosecco)? Have they been taught at the legendary Decorati Society? It may not be a secret after all…
How to love your home (3 key lessons I learned from being on TV)
After visiting all these spaces I kept thinking about the concept of “loving your home”. What does it mean? How do you achieve it? Below you will find my insights alongside the biggest takeaways from my fellow judges and selected contestants. Get ready to discover how to achieve that “best house in town” feeling!
1. Dig deeper beyond the aesthetics of a space
There is something special about a space that works for the owners and is filled with layers of personality. You can always tell when a room is overly styled for potential visitors. All homeowners made an effort. But there’s a point when you distort reality by trying to portray the “perfect home” image. When you do that, you remove all traces of personality.
It’s not so much about trendy ornaments or must-have pieces — think about the little functional things too. The objects, fixtures and fittings that you don’t see often in interior magazines. Glen was impressed by “the level of fine detail in the finishes, wall art, handles, etc. The more you looked, the more you found!” Even a simple light switch can add to the experience.
Whilst scrutinising every inch of space the other judges and I could only guess what the owners’ personalities were like. Only when the show aired, we got to see the contestants. It surprised me to see how accurate our mental images of them were. That’s because they infused their homes with their personality, from the way they arrange the tea towels to the colour palette.
As Andrea says: “although I want my house to look great, more importantly, it has to feel good and support the family needs. In our case, that means using colours that reflect our family personality, filling the house with objects and art that we love and also each person having their own personal space.”
2. Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can
The above is one of my favourite quotes. It’s by Arthur Ashe, the first African-American to be ranked number one tennis player in the world. You can apply his wise words to all aspects of life, projects and opportunities — including decorating your home.
But, where do you start? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by choice: colours, finishes, furniture… Louise has the answer for you: “think about the spaces you have and how you actually use them (it may not be the way you think you do!) Plan any renovations around these insights.” Sometimes taking a step back can bring clarity and purpose to your vision.
Next, use what you have. Literally. Don’t wait until you can afford a fancy sideboard or a Ming Dynasty vase. Chances are you are surrounded by stuff that deserves a second chance. You can restyle your favourite ornaments and upcycle tired furniture to give them a new breath of life. New additions to your decor will come as your style evolves.
Do what you can — and give it a good go! When you pour effort and time in your home, you see it in every corner. Glen says the competition “highlighted a level of input and commitment that we rarely allocate time to consider with our own homes.” Alex noticed it too, he was impressed by “the amount of work the owners have put into their homes, and not stopping at one room.”
Ready to get started?
Say goodbye to the good old days of multitasking. Remember that focusing on one thing at a time makes you more productive and efficient1. So why not apply the same principle to decorating? No rush. Take it easy and enjoy the process.
If you have a long to-do list for your home, sort out the tasks one by one, without worrying about the jobs pending. There is always something to do around the house. Trying to do it all at once will lead to unnecessary stress.
3. Decorate for yourself to enjoy, not for others to approve
Now, the quote above is mine. I shared it on Instagram a few weeks ago and it resonated with so many people. How many times have you posted something on social media because “it does well”? But just because something you’ve done gets lots of comments and likes, does it mean it’s better? You know the answer already. I know that feeling because I’ve been there.
Care less about social media pressure and unleash your creativity at home. You will never be satisfied with your home until you let go of judgement from others.
Yes, another Juan quote — but I’m not alone here. Jo says the programme has taught her to “go with what’s in my heart and to design for me, because if I love the outcome of my personal style, then it can’t be wrong!” And Esther adds another dimension: “not unlike human relationships, loving your home requires commitment and a lot of self-giving for it to become truly part of you.”
Here’s a brilliant example. Robin’s love for her home was strengthened after the competition. “No one can love our home like we do. When faced with someone criticising our home’s quirky bits, I somehow started to stand up for the house. At the end of the day, there are many ins and outs, quirks, and other good bits that make me love this old pile of bricks.”
What about the finishing touches? As Louise suggests, don’t forget to “surround yourself with colours and things you really love and add items which truly resonate with you.” This is one tip about home happiness I hear all the time but only a few make it happen. And remember, as Miffy puts it, “always choose what you love as trends come and go — your home should make you smile.”
A note on goal-setting and perfectionism
Setting yourself decorating goals is motivating and challenging. But if you focus too much on the objectives, you might miss the process — sometimes referred to as Life. The truth is your house will never be exactly the way you want it. That idealised version of your house only exists in your mind. Accept it and embrace your house for what it is — simply be grateful2.
For example, I’ve planned my long-term house renovation in three phases. After a few years living here, I haven’t even finished Phase One. The reality is I don’t think I will soon. My house is not Instagram-ready. And that’s fine because I love it, anyway. Letting go of perfection takes so much pressure off you. It’s like that Friday feeling, every day.
Does your home make you smile?
I hope this insightful blog post helps you take the first step to a happy home you love.
Thanks to my fellow judges (Esther, Alexis, Jo and Glen) and selected contestants (Andrea, Robin, Louise and Miffy) for contributing to this blog post. Also, a big thank you to the production team, all the homeowners for allowing us to inspect their sanctuaries and to everyone who watched the show and shared their lovely feedback. It was an experience I’m so grateful for.
Did you watch The Best House in Town? What’s your favourite bit?
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