January can sometimes feel like an unwelcome guest, lingering for longer than we’d like and allowing its dark and gloomy nature to penetrate all corners of the home. While one option is to hide under the quilt and wait for it to go away, a better one might be to use a quick dose of dopamine decor to shift the mood.
Yes, it’s a bit of a buzz phrase, but dopamine decoration is about making your home happier and more joyful, and who doesn’t need that in the depths of winter? It describes interiors that lift us, boost our creativity and enable us better to express ourselves. Whether we do this by introducing more patterns, plants, colour or comfort, a few simple tweaks can have an impact on how we feel.
Of course, many of us are still in hibernation mode, we’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and big projects may be out of the question. But what we can do instead is focus on little changes that could make a big difference and reward our efforts generously. It requires a personal approach, as what fills one person with pleasure and joy might not be another’s happiness hit. Among the following ideas, there might just be something that resonates and gives you the extra boost you need this month.
1. Wallpaper the back of your bookshelves
Have you got a favourite wallpaper design that you are just longing to use somewhere in the house? Papering the back of a set of bookshelves is a wonderful way to add interest and transform something ordinary into something rather special – and it’s far easier and cheaper than papering a whole room.
Interiors stylist Anita Russell recently gave some Ikea Billy bookcases their Cinderella moment, adding strips of beading and painting them olive green before papering the backs with a patterned wallpaper – Lilou in honey, by Warner House. As she didn’t have the space to remove the back of the bookcase and paper it separately, Russell measured and cut each section of paper, before sticking it on with wallpaper paste. She says it isn’t difficult: “If you don’t get it quite right, you can easily peel it back and redo it.” Do use ready-mixed paste (“less messy”) and a small paint brush “to get into all the nooks and crannies”. Any air bubbles can be smoothed out with a sponge.
The project took just half a roll of wallpaper, but Russell says it has totally changed the atmosphere of the room – the wallpaper makes a beautiful background for the artworks and ornaments she displays on the shelves.
2. Put up a micro shelf
Hanging a set of shelves feels like a major project, but have you considered a “micro shelf” or a wall sconce instead? These little shelves, which can be sourced new or vintage and take minutes to install, provide the perfect platform to showcase favourite objects and trinkets.
Kate Elwell designs wall sconces which she also employs for more mundane uses in her home: for instance, to hold a spare loo roll. The first sconce she designed for this purpose had bright pink edges (to match her downstairs loo) and was much admired by visitors. As requests flew in to make more, Elwell realised the shelves were incredibly versatile and could be used solo or in groups, for “treasures that you want to elevate to a position of their own”.
She now has two either side of her bath – one for a cup of tea and another for a candle – a pair in her bedroom to hold bedside lamps and water glasses, and others in her dining room holding precious ornaments. An interior designer recently ordered seven for a nursery, to display a favourite teddy bear and a money box, among other special things.
3. Up your houseplant game
Bringing a new plant home not only makes the coffee table look cheerier; it also makes you feel cheerier. James Wong, a botanist and keen indoor gardener, says that just looking at plants “can reduce blood pressure and reduce stress hormones”.
For something that brings an extra smile, Wong says that cute “Pokémon”-esque plants are popular at the moment, for example the ponytail palm, a comically shaggy-looking plant, or caudex plants with bulged stems. Fashionable or not, the key is to find a plant that makes you feel happy when you look at it, be it a fiddle leaf fig or an African violet.
To go one step further, Wong suggests introducing a terrarium to your living room (if this appeals, he has an online master class on Create Academy, including a guide for how to make one). There is currently a big trend for miniaturisation; think delicate ferns and tiny orchids with flowers the size of a fingernail. They can be low maintenance, yet can also provide mindful evening entertainment on these dark nights: “I can lose two hours just polishing leaves, taking out bits of moss and rearranging a couple of rocks, and I feel like I’ve pottered around a full-size garden,” says Wong.
4. Introduce a wooden trim
You may well have spotted wooden scalloped or zigzag edging added to shelves or door frames in interior magazines or on Instagram recently. What might not be obvious is that wooden trim like this is relatively simple to apply. Camilla Hampton sells a whole range of pre-cut trims that can be used pretty much anywhere (she has outdoor versions, too). She says one of the most effective uses is around a window or a door frame: “It’s so easy to use and you can make a huge impact with such a small thing.”
The process is straightforward: “You need a tiny jigsaw to cut it (you can buy a jigsaw cheaply online) and then you need some wood glue and a little bit of wood filler and sandpaper and that’s it.” Prime and paint the trim first, then use the wood filler to fill the gap where the pieces join, and paint over it. It can jazz up a boring bathroom shelf, decorate a radiator cover or totally transform a boring dining table.
5. Hang a group of prints
A picture on its own is lovely, but a group of pictures has the potential to become a design feature. Hanging a set of prints is “an opportunity to add masses of colour and details”, says Rosie Saunt who, with her husband Ant, runs Petri Prints, a company that sells hand-framed wall art (for example, sets of strawberry botanical prints in bright red frames, or groups of colourful animal prints with ticking stripe mounts).
Saunt says that there are all sorts of different ways to arrange groups of pictures: “A pair could be hung vertically above a chair; a set of four prints might be hung horizontally above a headboard; or a larger group could work perfectly above a sofa.” She says it is also an easy way to add any missing elements into a room: you can introduce more texture by using mounts or frames with interesting profiles such as bobbins and ridges, or decorative mounts can add patterns to walls that don’t have any wallpaper.
Her top tip is to make sure your arrangement doesn’t look at all sparse: “You want it to give an impression of abundance once it’s on the wall.”
6. Paint a border
Instagram is awash with beautiful examples of decorative painting, which is usually done freehand and, at the simplest end of the scale, doesn’t require special artistic skills or materials. Using sample pots or leftover paint, it is possible to create something unique, which can also be a very rewarding process. There is something rather exciting (and a little rebellious) about painting directly onto walls and furniture, whether it is just a few flowers on a picture frame or decorating the entire fire surround.
Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball created the most charming border – or, in his words, “a rather lightweight Charleston-esque motif” – around a mirror in the entrance hall of his home. Using paint leftover from previous projects, he marked out the circles by drawing around the rim of a glass, and then filled them in freehand using a small artist’s brush. He says that the whole project took less than an hour: “I sort of made it up as I went along. But it’s kind of fun, and it’s amazing how many people comment on it.”
7. Make a bed cushion
Is anything cosier than reading the paper while propped up in bed? However, if you have a metal bed frame, you’ll know that achieving a good set-up requires careful pillow placement. To raise your comfort levels this year, consider making tie-on bed cushions, which can be secured to the top of the bed frame and provide a soft surface to lean against. These can take the form of box cushions with a series of ties (Katy Takla makes some beautiful examples) but Anna Hope, an upholsterer and textile designer, has an even simpler solution.
After Hope managed to destroy her previous, upholstered bed in a nightmare paint-pot-bouncing-off-a-ladder scenario, she opted to replace it with a metal-framed bed. But this presented a new problem: how to drink tea comfortably. The solution came in the form of some mustard velvet fabric bought at auction and some hard-wearing grosgrain ribbon.
She made two square cushions with ribbon ties that sit on the mattress and are held in place by bows. For cushions that would need simply to hang from a frame, Hope suggests using something tougher for the ties, such as upholstery webbing (which comes in lots of lovely colours). She advises that the cushion inserts need to be slim enough to allow you to put your pillows in front of them, so that the cushions are not pushing you forward or getting in the way.