Arguing over the merits of Lamp Room Grey over Elephant’s Breath and bickering about furniture placement does not make for a harmonious home.
Fortunately Caroline Smith’s husband, James, is happy to leave the decor to her, although he’ll occasionally pass comment.
When he spotted the dried hydrangea wreath above the bed he asked “who’s died?”
“He didn’t even notice for over a week,” laughs Caroline. “He isn’t interested in interiors, he just wants the house to look nice.”
The Victorian property in Boston Spa looks wonderful despite the limitations presented by rental accommodation. The couple, who have two daughters, Phoebe, three, and Matilda, 18 months, moved to Yorkshire 18 months ago with James’s job as a hospital doctor. They like it so much that they are hoping to stay and have put in an offer to buy the four-bedroom house, which stretches over three floors.
“I love the house and the layout really works for us but when it is ours we will probably add some more colour to the walls,” says Caroline, an artist and textile designer who runs her business, Flohr and Co, from home.
She has turned the spare bedroom into a studio that houses her artwork, her own design fabrics and her ever-growing selection of products.
A former art, textiles and photography teacher, she decided to follow her heart and become a full-time designer maker when her children were born. Her job now fits in with family life and it is portable, which is essential as they have moved a lot with James’s job. Caroline began by making picture keepsakes, painting her designs on cloth before embroidering them. Their success led to her creating her own range of linen fabrics.
She still hand paints the designs and embroiders them before having them digitally printed on to the linen at a mill. As well as selling it by the fat quarter and by the metre, she also makes everything from lampshades to fabric letters and bunting.
“I used to do all the making myself but it got to the point where I was up till 2am making lampshades and so now I concentrate on the designing and I outsource the making,” she says.
Caroline’s Stork design is a favourite for nurseries, although her best-sellers are the pheasant print and the subtle star and stripe fabrics that complement it.
Interior designers are among her best customers because she can make her fabric in bespoke colours and the business is growing fast. This is a big achievement given that Caroline suffers from severe dyslexia. “I have never hidden the fact that I have dyslexia and I use tools to get round it, like computer programmes and speaking into my phone and getting it to write words for me. My message to fellow dyslexics is not to worry and to concentrate on what you are good at.
“James writes my website for me, which helps, and I will put pictures of my work on social media, although I’ll often get a text from my sister afterwards saying ‘you’ve spelt that caption wrong’.”
The Smiths’ home is full of her own fabrics and products and they help add interest to the neutral backdrop that typifies rental property.
The furniture too adds character. Much of it is vintage and comes with happy memories attached. The dining table is from her childhood home.
“It was multi-functional back then and I can remember playing ping pong on it as a child. We have a lot of furniture from my parents’ house and it seems to suit this property,” says Caroline, who grew up in Buckinghamshire.
The wardrobe in Matilda’s room is Caroline’s old toy cupboard which she revamped with chalk paint. She uses colours from chalk paint specialists Annie Sloan and Autentico. Her favourite colour, dark grey, was used to give new life to an old desk that she found in Decoporium, a vintage warehouse in nearby Thorp Arch.
“I’m not precious about the furniture as it can all be repainted and that helps when you have small children,” says Caroline, who repurposed some of the rooms after moving in. The upstairs sitting room is now Phoebe’s bedroom and what was a separate dining room downstairs is now the sitting room. The latter features the bulk of her “collections”, although James calls it “clutter”.
Her ornaments come from flea markets and junk shops, as well as from local independent shops and websites like Cox and Cox.
Caroline also has a weakness for fresh flowers, the more seasonal and natural looking the better. She sources them from Elizabeth Jackson, who grows most of them in her own garden in Harrogate.
The Smiths’ garden is primarily a playground for their daughters, who also have a dedicated playroom in the basement. This ensures that most of the rooms are a plastic toy-free zone.
It also ensures that their bedrooms are calm and restful, dressed with books, traditional toys and lots of Mummy’s handmade bedding and bunting.
“Flohr and Co started because of them and I love it. It is growing but I am trying to keep a handle on that until they go to school and then who knows,” says Caroline. “I’d love my own shops one day.”