My Week at The Interior Design School in London

If you follow us on Instagram (if you don’t, you should! Who wouldn’t want to see more pictures of our tubby cats in repose?) you may already know that I have been in England for the past few weeks! We went with Chester’s side of the family, and spent the first week hiking in the Cotswolds, an area that lives up to all of its fabled beauty.

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We spent the second week of the trip in London. Chester and his parents did the two-year-old’s tour of London, and I went to The Interior Design School for a five day crash course in interior design.

Red House WestThe school was founded in 1991 by Iris Dunbar, and offers a full-time one-year diploma course, as well as fun one-day classes.  They also do a three part professional certificate course, and what I did was the first module of the certificate program, titled Design Process.

Red House West

There were ten students in the class, who hailed from all over Europe.  Apart from a lovely woman who grew up in the Midwest but has lived in Paris for over 20 years, I was the only American in the class.  Other students came from Spain, Austria, Romania, and there were several Londoners as well.  Most of my classmates were just like me: people interested in design who have never had the opportunity to learn the basics in a formal setting.  Several students had a professional background in design or architecture and were looking to revitalize careers put on hold because of growing families or international relocations.  Everyone was so fun and interesting, and hearing about what led each of them to the class was fascinating.  Truly, meeting the women (all the students were women) in the class was alone worth the trip.

The focus was definitely on design, rather than decor, and we learned how to scale, draw plans and elevations, and create essentially a pre-computerized world mood board. We all worked on the same space–basically a 20×20 garden shed–but had different assignments about what the space would be used for.



One of the exercises we did was to paint a color wheel. I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the exercise, but it was fun to revisit this grade school staple.


We also got to paw through samples of all sorts, which I totally loved.

The process we were taught involves distilling the envisioned project down to a few choice adjectives, and finding and clipping images that evoke a feeling or sensation based on those adjectives (but aren’t a literal picture of what the room should look like).  From the clippings we selected and edited a color palette, and then chose furnishings, objects, and lighting within the palette and otherwise consistent with the adjectives and project goals.

It sounds simple, and it is, but it helped me to realize that when I have set out to design a room in the past, I have started at the end–choosing things I like and hoping they go together–with mixed results.  Following the steps taught by the school does seem like it will lead to more deliberate, cohesive, and pleasing spaces.

Designers at work.

Designers at work.


My desk.


Top left: my ‘feeling’ images; bottom left: the scaled plan; top right: plan elevation; bottom right: my color palette and the furnishings and objects I chose for the space.



One of the teachers, Lynne Rossington, critiquing material sample choices.

On the final afternoon, we all presented our plans as if we were presenting to our clients. It was amazing to see all the different ways that people imagined the same small space.



It was such a great trip, and I am really grateful to Chester and his parents for making the whole thing possible!  I am excited to try to apply some of the techniques I learned to my own home (which looks even more like a mish-mashy hodge podge through a slightly educated lens), but right now I am facing more immediate issues. For example, this is what my house looks like at the moment:

Keepin' it real.

Opal was really excited to get home to her toys and thought it would be a good idea to do a full inventory.  Also, will the laundry never end?

I’m happy to answer questions about my experience at The Interior Design School, and you can also learn more by checking out the website. Thanks for reading about my little adventure! Check back with us on Friday for another installment of DIY Friday.

16 responses on “My Week at The Interior Design School in London

    1. meramatthews

      Let me know if you think of a good solution. Currently my goals are modest: put away piles of clean laundry before they accumulate a visible layer of dog fur. Shooting for the stars over here!

  1. michellet2013

    Sounds like a great experience Mera. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. And if you figure out a design strategy for piles of laundry, do let us know!

  2. Katy Gilmore

    Very fun to see photos of instructor and fellow students, not to mention that stalwart walker. And I’m in awe of this blog arriving so quickly and articulately through the fog of jet lag! xo

    1. meramatthews

      Thanks Katy, and thanks for EVERYTHING! We are still in the grips of jet-lag, but early to bed and really really early to rise never hurt anyone, as you Gilmores know so well! 🙂

  3. Carol Crump Bryner

    It sounds like a BIG adventure to me. But it’s always hard to reconcile what one learns in the peaceful atmosphere of a workshop with the hit of reality at home. I, like Katy, am amazed that you could write such a great post after a long trip. Your design talents show up not only in your rooms, but in your writing. Do you think you will take another installment of this particular course?

    1. meramatthews

      It was a great adventure! You’re right of course: in the class we were dealing with an empty room, no budget, and the practical ability to acquire anything we could find a picture of. Now I’m here at home, with a house full of things, a budget, and the JC Penney Furniture Warehouse. But I’m still hopeful that I can put the principles to work! The next module is one night per week, spread out over several months, so its not really an option for me, but I’d love to find another course to take in the future. Thanks Carol!

  4. Susan Glassow

    I’m impressed with your course and your drawings for the project, Opal’s walking stick, and her gentle but pervasive reminder that home is where you love and are loved…people, critters, toys. To us, her approach to design seems a bit cluttered but intuitively she knows THIS is the way home, surrounding yourself with what matters. And, yes, you wrote this on jet lag!!!!

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you Susan! Opal had a great time, but it was really sweet to see how excited she was to be home. And we were too!

  5. msuzuno

    I love the idea of using your vacation in such an educational way! I bet it was fun to discover the area of town around the school and feel a bit more like a local than if you had just traipsed through all the touristy spots (though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, either).

    1. meramatthews

      Thanks Melissa, it was a really fun way to see a non-touristy part of the city. It was a trade off though; London is so great and there was a lot I wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Next time! 🙂

  6. hdrygas

    One of these days, let’s go on vacation together. You will take another design course, and I will take a culinary course. Deal? I love this entry! Such a fun experience to have under your belt.

    1. meramatthews

      Are your feet tired Heidi? Because you’ve been walking through my vacation dreams aaaaaallllll night! LET’S DO IT! xxxooo

  7. Suzanne Dvorak

    Mera, I find it very interesting that your project was whittled down to a few choice adjectives. What were yours?

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