My long-awaited house renovation was inspired by stunning interiors I saw on social media - the reality is they’re totally unsuitable for our family home


It took me hours to unfollow all of the dreamily aspirational interiors accounts on Instagram but, after years of collecting ideas for my long-awaited house renovation, I had no more use for them. They had, after all, lulled me into thinking that I, too, could have an enviably stylish home flooded with light, colour and the carefree stripped-back aesthetic one would associate with a Scandinavian summer cabin, not my red-brick Edwardian semi crammed with hundreds of books and piles of long outgrown toys.

That’s the thing with dream interiors – sometimes they don’t go with your house. I think this is why I found myself with a few expensive mistakes that aren’t call-the-lawyers awful yet aren’t remotely fit for purpose. These foolhardy design decisions look stunning on social media, but sadly their practical application to a family home with quite tight rooms wasn’t thought through.

The only person responsible for this is me, but I reserve the right to wrap up into my frustration the legion cheery, can-do social media decorating experts who make all things look beautiful to the untrained eye.

My mishaps? Specimen one is a huge, freestanding bath of the kind you see advertised in bathrooms the size of small stately homes. Specimen two: a pair of expansive picture windows, installed at the back of our home in the kitchen and new loft extension, both of which stretch almost the full width of the house. They are both beautiful, the bath and the windows. People often compliment them. So what’s my beef? They just aren’t fit for purpose.

Sophie Morris’s freestanding bath takes hours to fill, is a nightmare to clean and a hazard for children (Photo: Supplied)

The mythical allure of the huge freestanding bath is a case in point. Maybe you have envied a friend’s roll-top tub or floated in one in a lovely hotel. They really do look great, don’t they, whether you see them in a magazine, advert or on social media? Generous, glamorous, a one-way ticket to relaxation. Is the issue that I’m a child of the 90s raised with the Flake ad in which a woman loses herself so entirely to the glory of crumbly, flaky chocolate (that tastes like chocolate never tasted before) that the overflowing bath escapes her notice?

The truth is that these huge baths take ages to fill, are a nightmare to clean and are useless for families. There’s nowhere to put anything. Every bottle balanced on the rim is sure to fall down the back into the sliver of space between the bath and the wall. And I have to carefully assist my seven-year-old in and out for fear she’ll injure herself.

The most mind-boggling design detail is the plug right in the middle of the bath, which pops up any time someone moves in the water. Not quite the relaxing spa-like experience I’d hoped for. What I wouldn’t give now for a shallow, tiled-in bath, the sort I saw recently on the Instagram account of interior stylist Natasha Lyon, founder of Appreciation Project, who shows her own and her clients’ beautiful homes.

I asked Lyon why clueless rookies like me end up getting it so wrong. She points out that, as in so many other areas of life, more choice doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. “We are in a time of complete overwhelm from social media. I see this through my clients frequently when they first come to me. Being constantly flooded with images is leading people to confusion and being torn from one idea to the next of what suits their home and what fits their style.”

I can relate. As I couldn’t imagine how to replicate our home’s period features in a boxy new loft, I went all modern instead, with a curved white bath, square mid-century(ish) tiles, and chrome fittings. I ordered the grand Monaco freestanding bath from Lusso Stone, a snip at £1,395, made with the company’s clever-sounding “Cortese™ – stone without compromise”.

I discussed this with my builder first, who rolled his eyes. He knew this company well, seeing as their relatively cheap prices within the obscenely expensive huge bath market meant he had lots of other clients ordering the same giant baths and giving him the same installation headaches. The problem, he explained, was the weight – 160kg. He would need a crane and four to six guys to get it into the house.

Whatever, I was having this bath. “Elevate your interiors,” promised the website. “This striking design is the definition of contemporary luxury.” Mid-renovations, I visited a friend who had moved into a house with a freestanding bath some years earlier. Now that she has the chance to redo the bathroom, she was ditching it, she explained, because it was so impractical.

Other ideas I found on social media didn’t even get off the ground when I discovered, for example, that a clever mix and match tile pattern or wallpaper design wasn’t something mere mortals could ever achieve without access to sample sales or end of line products.

Should I have consulted a professional like Lyon? “I think it would depend on the individual,” she says, generously. “A professional should bring a fresh perspective and remove any doubt you once had and ultimately give you confidence to create the home you really want. I have seen some incredible projects on Instagram, but not everyone has a creative eye.”

I did have a professional specify my picture windows. I wanted the large, single pane window shown off in so many glossy magazines, even if they couldn’t throw a view of rolling hills into the deal. Another eye roll from the builder. Apparently no one wants to touch such big pieces of glass. They’ll draw them up, price them and sell them to you, no problem. But you’ll have to find someone else to pick them up and fit them, and that person is unlikely to turn up.

I chose a dusty terracotta pink for the aluminium window frames, which I love and makes them stand out while performing as a kind of ‘neutral’, paired as they are with a terracotta patio. But the windows are so big it has been really hard to find curtains or blinds to cover them, without taking out a second mortgage. We ended up somehow jamming two curtain poles and four curtains together in the loft, but haven’t got anywhere in the kitchen, so our neighbours will be able to see in until I rustle up some kind of blind budget.

And yet, as Lyon reminds me, my big bath and bonkers window problems might not have happened without the avalanche of interiors advice on social media, but nor would access to all kinds of other products and design tricks that really please me about our renovation, from our mix and match kitchen to bold paint colours.

“What was once thought of as perhaps quite elitist is now available to everyone,” she says. “That’s exactly how it should be. Instagram and Pinterest have made a brilliantly inspiring space for people to share different hacks and ideas that, in the right hands, can be incredibly transformative.”