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Interior Inspiration from the Handmaid's Tale

Interior Inspiration from the Handmaid's Tale

I get so much inspiration about interiors from TV shows so I thought it would be helpful to write a series of posts about my favourite ones. Even if there is an excellent script, I just cannot help myself but notice the ambience of the room, the styling on the shelves or even the colour of the skirting boards! I’m starting off with a show that is giving me some serious kitchen envy at the minute. It’s a pretty new series that everyone is talking about with every single shot of the action styled to perfection. It’s utterly compelling but also the most disturbing thing I have ever watched. Yes it’s The Handmaid's Tale.

The Handmaid's Tale text

You’ve most likely heard of Margaret Atwood and some of you may be familiar with this novel, possibly from your A-level studies but I have to say that she has blown my mind with this one. I don’t know how on earth she dreamt up this new-meets-old dystopia! It is the darkest future you can imagine. And not in the post-apocalyptic end-of-the-physical-world kind of way that we have seen before. In a fresh new imagining the USA has been taken over by an extremist Christian regime that reduce women to objects, twisting the words of the Old Testament to fit their 'better' world. State rape is the darkest hour for the women who are still able to get pregnant and they are forced to be surrogates for their Commanders. We follow one Handmaid's journey, Offred, played by the talented Elizabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men) and we see glimpses of hope in her fight to cope with her position of slavery. The genius of the text is that each situation is a complete exaggeration of women’s roles when it was written in 1985 (when I was three!) and is a play on the traditional roles of women and the freedom we currently experience in the Western world. This contrast captured in the cinematography exaggerates reality in such a way that we can’t stop thinking about its meaning and we become even more aware of our present. That’s the only way I can explain why a feminist would create a world where women are reduced to objects.

Teal ceiling with chandelier Handmaids Tale

Bear with me because the context is so closely intertwined with the styling and it's exciting how this can be translated into our decor. In the Handmaid's Tale not only are the rooms to die for and perfect inspiration for our rooms (especially if you're into dark inky hues like me) but the whole design and styling of the program cleverly uses colour to punctuate meaning. The handmaid’s wear deep red tunics which I can only assume shows that they are the ones that still menstruate. Red is also associated with sexual passion which is almost completely absent for the handmaids. The Commander's wives wear gorgeous deep turquoise-green which blends in seamlessly with the main sitting room which could be easily painted in Farrow and Ball's sumptuously beautiful Inchyra Blue. The 'eyes' wear black security guard uniforms and drive black cars and we don't see all that much of their personalities. The colours are symbolic and stand out against a more neutral background and remind me that accent colours play important 'characters' in our rooms. 

The Handmaid's Tale Lounge with Characters

The exaggeration of the plot and the intentional exploitation of certain hues work well visually for the narrative but can also work for our design projects too. Contrast is something that works very well in rooms and this is something that I personally love when designing a room. I'm apparently a winter personality in terms of my colour preferences. Read more about new ideas on colour psychology over on Sophie Robinson's blog. I find it exciting experimenting with what colours can be combined together and the effect that has in a room. In nature it can be surprising what colours look fantastic together. As I mentioned in last weeks blog post I can't bear monochrome scheme and the reason for this could be that we can already predict how black and white will sit together and lacks that element of surprise. In interiors we can exaggerate something by choosing a theme, pattern, colour or style that we love and really go for! Exaggerate what you love. Wallpaper the whole room, paint the ceiling your favourite colour, have multicoloured steps on your stairs. You’ll feel amazing having a statement area in your home and not just because it will be a talking point when people enter your home but you will feel amazing in yourself having struck up the courage to take a risk and pulling it off! A current trend that I actually love (I tend to ignore the trends) is the play of pale pink against emerald green and I loved discovering this in the flesh at Dandelyan Bar on the Southbank. 

Enough philosophising, let’s get down to business and how the actual set can influence and inspire your home! The main source of inspiration in the Handmaid's Tale for me is the kitchen. That’s the next room in our home that is going under some serious transformation. It can be hard finding the right builder for your project but one way or another we are smashing that room to pieces as soon as it's humanly possible! Nothing works. We inherited a range cooker from the previous owners five years ago but quickly realised that one oven didn't work. Then the working oven decided to join in with the broken oven club. The electric points fail to work except one and cupboard doors and fridge handles have started falling off. We are living in a joyless space BUT we have grand plans...

The Handmaid's Tale Kitchen

My eye is naturally drawn to kitchens at the minute and since I love dark moody rooms in blue or greens you can see why I adore this kitchen so much. The deep grey-green walls, high ceilings and decorative cornicing give such a grand feel. The shaker style doors are a modern twist on traditional kitchen and the range cooker and copper pans are actual elements we are already considering for our renovation. We are also keen on a matt grey American-style fridge that surprisingly blends in well with shaker style kitchens. I think the appearance that this kitchen could be present-day even though it harks to traditional styling is intentional so that the viewer feels we are watching a current day scenario making the plot even more harrowing.

This kitchen could very easily have been designed by deVOL kitchens. If you haven’t already heard of DeVOL kitchens then please allow me the pleasure of introducing them to you. Their simple designs that are beautifully made hark to classical Georgian splendour in their dimensions particularly the height of their cupboards and larders. They specialise in classic and shaker kitchens but also have more modern designs. Going back to the Handmaid's Tale, the shade of the walls could easily be from the Farrow and Ball colour range. Because of the return to the puritan way of life there are no modern appliances which give such a beautiful simplistic look. I am definitely a fan of creating a kitchen space with less clutter! Here are some of my favourite DeVOL kitchens (images courtesy of deVOL).

If you’ve also fallen in love with these spaces and are keen on this classic modern living style then you MUST visit their showroom in St John's Square in central London. Since visiting there last month at Clerkenwell Design Week I am inspired to create a modern twist on some of the colours chosen for their rooms to incorporating modern living. Their main kitchen on show as you enter the splendid Georgian townhouse takes on the daring combination of combining pale pink and dark green which they pull off fantastically. 

The Handmaid's Tale Kitchen

The other swoon-worthy thing about this imaginary house in dystopian Boston is the Glass paneling. I've been seeing this pop up a lot recently and love how for me it is reminiscent of industrial New York apartments. I think I like how it provides a dividing wall that you can view other rooms through but provides acoustic division. Another space that I can't stop looking at is House Curious which also features similar panelling to the Handmaid's tale. As someone who is keen on urban industrial features, unfortunately I doubt this will appear in my current home as I'm not sure it fits the 1930s suburban feel but I will continue to appreciate it from afar and will try and be satisfied with my glass panelled doors which do a great job of filling light around the house.

As I have already said I am not usually keen on following interiors trends but there is one that I have always been keen on and that is the presence of nature inside. I've alway fancied some palm-print wallpaper but in the Handmaid's tale they have really gone for this. I would almost call it an indoor garden, the walls are teaming with photosynthesising leaves. I'm honestly not sure the intention of the art direction here but I know that I love it. It reminds me of the Sky Garden but in a more intimate form. I’ve always been into this botanical vibe probably because as I've already mentioned my interiors colour palette is mostly nature-inspired green, blues and greys. I am a bit obsessed with palm trees too and I think that it reminds me of places we've visited across the world and I want to reminisce on those special memories on a daily basis in my home. I definitely need some plants in my home and am literally going to go out and purchase some cactus plants for the masculine upstairs bathroom. I'm also planning an exciting update to my grey hallway by creating a leafy feature wall on two of the walls. I hope that this will give a sense of coming into and going out to the natural world.

Handmaid's tale tropical leafy indoor garden

In closing the overall style element that I love about the Handmaids Tale, which also mirrors my taste in interiors is the dramatic, traditional styling that is juxtaposed against a modern interpretation. Examples from the show is the way that the handmaid’s are dressed in red tunics but climb into a black 4x4. The costumes are all very nineteenth century and then a mobile phone appears. I love how antiques can be integrated into a modern scheme and for me a great room marries modernity and traditional elements in a way that looks perfectly natural.

Wow! I am a bit breathless looking at all these stunning images at once and am utterly inspired to get on with a few updates in the house. Watch this space for what colours I actually choose in the kitchen. I'm picturing myself baking my healthy lemon cake in there with Jack, grabbing a drink in the new bar that I'm dreaming of and finally enjoying the daily slog of preparing meals for the kids. All that is left to say is enjoy the Handmaid's Tale if you haven't already watched it but enjoy isn't really the right word. But it's definitely worth not missing out on a terrific TV show with deep meaning and colour palettes that can inspire any space in need of a bit of drama.

What room is your favourite in the Commander's house?

Donna x

Donna Ford reading the Handmaid's Tale Studio Green Farrow and Ball
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