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From the mundane to the magical

With almost three decades of experience putting the pretty in several homes across Europe, Alison Satariano is certainly one lady you’d like to have on your side if you’re thinking of doing up your house. Ramona Depares gets some insider tips.

Growing up in England, in what she describes as one of the most picturesque spots, interior decorator Alison Satariano developed an affinity for beauty and the allure of construction and interiors from a very early age. With her mother running a building contracting firm that specialised in renovating listed buildings across the UK – and in love with the way she could “visualise everything ready” – Alison’s interest soon got on to a more professional footing.

Rather than go with trends, it is always better to keep your base neutral; then add colour accents in the smaller, more easily replaceable, items

Fast forward some 27 years and, as an interior decorator, Alison has been responsible for the transformation of countless homes from rather mundane buildings into something special.

The idea of using the services of an interior decorator is something that has gained ground in Malta. But despite the words ‘designer’, ‘decorator’ and ‘interior architect’ being thrown about like there is no tomorrow, few are actually aware of the differences between them.

Alison explains that it all starts with the architect finalising the design, structure, permits, plans and actual planning of the house. Once this is out of the way, the designer steps in to plan the aesthetics, which can include anything from furniture layout to lighting, soffits and so forth.

“Finally, the decorator can both work with and follow on the footsteps of each, focusing on the choice of colours, fabrics, upholstery, wallpaper and accessories. There are many areas in which these three roles overlap and teamwork is of the essence. In all these years, I have worked with almost all the prominent architects, designers and project managers with great success and enjoyment. Everybody has their area of expertise and when all is combined the result is, indeed, amazing.”

Alison specialises in fabrics and soft furnishings, an expertise that was born out of her love of colour and texture. This love was honed by one particular lady, who used to run one of the biggest soft furnishing and decorating companies.

“She took me under her wing after recognising that I had an ability to sew pretty much anything – as well as an eye for putting things together. She helped me develop my potential to a very high standard, so I have much to thank her for. To make a success of this, I believe it needs to be an obsession, which for me it certainly is.”

This obsession means that Alison has done up houses all over, from London to Paris to sending over fabrics to New York. Very cosmopolitan, of course – so based on all this, what sneak peeks can she give us into the latest trends and colours? The only constant in life, she replies, is change. And this dictum applies equally well to the sphere of interior decor.

“Rather than go with trends, it is always better to keep your base neutral; then add colour accents in the smaller, more easily replaceable, items like cushions, lampshades and so forth. This makes it easier to change these items according to the seasonal trends.”

Having said this, she adds that bright colours have been in fashion for the last few years, perhaps in an attempt to brighten the recession blues. Brights are predicted to make an even stronger impression in the coming year; think citrus orange, hot lime, tropical turquoise, magenta, purple andpeacock.

“Added to a grey palette, these colours can be stunning. There is always an alternative for a more neutral look. 2013 veers towards more art deco colours – dove, grey, silver, lilac, soft green, pale blue and nude, relying on charcoal grey to ground the colour scheme.

“The general trend is turning from the modern back to a more French provincial/Americana look, starting with individual pieces being added to a modern environment, gradually warming up the more clinical image of the last few years.”

Alison pauses for a second... Being aware of trends is all very well, she says. But at the end of the day, a room should reflect the personality of the people living there. Not that it’s not important to keep an eye on the innovations; and with the market constantly evolving, there have been many exciting developments on this front in recent years: from mixing different fibres to achieve new finishes; to weaving processes with both natural and synthetic yarns; the development of cut velvets; embossed velvets; pleathers and even the double width loom. The latter, Alison says, is especially useful in making curtains, although she still believes that upholstery fabrics should be woven on a single width loom for strength and durability.

“So many useful developments have occurred... Take that of polyester in the way it is woven, combed and combined with other natural fibres. The end result is a more user-friendly fabric. Polyester creases less and washes better than natural fibres and, of course, is more durable, but to my way of thinking, it is never quite the real McCoy.

“Having said this, when picking fabrics it is the purpose behind it that should define your choice. You are hardly going to use pure silk in a rental apartment; but in your main hall, you probably will.”

For the past year, Alison has been dispensing her advice and helping clients benefit from her eye for the pretty details from her shop, Inside Out, in Ta’ Xbiex. The concept behind the outlet, she explains, was to offer a strong selection of core products such as curtains, sheer fabrics, linings, upholstery, leathers, velvets, rails and poles. The idea is to stock a variety of prices and cut-lengthfabrics in a comfortable environment that also offers the support of a team of professionals.

“Before we opened shop, we travelled to over 50 factories in different countries to choose the best eight from where to source our basic range at very competitive prices. The cut-length fabric range is extremely extensive, with over 4,000 different materials chosen by our design team. So yes, we do place a great emphasis on choice. At the beginning, all the partners decided that we wouldn’t put anything in the shop we didn’t like and we have certainly stuck to it!”

While on the topic of choice and budgets, the obvious question springs to mind: how expensive does it have to be to do up a room in style? The refreshing answer seems to be that it doesn’t have to be as way-out as one may think. Alison explains that the outlet manages to offer a stock fabric range at remarkably lower prices than expected. This is mostly thanks to removing the middlemen and buying direct from factories.

“It is always better to start with the lowest price bracket and work up, trying to ensure that the larger quantities needed are the cheaper ones, without compromising on quality.

“Usually, a great deal can be done with what is already in the room. For instance, you can hand-paint existing furniture and walls, use inexpensive wallpaper to add texture and so forth. Often, you can just use sheers and add curtains at a later stage.”

One way to go around the budget dilemma, the decorator says, is to work on a five-year plan that builds up to produce the desired look. This avoids wasting money on spur-of-the-moment buys that are later regretted. With honest advice like this, it is easy to see why visiting Alison’s shop is such a relaxing and inspiring experience.

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