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Creating Space

Niki Schafer’s first book “Creating Space – How to design your calm, sane, outrageously gorgeous home and family-life” was published in 2013.

The book entwines the interior design process with a personal development journey that will help you create a house that works for you on multiple levels.

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn to create a space that looks ‘outrageously gorgeous’ but also be able design a home that works for your wellbeing, (your sanity) and the every day demands of your family life.

Having a home you’re proud of, somewhere to escape to and somewhere to juggle your life from is fundamentally important.  Make sure your home is everything it can be – for you!

If you would like to purchase a copy please click here.


Please see the box below for the signature style exercise I refer to in Me Space (chapter 2 in the book).

I’d be delighted to hear your feedback or see your images and photos – please leave comments on the facebook page.


What’s your signature style?

Find 6 images that reflect who you are and what you believe them.  These will become the inspiration for your home and your decorative schemes.

This is an exercise taken from my book.  I have done it myself in order to give you a few ideas.  It’s important that you know a little about me though so you can see why I have chosen the images I have chosen. So here goes…

Niki Schäfer

I truly value this exercise and by a show of faith have done it myself.  I’d show you the six images straight away but they wouldn’t make sense – you’d just see six images – not a reflection of me.   So if you’ll excuse the indulgence, here is a brief recount of my fabulous existence and why I’ve chosen the images I have.

I’ve always loved houses, dwellings of all shapes and sizes.  A blessing probably, given how many I’ve lived in – 11 by the time I was 15, another 15 by age 23 and by the time I ‘settled down’ I’d gone through literally hundreds more thanks to a few years of travelling.  Each had its own character and impact on me, I’m sure, but I wasn’t really looking for that specifically at the time.

I spent the first few weeks of my life in a small stone house in Yorkshire, leaving an indelible Lowry image in my mind of walking to the pit and grumbling about how tough life is.  Purely fictitious of course, but that’s memory for you.  I’m positive none of my family went anywhere near a pit but just the word Yorkshire brings with it a heritage of down-to-earth-ness (read grime) and a resentment of all things ‘luxury’ (apply Leeds accent here).

My next home was an unexpected twist as I moved into red brick splendour on a university campus in Surrey. My mother’s determination to complete her studies  (you don’t choose a maths degree in the early seventies and then get put off by anything as distracting as pregnancy) meant my first year was spent in an establishment of education.  This might explain why when I attended university 18 years later, I felt very much at home (and not at all inclined to study).

My father joined the RAF and took us on a whirlwind tour of utilitarian boxes that were classed as RAF accommodation.  I recall lime green carpets and furniture that was definitely more function than form – its main purpose in life being to withstand the constant moving process and being hauled up and down stairs by RAF airmen and their able daughters.

My grandparents lived in Nairobi during my childhood and their home had equal impact on me after a visit aged seven years.  Obviously, we saw elephants and lions and ate vast quantities of fresh pineapple but the picture of a very dirty handprint on a pristine white wall is the one that sticks with me when I think of Kenya.  I’d been making mud pies with a local girl and had wanted to decorate the house.  My grandfather hadn’t been best pleased.

A railway house in Scotland provided an out of the blue splash of character in the line up of RAF homes.   It had a bright green front door and the bedroom windows had seats where we could sit and watch trains go by.  The romance of being one of the railway children didn’t last long though and for the next posting we were back into box-like accommodation.

In the early 80s, we lucked out with a villa in the South of France.  We ate peaches there and spit roast chicken and bought homemade cheese from a woman who actually made homemade cheese in her home.  It was hard not to gag openly at the stench in her home.

The house in France was open-plan (which I look back on fondly) and terracotta tiles (which I don’t), they were covered with sheepskins and a textured rug that my mum laboriously vacuumed and brushed to keep the swirl patterns in place.  We lived on ‘Chemin des Fraises’ (Strawberry Way) and it should have been lovely except that next door had an electricity pylon in their back garden and of course we were surrounded by the French.

The people of Marseilles and its environs are barely comprehensible at the best of times, and as I was in need of an education I could actually understand, the RAF saw fit to put me up in a boarding school back in England.  Here my nomadic habits were only encouraged as I transferred rooms as often as the clocks changed.  I made this as difficult as possible by plastering the walls from ceiling to skirting with images of Duran Duran, some of them smaller than a fingernail, but each adored and treasured and lovingly moved to another wall the following term.

Boarding school was a lesson of its own in how to feel ‘at home’ – the importance of a duvet cover, a teddy bear, posters, a cup from home, a tuck box, a trunk.  These items were family.  I’m not going to go all Enid Blyton on you here but when you’ve spent the night in a trunk, it gives it a personality and character that means more than mere luggage.

Dad left the RAF and set up a business in Harrogate, a town that someone rather pompously called “a Southern island in the North”, where Yorkshire folk picked up dropped consonants and spoke with clipped precision.   We lived briefly in a very normal semi-detached house, which had an attic room that should have been a great play den had it not smelt funny, followed by a flat with my grandparents, which we referred to as Santa’s workshop because it always had that sense of merry chaos and wrapping ribbon and reindeers still strewn around in April.

My Grandma was an expert in Japanese flower arranging (as you do), and a prolific arranger and her arrangements adorned every surface.  We were all involved, (this wasn’t just an old lady’s hobby – she was obsessed) and it rubbed off on me.  I grew up learning the rules of asymmetry, simplicity, and symbology from this Eastern art.  But Grandma liked to mix it with the occasional Christmas elf or piece of tinsel.  Ikebana kitsch.  Had she been alive today she’d have made a You Tube video and been famous the world over.

Finally, my parents found their dream home and settled down in an undeniably impressive, modern, upside down house – where the bedrooms were downstairs in the dark and the gigantic living room had spectacular views of the treetops in the surrounding wood.  Home!  At last!  Just in time for me to go to university.

I describe my life as nomadic rather than without roots (which sounds very sad) because my homes were far from sad, they were just a bit ‘short-term’.  I can’t blame the RAF, or my upbringing for this trend however, because it is something I was determined to carry on and even magnify for myself – university (five homes, not including boyfriend’s places and holidays), the year after my studies had finished (10 abodes – some gorgeous, some tragic) and then finally London, where I formed roots and stayed for four and a half years.  This was the longest I’d lived anywhere and I chose a flat built on a gravesite to do it (we exorcised – it’s a different story for another time.)

Itchy feet syndrome kicked in inevitably, and one midnight in December 1998 I found myself in Delhi airport without so much as a hotel reservation.  The next 18 months were spent living out of a backpack, travelling through India, Cambodia, and Thailand, before meeting up with my sister, Jill, and heading through Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  To put it mildly I saw a wide variety of homes.

It wasn’t research I had intended to be doing for some future career in home design.  It wasn’t a predestined plan of cultural appreciation and a deep understanding of how other people live.  It was, in truth, a bit of a jolly.

I ended up in North America and spent the next two years living in a cheesecake factory in Brooklyn with my Tex-Mex musician boyfriend and Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters (he sings Dolly Parton in the shower) who wasn’t called Jake Shears at the time.   We built a home from furniture found in the streets and walls assembled by amateurs (my good self).  The elevator to our floor was like the one from the Freddie horror movies and although it wasn’t this in particular that sent me packing, nor was it having witnessed 9/11, one day I realised that New York wasn’t the place for me and I went home.

It’s just that I didn’t really know where home was anymore and what home meant.  The nomad in me took comfort in knowing the world was my oyster and it was all home.  My more grounded self however, wanted something a little more concrete.  Some real walls and some real people to share them with.  And with great fortune, those walls and those people did arrive by way of a husband who loves Aerosmith and James Bond and three children who now delight me on a daily basis, despite their tendencies to pour Rice Krispies over the kitchen floor.

My six images come out of my life story.  They make sense to me.  They may not be the obvious choices and you can undoubtedly see plenty of other imagery that I could draw from my tale, but that’s the point.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

ls-lowry-street-scene-pendleburyWorking down ‘t pit – Niki, aged 2 weeks.  It’s tough up north.

I love industrial buildings.  I love their windows, the proportions of the buildings, the solidity, the feeling of hard work that goes on there.  I lived in a factory in New York (a ‘loft’ – apply American drawl here) that looked a bit like one of these grey buildings.  It’s worth noting they’re not designed to be lived in especially if damp proofing isn’t your speciality.


Do you have a favourite type of building?

lime door small

The lime door of my imagination

This isn’t the green front door I had in Scotland, I’ve undoubtedly merged it with the lurid carpets of the RAF houses.  That doesn’t matter though.  It’s only a representation.  It doesn’t have to be a precise depiction, just an ‘influence’ on me.  I love lime green.

Do you have a favourite colour that appears everywhere in your life no matter what the fashionistas are saying?



Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 18.23.53Tribal Hand

This image comes from my childhood memory of Africa. Black and white are a really powerful combination, there is no greater contrast.  I love contrast and use it to balance my design work, writing and my life.

Do you like contrast or do you prefer a more harmonious approach?


Travel-CollageThis image is amazing for 2 reasons – I love collage (a flash back from my boarding school walls of Duran Duran adoration) and it also sets off my giddy button at the idea of travelling the world.  There is so much possibility in this image – I see adventure and excitement and discovery.

Wallpaper has become a more practical solution to my collage fetish, though I encourage my children to plaster their walls with posters and all their letters and certificates and achievements.


What do you put on your walls?

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 18.40.16Obviously my Grandma would have added a Disney character to this arrangement but I think she would have approved of my choice.  I am drawn to it on many levels – the symbolism of the sun, the mix of vertical and horizontal lines is beautifully balanced and the ‘squiggle’ that draws your eye away only to return and start its journey again is wonderfully orchestrated.

It’s a blessing that my husband spent time in Japan himself as it makes sense of all the Japanese vases, paintings and cherry blossom imagery that are present in every room of my home.   Otherwise it’s just an old lady’s hobby that rubbed off on her grand daughter.

Do you have any unusual appreciations of style that have come more circuitously than directly?

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 18.41.47


This picture represents my life today and my future.  These aren’t my children but they could be.  It’s how I try and bring them up – leaping forward with excitement  – and how I too approach the world.

What’s your approach?