Room to live

In her regular column about life at The Mill community centre, Helen Bigham gets decorative

The Mill's 'Living Room'

Architecture students drop in to The Mill’s ‘Living Room’

Did you know that the British staple, tomato ketchup, came to us via the Cantonese word ‘kher-chap’

Cultural exchange stimulates opportunities to share new skills with ways of looking and using everyday objects. My interest in diversity has been inspired by local architect and university lecturer Kristin Trommler and architecture students from Kingston School of Art.

The Mill hosted them at a week-long summer school. They analysed and mapped our rooms to see how we use our building. They listened to a wide range of people who shared their thoughts on how the building is used and ideas for the future. The aim is to develop a shared space that is a reflection of the local residents, and encourages everyone to feel that they’ve something to contribute in shaping, making, and co-creating our community centre.

The Mill is a microcosm of the world and we need to be open to the world around us. There’s a challenge in making sure everyone feels welcome; in a recent survey people from 17 different ethnic backgrounds were recorded visiting The Mill in one week alone. We pride ourselves on being a ‘home from home’ – our main drop-in area is referred to as the ‘Living Room’. This got me thinking that despite some similarities when it comes to comfort and style, it seems that different cultures have their own unique ideas of decorating their living room.

The traditional British look is all about ornaments, with interest wherever you look. Collections of antiques, curiosities, and sentimental items that have been collected over a number of decades, tell the story of a family. A Japanese living room, however, is minimalist and clutter free, with plenty of space, providing calmness and tranquillity. Scandinavian style is characterised by a mix of warm cosiness and efficiency, with practical storage solutions and carefully chosen quirky accessories.

Luxurious Indian décor boasts sumptuous rich colours, textures, and furnishings, that can make any home feel like a palace. Arabic Bedouin style uses beautiful mosaics and terracotta walls, low-level seating, and floor cushions in the colour hues of the sea and sunset.

Decorating tips are one small example in recognising that everyone has a viewpoint. Acknowledging differences gives us the potential to make hundreds of tiny transformations at The Mill to create a space that everyone feels safe, valued, and respected in. To achieve this I plan to stay curious and to embrace change rather than fearing losing touch with the reassuringly familiar.

For more information on The Mill: