Blaze a trail

Having decided to swap London life for a home in the countryside, Lucinda Mitra took to Instagram to document the refurbishment of her new family home. After rapidly amassing over 30,000 follows, Lucinda's account, nest_twenty_eight, is now an online destination for fresh, contemporary styling.

It's often said that we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors - and for many of us that's a blessed relief. Even those of us who like having guests may still break out in a cold sweat at the thought of people arriving unannounced, before we've had a chance to wash the dishes or have a quick tidy up. So, imagine if more than 30,000 people had looked around your home, made themselves comfortable on your sofa - in their minds at least - and felt free to comment on your decor. Welcome to the life and home of Lucinda Mitra, a former English teacher and now an Instagram sensation.

Arriving at the pretty brick house on a cul-de-sac in rural Sussex, there's nothing on the outside that gives away the building's exciting other life. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, as you come into the house it feels strangely familiar. Lucinda is as welcoming as you might expect from someone who is happy to share every corner of her home with a raft of 'followers'. She's also extremely down-to-earth and not at all phased by her almost accidental rise to online celebrity.

"I was a secondary school teacher up in London, then we moved out here and I was due to start teaching at another school but got pregnant." Lucinda now shares the house with her husband James and their daughter Sienna, 19 months. "I didn't just want to sit in the country and let my brain turn to mush, so I started writing a blog." Since having Sienna, however, the blog has had to take a bit of a back seat. "I don't have as much time these days," says Lucinda, "but on Instagram I can just take a picture, write a caption, and put some hashtags on it." Sounds simple really - though it's clear that having impeccable taste helps too.

As we come into the hallway, artful compositions catch your eye, though it still feels like a welcoming family home and not contrived: "The beauty of it all is that I am doing up the house anyway - I'm not doing it for Instagram." This level-headed and practical approach is clearly another quality that has made her so popular. "It's not about comparing yourself with anyone else or worrying about the number of followers. Otherwise you'd get paranoid and think: 'This picture didn't get so many likes as the last one!' So what?!"

The open-plan kitchen-dining area immediately provides impact: "The units were here already - they're my latest up-cycling project," says Lucinda. "They were cream less than a month ago, so I painted them in Farrow & Ball's Railings, took the knobs off and sprayed them copper and did the same with the extractor hood." The effect is stunning. "I'm really happy with the finished result," says Lucinda, "and, through Instagram, I got loads of help and advice from people who've carried out similar work."

Next to the kitchen is a dining area, with a dining table topped with a striking black and white table runner - IKEA - and an array of candles reflecting the trend for Scandinavian 'hygge' or cosiness. "We had these all out around the BBQ at the weekend... which was lovely though it did all start to look a bit like a vigil!" says Lucinda, with typical lack of pretence. I notice an ancient Singer sewing machine in the corner: "My mum picked that up in the 80s, from an ad in the local paper. My parents used to store all their plastic supermarket bags under it!" Not any more...

"A lot of things in the house are from my parents: the dining table, the Arab chest in the living room, the cow-skin drums... they were all just things they had in the garage. My mum was from Uganda and my dad grew up in east Africa, so a lot of things in the house are from Africa." Such personal items prevent the rooms looking like a brochure.

French doors lead through to an equally dramatic living room, which Lucinda has painted in Farrow & Ball's Hague Blue, with an unusual feature wall painted to look almost industrial. "It's a special lime paint that comes in powder form, from a company called Kalklitir. The shade is Concrete." Dark and muted shades make the perfect backdrop for pops of colour such as the bright pink velvet cushion on the sofa and the 'Be Big' pop-art-style print from Print Club London on the wall above. Opposite is another quirky print, also from Print Club London, called 66 on the Moon. What with the dark blue, almost black, walls, huge round mirror, round clock, and the print it feels as if there is a bit of a moon theme. "Oh, I hadn't thought of that!" says Lucinda. Either way, it works.

Leading off the living room is a room which is currently Sienna's play room, though not for long. "It's going to become a bar area," says Lucinda. "Poor Sienna's going to have nowhere to play, but she just runs around the house anyway so she doesn't necessarily need a dedicated space." The room works well as playroom and prospective bar, with retro palm-leaf wallpaper, a mock zebra-skin on the floor and two large African drums as low-level tables. "The sofa I bought with a voucher from DFS, after we collaborated on Instagram," adds Lucinda, highlighting some of the benefits of building up an Instagram presence. She currently works with DFS, Warren Evans and BHS Home, amongst others.

Upstairs, the main bedroom is dominated by a simple wooden Warren Evans bed which the couple brought with them from London. "I already really liked the company so it was great when they asked me to collaborate and do their first ever Instagram takeover," says Lucinda. "It's all British-made, which is great." The bedside tables are also from Warren Evans, fitting neatly in the limited space on either side of the bed, while the funky little clip-on reading lights are from IKEA.

Lucinda is great at mixing up items from affordable high-street shops, independent shops - the over-sized mirror in the corner was from Hoopers in Tunbridge Wells - with family heirlooms and up-cycled items. "The wardrobes were left by the previous owners and were orange pine, so I painted them with Rustoleum's Winter Grey chalk paint. That was my first up-cycling project when we moved in." It's a lovely, light and comfortable room, but it's clear that Lucinda's keen to redecorate. "It's time to re-do this room," she says, confirming my hunch.

The en suite has already had the magic touch. "We've just had the en suite done. It's quite a generic house in terms of structure, design and general look so I said to James that I wanted to go for more unusual fittings like a black shower tray and black shower door - I quite like the industrial look." Monochrome works well here but has been brightened up with the addition of a large Swiss cheese plant leaf and little succulents. "I'm not one of those people who can commit to one particular style throughout the house. I like so many," says Lucinda.

Across the landing the main bathroom has had a similarly refreshing make-over, with clever painting and up-cycling again saving the family money: "It's quite a generic bathroom, so I wanted to give it some character and drama. The radiator was already in here and I really liked the shape of it so I just sprayed it black. My followers have gone crazy for it," says Lucinda. The basin unit got a similar treatment... "I painted the basin cabinet using a tiny Farrow & Ball sample pot, so it cost me about £7.50. Why spend more than £100 on a new unit when I could just paint this one?" she says.

Guests in Lucinda and James' home are lucky enough to use this lovely bathroom - and stay in either of the two guest rooms. Having four bedrooms was a real perk for Lucinda and James when moving out of London and, having met Lucinda, it's clear that having more rooms to decorate would also have appealed. "Two weeks ago it looked totally different in here," says Lucinda, as we walk into one of the guest rooms. "It's all about the bedding. That's all you need to change - and the art works."

Lucinda has gone for a colour scheme of greys and neutrals with pops of reds and orange. "I got some bedding from IKEA as I thought that would be a really cheap way to update the room." A few more unusual items add even more character, including lamps from Wickle in Lewes and bulbs from Dunelm Mill. "Dunelm do the best-value squirrel-cage bulbs - everyone else charges double," says Lucinda.

The other spare room is to the front of the house, and filled with afternoon sunlight as well as an array of stylish, mostly monochrome prints. "I tend to switch things round a bit in here, the artworks and stuff. The yellow throw and bedding is from Homesense, the geometric cushion is from and these cushions are from IKEA to match the rug on the floor."

Over the bedstead is a branch with fairy lights wrapped around it. Lucinda collected the branch from the school woods when she was a teenager and it's a design motif she's repeated in the living room. "I went to boarding school and my dorm was always spotless," says Lucinda with a smile. "I'd win the weekly prize for tidiest room and I was always meticulous about posters and how they lined up!"

Last but not least it's time to peek into Sienna's room, after her afternoon nap. "I wanted Sienna's room to have a pared back, calm Scandi feel to it, but I wasn't a fan of the laminate floor," says Lucinda. "I painted the laminate floor in the guest bedroom and toyed with painting the floor in here too, but in the end I got a cowhide from Homesense which covered the floor and softens the room - which I didn't feel painting the floor would do." The star blind was already in the room and Lucinda bought some vintage Andy Pandy curtains from Lewes Antiques Market to dress the window a bit more.

All the other bedrooms are painted white, but Lucinda didn't want Sienna's room to feel too clinical. "The furnishings are from IKEA - I love how the pale beech wood works in here and it's so cost effective," says Lucinda. As ever, though, she's used one or two more personal items to make the room extra special: "The bunting was handmade by a family friend for our wedding, so it's lovely to see it in Sienna's room," she says.

The finishing touches are what it's all about in this home and, after a most enjoyable tour, it's fair to say I'll definitely be following her on Instagram...

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