Samples Make it Simple

When you start to plan your decorating ideas, what do you do? Do you have a bulging folder of pictures torn from magazines that each have something ‘like this but with the walls tiled’ to help you define the look you want? Do you get paint samples and check that the colour works in the room you want to use it in? Do you get tile/carpet/wood samples so that you can check what it looks like with the other floorings in your home? Do you have lighting catalogues to check that the fitting you want is suitable for the room you want it in? It’s so exciting to be getting the project underway, but from this selection of ideas, would anyone else understand what you meant if they looked at it?

tear sheets

So often this grab bag of ideas – which is also subject to change – is the presentation that a contractor is expected to work from. How is he to know that ‘this finish needs to be matt not gloss’ or that the extractor position ‘is like the picture with the green door and not the one that shows the extractor.’Let’s be quite blunt, contractors, no matter how good they are, are not mind readers. If you aren’t sure exactly what you want, no one else will be either.

So let’s get down to basics. Getting your ideas into to a usable format will help you to understand why some finishes don’t work and others do. But what’s even more important is using the space you have to incorporate what you want.

So, buy a graph paper pad and scale rule. And a retractable tape measure! Of course you can do this on the pc or mac, but the first time you do a space planning exercise, there is nothing like being in the room as you draw it out. It will improve your understanding of the space about a 1000 times beyond what you initially knew. I bet you can’t actually say how many lights sockets you have in your front room, or what type of lighting you have (halogen, low energy, up lighters, task or spot.) But these are important things to consider, especially if you plan to work from home and want to house a desk in there. If there aren’t enough sockets to service your desk and especially to plug in a desk lamp, you may find this a very poor work environment.

helpful tools

So with your pad and scale rule, decide on what scale you will draw at. 1:20 is the size most interior designers use. Its not so big that you need a massive piece of paper and not so small that the furniture size looks lost. Decide on your starting point and then move clockwise around the room, taking measurements and drawing them down, noting things like sockets, window sills and frames and wall lights. Make sure to show anything that projects from the wall like cable trunking or boxed in pipework. Then look up and in a dotted line (to show that it isn’t attached to the floor) make a note and draw any wall fixtures. You can also use a dotted line to show the positioning of ceiling lights or any decorative features like cornicing and ceiling roses. And look at the ceiling height. Is is different to the room next door or the hallway? People have various reasons for dropping ceiling heights, but most are done out of laziness. Wiring can be chased in and will give a much better finish than reducing the proportions of the room. If you think this has been done to any of your rooms, raise the subject with your contractor, it may not be as costly as you think to return the room to it’s previous glory.

Note the position of any radiators and for a bathroom take special care to note where the WC is as the waste pipework (soilstack) outside is likely to be close by.

Also note your door swing and if there is any switching outside that relates to the room (bathrooms often have a switch outside the bathroom door.) This is important because if you decide you want to move the door, the electrics will have to move too.

Now to the furniture placement. When I put a scheme together for a client, I spend a lot of time thinking about how they will use the space and how much room they will need to get around the furniture. There are various professional sites that have calculations to show exactly how much space is required for a human to move around an interior space, but you don’t have to be scientific to understand that we all have personal ‘space.’ We know when we feel crowded and enclosed and without thinking about the ergonomics of a room, it will be hard to get that sense of flow to your space. Without that, a room will feel clumsy, ill considered and ‘just not quite right.’

floor plans

There are different measurements for different rooms too, in a bathroom allow at least 500mm between objects as a circulation space because this is an area where water can create hazards and an awkward space is much more likely to cause an accident. Obviously, if you have more space, don’t crowd things together, allow them to have room and even scale the size of your furniture up to enhance the proportions of the room. In kitchens it is much more likely that you will work to the dimensions of the units being fitted. Most appliances are 600mm wide and this has become a standard measurement for circulation – but remember, dishwasher door generally open downward and are about 800mm high, so you will need to allow at least this – or more – between runs (a line of of base units) if you plan a galley kitchen or want to fit an island unit.

So, measure your existing furniture and cut out shapes from the graph paper in those measurements. Do the same for any proposed furniture and then pop a bit of tape on the back. So, now you can move them around the drawing to see where they fit best and how they relate to each other. It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle, but as the pieces are life-size, you need to shrink them to see how they work best. Try out a couple of layouts and consider what additional work will need to be done to achieve that scheme. Sometimes cost will dictate how you plan a room and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you use this as a part of the brief – and not as a limitation to it!

And can I just say, having a tight budget shouldn’t be a stumbling block, it should inspire you to be creative with the design, to really do your homework. It is perfectly possible to fit a kitchen for under £7000 – including appliances and the contractors fee – you just have to shop around and use the internet discounts that many companies now offer. This type of approach is much more time consuming, but if your pockets aren’t quite as deep as you’d like, the time you put in will be rewarded. And you’ll really feel like you’ve achieved something!

Now we come to the finishes, the colours and textures of everything you plan to put in the room and this is where you put that grab bag of ideas into some sort of scheme. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, get one. Any picture you see online you can save and upload to your decorating board, this will help you keep the ideas current and easy to find. As an additional tool, create a sample board of the hard finishes, samples of wallpaper and fabric, wood, tile and paint colours that you want to try out. Seeing them all together – in the rough proportions that they will be used in the room – will help you edit your choices.

bedroom sample board

bedroom sample board

When you see your ‘wish list’ laid out, it becomes obvious that you can’t have everything you want in one space. Colour, texture and shape all have to be considered and this is the place to make your mistakes! It is much less costly for you to reject something you think you absolutely have to have when you discover you won’t be able to fit it in your room on paper than it is to get it on site and discover your error. The same is true of finishes like tiles and carpet, if they don’t harmonise with the other finishes you want to use in the room, look at alternatives. There will be some items that are deal breakers, though, so it is best to work out which is the ‘key piece’ and to use that as the starting point for the scheme. If you do it the other way round, you’ll find that the scheme looks unbalanced and as if everything is fighting for attention.

bathroom sample board

bathroom sample board

So, how do you know that the end result will look like it does on the sample board? If you’ve got the proportions right on the board, you’ll be able to see what is the dominant item in the scheme, you’ll know that there are areas that need balancing and that some of the items you wanted to use, just don’t pull their weight. The sample board is another jigsaw puzzle only on this one, the pieces that don’t fit can be replaced with something else. And that’s the exciting bit, you eliminate the things that don’t work and get to search for something else that might!

shower room samples

shower room samples

shower room


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