Getting Down to Business

A couple of weeks ago I started a new project for a client who wanted to update a flat she had owned for twenty years – and had done nothing to. The flat is a weekday base in London to save her husband commuting to the City from Lincolnshire (which is doable but costly and very tiring at two and a half hours each way.) Needless to say, bits were falling off in various rooms and as their son now has his first job in London, they are mindful that in a few short years he will take over the use of the flat.

let's start again

let’s start again

So the brief on this project was rather like a jigsaw puzzle. The refurbishment needed to suit both the style of the flat (Victorian, complete with fireplaces and tessellated floors) and the tastes of two generations. Both the kitchen and the bathroom were going to be stripped out and started again – though the appliances were to remain and be updated as required. The client had stressed a good quality fit out, but no ‘bells and whistles’. I knew I needed to look for a solution that would offer value but without the price tags associated with designer brands. Where the boiler was concerned though, it was close to the end of its natural life and as the flat had always suffered from terrible water pressure in the shower, updating the boiler was a priority. Not only that, the boiler had a stored water tank and not enough height between the top of the shower head and the bottom of the water tank to create a ‘fall’, so the lack of pressure was being caused by the existing system.

When you’re about to start a complete overhaul of a property that hasn’t had anything done to it for a long time, one really important thing to remember is that modern appliances (shower heads, washing machines, dishwashers, even radiators) have minimum tolerances for optimum performance. If you have an ancient boiler and heating system and you try adding in modern fittings, it is entirely possible that you will overwhelm the boiler output and end up having to replace the boiler and pipework as a secondary measure – after you have already done the main building works. This really is the wrong order to undertake your refurbishment! If there is any doubt about the health of your boiler, replace it as a part of the building works before you need to do anything else to the pipework. Boiler regulations now require 22mm input pipes, most plumbed before 1995 only have 15mm pipework. You can see why this is important, the boiler won’t actually be receiving as much water as it should for modern fittings and usage.

As the flat is one bedroom and doesn’t have a high water usage, removing the tank and opting for a combo-boiler system that heats the hot water on demand was the choice we recommended. (Combi-boilers are also good options for larger properties but the boiler will need to have a higher output to accommodate more use.) And right about this time I was contacted by Honeywell to ask if I would review their new Evohome system. As it ties in so nicely with my current project, I was happy to investigate further, but I have to stress I haven’t tried the product.

zoning the heating system

zoning the heating system

What the Evohome system does, is allow you to zone and control the heating you use for each area of your home. This can be done by changing the radiator valves to Evohome ones which are wireless and communicate directly to the control pad and your boiler. This means you can have the heating come on at different times in different areas of your home by regulating the temperature in the individual zones. The valves work with any modern boiler system and the Evohome control panel can be accessed remotely by smart phone or tablet if you happen to want to change the programme while you are out. This is particularly handy if you work late or your plans change suddenly. I love the idea of being able to start the heating earlier in my front room/kitchen on a freezing winter afternoon. Simply picking up the phone and sending a message to my boiler sounds the best thing about the school run I’ve heard in a long time! And it is something that I will certainly investigate when I do my kitchen refurb, because the reading I’ve done suggests that being able to micro manage a heating system reduces fuel wastage by more than 20%. Think about all those evenings when you need the heating on before you go out, but won’t be home until after the programme ends for the day. That can now be controlled according to your needs – and your pocket will benefit. I really like that idea.

This is all good research when you are planning a new kitchen and bathroom and certainly needs to be considered because no-one likes to do the work twice, least of all the contractors themselves! So what I’m getting at is that efficiency is more than how a kitchen or bathroom performs, it is also how that space uses fuel and water and being aware of how your appliances function. Yes, I know it sounds dull, but this is all part of planning your interior space and as each home is required to have an Energy Performance Certificate done as part of the sale process, it is just as well for you to get the benefit while you are living there!

evohome iphone app

evohome iphone app

And in jigsaw fashion, once you know you have a heating and water system that will cope with your usage, planning the type of fit out for your kitchen and bathroom will fit naturally into place.

This is a sponsored post – many thanks to Honeywell Evohome

Animated Discussion

I don’t know about you, but winter always seems to inspire a more sophisticated approach to decoration and when the weather becomes joyous and sunny, I’m looking for something more light hearted and witty. Recently, I was asked if I would write an article for about decorating styles that would be suitable for a family home. I got to thinking about how animals feature so heavily in children’s literature, in films and in their toys. And when you pay attention, these same motifs are everywhere in home decor collections. And they’re not aimed at children.

So, let’s put the family category aside – because that’s not my focus on Putting the Love In – the same motifs have a charm and wit that may at first seem an unusual choice, especially if you live in an urban area, right? Wrong. By definition an animal motif is neither a floral nor a pattern nor a plain; they work with spots, stripes and checks. So, they don’t fight with any of the preconceived partners to pattern. Animal motifs can be teamed with any of these designs and instead of feeling out of place, add a general sense of whimsy to the scheme. They almost heighten the drama of the effect.

As a device to add character, the designers have pulled their punches, putting an animal – and I include birds and fish in this genre – on a cushion or a wallpaper is an instant focal point. And the good thing about that is that the design style of the animal motif can lead you into the scheme – if the cushions are linen with a ‘hand painted’ motif, then right away you can favour plaid and tweed in the fabric choices – suddenly you’re in the heart of the countryside. Or if the motif is more stylised, you can opt for a more urban look or pared back feel and team them with leather, sheepskin and metal.

country fabric textures

In the planning phase of a scheme, when you are surrounded by a sea of fabric and paint samples, something that helps you narrow the decision is a good thing. Often the starting point is the absolute hardest choice. So, I want you to be analytical, if when you’re looking at your array of samples you have a number of different patterns that you can’t decide between, will you feel happy if you only choose one? And do they fight with each other because they’re all on a similar scale size-wise? Introducing an animal motif will allow you to unite different patterns, it will give you the scale and you will then be able to see what needs to be smaller and what can be larger. It’s also a good way of trying out a style that you’re nervous about (by that I mean a sofa style that seems very grown up or is a statement piece), an animal motif makes the scheme less serious, more exuberant and more approachable – no-one is going to feel reluctant to sit on a sofa that has a dog cushion in residence!

Ok, so cushions and accessories are fine but wallpaper is an expensive way to add character, I hear you say. Is it, if it allows you to introduce other patterns and styles as part of the scheme? Anything that adds a witty edge is going to be a talking point and something that allows you to downplay – or feature – other things within your scheme will really prove its worth. This is the way to enhance a space that has flaws and as with all wallpaper, it will wear better than a paint colour, hiding the knocks and bumps of every day life quite successfully for much longer. If your furniture tastes are for the simple and chunky then an animal motif will balance that solidity because the unusual nature of the design will offer a visual contrast. And while I appreciate that not everyone is as captivated by florals as I am, a scheme that is simply based on plains will feel very impersonal – clinical even – so the design houses have been quite astute creating a genre that allows their clients the scope to incorporate a motif that doesn’t restrict the use of other pattern.

What I’m saying is that no home is perfect and knowing you can use a device like a visual motif to deflect attention from the weak points is going to give you back a sense of control and reduce your sleepless nights quite considerably! In a funny way an animal motif will actually help you define your direction – without limiting the scheme by period or style – because they’re as at home with vintage finds as they are with Scandi-modern.

dog felted cushion

Sometimes when a project takes a long time to come together, it is easy to forget that your interior is supposed to be a reflection of your personality. Even the most serious minded of us will find a certain humour in life and who said that interior design is supposed to be a serious matter? There is always room for wit and charm, something that makes you smile, something that lifts the heart. Finding a style that gives you so much back is worth exploring and embracing.

The thing is, animal motifs are a bold choice and perhaps that might be where the reservations stem from because a scheme that is witty, has charm, is a talking point and allows you to add other pattern and design to it, sounds just about the perfect way to enhance your living space – and for the wannabe pet owner, it’s certainly a cheaper alternative to the real thing.

Getting Crafty

Every so often I get included in a Twitter conversation that really seems to set people’s imaginations alight. Last week it was about getting creative. Maybe it’s because spring has definitely sprung and everyone is in the mood to do work around the house – or maybe it’s that handcrafts really are inspiring people to have a go themselves. The thing about making something yourself is that if you like what you’ve made, you’ve created something you can be proud of. And if it happens to be functional too, then you’re connecting with the network of craftspeople who through the ages have created and embellished objects for their homes that have enriched their surroundings.

winebox storage

Not only that, handcrafts are often skills that are handed down through the generations – if we don’t learn how to knit or sew or decorate furniture, these are skills that our own children could miss out on. And in a disposable society like ours, not knowing how to patch or mend something, leads to another item heading for landfill. So, a couple of weeks ago a friend asked me if I had any use for some wooden wine boxes. Considering I have a shed full of furniture waiting to be made over, I should have said no! HA.

You will need:

Wooden wine boxes, fruit crates or even old drawers
fine grade sandpaper
emulsion paint
wallpaper scraps
wallpaper paste
decorators glaze
rawl plugs
screws to attach the boxes to the wall

With the sandpaper, give the box a good rub down to smooth out any roughness in the wood. You’ve not going for a perfect finish, rather something that won’t snag things, or graze your skin, if you should brush past it without thinking. Then with the emulsion paint you’ve chosen for the inside of the box, evenly coat the wood making sure to follow the direction of the grain. Because the wood is raw, it will absurd the paint quite quickly – I didn’t mind this as I wanted a vintage look. If you want the paint to be very even, wait for it to dry and give the whole inside another coat. Sand gently to knock back the wood slightly, adding an aged and gently distressed feel. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

painting the interior

Next cut out some motifs from a scrap of wallpaper. I gave them a narrow border and grouped them so that the box could be used as storage and still have the embellishment visible above. When you are happy with the placement, use wallpaper paste and stick them in place. Pay careful attention to the edges and take some time to make sure they are sticking properly – if necessary cover with a piece of cling film and put a weight like a book on top to aid the bonding.

When the glue is dry, coat the interior of the box with decorator’s glaze to seal the paint and wallpaper. Allow to dry.

decorator's glaze

decorator’s glaze

Now for the outside. With a contrast colour – or the same shade if you so wish – coat up the outside of the box. Take care with the branding of the box as this looks nice on the top – try not to work the colour into the indentations. Allow to dry and then with an emulsion paint similar in colour to the branding, pick out the lettering and logo with a narrow watercolour brush, allow to dry and then with the sandpaper, knock back the paintwork to give an aged feel to it. Wipe with a damp cloth.

Pick the colour you want for the edge of the box and then using a stamping roller or a small brush carefully coat the edge of the box. Check to make sure there are no dribbles or brush marks on the outer or inner ‘walls’. Wipe clean if necessary.

finishing touches

finishing touches

When the outside is totally dry coat with decorator’s glaze.

capturing different styles

capturing different styles

Drill holes in the back of the box large enough to fit over a screwhead and then position the box on the wall. Check that it is level, draw a pencil mark inside the drill holes onto the wall. Remove the box and drill the holes in these positions, fit with a rawl plug and screw. Your box will now hang in the position you’ve chosen.

You can create a whole wall of storage this way , or simply a bedside table. Whatever you choose, your handiwork will add character to your room. And even better the box was packing material before you gave it a new identity!

shelving cluster

shelving cluster

Changing Rooms

Sometimes when you’ve been doing a raft of things around your house, you end up feeling slightly resentful that it takes so much time and that you’ve unwittingly taken on a project that will never end! Believe me, I know. In a bid to create a more comfortable space for my son who was in the smallest room and is now suddenly 6’3″, he became the owner of the loft room last autumn. Great idea, no more guitar bothering the neighbours, no more being accused of listening to his conversations (delivered full volume over Skype, I hasten to add). Plenty of room for friends to sleepover, as demonstrated after mocks finished in January. But since then, I’ve been playing catch up.

teenage boy's room

Where do I hang my laundry? Where do I store my sewing machines? And how do I block out the light when the current blinds don’t quite fit the windows?

Sometimes our living space is simply not flexible enough for our needs and it creates a certain amount of frustration. Rearranging the rooms was always my intention and the Shed Roof Project (September 2013) was about creating a space to store and work on my fabric based projects, but within the house this opens up the full range of storage issues from the simple – where will he hang his school blazer, to the complex – where will I store the clothing on its way to the charity shop? And here’s the thing, having to think through the function of the house while you are trying to function in it, is surprisingly challenging.

The laundry issue was solved quite quickly. The very high void above the stairs to the loft is easy to access and so I investigated hanging racks that could be suspended over the stairs. Of course the weight of the rack was a consideration, as was the style… Not wanting anything too traditional – and a good price too – I stumbled across the Lofti from Lakeland.

As gadgets go, this is pretty low tech, it’s made of aluminium and plastic, clicks together and is strung with a nylon cord and pulley system that is ceiling fixed. But oh my, the results are high satisfaction! I’d so go far as to say that a hanging rack – traditional style or not – is an absolute must for any home. And it takes advantage of space that had no practical use for anything else. It’s easy to access from the stairs and while you might not want to hang out laundry when you’re in danger of toppling over, it completely frees up the areas usually given over to laundry, like radiators. Because heat rises up the stairs, the laundry dries quickly too and I can even hang the sheets on it – I now only use my drier for towels. So this one piece of kit saves me money, reduces condensation and uses space that couldn’t be accessed before. Yes, I admit it, I’m feeling smug!

using space over the stairs

using space over the stairs

But my next and arguably more important issue, isn’t so easily solved – the window blinds. With the clocks going forward, it won’t be long before it’s getting light at 4am and the temporary curtain isn’t quite up to the job. My obvious choice is a blackout window blind, but who knew how difficult I was going to find the process! In the course of researching what I could do to improve the situation, I discovered that the velux window wasn’t actually a Velux brand. All Velux windows have a code panel on the inside of the frame (visible when the window is open) with details about the specification, making things very simple for ordering window blinds, motorised parts etc. This roof light doesn’t have that and so I’ve had to investigate the options.

the unlovely temporary curtain

the unlovely temporary curtain

As a designer, I’ve just simply used and specified Velux – because I knew that the coded panels made adding accessories (like blinds) quite straightforward. But I had no idea that there were so many brands of roof lights out there and – oh joy – they all have a code panel to identify themselves. So here I am with something installed by the previous owners and I don’t know how old it is, or what make it is. Apparently its not enough to simply give someone the dimensions of the glass.

So, to date I have spoken to five different companies, all of whom have insisted that if it doesn’t have a code panel, they can’t help me. But I have found one who have said if I send in a picture and the dimensions, they might be able to work out who it’s made by… And this is where you start to feel that design has over-ridden function. It should be a simple matter to order a window blind, but these companies have overcomplicated the process. If you have a modern roof light, no problem, but as with all innovations, the early adopters get caught out, because at that stage, the window was enough! One thing I would say though, they are noisy in the rain and it is very easy to forget they’re open – and thus cause a flood in a flash storm – but that’s a small thing if it allows you to use the space how you want.

The good thing is I can chalk this type of investigation up to research and for a client I would continue with the fact finding until I felt we had a solution that would work, but for myself – it’s just the teeniest bit boring. A LOT of home owners feel that way and that’s why DIY can be frustrating. ‘Learning on the job’ as you do up your home involves lots of false starts and planning that ends up not being quite what you need. It’s all good experience though because being practically minded is a really important part of interior design. And when you strike the right combination, the results will be wonderful.

peace symbol

As a temporary measure – i.e. until such a time as I know what make the wretched thing is – I’m installing a lightweight MDF panel, cut to fit, with brackets to hold it in place at night. Needs must!