Simple Structures

There’s something so charming about miniatures and scaled down versions of everyday domestic products. I can’t say why I’m drawn to them but even something as simple as a miniature bottle will have me cooing, so I’ve got a bit of a confession, I have a thing for cottages.

While I recognise that I would quickly run out of space in a traditional farmhouse cottage, I just love that simple pentagon shape that kids draw when they’re asked what their house looks like. Of course, most houses don’t look remotely like that especially in the UK where much of the built environment is terraced and long rows of residential properties share walls with their neighbours. Nonetheless, we all know what that square with the triangle on top means – home – shelter and privacy; a refuge, a haven.

It is this same simple shape that gives agricultural buildings their reference point, pared back and stripped of any detail they make quite a statement of their silhouette. Picture the skyline with a stark building rising above it, projected against the setting sun. See what I mean? These simple shapes are powerful.

While on holiday recently in New Zealand I was really smitten with a number of homes that have taken their design references from their agricultural neighbours. The scale was modest and the rooflines key to the overall impact, but what these buildings achieved was the relationship between the surrounding countryside and the simple proportions of a cottage. I was charmed. And I took lots of pictures.

Set within an orcharding area in Hawkes Bay, this is a permanent residence and the building has more solidity with its pebble dashed walls than the other images. What they all have in common though is the honestly of the architecture; uncluttered shapes, simply expressed.

This is the only two storey example, but what I like so much about this one is the relationship between the roof lines and the way the materials chosen create areas of contrast.

These are both waterfront properties on the edge of Lake Taupo (and available for rent through bookabach.co.nz) I’ve walked past these properties so many times and have either not had a camera with me or been pushed for time, so it’s actually the first time I’ve ever seen the second place with its front gate open. To have so much privacy on what is often a very busy walk way – and then to reveal the view when they open it – the best of both worlds.

The modernity of these two is what appeals; the colour and the choice of materials is a very conscious expression of the architecture, considering steel and concrete are more often in the supporting role; (literally) here they take on a feature element.

Again a waterfront property in Lake Taupo, this cottage is built up to a retaining wall. From the other side, you have no idea that a building is tucked in below.

Where the view is undeniably the key ingredient, what I see with these homes is a connection between the past and the type of buildings that were used on a lakefront – boat sheds – the sister of agricultural buildings. They sit happily on the shoreline and ‘mind their own business.’ They don’t try and compete or relate to the landscape, what they do is offer the view as the focal point – they are there because of the location. Even more, they serve the age old purpose of providing shelter in a way that connects the past activities of buildings along the shoreline with moderns needs. Timeless.

Creepy Crawlies

Happy All Hallows Day! I was ready to post yesterday and the trick and treating started earlier than I thought!

halloween decs

With the day falling on a Monday this year, it seems that the weekend has been full of ghosts and ghouls – I certainly spotted plenty of great costumes and makeup in town on Saturday night. Last year we had a party and managed to make Halloween last for a number of days, this year I’m content to just open the door to trick or treaters. Our pumpkins are carved and the decorations have just been flung about, the sweets have been purchased and the bowl is waiting to be filled. All set!

halloween

We even have some truly marvellous cobwebs hanging in the hall – and not the manmade kind. In this house the ceilings are so high that removing them involves a ladder and long handled duster. Does that even seem like something I want to do on a regular basis?? No it does not. But of course after the decorations come down, I’ll have the excuse of ‘clearing up after Halloween…’ So why are there so many spiders in the house at this time the year, anyway?

Apparently it’s spider breeding season.

I did not know this, but it certainly explains why there is always a sudden increase of spydies (so called in my house) at this time of the year. It seems that the influx of late summer flies (and we had a few of those this year) entice the spiders to come indoors – nice rich food supply just waiting for their attention. And that of course is the perfect situation for breeding. Hmm, I’m starting to feel that my inattention to house work might even be contributing to this situation – they must love it here! And yes, one of the ways that the spider population can be controlled is by removing dead insects quickly. Oh dear, that’s me at the bottom of the class then.

aragog

I’m consoling myself with the fact that I don’t hate spiders, so cleaning up their food source isn’t such an obsession as cleaning up crumbs and foods that might attract mice – which I really do hate! In fact, aren’t spiders supposed to be good for the house?? Isn’t a house with spiders in residence supposed to be a healthy house? I’m sure that spiders are considered to be good luck too and so it seems – in European folklore seeing a spider in the afternoon is a good omen and you are supposed to receive a gift soon. The superstitions seem even more fitting at this time of year because the ancient Greeks and Norsemen believed that spiders connected the past with the future and at Halloween the division between the physical and spirit planes feels very slight. Does this make us more susceptible to superstition? It’s possible, especially when you come across an old English nursery rhyme that states, “If you want to live and thrive, let a spider run alive.” Hey, I even fish them out of the bathtub!

luminous spider

The interesting thing is that at Halloween we use siders webs to create a barrier; they’re the embodiment of our ideas of the spooky, undisturbed house. Something that is more the realm of the spirit than the living, which is a very literal interpretation of what a web does – traps its prey and immobilises it. Folklore is kinder, focusing on luck and fortune and the transition from one plane to another.

lanterns

There is also a group of spiders (Linyphiidae) called money spiders. They are tiny in size and it is said if one climbs over you, it is spinning you a new set of clothes that will introduce you to a more wealthy lifestyle! I remember my grandmother talking about money spiders when I was small, but I guess their magic takes quite some time to work – I’m still waiting for this new wealthier lifestyle.

cobwebs

The Search Continues

I did what you all said you would do. I walked away. There was no point where the sellers and I seemed to be able to agree – they really didn’t understand that they would no longer be the landlords of the shops and as such that their concerns were not the priority. And I had to concede that I just didn’t have the experience to take on a property with complicated commercial leases. Anyway, all gone now. The place is back on the market, wonder what will happen next time round? I guess that’s not my problem! Time to start looking again…

lordship lane

When you walk around your neighbourhood, what do you see? Do you notice front gardens; front doors; gates; trees? Colours? A friend of mine really loves street art. She regularly posts pictures on Pinterest or Facebook and as she’s a secondary school art teacher, I’m guessing this search becomes resource material for her students. Street Art is a controversial thing. There are still people who prefer a wall to be a wall and because its a wall, it should be well, blank. But here’s the thing, you adorn your walls inside your home, don’t you? And when you see a blank page, its almost irresistible to not make a mark on it. Same with blank walls – and they’re cheaper than buying canvas or artist’s paper. People have been doing it for quite some time…

sign writing

Yes, I agree, there’s nothing that pretty about squiggles of black spray paint but when someone has taken the time to plan a mural and has executed it with style – well the sheer scale takes it from being a picture to something monumental. At the very least it becomes a landmark – and we all still use them regardless of how often the mapping on our phones comes out. I’d rather navigate by art than by supermarkets or service stations!

queenie

My new area has a lot of good art. Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that there’s an Art Gallery in the neighbouring village, or it could simply be that this area has a bit of a vibe anyway – it’s the louder, younger sibling to the genteel village; smaller, punchier, livelier. Lots of pubs and cafes serving good food and three big (in size and in league table standing) independent schools all judging each other by the cut of their uniform.

north cross road

Maybe people are too busy to notice the walls they walk by, but I defy you not to smile when you look at HRH ‘walking’ the corgis. Regardless of whether you like it or not, it inspires a response. And that is what artists over the centuries have been wanting to achieve with their work. A Street Artist is no less interested in the viewer just because the work is outside. And it’s quite likely that their work will have a much shorter lifespan than something in a frame and hung indoors, so their choice of subject matter is a point of curiosity, but funnily enough the rest of the local street art doesn’t appear to be topical, there is no theme; it crosses generations in content and execution. There is a mix of colour and monochrome. Some are on shops, others on hoardings. Their only commonality is their location – and my sense of joy at having spotted them.

frogley road

goodrich road

And that I think is important, in spotting something unexpected the viewer experiences a shift in focus; a distraction, is diverted. You may simply be going about your business and bam a whacking great piece of art is right in front of you. Yes, you could be too immersed in your phone to notice but if you weren’t, that surprise discovery would take you out of yourself for a moment. It would give you pause and direct your focus away from whatever was preoccupying you. You would be in the moment, connected to something unexpected in exactly the same place as you. And that focus outside of your problems and concerns – for just a moment – is like drawing air deep into your lungs, reviving and realigning your body and soul.

Mrs Robinson

For the artist this work has probably taken thought, planning, preparation maybe even research. But for the viewer, it is just there same as you. I saw something on Facebook recently about meditation techniques, in our busy world even slowing our breathing for 20 seconds reduces stress levels, so taking the time to notice the little things and to put aside our concerns for the smallest amount of time can have a positive impact. If just looking around and noticing your environment changes your focus for a moment, then the artists are achieving something great in modern day reality – and that would give street art as much relevance as the works of the Great Masters.

the lordship

We Need to Put Some Love In

For those of you who get my Facebook feed, you’ll know I had a holiday in Italy earlier this summer. Verona, to be precise and it was wonderful – I already want to go again. We visited Venice too and although I posted a few pictures I didn’t tell you the whole story – about how shocked I was to see how run down the city is, about how heartbroken I felt to see this gem crumbling before my eyes. I was last there 25 years ago and it has held a special place in my heart ever since. So much so that I wanted to go there for my birthday last year – I’m so pleased I didn’t, it would have ruined my day.

We’ve all heard the stories about ‘how Venice is sinking’ and yes it is, a couple of millimetres per year. But that isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the buildings crumbling from the rooftops down.

Campo San Polo

Plaster falling off walls, lintels cracking and exposed brickwork being left to the punishment of the elements. We all know how harsh sea air can be – salt water carried at high speed by gale force winds will have the same effect as a jet wash or a water canon. This is a city at risk from the elements but rising tides aren’t the only story, the neglect in areas that don’t face the sea is almost more pronounced.

Venice pathway

Venetian piazza

And where are the people? Where are the homeowners, the live blood of the city? Is it all just for tourists? My heart breaks; how can this wonderful, charming, seductive city have become a ghost town? Our hosts in Verona asked how we had enjoyed our day in Venice and I blurted out how shocked I was. Their reply, though understandable, doesn’t make it right: the taxes are so high no-one can afford to live there, the people who do buy homes there only come for holidays and do nothing to maintain the building the rest of the year, the politicians can’t agree on which action to take and because they want to be popular with the voters, they choose to do nothing, the city is so full of tourists that to get any work done is difficult because everything has to come in and out by barge – and it costs too much, so it becomes mired in apathy. And the clincher, Italy has so many World Heritage Sites that all need to be maintained, how can you choose which ones get the money? Oh my God. There was nothing I could say.

Venice canal

I spoke to another Italian friend who lives in England and he was of the opinion that in true Italian fashion, the minute it looks like Venice will fall into to the sea, it will be saved. A bit of drama and a bit of attention, whipped up to a frenzy and it’ll all be fixed. But why does it have to get to that stage before anything will be done? The tourist areas in Venice are hell, congestion has a totally different meaning there, the alleys leading to the main Piazzas are so crowded, you’re literally queuing to get into the squares, there are bins of overflowing rubbish and the canals can be smelly, drainage is obviously an issue. And don’t even try to use the mapping on your phone – too many people, too many buildings. But these areas – San Marco, La Fenice do get funding and have been restored beautifully. At the moment the Rialto Bridge is undergoing a facelift of the most comprehensive kind. But it’s not enough, for a city to have a soul – and to be cared for – people need to live there. Their identity and lifestyle need to resonate with the tempo of their community. Without that neglect happens, decay sets in, apathy becomes a state of mind and history is allowed to crumble – just fall into the sea.

Venice canal 2

I’ve done a bit of reading since I got home and there have been huge building programmes to create sea defences that will control the winter tides following the same principles as the Thames barriers. It was all supposed to go live last year – but then the Chief Executive was found to have his fingers in the pot and was prosecuted. The programme came to a halt and I don’t know if it was ever finished. As the article says, at a cost of 5.4bn Euros, it has to be finished!

Grand Canal

But what about the architecture? If the foundations can be saved with the sea defences – when they actually do get finished – who is going to give the residential buildings of the city a second chance? Who is going to encourage inhabitants to come back and make their homes in Venice once again? It isn’t a theme park but unless the tides turn, Venice runs the risk of being shut permanently and not just for the winter.

Grand Canal 2

Choosing Estate Agents

Well the house went on the market on the 22nd March – I did pull out all the stops and get it listed before Easter. It was a bit of an anticlimax after the chaos of getting the listing to go live because I didn’t have any viewings over the long weekend, but it was an interesting exercise.

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I decided to take a punt with this house sale and to use an online estate agency – you may have noticed in the picture on the previous post. Having bought and sold before, worked at an estate agents for a short time and being the daughter of someone who is the third generation to run a family owned estate agency, this could have been a controversial move! So I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it. But the numbers stack up – SERIOUSLY.

In the UK estate agents fees are 1-1.5% of sale price and there is VAT added to that, so this is a chunk of money to part with and the previous sale had given me cause to complain about the behaviour of the agent handling my property. I didn’t want to be mucked around or to feel that I had no control, (both of my children are doing major exams this term) so my research instead was of the type of package offered if you took some of the responsibility for the sale yourself.

DSC00459

At the end of the day as a designer I draw plans and take photographs almost every day. It seemed just an inconvenience to have someone else do them for me. I also liked the idea of being able to schedule the viewings according to my commitments, instead of rushing out of the house in the morning and just hoping that everything was looking ok. I work from home, so some rooms are always more lived in than others, I had a house guest (who was with me for eight weeks) and I also have a dog, a very excitable puppy who loves everyone. I needed to be able to have her contained and happy – and I wasn’t sure how she would take to having an agent she didn’t know in her domain.

DSC00498

When I sat back and thought about it, I decided that having a local agency involved could possibly be more stress than I could cope with, so doing some of the work myself and having the property listed on a hosting site was the way I wanted to go. Never having done it before, I was keen to see how it worked. And for someone who does computer drawings almost every day, I was surprised at how much time it took me to do my whole-house floor plan. Who knew!

27 Queensville floorplan no text

And how has it all gone? The house sold itself really. Apart from turning my car into a mobile storage unit (bursting at the seams with laundry baskets and ironing, dog toys, partially eaten Easter eggs, leftover tiles from the kitchen and winter hats and gloves, not quite finished with for the season) I had the place looking as good as it could. I had four viewings in the space of a week and the third viewing made an offer – which I didn’t accept – and then increased to a price closer to what I wanted. So I accepted that. I can’t say that being with an online agency had anything to do with that!

In fact I’m not sure being with an online agency has done anything other than give me more control over the viewings and viewing schedule. I’ve had to chase them for information about my buyers, I’ve had to follow up each conversation with checking the website – as opposed to my ‘dashboard’ – and another phone call to check that things have been done. Considering they sit behind computer screens – the very definition of an online company – I honestly can’t say I’ve felt that they were more efficient than an agency conducting the viewings for me. So, the only real benefit then is the hugely reduced fee? Yep that’s about the size of it. From my experience at any rate.

DSC00468

And this should be something you take into account when you want to choose an estate agent. If you work full time, conducting the viewings yourself will be hard, unless you can opt to work from home on certain days and take some time from that schedule. If you have a young family who need your full attention when you’re at home, then this too will make taking responsibility for the viewings hard work, especially if they have a sleeping pattern that rules out certain times of the day. And you have to keep things looking immaculate (or as close to) because when you take people around your own house, you’re aware of the things they don’t like by what they don’t say. It can feel very personal – if that’s going to make you feel unsettled, then this process isn’t for you.

IMG_2830

I’ll tell you the one thing it has done though, listing my house with an online agency has given me the choice to accept a lower offer than I might have done. That probably sounds counter intuitive, but because the fees are so much lower I’m actually ahead of where I would have been – by about £14,000 – if I’d sold through a local agent. So what it really does is give you more control over the money going into your pocket. That £14K will go a long way to paying my stamp duty on my next property. And as soon as I exchange contracts, I’ll tell you all about it.

Getting your House Ready for Sale

I think I mentioned that I was planning on selling my house this year. Having been through the process before, there is a good time to list and a not so good time. For homes that come into the family bracket as mine does, listing in spring means that anyone who is wanting to move for the new school year in September, has the time to view, offer, instruct solicitors, arrange finance and move in before it’s time to dust off those pencil cases. So my plan was that I would list my property just before Easter. But Easter was early this year and the school holidays started the day before. I had to decide to either pull out all the stops and get my property on the market the week before – and everyone going away would be thinking about their holiday – or I had wait until the beginning of April. What to do, what to do?

tepilo

I wasn’t particularly bothered either way until I saw a property that I actually wanted to buy. How annoying.

So a couple of weeks ago the rear of the house was painted – it never did make it to the same colour as the front and I’ve hated that I’ve lived in a two toned house for so long. Finally the back garden will have the intimate feel that only a dark colour can provide and considering I help people with these choices every day, it is frustrating to say the least, to always be at the back of the queue – because I’m working on someone else’s house.

As you might be able to tell, I had a list! Richard, my builder thinks I’m nuts, that people like to do work to their new homes. But not everyone does, a lot of people are looking for something they can move into and just get on with living in. After all they’ve spent all the money on the purchase! So, because there are things that have annoyed me for a while, there was a list.

ensuite bathroom

Install a towel rad in the top bathroom – a very cold room in the winter.
Re-turf the back lawn.
Change the windows in the loft room – the seal of the double glazing has gone and they’re cloudy to look through.
Oh and I painted the bathroom…

family bathroom

Ok, so you’re wondering why I would bother to go to this trouble when I want to move on. I recently heard of a previous client who had a two bed flat to sell that had been tenanted for about 6 years and the place was looking tired. He had it valued and was disappointed with the price the agent gave him. Then he spoke to Rich and asked how much it would cost to redecorate and replace the carpets. I think he replaced the shower door and fittings as well. The work cost about £4000 and the agent revalued the property at £60K more than the initial quote. That’s a nice increase in value!

rear exterior

The same thing will happen with my house. I know that when the building survey is done they will mention the state of those top windows and that will be a point the purchaser will try to negotiate on – and they’ll want several thousand off the price. To replace them supply and fit will cost about £700. So it is important to look at this as a transaction. I have to spend a bit of money to make a good job of the sale!

wall colour enhances church pew

There are other things that matter too and it’s very hard to be detached when you look over your own home, but you need to see things as someone viewing your property will see them. So when I saw a post on a blog I follow, Mad About the House, I was interested to read her comments. I don’t think she’s gone far enough. Spraying some air freshener round and tidying up don’t in any way make a property aspirational. Because every property is listed online and people can peek in from the comfort of their sofa, the property has to look better than the images. Something that’s supposed to be shiny, has to sparkle; something that’s supposed to be plush, has to be lint free; beds have to be made and cushions plumped up. It’s this level of care that makes a home look loved – and it is that love that brushes off on people as they leave a viewing.

bed cushions

Because of course you want them to come back and to put their money on the line! Surely that money – and let’s be honest, it’s not chickenfeed we’re talking about – is worth you putting a bit of effort in?

How Ugly is Ugly?

It’s very easy when you drive around the same areas repeatedly to not see the buildings you pass by. In the new Channel 4 programme ‘Ugly House to Lovely House,’ George Clark and his team of architects take the eyesores and turn them into individual and unique homes. What I had thought was different about this show was the emphasis on the exterior transformation. I’m not an architect. I’ve always thought that I really only understood how internal spaces worked but watching this programme, I don’t think they’ve gone far enough!

before and after - but they've forgotten the porch and the front door

before and after – but they’ve forgotten the porch and the front door

By definition if your home is referred to as ugly, that’s an opinion based on appearance – so, what is seen from the street. If your house looks ugly from outside then surely that is where you would expect the bulk of the budget – and the attention – to be focused. But no, it’s really just another refurb show. The inside is ripped to bits – and the bulk of the money is spent there – and then the outside is the wrapping that finishes the scheme off. On all three episodes I’ve watched so far, I’ve felt that the exterior didn’t meet expectations. They have local residents giving their opinion of ‘progress so far’ (and of course they can only see what’s happening outside) and their criticism really reflects what I felt to be lacking – a transformation of the defining parts of the house as seen from the street.

neighbouring properties

neighbouring properties

but still with their own touches

but still with their own touches

So let’s strip it back to basics. If you’ve bought a house for reasons other than aesthetics as many of these people did, you’ve bought it because it ticks other boxes: close to children’s schools, affordable, within an easy commute to work, close to family or countryside that you enjoy. At that point, how it looks isn’t the focus. But when you’re living there – and the purchase is just part of the history – aesthetics do become an issue. If you refer to your own house as the ‘ugly house’, then you too have a negative opinion of your own space. And this has an impact on how you feel about living there. Do you love something that you think of as an eyesore? Or does it make you feel protective? Would you defend it if someone told you they thought it was the worst house in the street? Or have you just stopped seeing it? Do you even care anymore?

attention grabbing

attention grabbing

Can you see the apathy building up? It’s so easy to just make do and ignore the things you don’t like. But why should you put up with living in a space that isn’t what you want? Especially since it is probably your largest financial asset.

a modern 'between the wars' house

a modern ‘between the wars’ house

Exterior transformations are not as difficult as one might think. They’re not always straightforward, but none the less changing how the outside of your house presents itself says that you care in BIG capital letters. I changed the colour of my house about 18 months ago – it is now a grape-grey and I’ve had so many positive comments about it. The word most used is LOVE. “I love your colour; I love your house; I love that it’s different to the others, more individual.” I’ve also been told it’s bold and different, but hey I quite like that too!

defining the property with colour

defining the property with colour

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

Not every house suits being painted, of course, but changing the colour of the window frames adds a distinctive feel that really opens the windows wide, a bit like mascara on the eyes. And then there are the more remedial approaches – porches and roofline updates, pillars and new front doors. Many of these things come as kits and provided the measurements work can be installed fairly easily by your building contractor which not only cuts down on cost, but allows you to plan exactly how the new exterior will combine with the old. And let’s be honest a transformation will leave traces of the old building intact as with this building below, if you look closely the brickwork around the front door hasn’t been disguised.

simple updates

simple updates

doors and windows - contrast to the house next door

doors and windows – contrast to the house next door

And that’s the point when an exterior refresh has to acknowledge what was there before. Short of tearing down the original structure, you will be working on top of someone else’s vision. It is easier to say ‘what have I got to work with?’ and plan to enhance the bones of the building than it is change a street frontage – especially if it’s in a terrace. Adding porches and incorporating the details gets around this neatly though and again many kits are available for this type of job. The house below already had a porch – but to create a more modern and individual look they’ve opened it up, stripped the wood and enhanced the timbers for a more handcrafted feel.

modern mock tudor

modern mock tudor

Ugly doesn’t have to be the defining feature of you home and transformation isn’t something to be scared of. The resulting property will make you feel so much better about living there and that in itself is reason enough to take the plunge.

The End of An Era

Last week was a very busy week. My ex husband moved house. I thought I was just lending a hand but it turns out I was actively – and emotionally – involved in the process.

wilfs house move

We moved in as a married couple with a one year old son in 1999. We did a loft conversion and created a six bedroom house, three and a half bathroom house. We had another child, a little girl. We redid two of the bathrooms and the kitchen. We replaced missing cornicing and two missing fireplaces. We added stained glass to the front door – and to the back door. We redecorated throughout, refinished floorboards and replaced the carpet. It was during this process that I retrained as an interior designer and throughout my coursework Wilf was my ‘client’ – I used his requirements to act as my brief.

fanlight

Both of our children started school and developed a wide range of interests. We made wonderful friends in our neighbours. We had lots of parties and many guests from abroad – some staying for months at a time. It was a busy family life in a home that answered the needs of its inhabitants.

I’ve been separated and then divorced from Wilf for nearly eight years and since then I’ve been in and out of that house countless times – my favourite arrivals have always been on Christmas morning with bags of presents, in my pjs (I don’t even own a onesie, but Christmas morning is a tradition: I arrive in pyjama’s.)

Christmas carnage

After I left, I never felt particularly attached to my old home. It was Wilf’s house, the kids were there three nights a week, it was just a part of the scenery, so to speak. But last week packing up, I’ve been in tears countless times. I felt the love that we’d put into it over the years. I saw for the first time, stripped bare, all the work we had done. Without the furniture, the house was still beautiful, a little grubby where picture frames had rubbed the paintwork and where furniture had scuffed the floor but its bones were good; spacious and light and welcoming.

megan's mural

So what was it that caused me to get so upset? I was really surprised at myself. When you start unpacking a home, you unravel the history of the time that you’ve spent there. All of the events that surround the furnishings – the carpet from Turkey, the mirror from Stow-on-the-Wold, the clock from Newark, the painting from New Zealand, all come back to you and the trip down memory lane as you remove them becomes a part of the leaving of that building. It also brings up the milestone memories, the bathtub filled with toys by my son for my daughters first bath; the murals painted for the children by my mother; the measuring wall under the stairs – even the dog was measured on that wall; the first day at school; the birthday parties. It goes very quickly from a family home to simply four walls and looks incredibly unloved. It had no personality, it didn’t look like ‘ours’ anymore – I found that the hardest part. Somehow I wanted the house to know it had done nothing wrong and in thinking that, I found that the memories of living there were also enriched.

wilf's bathroom

the little room

It’s really important to understand how much a part of you your home is. I say so often that you can’t under estimate the impact your surroundings have on you and I suppose because I haven’t lived in that house for eight years I didn’t regard it as my surroundings, but seeing each room undressed made me analyse the progression we had made through that environment as a family. The room that was the catalyst for this was my son’s room. Full to the gunnels of models planes and books about trains, space and birds (it took me two days to box up all the models, destined for deep storage – likely not to be unpacked until he is a father himself!) you would be forgiven for thinking he was 10 years old. He’s nearly eighteen! He’s reading Whitman and Donne not Tintin and Biggles. That room hasn’t grown with him. He was still living surrounded by his childhood – not with the kit of his youth; guitars and amps and computer gadgets. I felt in a way that we had let him down, to look at that room we hadn’t let him grow up, which isn’t the truth at all, but then looks are deceiving and that was what got me thinking. If our homes are to meet our needs they need to be flexible enough to grow with us. They need to accommodate not only the inhabitants but the possessions that hold our memories. And if that’s not possible, it means we need to be brave enough to let go.

railways poster

My final task as Wilf gave back the keys was to put up replacement lampshades. It’s fanciful I know, but when I looked around the naked rooms I got a real sense of the house enduring, of shaking herself off and moving on, ready to receive her new family. I hope they will be very happy there and love the things about her that we loved.

front door

A Sense of Calm

Ensuite bedrooms have to work hard, which is a strange thing to say about a room that largely revolves around the unconscious state. But, think about it. Because they’re often used by two people, the space has to function for both of them as well as providing a quiet place to sleep and easy access to the bathroom. When you add a dressing room function as well, the space has to prove itself up to the job. And that means there’s a lot at stake for the client. They have an equal share in the restorative value of the room – so they both need to feel at ease in the space. The level of comfort has to be suitable for both of them and it needs to reflect their combined taste and lifestyle. There’s a lot to consider in a master bedroom.

master bedroom

The last master bedroom suite I worked on was not without its problems as a project – delays in deliveries, carpet cut to the wrong size and a work force who didn’t quite feel any time pressure. In a bid to be efficient, Rich and I used a second team – he was having surgery on his ankle – but this was a big learning experience for us, because they did not work the way we did. We had communication issues, builders losing their temper and yelling at other members of the team, threatening to pull off the job and asking for more money. It was more soap opera than refurb project and it was hard work. It really made me realise just how lucky I am to work with a good contractor, one who thinks things through and is good at problem solving. You would think that these would be qualities all building contractors would possess – I can tell you, they do not!

through to the bedroom

Eight months on, the pain has been forgotten and the bedroom suite has a sense of gentle luxury. It’s quiet, both in colour and in sound. It’s uncomplicated, the furniture all matches (so not my choice, but in this space, I have to agree) the simplicity of the decor is what gives it that sense of calm. The bathroom takes advantage of the sloping ceiling and has a much more dramatic feel because of its location. The dressing room is streamlined and accentuates the ceiling height with full height wardrobe doors.

dressing room

The pendant ceiling lights at two different levels add a more glamorous element and provide a layered lighting plan that works according to the time of day or task required.

pendant lighting

It was a collaborative process, this space and I feel really pleased with how much of the clients’ taste is present in the suite. I was the guiding hand – and at times I did insist on following a certain direction – but largely speaking I suggested a type of fitting and the clients then researched what they would like and we arrived at a choice according to price and availability.

ensuite bathroom

There are two things I would say about this type of process: it takes forever and this was a first project. The clients had never had any building work done before and didn’t really know ‘exactly’ what they wanted. So, the sourcing was slow – there is a lot of choice out there, we looked at maybe twenty wallpaper samples (I would normally give a choice of three) and at times we couldn’t dovetail the lead-times, so the clients didn’t move into the space for several months after the building work finished. But overall the project has built their confidence. It looks great and it works the way they want it to. And that really, is what you want at the end of project. After all if you plan on spending money on a bedroom ensuite, the result should be what you want – a space that works for both of you.

shower enclosure

A Kitchen Gallery

Because the kitchen posts have covered such a long period of time, I thought I’d put all the pictures together in one place, so that the process of before and after is easier to see.

1 august 2015

1 august 2015

2 august 2015

2 august 2015

3 september

3 september

2 sample board september

4 sample board september

5 september

5 september

6 september

6 september

7 september

7 september

8 september

8 september

10 october 2015

9 october 2015

10 october

10 october

11 december 2015

11 december 2015

12 december

12 december

13 december

13 december

14 december

14 december

15 the inspiration

15 the inspiration

Nothing is more inviting than tantalising smells coming from the kitchen. In the short time I’ve had this space I’ve cooked for Christmas dinner and various dinner parties, had a drinks party and a birthday costume bash. It’s not that I wouldn’t have done these things if I hadn’t done the work to the kitchen, its that the space now copes with what I want to do in it. It’s more pleasurable to have guests and to simply be in it. I’m enjoying the process of preparing food so much more.

And that is the single biggest reason for deciding to upgrade your kitchen – if you want to prepare food, the time you take over it and the quality of ingredients will also be of importance. If you’re looking forward to sharing a meal with other people, your approach to mealtimes becomes one of social enjoyment and less of a chore. When food plays such a big part in our lives, our attitude toward it is the difference between health and unbalance. Having a space that allows food preparation to be done easily enables us to see food for what it is – our source of energy, vital to our wellbeing.

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