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.

Advertisements

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.

DSC00432

A Place for Everything

Little did I realise when I last wrote that my kitchen would not actually be finished until Christmas – and it would be all my fault because I came down with the flu – TWICE! Yep, its been a strange winter. But I’m all better now and my kitchen is great. Oh and we got a puppy too – another reason I haven’t been sitting in front of the computer as regularly.

unpainted cabinetry

unpainted cabinetry

still missing the drawer frontals

still missing the drawer frontals

So much of this kitchen fitout has been done when I’ve been here as the second pair of hands – I even had a go at putting a couple of the units together – they’re still in one piece too! I didn’t even know how to use a drill before this project, so to say I’ve learnt some new skills doesn’t even come close to the reality. But what I would say if you are planning on doing the work yourself is do not let it overlap any other events like people coming to stay or major family milestones. It takes too much of your time and to turn your focus away from the project means things don’t happen the way you want them to – if you’re the project manager as well as the client as well as the builder’s labourer!

Because I do this all the time for clients, I totally thought I’d be on top of things and could schedule deliveries and painting of units to fit around other activities. But I hadn’t factored in what a short amount of time had been allowed for this job and when it’s your own home, it doesn’t work like that, you are the one that has to box everything up and then move the boxes every few days because the space is needed. You never escape from the work or the mess. I’d have Rich the builder arrive and give me instructions for how to tile/grout/fill and then I’d have a frantic few hours trying to do what he had asked at the same time as having to cook dinner for my family in a room that was only partly functional. It was beyond stressful and I think that’s why I ended up getting ill. I was living in a building site and working on it too. All these DIY programmes with members of the featured family getting ill or not speaking to each other, this is why. IT IS VERY TIRING because there’s no reprieve.

making good still to be done

making good still to be done

And let me just say I have had kitchens done before – but that was when my children were much younger and the kitchen came from a company that fitted the units as part of the price. It was a much bigger kitchen with a much bigger budget. This project has been an exercise in achieving the look I wanted without having the price tag beyond my pocket – and that meant some of the work would have to be done by me. I knew I would be painting and I really enjoyed learning to tile, it’s a very satisfying activity and the results are quickly revealed – you can see very early on how it will look when it’s complete. What I didn’t realise was that Rich would rip the kitchen out when I was on holiday and that only 4 weeks later my mum would arrive for an extended visit. My mum is very handy with a paintbrush, so she was put to work too – but that wasn’t what I wanted out of her visit and it was things like that that added to my stress.

DSC00427

So when you start looking at scheduling some refurbishments for yourself, be very strict. Do not take on anything else at the same time. Do not think it’ll be done so much more quickly because you’re on site and DO NOT ever think you’ll make the decisions as you go along. Make sure everything is ordered in advance and chase the orders. AND DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MIND.

smoke blue - not quite right

smoke blue – not quite right

final paint choice

My biggest issue of the whole project? The wretched paint colour for the wall units. Seriously. I’m usually pretty good with colour, so this was a shock and very, very frustrating – not being able to get it right. I wanted a grey blue – I thought, quite pale. BUT most blue greys are too blue, oh it was so boring getting my hopes up and then finding that the most recent sample was also wrong. So I went all around the houses and came back to my inspiration and settled for a dark grey blue. Actually, I don’t know why I didn’t do that in the beginning – I have an ink blue wall in my front room and this balances that really well, if you’re sitting at the dining table you can see both, don’t quite know why I didn’t realise sooner!

relaxed utility style

relaxed utility style

DSC00421

And the best bit? Pan drawers. Oh lovely pan drawers. I can put things away now and get at them easily – and there’s room for more in the drawers too. I had no space at all before and I got so bored with cleaning up because I couldn’t put things away. Now, I actually enjoy the washing up and get so much pleasure from having a clear work surface. What a saddo. But you know what? Without that feeling of satisfaction at the end of a project, there’s no point in doing it!

DSC00413

And Then I Saw This

And suddenly all my ideas for the kitchen took shape. I’d had a picture from Smallbones tucked into a file for about six months and had thought that that might be my jumping off point, but it was much grander than I knew I could achieve in my space – I didn’t want stone work surfaces to start with. What I liked about it was the contrast of the blue and grey, with the natural warmth of the wood introducing a more relaxed feel to an area that could otherwise feel quite cold and impersonal.

It was this contrast of colour and texture visible with the wood and the painted surfaces that I thought I could achieve. But although I’d found a tile and the paint colours, it just wasn’t quite coming together for me. So when I saw the jug at Designer’s Guild, I knew how I could make it work.

kitchen samples

It would be wooden work surfaces and they would be oiled – not varnished – to a colour that would age a bit like driftwood. The base units would be pale grey and the wall units would be blue. I’d create a shelf below the wall units and use a bracket to support the shelf so that the units would look longer and more like furniture. The handles and draw pulls would be black, the sink and taps would be brushed stainless steel as would the oven and hob. The light fitting would have multiple pendants – in different styles, some metal, some glass. The feel would be functional and arty, a bit like a studio space in essence.

utensils

I decided I’d also use french doors in the opening to separate the kitchen from the dining area. This may sound mad, but for those of you used to open plan living, you will know how noisy the space can get when you’re cooking or running the washing machine or dishwasher. If someone is also watching the telly, that too increases in volume and things can get tense – no one can hear themselves think! I’d seen a couple of kitchens that had glazed doors across the opening and it really fitted with what I wanted to do.

Homes and Gardens magazine August 2015

Homes and Gardens magazine August 2015

I’m not usually one for ‘copying’ ideas because I think it’s quite a lazy way of approaching design, but sometimes the ideas are so very similar to what you were considering that it can’t be avoided. The above kitchen is very different to mine – urban and streamlined, mine will be very utilitarian and play with styling based on the shaker heritage – the feel will be very different. My doors will be hinged into a frame with side lights, not pockets doors on runners as these are. And sometimes a picture helps the builders understand what you want much more easily than even doing a drawing of it!

So that was my side of the design work done, this is how the space is looking now.

tiling in the kitchen

Things are coming along…

While the Designer’s Away…

The builders will play. My kitchen looked like this when I went on holiday last month…

queensville kitchen2

And when I came back, it looked like this…

RJF kitch refurb

RJF kitchen

And I could tell before I even got into the house, because the front garden was piled with rubble bags. Quite a surprise actually, because I thought the rear of the house was being painted.

So once my heart rate returned to normal, I got down to the business of planning my ‘new’ kitchen. I had done some plans, thinking that we’d get onto it shortly after my holiday, so it wasn’t a completely mad idea on their part and I’d even gone so far as to calculate what units were required. It’s fair to say a reasonable amount of work had been done. The big questions were things like tiles and the work surface. Generally tiles are the glue that pulls a kitchen or bathroom together. In this case because the floor in the old kitchen was tiled, I was faced with questions about what I would be able to achieve on a budget, working within the framework of what was already there. Was the original floor still underneath? Would it be in good enough condition to use – or would I have to replace it with a ply sub floor and re-tile?

tiles stripped back

And units that we had initially thought we’d re-use, now have to be replaced. Why? Because the plumbing in my kitchen is ‘creative’, the wiring is ‘creative’ and the gas connection is scary. We have to start again – the backs of the units have been cut about and that’ll be obvious after the wiring and plumbing is redone.

kitchen old door wall

So I’m still keen to see exactly what I can get on a budget. My brief – because I have to have a story, even for my own work – is to create a kitchen alcove that links visually to the dining room. The whole of my downstairs is now open plan except for the hall and stairs, so the different zones are all visible from where ever you stand in the room. In my own home I have a relaxed, eclectic style mixing french painted furniture with utility and mid century pieces, so there’s a mix of wood and painted furniture, (with a bit of glass and metal thrown in for good measure.) It’s this link I want to pull into the kitchen, so I’ll be looking to create that same relaxed, mismatched, utility feel. It’ll work with the age of the house and the overflowing garden I have outside the french doors.

The last kitchen I did for myself was the total opposite of this (though the size wasn’t far different.) It was very sleek and urban, high gloss units and a quartz work surface with a mid century feel, but that look just isn’t right for this house because it has more of a cottage feel to it, so I think a ‘country/workroom’ styling will suit it – be easy to live with. What I can’t do anything about is the size of the kitchen. I had looked to reverse the rooms out and put the kitchen where the dining room is, but the costs involved were more than I could cover at the moment. So I had to resign myself to moving on from the innovative option and to thinking creatively within a very restricted place. Hmmm.

floor plan Diane's kitchen

Working with a small space is challenging, but the mechanics of a kitchen create even more restrictions. In this room the plumbing needs to stay where it is because there is no room anywhere else to put the dishwasher or the washing machine – and on a budget moving the ‘services’ creates a lot of additional cost. Corners can’t be accessed, so space that can be used as storage, can’t be got to easily, there are lots of doors opening into the space, so the door swings have to be included in the tolerances, electrical supply is needed in every area and it all has to be well lit.

Because I do this all the time for clients, I know the drill. The space always dictates what can and can’t be used in a room and often I have to tell them that the wish list isn’t going to be possible. It is a disappointment, because I do like to be able to give people what they want – and it’s still a hard conversation to have with yourself. I’m as frustrated by this as any client – I still want it how I want it! So I’m going to have to think hard…

Old Wives Tales

Have you ever wondered how the cleaning products that get used in our homes have come to be created? How do you know which products work and which don’t? How do you choose which to use? A few years ago my daughter was having problems with eczema – and then I began to suffer from it on my hands and feet in the winter months as well. I started to think about the contact that my skin was having with chemicals and I came to the conclusion that using bleaches and detergents in the bathroom wasn’t helping, because although I always use gloves when I’m cleaning, there is going to be residue on the bath or the base of the shower – which our skin will have contact with when we bathe.

travertine tiles

So what can we do about this? How you we keep our houses clean and be kind to our skin at the same time? By using products that have the same impact on bacteria but are grown naturally. My biggest and best cleaning tip is lemon juice. Oh yes. It dissolves lime scale – you can actually see the calcium fizz as the lemon juice works – it bleaches out mould spots and tired grout, it lifts soap scum and it leaves glass clean. What’s not to like?? Ok, so its not as convenient to have a supply of lemons that you have to cut for use when you’re cleaning, but this is household chemistry at its finest. Lemons contain citric acid, lime scale is alkali and bizarrely it seems that many household cleaners designed for the bathroom are based on chlorine, which is alkaline. We use the phrase opposites attract constantly; this is the perfect demonstration of that very thing! Even though citric acid is considered to be a gentle acid, because lemons are so astringent they kill everyday bacteria (though if someone has been ill, I think I would rely on an antiseptic as well) but other than stinging a cut or graze, they leave the acid mantle of the skin alone.

lemon

I tried it out, thinking that my children would end up getting ill because I wasn’t killing the bacteria sufficiently and that this little experiment would all end in tears. But other than needing to use a drain product every six months, using lemons to clean my bathroom has been a huge success. No more eczema, no more wheezing when I was doing the cleaning (I’d forgotten how badly the fumes affected my breathing) no stinging eyes, no gritty film on the hand basin or the bath and guess what, I started this experiment 12 years ago!

I didn’t start out thinking about the environment, which is so often the motivation that cleaning product manufacturers use to try and convert the consumer, but I am a convert to using natural cleaning products where I can because it benefits my family in the most basic ways. If my skin, my lungs and my eyes are comfortable because I’m not using chemical compounds then it follows that I’m not upsetting the chemical balance of my home. If the waste products leaving my home are less toxic, then the impact they have on the environment will be too.

For those of you doing decorating projects around the house, cut onions get rid of the paint fumes. I know, right! Get a nice big onion and cut it in half, stand the halves cut side up on a plate and leave it in the middle of the room. Shut the door and the following day the smell will be greatly reduced. And believe it or not, the room won’t smell of onions either!

onions

And another fantastic trick is to clean your silver using tin foil. Yep. My cousin – see how these things get passed on – told me to line my kitchen sink with aluminium foil, add a tablespoon of soda crystals, put in the silver items I wanted to clean and then pour over freshly boiled water from the kettle. The smell is horrendous, so don’t stand over the sink while the steam is still rising. Then you can give your silver a gentle rub (make sure you wear rubber gloves) and voila, beautiful clean silver.

soda crystals

Guess what else I do that sounds nuts but works? Cut pizza with scissors. 😉

Three Favourite Gadgets – for the Bedroom

No, I haven’t finally lost it! I’m currently working on a master bedroom suite and in changing the layout of the rooms we’ve had time to look at ways of improving the space for both people using it. We started with a conventional loft space – ensuite bathroom at the rear and the bedroom the full depth of the house – with the sloping ceiling creating an area of wasted space. The clients had spoken to a fitted wardrobe company and were disappointed with the amount of space that putting cupboards into the sloping ceiling actually gave them. I went out on a limb and suggested that we investigate the plumbing and structural support to the loft to see if we could move the bathroom to the space under the eaves – after all you don’t need full head height when you’re in the bath do you? Interestingly the clients had also had this idea, but had ruled it out because they thought it was likely to be too difficult to achieve.

loft bathroom

We were lucky, in this case the steel support had a nice big void below it that would enable us to run new pipework for the ensuite. As soon as we knew that, all of our attention was placed on reversing the space so that the dressing area had the head height needed for wardrobes and storage. And it was at this stage that we started talking about gadgets. I know you’re all shaking your heads, but think about the hotels you’ve stayed in that have clever lighting and curtains – gadgets in the bedroom are the touch of luxury that we otherwise take for granted in the kitchen. We think nothing of spending money on ‘toys’ used for food preparation, but unarguably more time is spent in the bedroom when asleep. Why are gadgets designed to enhance that fundamental activity considered extravagant? Why shouldn’t you pamper yourself in the space that is responsible for providing you with a good nights sleep?

Being comfortable at bedtime is about more than just your mattress. Temperature, lighting and noise levels all play their part. And when two people share a space, one is bound to be a lighter sleeper than the other. Add all these variables together and you can see why getting a scheme to suit both people is often difficult. But what if you could block the light from the velux window over the stairs? What if you could light the wardrobes but not have the light fall on the bed? What if you could have a bathroom extractor that didn’t come on with the main lights and wake the whole house? These are all small ‘first world problems’ as my daughter is so fond of saying, but they all contribute to our levels of irritation at a time of day when we are trying to relax, wind down and recharge for the day ahead. Removing these little frustrations actually takes away a far bigger problem – the issues of not being able to sleep. For someone who regularly sleeps badly, it takes very little to get into bad sleep habits and those are often triggered by things that wind you up. My pet hate is the bathroom light, right through the wall from my bed. It pings on and I ping awake. I wake so suddenly that my heart is pounding and I’m then awake for hours. Right now there’s nothing I can do about it, but believe me, as soon as I can that bathroom is being refurbished – and the light will be switched from outside the door.

the window wall

This is why I’m so keen to help clients improve their space. If simple ideas like this can improve the quality of their lives, then the effort is worth it. So – let’s talk about gadgets, shall we?

Who wants to get out of bed just because they’ve forgotten to switch a light off? Two way switching is my first must have in a bedroom that has both ceiling and wall lights. And every hotel worth its cocktail bar has adopted this in their accommodation. This is something to borrow – it costs no more to wire or to fit out – but in levels of comfort and convenience, it is streets ahead of the neighbours. This little luxury is right up there with saying ‘good night.’

Next on my list are motorised velux windows. In loft rooms – or houses with roof lights over the stairs – having a window that will close itself when it feels rain (yes it has inbuilt sensors) and has an integrated blind that closes at night is one of my favourite things to suggest to clients. No more wet carpet in a downpour because the velux was left open, no more light pouring into your bedroom through the open door from the landing. It operates with a remote and has solar panels to power the mechanism. Totally brilliant.

shower wall

And finally the noiseless extractor fan. Seriously, the sound they create is so quiet you can’t hear it over conversation. For people who don’t bounce out of bed in the mornings, the drone of the fan can be too much; it’s a less than pleasant start to the day. The noiseless fans operate on a vacuum concept with the moisture being removed by air transference – its a bit too technical for me to get my head around, but the results are brilliant. I also like to put the extractor and main bathroom lights on a separate circuit so that when you need to light the bathroom at night, the light levels are lower and less invasive. It creates a more ambient atmosphere in the bathroom which makes it more compatible to a bedroom environment, something I’ve always felt ensuite bathrooms lack.

So, when you start to plan your master bedroom give some thought to how this space is going to enhance your sleep and what irritations you really want to eliminate. I promise it will be money well spent.

A Bit of Spring Cleaning

Last month I mentioned that after Christmas I really felt the need to get everything put away, to make my house feel fresh – to rejuvenate it. Then I stumbled across the blog Apartment Therapy who had initiated something called the January Cure. What they had done was set out a day by day list of projects to get your house feeling loved again. It completely summed up how I was feeling about my home – a little bored, a little frustrated – and because there was a list that I hadn’t had to write, I got on and did it. And it was fun! How sad is that?

the january cure

I went through my kitchen cupboards, I wiped down window sills, I hoovered under my sofa and pulled out my bed and binned all the old tissues hiding there. I opened drawers that were filled with stuff and turfed it out. I visited the charity shop and the dump. I even gave away some design books. Next up is to post on Gumtree some furniture I no longer want, (eBay is too much hassle for stuff that isn’t very exciting, dealing with all the emails just as the auction closes is hard work, you have to plan your week around it!) That’ll be the ultimate in space clearing and even better I can put the proceeds towards something I’m really hankering after – reupholstering my sofa.

old sofa upholstery

As an exercise it felt great and it worked. I love my house again and its been interesting to get involved in someone else’s planning. That’s a good lesson for me because so often I’m the one in the driving seat and this was about standing back and taking advice. I liked having a different perspective and reflecting on why I’d tucked away so much stuff in the first place.

So often when you acquire things, you have no home for them. I’m not talking about items you plan for, but the impulse purchase, the things friends give you that you ‘might need one day,’ the stuff you can’t say no to. If you have to find a home for it, it doesn’t belong there. I like William Morris’ quote about not having anything in your home that you know not to be beautiful or useful. If you can’t apply that rule to something, why are you considering including it in your home?

So what did I learn from my January Cure? That my home needs attention to look its best. It’s very easy to dump a box of wine in the dining room and just leave it there. Its very easy to leave the hoover sitting out and to forget to go through the foodstuffs in the pantry regularly. But in doing so I’m forgetting that the space I live in needs to function for more people than just me – if I leave things sitting out indefinitely, what hope do I have to get my children to tidy up after themselves? And more importantly, my home can’t do that for itself. It will look unloved, if I don’t show it that I care. And having just found out how much the property market has improved in this area, I do care!

mantlepiece

So here’s a little list to keep you focused for 2015.
Don’t keep stuff you have no immediate need for – or won’t need in the next six months.
If you can’t think of a use for it the minute you are offered it, its really just another man’s junk.
If it takes up space you could use better, you don’t need it.
If you don’t love it and its not going to replace something you love less, what is it actually adding to your scheme?

If you can’t answer these questions, it isn’t right for your home.