There are certain things that are the same for all houses/flats/palazzi when you move in and today I thought I would share some of those ideas to get you started if you have a new project involving either the whole building or just one room. It’s about getting the foundations right so the rest will follow on naturally if you like.
It’s not claiming to be a definitive list but it includes some basic thoughts that should give you a starting point for any work you are planning on doing. These are the questions I get asked about all the time so I thought you might find it helpful.
Floorboards seems to be the thing I am most often asked about. You can have underfloor heating with suspended boards but it’s more complicated to fit which means more expensive. These days I’m entirely happy with fitting a good-looking radiator and painting it in a strong colour or matching it to the wall.
If you want to paint your floorboards then they will need sanding first. And if you have peeked under a corner of carpet and done a happy dance because you saw some boards, then don’t assume it’s a complete room. I have lost count of the number of rooms where I have lifted the full carpet on the basis of what I saw in a corner to find either concrete from where there was a wall years ago, or a fireplace, or just a slab of chipboard where the boards had gone rotten and been replaced with cheap board and a carpet. You can buy replacement boards in small amounts on eBay though so don’t despair if that is what you do discover.
When painting my own boards I have used Farrow and Ball because it matched the walls. It’s water-based which means it dries quickly – useful for when cats are trying to walk over it – but it’s not as tough as say Ronseal. But then you don’t get the choice of colour. Little Greene have oil-based floor paints which will take longer to dry but will be more hardwearing.
If you are re-laying the whole floor then you can either buy reclaimed boards or go for engineered ones – which are compatible with underfloor heating by the way.
When it comes to rugs buy the biggest you can afford and make sure it sits under at least the front legs of the furniture. This will help zone an open-plan space and make the room look bigger. A small rug floating in the middle of the floor with the furniture all sitting respectfully two feet back from it will look messy and small. It gives the eyes too much to look at and draws attention to the size of the space and the relative size of the rug.
Carpet is still the biggest selling floor covering in the UK. Wool is naturally flame retardant, a natural fibre and warm to walk on. It also insulates against noise so some leasehold flats insist on it above ground floor level. There’s no doubt that a carpet/rug can be cosier in the bedroom than floorboards but it’s a question of personal taste – and money.
Having boards and rugs means preparing the boards and buying the rug – that’s two things to pay for. Laying a carpet is often quicker, easier and cheaper and warmer.
When moving into a new house it’s tempting to start poring over paint charts and deciding on colours straight away, but the fact is that paint is the cheapest element and the easiest to change. Very often you already have a bed or a sofa or something that is going to dictate the direction of the room and is something you won’t be planning on replacing too often. By all means use colour charts to help you decide what colour you would like your new sofa to be but I would advise buying that before you paint the walls.
Having decided on a wall colour don’t assume you have to do all four walls the same. We have spoken at length about feature walls and when they do and don’t work. To recap – if you have a wall with unusual architectural features – one that goes up under eaves for example – you can highlight that in a different colour. Otherwise think about doing all four the same but not all the way up if you are nervous of it being too much.
Or you can do one wall behind the bed and the ceiling to create the illusion of a giant four poster. Or you can paint a giant triangle across a corner to delineate a work space or a seating area.
Have fun with your paint and, like the ceiling, which I have written about below, don’t just leave the woodwork white because you thought you should. Match it to the walls wherever possible. Or make a decision and contrast it with the walls. Pink walls and dark grey woodwork, pale chalky white walls and green woodwork to match the cushions.
Don’t assume that woodwork has to be white. It doesn’t.
Often called the fifth wall, don’t assume you have to paint this white either. White is often the default colour for ceilings and woodwork but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have a small dark room that you have chosen to paint dark then carry on up and over the ceiling. This works well in a television room or one you are using mostly in the evening. The same principle apples to light colours – keep the same one from the skirting boards up the walls and over the ceiling. This is a very calming look as it doesn’t distract the eye by drawing attention to all the corners and edges. It’s great if you are using any of the pale greys, blues or greens.
Or there’s the third way; paint up to the picture rail – if you have one – in the dark colour and use a light colour for the tops of the walls and the ceiling. That will also make the ceiling look higher. Again it doesn’t have to be white. In a recent styling job for DFS Sophie Robinson painted her walls blue and her ceiling pink. I painted the bedroom ceiling and all the woodwork burgundy in a show flat and, of course, I installed a tin ceiling in my kitchen as it was too low for pendant lights but I wanted to make some sort of feature to stop it from being just a white box extension.
In short – don’t leave them white because you thought they ought to be. You made a decision about what colour to paint the walls – do the same for the ceiling.
WINDOWS and DOORS
There’s no doubt that curtains have fallen a little out of fashion as we look more to our Scandinavian neighbours with their clean lines and clutter free homes. If you do want curtains then they must be floor length. That’s a rule. There aren’t many and that is one of them. Bear in mind that if you have bay windows, you need to be able to pull them right back at the sides if you don’t want to lose half the light coming into the room. Those curtain poles can be expensive and can mean that the pulled back curtain takes up the space that you had earmarked for a little table or chair.
Blinds take up less space and block less light so they can be a great solution but it’s definitely a less luxurious look. Having said that you can have Roman blinds made in linen with black out linings as well as pull up blinds, which fix to the bottom of the window and you pull up to the height you require. This is great for flats and houses on busy streets where you want privacy from people walking past but don’t want to lose any light. You can have a functional blind that does this on the bottom half of the window and a more decorative one that pulls all the way down from the top for night time.
Shutters. Now I’ve never been hugely into the plantation variety I’ll admit but, again as my client pointed out yesterday, if you live in a ground floor flat and your bedroom is at the front, this does mean you can sleep with the window open and the shutters closed, which is a bit of a necessity at the moment.
A word on doors. If you have low ceilings and are doing any sort of building work then do consider raising the height of your doors. It will make the whole room feel taller as you go into it. In a house with a window over the door consider removing the window and taking the door up to the full height. It’s a little visual trick that really adds to the sense of space.
It’s a common misconception that pushing all the furniture to the edge of the room will make that room feel larger. It won’t. It will just look like you pushed all the furniture to the edge to make the room feel larger. Also it can make it feel like you are all sitting around waiting for something to happen in the middle.
Now, sometimes there isn’t a choice. I live in a tall thin Victorian terrace – if the sofa doesn’t go with its back to the wall then my feet will be in the fireplace. But the sitting room is longer than it is narrow so I have positioned the chaise longue across one end to zone the two spaces and create a sort of square conversational area.
If you can pull the furniture an inch or so away from the wall, so that it “floats” that will help. And do think about a coffee table in the middle so you’re not all sitting in a circle staring at each other. That’s a bit AA. It doesn’t have to be a big table – you could have a group of three small round ones for example that, if needed in different places at different times can be pulled closer to a particular chair or sofa.
And don’t underestimate the visual punch of a bit of empty space. Whether it’s a corner with nothing in it or perhaps a small table with nothing on it except a plant. That’s a signal that you didn’t have to use every precious inch of space because you had room to just have a vase of flowers. It’s not a useful cupboard, or a bookshelf or something practical and space-saving. It’s just a thing. Because you could. You might need to put the storage elsewhere but just in that space it will look like you had, for what of a better word, spare space. Which will make the room feel bigger and less cluttered. Which will be, in turn, more calming.
I hope that has been helpful. It might just get you started. And for everything else I wrote a book.