Quick Tips To Age A Building

When I travelled to the UK and Europe as an architectural student, I was drawn to the old buildings and the beautiful streets. I just fell in love with the old look and feel of the buildings and thought that everything around me had been there for hundreds of years.

It actually took me a few years to start noticing the subtle differences in older buildings and the new buildings that were built to look old and it wasn’t until I really started working on historic buildings that I noticed the subtleties and clues that give away their age. There are lots of reasons you might design a building to look old, for example, if it is within the curtilage of a listed building or planning stipulated specific requirements in that area, but that is for another discussion…

So for those of you who at first glance think that all the buildings are old, here are a few tricks and tips to start checking the age of a building:

The Overall Building Materials

The first place to start with are the overall building materials. Concrete was invented around the mid 1850’s and didn’t really start getting used in domestic buildings until around the 1920’s.

My favourite thing to look at are the bricks! Original bricks are usually cut by hand and irregular sizes. This gives a building a real unique look that a new building will struggle to achieve with regular spaced mortar and regular bricks.

The Windows & Doors

Most original windows & doors would have been made from lead light/metal or timber. Historic buildings usually have to replace like for like to keep the look of the building, but in some instances you see newer UPVC or aluminium windows used to replace the original windows. This is why if the windows don’t give it away at first glance, I usually try to look at some other areas of the building that might give it away.

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The Roof

This is a little bit simplistic, but you don’t need to know too much about building construction to see if a gutter is metal or not. Also most original buildings would have been built with local materials, so have a look around the building and see if the roof material is similar to the ones around it.

This is a huge topic for me, so I really tried to keep it short and not too archi or technical. It is just one of the things I geek over when I travel to little villages in England, Europe, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia Scotland and Ireland.

See if you can spot one of these buildings and explain why you think it is new, not old.

Design, Design Is Everywhere

When I was studying architecture in Brisbane so many years ago, I was in disbelief when my lecturers would say that the architects and designers of the buildings thought about absolutely everything – to the last detail.  It makes sense to me now, because I know how complicated the process or theory behind something really simple can be (it doesn’t mean that it always is though!) and how much time and thought usually goes in to making very deliberate decisions to reach a desired end goal.

This is why I am so passionate about design!  I love finding beauty in everyday things.  In my creepy video, I hope  I have been able to show the drama and delight created by the designer for something so beautiful and simple as a grave.

I think for me, that is why more historic buildings and streets bring me so much joy – because there were so many hidden secrets and surprises – such as a gargoyle that was particularly scary or a fountain with a comfortable seat, tucked just off a busy street.

I find myself searching for these gifts from designers in everything from a gorgeous dinner set to a beautiful door.  The gift is in a designed piece and if you can find it, see it, feel it and appreciate it  – then you have found the gift from the designer.

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Design really is around us and it is in every day things, some items are better designed than others and not every style is for everyone.  So my point for todays post is to start looking for these design gifts.  See where an artist, architect, designer, landscaper, sculptor or artisan has gone out of their way to create something special for you.

Look out for the surprise and delight that everyday things can have – in fairness not everything has been totally designed (or even thought out), but see if you can tell the difference and find the gifts from the designer.  You will know when you start to find them.

Have fun and share your experiences with me.

The 2 things you must do before buying furniture or choosing paint colours for your home.

My goal is to help you create a gorgeous home on any budget so that you can up-level your lifestyle, create your dream home or start a new phase in your life.

So what do I believe you must do before even considering buying furniture or paint colours for your home? What do I know will save you tones of money on wasted items or worse yet, not give you the end result you are looking for?

The biggest problem almost everyone has is visualising how the end space will look and come together. So these two things help you filter out the things you don’t want, help you understand your style and then help you see what your space will potentially look like before you start matching to the green beige sofa that doesn’t seem to go with anything else on the planet…

So what are these two things that you need?  A mood board and a sample board of course!

The main reason you need mood & sample boards, is so that you can see what your room or house will look like ahead of time. You need to see whether the colours, materials, textures and ideas that you have will go together or clash. It gives you a chance to make mistakes, test ideas, be creative and really create your dream space the way you imagine it to look. These will save you money and help you buy the right items for your home (every time!)
I usually create a mood board before my sample board, and then I ensure I am happy with both of these before I start sourcing furniture and looking for specific items.

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What is a mood board?

A mood board acts as a filter, it helps you hone in on your desired feel and atmosphere of a space. A mood board can have your inspiration on it, colours, pictures of rooms and anything else you think explains your ideas in a tangible form. The idea is to express your ideas somehow and see them all together in one place.
This is how you can use it as a filter to get rid of things that aren’t quite right for this project (especially if you’re like me and have 10 million ideas that you wish you could use in every space!) I would suggest always having a mood board, no matter how simple or easy your project is.  (If you would like a step by step guide on how to create a mood board, you can find it here How To Create An Interior Design Mood Board

What is a Sample Board?

A sample board places all of the paint colours, tile and grout colours, surfaces, materials and fabrics that will be used in each room, in one place. It is a fantastic way of seeing how your combination of ideas will look together in a very basic format. I call up every company and ask for an exact sample of all of my ideas (and a few extras) to be sent to me so that I can build my sample board. Don’t ever guess or hope that it will just look great. It rarely does. You need to see and feel the material for yourself, especially if you are ordering your items online.

I hope this helped you to get clear on your idea and hopefully has saved you money already!

How to Make a Small Room Feel Huge Part 2

Living in a small space becomes a lifestyle. You will have to adapt to your surroundings or a more compact way of living (unless you have always lived in small spaces) in order to ensure lasting happiness during your time there.

Your daily habits will need to adjust to a smaller space in order to keep it clean, functional and practical and you will need to work a little bit harder at keeping your space well organised and clean.

Winston Churchill once famously said: ‘We shape our homes…then our homes shape us’

What he meant was that our surroundings influence our lives, whether we are conscious of it or not.

So here are the more habitual and practical tips on how to make your small space feel much larger than it is:

  1. Keep clutter off the floor, tables, desks and beds. Everything should have its place and you need to be meticulous about putting things back in their place.
  2. Use the backs of doors for hanging storage. (This only works if the door is open most of the time so that the storage is hidden behind the door).
  3. Organise your storage by using built-in storage walls, use the hollow areas inside existing furniture (such as beds, desks, coffee tables & poufs). Make every piece of furniture work hard for you.
  4. Utilise shelving and organise things in regular shaped boxes. This makes everything look coherent on the shelving and gives you a way to find things quickly.
  5. Develop habits that make life in the small space easy to live with. Don’t torture yourself by not changing your lifestyle to fit in with the room. If you want it to stay nice and feel nice, you will also need to work at it.

One of the most effective habits to help you live in a small space is to put things back in their place straight after you are finished using them.

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You will need to acquire some good habits (I think) to live in a small room. That’s because anything left out (that wasn’t designed to be left out), will make the room feel cluttered and due to our perception of scale will also subconsciously let us know that the room is small. I am always amazed at how much bigger a room can feel when just a few of these ideas are used.

If you missed Part 1 of this post you can read it here.

How to Make a Small Room Feel Huge – Part 1

Having lived in small, shared, inner-city spaces for much of my 20’s, I found lots of ways of making my tiny rooms appear much bigger than they were and more importantly store all of my guitars and sporting equipment like snowboards, climbing gear and bikes out of the way for daily life.

I remember my first room in London was less than 4m2 (13 square feet) and I loved living there so much. It was cosy, with a big window and I even had one of my super tall besties stay with me in that room. I remember he had to sleep diagonally across with his feet in the storage part of my undersized bed. I think I paid £60 a week to live there (ahh memories).

It wasn’t until recently, when I was working with a client who loves large open spaces that I found he wasn’t convinced about something I had proposed, which led me having to make a digital 3D model to explain it. That is when I realised that this stuff can be quite hard to visualise, unless you have experimented with it or seen the results yourself.

So here I am going to share some of my secrets and experience with you. I hope this is useful and helps you to live better in your small space and enjoy your time there so that you too can look back in years to come with fond memories and a few good stories to tell

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Top ways to living in a small space and make it feel bigger than it is:

  1. Use reflective surfaces (high gloss) and mirrors. When the surface is super reflective you can even use black as it reflects just like a mirror.
  2. Keep furniture low so that your eye casts over it and doesn’t obscure the room when looking around.
  3. Use sliding doors and pocket sliding doors. These will free up the space in front of cupboards, bathrooms and allow you to use the surface of the wall that the hinged door usually hides.
  4. Keep vertical and horizontal lines going full length or height and use built-in furniture to accentuate vertical or horizontal lines. Our eye naturally follows the lines and when the line stops with an obstruction, our eyes rest on it. In a smaller space, you want your eye to be able to move at least a little bit before it stops dead, so stand back and see what is stopping your eyes from flowing.
  5. Put a reflective surface or mirror on the wall opposite the window. This will bounce light around the room and acts like another light source.

In one of my apartments, I built–in high gloss floor to ceiling cupboards with sliding doors on the wall opposite the window. It made the room feel huge and gave me a practical way of hiding all of my clothes.

Want 5 more tips and some good habits for living in a small space too?

How To Design A House on A Tight Budget Part 2

To be honest, I could write a book about this topic because there really is so much to consider and so many different ways that you can approach your project that can save you money.

The main thing I do believe though is that you need to have an end goal in mind and that is why the first 4 steps really help get you clear on what it is you want your end result to be. Unless you are clear on this, you will waver, and wavering WILL cost you money and you most probably won’t get the result you were aiming for (except by luck).

Step 5

Plan and layout your rooms. This is so easy these days! Just google kitchen layout or living room layout and get loads of ideas for your own space. Make a decision based on how you live and how you want to live in your newly designed space.

Step 6

This is a little harder unless you have some experience, but you will find out soon enough how much things cost in a home and where to source things. So the next step is to figure out where you are going to spend your money. This is usually where you will get disheartened. Seeing how much things ACTUALLY cost (seriously? £60 for 1 cushion!) – So now is the time to really know where you will spend your money.

If your lifestyle commands that your kitchen is the heart of your home, then that might be a no-brainer, the kitchen is where you spend the money. In a living room, it could be the lounge or the built-in tv wall. If you want to ration it around the house, then that’s ok too, just remember when you see that gorgeous rug that is completely out of budget… Be strong, there will be another rug, just as soft (almost), with a beautiful weave (almost), for a much better price…

Step 7

Spend time sourcing. One of the hardest things you will probably come across is where to find that amazing lamp you just need to complete your room and you can’t find it anywhere. The cool thing about being a designer is that people approach me to show me their products; so I don’t usually have to search for too long as I have good connections with the industry.

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For the rest of you, I have shared my Pinterest board, so that you can at least have somewhere to start as this is where I share all of my go-to places and it really is a great resource. Follow it here: https://uk.pinterest.com/jochrobak/interior-designers-resources/?etslf=6966&eq=interior%20designers%20re

If you have any great resources you want to share, please email me or ask to collaborate on my Pinterest board.

Step 8

Get it to a stage where you can live with it, then you can spend the rest of your days tweaking it, evolving it, testing other fun ideas or changing things up for the season.

It is an amaaaazing feeling when you have finished a room to perfection and it is just everything you had imaged it to be and more. Don’t stop until you get to this place. It IS worth it.

One of my followers said she saved loads by buying expensive furniture second hand and repainting it to look new. Let me know how you saved money on your own project?

How To Design A House on A Tight Budget – Part 1

When you start designing a space do you get overwhelmed with how many different ideas you have and how to make them all work?

The main thing I love about being a designer are the endless possibilities. I even remember one of my lecturers at uni telling me that I should save up all of my ideas for my other projects. I remember thinking “what?!?! – but I’ll always have a hundred more ideas for that project too!” It was hard at first but one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was to chose one main idea, either for each space or for each project.

Once I started working in architecture, I realised there were lots of other limitations, such as build-ability, engineering, planning, regulations and budget! This was music to my ears, as I had so many ideas, I had no way of really filtering them out! So where do you begin?

Whether designing a room or a whole house, you will probably have a budget figure in mind that you can spend. Typically, I would say double that figure and that will be close to how much you will probably end up spending.

Your home is one of those money suckers where you can spend an absolute fortune on ANYTHING, so a tight budget can make you more creative, save you money and ultimately give you a real sense of satisfaction when completed.

So where do I start?

Step 1

So the first step for each space or project is to decide what the main idea is going to be. To be honest these days, just go have a look at your Pinterest board that says “Dream Home” (I know you have one) and have a look at the general theme. Everyone has a style they prefer, is it cosy and modern, or glamorous and inviting?  Write what you like under each image and then write down any words that you see recurring.  This will start to give you clues about what styles you are more drawn too.

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Step 2

The next step is to look around at what you already have to work with. For any successful project, all the surrounding surfaces need to be speaking the same language, including the furniture.  Next, write a list of what has to stay and what must go and also the things in between which can stay or go.  Usually, on a tighter budget the flooring, bathroom suite fittings and kitchen will have to stay.  So start to work around what you have.  Photograph them so that you can see them from a new angle and take them shopping with you because you will constantly be referring back to them.

Also don’t forget all of the things you might not be able to do, which will act as a filter for all of your ideas.  If you wish for a bay window and even though it is within budget, it might not be allowed by the council.  So how could you still achieve a bay window feeling without actually having a bay window?  I always say, “Your limitations can be your inspirations!”

Step 3

Set your Budget, then set another absolute maximum budget and promise not to go over the second one (you can email me, I’ll hold you to it!)

Step 4

Create a design. You will need to create a mood board, an inspiration board and start collecting material samples of the furnishings you are going to use. I would let my imagination run wild at this stage. Truly imagine what you want and how your space could really look!  Getting to this point might take days, weeks, months or years.  Most people drag this stage out for the simple reason that it is so much fun!  So go and have fun and dream big when it comes to your home because all of these juicy ideas are what will help you stay creative when you reign in the budget next week.

How to Create a Sophisticated but inviting Living Room

Have you spent ages designing your living room, meticulously choosing pieces, mulling over colours, styles, Pinterest and Houzz photos, then stood back and instead of an “ahhhh” got a “hmmm”?

There is nothing more frustrating when you have an image in your mind when creating your dream space, for it to turn out different to the way it was in your mind. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. The hardest task for any home decorating project is finishing it to a point where you can sit down and enjoy it whilst in the space, rather than looking around and thinking, “something just isn’t right”.

If your brain won’t rest whilst in your space, here is a checklist of things to try which I hope will help you achieve your “ahhhh”.

Have your End Goal In Mind

Whether this is a style, feeling or theme, the first key is to keep every decision in line with your end goal. In the living room example here, my reader had set out to achieve an industrial look but ended up with something quite different. She has now decided on “sophisticated but inviting”. (Which I just fell in love with as a description!)

Be Confident With Your Story

Using this room as an example, you can see that all the pieces are telling a story individually, but they aren’t really communicating together to create one story.

So if we then take the brown leather Chesterfield sofa and the modern light grey sofa and use these as the main pieces to tell our story (I chose these because they are likely to be the most expensive investment pieces here) then they are definitely (in my opinion) speaking the same language of sophisticated. So what is missing?

Create A Focal Point

At the moment there isn’t a main focal point, it could be the artwork, or it could be the Chesterfield, or the gorgeous window, or it could be the fireplace. Ask yourself “where do I want my eyes to rest”? Because the sofas are already achieving my end goal, I would, in this instance for a cost-effective and quick fix, make the sitting space the focal point.

Balance The Colour

The colours already used in the main pieces that tell our story are brown leather, light grey, white and tan. So why did I introduce taupe? Taupe can be used as a neutral and here I used it as a backdrop to the focal point, which creates warmth and hopefully creates something inviting.

Taupe is also a very sophisticated colour, especially the regal undertone of purple, gives it a little bit of a luxurious feeling too. I also know that a “cold” taupe, will play off the existing grey, brown and tan and so I used the white and taupe as the backdrop (not the feature – the sofas and sitting space are the feature).

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Balance The Materials

I used the dimples of the Chesterfield to bring in a new item of furniture to replace the wicker chair. The leather in the Chesterfield has a reflective quality and the grey sofa is soft and light which means they are quite contrasting, even if they are telling the same story.

The imaginary piece of furniture I put in to replace the wicker chair was my idea for a piece that would tie these two pieces of furniture together whilst balancing the materials in the room. The dimples play off the Chesterfield, and the colour ties the grey and brown together (it’s a “cold” red undertone). I tried to stay consistent with the language of the style so it is still sophisticated and inviting.

I also added the metallic sisal rug for texture underfoot and the reflective high gloss table to bounce the light around the room. I also added sheer “cold” brown curtains for softness.

Balance The Furniture

The hardest thing to do, in my opinion, is to balance the furniture and house décor to tie it all together. I replaced the coffee table as it was still part of the urban industrial phase and brought in an inviting but sophisticated table instead. The finish as described above helped bounce the light and the white colour was to balance the white backdrop and bring its elements into the focal point.

I also added artwork with the same tones now in the room (cold purples, browns and reds), a white mother of pearl mirror and the Kelly Hoppen house jewellery on the coffee table to bounce the colours around.

What do you think? What would you have done differently? Do you think it is now sophisticated and inviting? Let’s wait and see what my reader will do (hopefully we will get an update soon!)

Greige Rage

The thing that every designer is talking about right now might feel a little underwhelming, although what I like about it, is its complexity.  (Geek alert).

The most used word I am hearing all over the trade shows is grey. Warm grey, cold grey, greige and even my clients want grey!

So I put together a little go to grey checklist for you. To be honest, grey is a trend, but it is here to stay for at least a few more years, so if you are thinking of tiling with shades of grey don’t freak out just yet.

  1. The first thing I would ensure I know when thinking about using grey at home is whether the grey I am using is warm or cold. The colour consultant at the counter of any paint shop should be able to tell you this if you can’t figure it out yourself, don’t feel to afraid to try it!
  2. Next understand what undertone the grey is. For example. Kelly Hoppen is famous for using taupe. Taupe typically has a purple or cool red undertone. This is technically a neutral although to an untrained eye it will look grey. Your grey will have an red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple undertone. You can always ask someone to help you at a paint counter (so don’t freak out just yet).
  3. Now consider are you using the grey as a feature, backdrop or a neutral so that some other colour in the room can steal the show? This is important because if it is anything but a neutral, I would always repeat the colour in the room at least twice.
  4. Test the colour in your own home. Buy a tester pot and paint at least an A4 sized piece of card with your grey. I always paint the wall behind in brilliant bright white to give me a better understanding of the colour. You can always just place your piece of painted card onto a larger sheet of white paper, this means the current wall colour wont reflect onto your paint choice to discolour it. This is important because depending on whether your room faces north, south east or west, the colour of light will be different during the day. You always want to test your colour in the space and in the same plane that it will be used.
  5. Know your base colour and keep it with you when choosing fabrics and furniture. This will make sure that the room makes sense together at least in terms of colour. You will be surprised how dirty a beige sofa can look with a blue grey wall if you haven’t gotten your colours right.

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This should give you the confidence to start using grey in your home, especially if you love the new styles coming out and those gorgeous understated images of calm living rooms and bedrooms. Decorating is more complex than most people think! I wasn’t taught how to decorate in architecture school. I learned from many years of experience and working on hundreds of properties, so don’t feel down if you aren’t a natural at working out your greys just yet. Practice and have fun!

Don’t take your interior so seriously. If you need some help, send me a message or give me a call.

The biggest mistake when choosing paint colours and my 3 step fix

Early on in my career, I remember asking one of the architects I worked with, which colour to choose for the outside of a property. She told me that she couldn’t tell me the answer and that I would have to test it on the house itself!

I thought it was ridiculous at the time but she was right, colour is much more complex than I ever imagined. That is because colours change with different amounts and quality of light.

To be honest, I never really understood what she meant that day until I had to really start choosing colours myself. I found that the colour I chose in the office, looked completely different when it was in the space! Absolute disaster!

The biggest mistake you can make with colour is not to test it in multiple locations in the same room.

Until you try this yourself, it is really hard to imagine just how different a colour can look.

Above is an example from my living room this morning.

Artificial light has different colours (remember looking into a mirror in a bathroom with fluorescent lights?) These can hugely impact the tone of your skin as well as the colour on the floor and walls! The great thing here is that you can control artificial light and so if you chose the right lights with the right colour, everything will be fine.

The same goes for daylight. (I know, how irritating right?) But you can’t control daylight like you can artificial light (except for curtains & awnings), so you need to know what colour and quality of light you get from each direction, then you can design alongside it!

Phew! And you just wanted to choose a paint colour for a wall right?

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So here is my 3 step process to ensure you choose the right colour every time:

  • Step 1 – Ask yourself: Why have I chosen this colour & what result am I looking to achieve?” (bright, happy, cosy, serious etc.)
  • Step 2 – Paint your colours on the largest sample possible and place it in the room in the same plane you intend to use it. (ie vertical or horizontal)
  • Step 3 – Test how the colours look during the day and night with different types of lights (put the exact bulb into the light fixture that you are thinking of using).

This way, you will be able to choose the colour that achieves the right result.

I explain this in a fun way, whilst decorating my living room in my free interior design course. You can watch it here.