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Things I Wish I Had Done Before I Bought My First Home

I Actually wrote this post a few years ago, under my old blog.  My friend who is in the process of buying his first home in London asked me where this blog post was as he wanted to read it.  So here it is revived a little and equally as relevant as it was back then!

Since buying my first (and now second) property in London, I realised that there were some things I wish I had done or would have known about before buying my first property. Because I grew up in Australia and had my family and all of their expertise in buying property across the other side of the world, I realised that I was alone in the UK and had no one to turn to when all these side balls hit me. So for anyone thinking of buying your first home, here are the 5 things I wish I had done before buying my first property.

1. I wish I hadn’t moved house so many times.

Unless you can help it and you are indeed planning on buying property, try not to move, or find somewhere to keep a regular address. The banks and anyone else you deal with for proof of identity as well as home insurance etc. will ask you for at least 3 years worth of addresses. I moved 4 times in 3 years and you can bet I didn’t remember every postcode every single time I was asked to provide it, which dragged out the whole process and made it more difficult than it needed to be.

2. I would have started building my credit score.

(I use check-my-file because you see your Experian and Call Credit Ratings instead of just one of them)
I had held a credit card in the UK since 2003 and I had always paid it off on time. I had a pretty average credit score and I didn’t know why it wasn’t better. After a few years of actively trying to better my score, I realised I needed to do certain things in a certain way to actually build my score! Some of these things were making sure that the credit agencies actually kept the right information about me (yes, they were wrong and it takes time to correct the information), I had to ensure I wasn’t getting loads of credit checks (beware getting hits from car insurance comparison sites and the like), I had changed my current bank account to get a better deal as I was preparing to get a mortgage and realised that this affected my credit score as well, because it meant I hadn’t held an account in the UK for longer than a year – which was untrue, but you can see how fickle it got.

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3.  I wish I had started saving regularly for my house deposit.

Now that the regulations have changed, the banks will need to do an affordability test before giving you a decision in principle. They will check basically the last 3 months of your spending and analyse whether THEY think you can afford paying a mortgage in the UK. I was saving for 15 years for my first home, but I was saving in an ad-hoc way, not regularly. I now save a small amount every week and intend on doing this for the rest of my life.  It has become a lifestyle habit that I wish I started earlier.

4.  I wish I had started collecting household items for my first home earlier.

Don’t forget that buying a home is very costly and I really was on the edge of my affordability, but I was so determined to own my home I went without in many ways to make sure I kept it. I wish I had started collecting things for my home earlier. I would have beautiful travel memories from my travels across Europe, Asia and the Middle East and I would have had meaningful items to surround my self with. I have now thrown away or down-cycled almost everything I moved into my first home with. I literally had a pile of junk to move with and it didn’t last the renovations and I didn’t care for it to either. Now after 2 years of living in my home, I wish I had carefully chosen or invested in a few good items that i could have taken with me on my new home journey.  I wouldn’t have wasted money on cheap items and I would be surrounded by a few meaningful things that make my place feel like a home.

5.  I would have started preparing earlier.

The whole process from me deciding to buy my first home and moving into it took 3 months. It was a very stressful three months for me. As a foreigner, many things can cause problems so try and sort these things out beforehand. One of my issues was that I was transferring savings from Australia. They had to do money laundering checks on me and my family and asking family members to hire solicitors can be really stressful and can take a long time if you don’t know someone who can help you from the other side of the world. Also getting all of your documents filed in order and in the right place is really essential. Never underestimate how important it is to be organised when buying a home!

Goodluck and make the most of it, buying a home can be really stressful, so try to prepare as much as possible.  I hope this helped you.

When is it ok to mix timber flooring colours?

When designing a space from scratch, the flooring is usually one of the last things I consider. That is because I am able to design the scheme to work seamlessly for the whole project and tie things together, add texture or add light or contrast to the overall scheme with the large surface area. So it is usually at this point that I will make the decision to mix or not to mix timber flooring colours or flooring materials.

I find it can be a little trickier to decide whether to mix timber flooring colours on smaller projects, however, as little bits and pieces here and there, (especially if only one room is getting the makeover) can look patchy, unprofessional or even worse, a bit of a mistake.

So I thought I would share some designer guidance on how I make the decision to keep or mix timber flooring colours on a project.

So this is usually what I do to decide – is it ok to mix timber flooring colours?

When is it ok?

Contrasting dual tones can look fantastic, especially when the look is deliberate. The thing I would like to emphasise here is that it needs to be deliberate in order to achieve a certain look or feel. You can get some amazing looking spaces mixing different timbers especially when you take them up the vertical surfaces or frame patterns in beautifully worked bespoke flooring. I also find that texture, pattern and colour are your friend when working with timber flooring, so use them to help achieve your desired goals.

The key is to know and understand what the consequence to the surrounding spaces will be. If for example, you plan on adding a dark floor to a space and everything around it is light, that can work, but know that the dark floored space will be special, it will draw attention to it and you will need to treat that space differently.

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If you want a dark-floored room off of a light floored room, that will also work, but ensure the transition between the rooms is deliberate and they are treated as two separate spaces and maybe consider introducing the new timber into other elements of the surrounding spaces (see an example of this in the main blog photo).

As soon as you understand the contrast and become confident in using this technique as a tool, you will start to naturally feel when mixing timbers feels like the right thing to do.

Usually, I use different coloured timber flooring to define areas in open plan spaces. You can do this with texture, levels, lighting or different materials, but using different coloured timber flooring can give you stunning results. Don’t forget that you can also paint timber floors and they look fantastic too!

mixing-timber-colours

When is it not ok to mix different coloured timber flooring?

Typically if you have tried to match an engineered, laminate or wood flooring that was laid previously and you can’t find the exact tone, type or finish, so you think – oh this is so close, no one will notice… This is when it is wrong, yes we will notice.

You might also want to reconsider mixing your timber flooring when you haven’t thought out the whole space. Step back and think will that cherry laminate really look like next to the walnut and why is the transition necessary?

If there is no reason for it and it can’t be justified with a design aesthetic or a deliberate design intention, then perhaps it is time to think a little bit deeper about the end result or get some pro advice.

Some styles of interior actually look really great with mismatched timbers and or different types of timber in the same spaces. Have a read about the following design aesthetics if you are considering mixing flooring or timbers in your home: modern, industrial, shabby chic, oriental, alpine and rustic styles.

 

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 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.