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When Should I Hire An Interior Designer?

My clients always ask, when is the right time to hire an interior designer? Funnily enough, pretty much 99% of the time, clients want and need you to start their project ASAP.

Its funny, you can’t imagine how many phone calls and emails I get from prospective clients who say, “we need things to be complete next month when we move in”. To be honest these days my tradie contacts mixed with my online service and the awesome addition of assistants means that I can deliver great results in such a short deadline.

The reality for most interior designer’s however, is that, like a good builder, we are booked up months in advance because we need to be to ensure good cash flow for our businesses. Unfortunately for designers, clients, want you and your attention on their dream home and they want it now, not in a month’s time and DEFINITELY NOT in two (are you crazy!)

So even though I want to write to every client saying, hire your designer as early as possible, that still will never “feel” early enough for the designer, because early enough for our client’s means, you get one week to measure and draw up the house (because you start tomorrow right?)

…and then you have one week to come up with the best designs in the world and then present them to us in the most easily understandable and beautiful way possible that is awe-inspiring and worthy of a gold medal and make any updates and changes we request and reissue right?

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…and then you have one week to order, organize and call, find, agree on a fee for all of the finishes and tradesmen.

…and then your guys (and gals) have a week to lay the floors and paint the walls (at the same time) in a 4 bedroom house and then they’ll be moving in when everything has dried (another day after that right?)

I’m joking, well actually no I’m not.

So, when should I hire an interior designer?

My message to clients:

  • Please give your designer as much time as realistically possible to provide you with the best service that you deserve. Hire them as soon as you find the house or if you trust your designer’s opinion, get them on board when searching for the right house.

My message to designers:

  • Keep yourself 80% booked, not 100% so that you don’t have to say no to a wonderful client that you really want to work with.

 

How To Solve A Zoning Issue At Home

Zoning issues arise from the way we use our homes. It could be that you bought a home that was in the right area but the house itself never really worked for your family. It can happen if your family grows and changes and your home cannot be altered to deal with those changes (I.e. you rent the property and can’t add or remove walls or extend).

Being limited by the layout of a home that doesn’t work for your family is where zoning issues really arise. One home could be a perfect fit for the lifestyle of one family but may be totally wrong for another family. It is also interesting in the way that more often than not, I see the families blaming lack of storage or the size of the house as the main issue.

The reality is that your lifestyle can be altered for better or worse by the layout of your house. Take a person who struggles to go upstairs and give him or her a large open plan, ground floor without many obstructions where they can easily go into each space. Now put that same person in a 5 story, narrow, terrace house with a limited or largely terraced garden and the same person becomes hugely limited in how much of the home he or she can experience freely, mixing up private and public zones by way of necessity.

Another example is if you work from home and have people in and out all day, but are limited by those people having to enter the house a particular way whilst also not being able to alter the property due to it being rented or shared with others. Arguments arise over items left in areas that are visible to guests (public zone) and tidiness becomes a much bigger issue.

The Victorians were masters at public/private zoning. They had sculleries, hidden hallways, secondary stairs, all for back of house duties that could be hidden from daily view. When we design hotels and commercial or stadium buildings, we also create back of house areas hidden from public view where other duties can be performed without the disruption of other tasks.

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Our desire for open plan living is influenced by the modernist movement, but those original layouts and homes were exceptionally well thought out and when analysed, still had very specific and clear public and private zones or separation by way of screens or circulation.

So how do you live happily in a zone-less house or a house where your public and private zones are all muddled up? It is more a creative and design process that is required, but if you want to give it a go on your own, here is a place to start:

  1. Think about the most important daily functions required of each space. For example, a living room may also be an entry hall, study space for children as well as a relaxation space in the evenings for parents as well as where guests are invited.
  2. Work out which functions aren’t working the best or which cause the most arguments. If we use the same space above work out if it’s the lack of a functional entry hall which is causing lots of items to be left in the living room or whether the location of a TV and the only comfortable chair for relaxing are in the same room and yet one person needs quiet and another likes to watch TV really loud.
  3. Once you identify some functions, habits and possibly practical issues about how you are using the space, think about how to relocate some of those functions to other areas (such as a quiet, comfortable reading space).
  4. The next step is to think about the practical requirements of each space. An entry hall is very important in a home and yet, at least here in England many homes are too small for an entrance hall or the walls have been removed to create an open plan living space, removing the separation between those zones. Try some creative storage ideas or separate with a screen or piece of furniture that can act as a “dumping” ground for when entering the house.
  5. Finally look again at the main problem space and try to filter out the final issues. Can you rearrange the furniture to create some privacy or perhaps make the space more social. Could you child’s desk also double as a lovely shelving unit for other display or personal items?

Give it a go. You might have to try the process a few times, but don’t give up, as your quality of life will change, you just have to have a good look at how you are using the space!

Here is a fun exercise for you:

Identify an item in your home that doesn’t have a specific place to be or live, it could be a hat, blanket, anything that you use but hasn’t got a real home. Watch it over 2 weeks to see where it moves to.  How much energy did it take to find it and how much energy did it take to think about where it was if it was in a different location each time?

 

Home Renovation Survival Guide

So this is now the second house we have lived in and are in the process of a full renovation. The first time it was hell, this time it’s a little better. I gave myself carpal tunnel from repeatedly cleaning the last project (yes, my wrists are so weak I can barely turn them over to this day!) and this time, I have no choice but to be smarter with how we work.

My best advice is if you can completely separate yourself from the renovation work then do it! Cleaning up at the end of every workday is hard and tiring and living in that kind of unhealthy and dusty environment can also be extremely toxic.

The reason why we did it was because we were just able to scrape together to buy our first property. We were living on the edge the whole time, it was stressful and unhealthy, but we worked out booties off and were able to “up-level” after that. We were able to buy a bigger property and now we have started working our way through this renovation.

I always had this vision of me and my husband flicking paint on each other and laughing whilst eating pizza and sleeping on the ground (like a movie scene) and renovating properties has not been anything like that. It was more often than not, hell. We argued, we were tired working day jobs and then coming home to start another physical job, we lived like hobos, we were sick (because the air quality inside was so, so terrible), everything took longer than we expected and on top of that everything was difficult to find.

So if you have thought about staying “in” whilst either you or a builder is going to undertake some building work, here are a few tips for your sanity from the other side:

Be Religious about Where You Place Things

Whether it’s the work itself (like sharing a drill bit) or the actual act of living (like trying to find your keys once the dust has settled), have a place for important items. Because your home is constantly changing and as you are probably quite tired, you will put things in places where you won’t be able to find them. This cause so much unnecessary stress. If they are house keys, hammers, bills or even clean underwear, just put things back their place (I know they probably don’t have a permanent one yet – but piles work well).

Try To Keep One Area “Clean”

So when you are using your bathroom as your kitchen as well as your laundry and storage, this can be hard, especially in absolutely tiny English or inner city properties. If this isn’t really possible, IKEA styled storage boxes or bags will help to move your stuff around the room, whilst keeping stuff relatively clean. The key is to have dust sheets on top of the boxes and then if possible another barrier in the form of plastic if possible before the dust sheet. If you have the idea of working on wet as well as dry trades together, then you really are in for a treat! If you can keep one area separate from the building work for the majority of the build then do yourself a favour and ignore it.

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Do What You Can To Reduce The Timeline

Ok for us, this usually meant having more money, which we didn’t, so we waited for another paycheck and the work progressed as we could afford it. The other thing was labour. It was just me and my husband, so it was slowwwwww… If you can get help, use it!

Be Kind To Each Other

Make an extra effort to be polite, more patient and calm with anyone who has to endure this experience with you! It’s tough.

Think About Storage

Whether your personal items or your work equipment. In a small place, this can take up a whole room (or more)! Don’t forget that materials and equipment need somewhere to get stored and they also need to be easily accessible to avoid delays. We didn’t hire a shed or find somewhere to store our things, but we should have, it would have caused many less bruises from walking into things and way less arguments when trying to move things out of the way to get to something at the back of a room filled with sheets of plasterboard (which were too heavy for me to lift).

Protect Your Good Clothes & Electrical Items

I think when we finally moved, the only item in my and my husband’s wardrobes that weren’t ripped or covered in paint or stained somehow were our wedding clothes (and that because we got married after we finished!) No matter how careful you are, if you don’t want it ruined don’t risk it being anywhere near any building work.

Think About Your Neighbours

It doesn’t matter who your neighbours are, no one appreciates drilling and hammering (or loud music for that matter) at 1 am.

Your Home. What’s It All About?

I found myself designing a large space the other day. I didn’t have control over the architecture, only the interiors and it had very little in terms of architecture to work with. Large flat square open spaces that had to be filled with life fit for a family to create their lives in and to call their dream home. What I found myself asking is “What is it all about?”

What I meant by that was “What is this space going to be about”? We can create gorgeous spaces for any reason, but this will be a family home. I had to think about how people will live in it, how they will use the spaces, imagine a family gathering on the weekend for lunch or on a weekday morning for breakfast. Where would I want to be? Where would be my favourite place if it was me?

I have also recently started demolishing my kitchen (YAY!) and I found myself thinking the same thing, what’s it all about? Where do I start with my dream kitchen in this home? (I believe that pretty much everything is site specific – that’s my second-year archi lecturer right there Elizabeth Musgrave, I’m still in love with her!) I find designing for myself the hardest because I seem to always break all of my own rules and things end up taking longer and there’s too much trial and error! But I realized that the kitchen is the brightest part of the house and that is why I want to love it so much. I can’t wait to knock down that badly installed partition with the door that doesn’t close and get new windows that have thinner frames so that as much light can come into our relatively dark English home.

Some houses have a view that is so spectacular its pretty obvious what idea you are going to run with when designing the spaces, but what if there really isn’t that much that is truly special about a space? Its up to you to create the something special. And that is true creation.

Working with a site’s existing qualities such as the sun, view, or orientation is how I was taught to start the design process for any new building. It was called site analysis. (It’s a pity the developer who built our 16-year-old home here in Berkshire hadn’t been taught the same). That means, most buildings are at least sited properly to take advantage of the natural environmental qualities. In the two situations above, I didn’t have control over that, so I had to create an idea or maximize the effect of a failed one. So we know in my home I am going to try and get the most out of the little bit of direct sunlight we get in that room, but what about the new build where I was working on the interior?

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My thoughts rested on the kitchen/dining space which was actually too large with too many doorways to be truly gorgeous and functional at the same time. What if there weren’t 40 doors into this kitchen? What if the space was slightly smaller to accommodate a feeling of togetherness rather than a large empty hallway?

You see this was a 5 bedroom home for a family. Families have “stuff”, useful and annoying but they need space to put it. I have worked with the most amazing large families with literally no stuff. They are a very rare breed of human. The family who will live in this house will most probably need to put their “stuff” somewhere and that comes down to me and what I decide at this very early stage. So I used the opportunity in providing storage to define the spaces a little more. This made some spaces smaller, but also more functional, (no one needs to walk 25 steps from the oven to the fridge, seriously). By the end, I managed to create a happy balance between the empty large hall (kitchen) and functional, habitable rooms, but it needed an idea to close up the space, which isn’t something I would have naturally considered. So stay true to your idea as it is a clue to how to improve or create a great space.  In the large family home the spaces were too large and impractical, so my idea was to use something practical to define the space and make it useful as well as beautiful and in my home I thought about why I liked that space (even though its all peach pastiche) and I realised it was the light.  “Get your idea and run with it”  That’s Elizabeth once again (circa 2002).

How To Marry A Couples Interior Design Styles (Even if they are complete opposites)

I always get the best clients and I count my lucky stars every day because I am pretty sure that I only ever get the coolest people contacting me. Recently, I have met with a lot of couples and more often than not, they say to me “our styles are completely opposite”! I have to admit, at first when I heard that I used to get a little worried. I thought to myself, “oh no, you just can’t mix futuristic retro and country cottage styles”!

These days I am much wiser and I know, not to worry at all. This is actually pretty normal, I think it is pretty rare to come across a couple whose styles and personalities are super close that they meld into one. I actually like the “opposites attract” saying as I think it works in homes too. So let’s look at an example so that you can bring some peace into your own home like a pro.

Let’s just say we had a couple and one person was a self-proclaimed hoarder and the other was a minimalist. Is this even possible you ask? (Yes) and what if just to add some spice to it our minimalist only liked neutrals and our hoarder only liked bright colours?

Investigation

I think everything starts with delving a little deeper and inquiring from where these “styles” come from. I do think it is helpful that I am genuinely interested in people, their lives and their personalities (my husband has a word for this… he calls it nosy). But I will always find out a beautiful story behind why someone doesn’t like clutter (my mum never threw anything away, or I never had my own space) and why someone likes to keep things (I like arts and crafts & have lots of ideas for how to use it one day, or I want my children to have it, or it’s so useful or beautiful and it is a waste to throw it away).

Finding out the specifics helps because then I know whether I am dealing with a plane collection or a “model plane” collection. It also means I start to see how people live. Then it just comes down to practicality:

Practical Use of Space

How and where am I going to store all this stuff and make the house look and feel like there is still lots of space and feel empty? So this is what I narrow it down to in this particular example. But what if you had someone who just loved natural timber and someone who just abhorred it! One person says they love the natural beauty and the other says it just looks like cheap junk. Then that isn’t a spatial issue really, it will require a solution that focuses more on the “finishes”:

Look And Feel

Finding the middle ground between two opposites like this takes a little more time because it will usually arise when searching for furniture and the right furniture for any project can take AGGGES to find on a good day anyway! Finding the right pieces is imperative in this instance. What I have found is that the reason some people don’t like “up-cycled” items in their home is because they haven’t been up-cycled “well”. So find better quality items or spend a little extra time doing the job whilst taking the other persons tastes into consideration. If one of you just loves glossy, sparkly, reflective items and the other has an aversion to metal and mirrors, there are ways of intertwining these things (especially because a good scheme will be balanced between reflective, dark, light, matt, gloss and textural elements – just like in nature).

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Balancing

So obviously a big fuchsia or fire-engine red wall is not going to help our minimalist feel calm at home. So in this instance, we will need to balance a little. What if we included colour in the artwork, or the decorative furnishings, some furniture items, or what if the colour was actually outside? There is a way to make everyone happy, you will just need to try a little harder and test a few more options. Beware, this will need some creativity.  I actually feel that personalities are needed to balance the style anyway.  Imagine if one person was obsessed with tigers and this included everything from bedspreads to figurines and even door handles!  The other person balances this tiger obsession, (although I have to admit I am hoping that it isn’t someone who has a Lady Beatle obsession – not sure where I would start with that).

Prioritise

In order for everyone to be happy in the home, I believe that everyone should get that one thing that is the most important to them, including children. Sometimes I feel like the mediator (in a fun way) and I will find a way to fit that glamorous mirror (that the husband says we definitely can do without but the wife just loves) and fit it into the scheme in a way that marries the two together.

Playing With Styles

It is really important to know styles well enough in order to break “the rules”. I never was one for rules, but I am also a super fussy designer who is obsessed with superior quality, and so yes, the best usually has followed some “beauty rules”. Knowing that I can still achieve an overall Scandi look and feel with some country cottage furniture is actually pretty fun. The key to success is to test your ideas. If you have one piece of furniture that absolutely cannot be changed (ie painted, thrown away or up-cycled) then it will become either a feature or guide the rest of the scheme depending on how “intense” its presence is. Oh and sometimes you can just ignore it! This rule applies because we can’t take the design all so seriously – except if you wear black turtle-necks at home on weekends…

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.