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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?

To Walk-in Wardrobe or Not To Walk-in Wardrobe

Since moving into our cute, albeit average, three-bed house in Berkshire I have dreamed of finally having a walk-in wardrobe. The reality is, there are two of us in a three-bedroom house, so it is a possibility and it could potentially suit our lifestyle.

When is it ok to remove a bedroom to use it as a walk-in wardrobe? I always ask myself the following things when deciding this for a client:

  1.   What are my daily habits and will a walk-in wardrobe transform my life and really make a difference?
  2.  Is there any other place or space to fit a semi walk-in wardrobe, rather than taking up a whole room for this necessary and hugely practical life changer?
  3.  What kind of property is it, and what affect on the property price, functionality and overall practicality will taking a bedroom away have?
  4. What do the market and location suggest about this decision?
  5. Who is using this house and how? Who will want to use this house in the future and how?
  6. Am I lowering the property function and value by customising the house to my own needs?

I have transformed bedrooms into walk-in wardrobes for clients in super luxurious properties in Sloane Avenue and other places in London, although I would definitely think twice about doing the same thing in our three bed Berkshire home.

Why? The area we live in is a family area. It is domestic, and people want and need three bedrooms. If my husband and I were considering selling and we had created a home with 2 bedrooms in a house that would have sold for 3 we would have cut ourselves short by a bedroom and might also find it difficult to sell the property.  Our home isn’t in an area where houses are large enough to command a more luxurious lifestyle either.  If our 3 bedder was an apartment in a dense city environment where a 3 bedroom property is usually difficult to lease out and the area was in high demand for young, corporate couples, then I think the choice would have been a lot easier.

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I don’t like making long-term or expensive decisions that would lower the functionality of a perfectly good home, even if that functionality is adding to my own life. However, if it transforms my life in a way that nothing else would (ehem, yes we are talking about a wardrobe) then I would look deeper into it.

Currently, I am not at that place where a walk-in wardrobe is going to completely change the way I live, mainly because my clothing and shoe collection is very manageable. To those of you who laugh in the face of house prices based on how many rooms it has (rather than m2), I envy the simplicity.

For now, it looks like I might end up with a brand new wardrobe, about the same size as I currently have, just a bit nicer, more practical and with a few more drawer packs. That is until we build the master suite in the loft, of course…

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.

Home Office Interior Design – Step 7

STEP 7 – TIE IT TOGETHER WITH A STORY

I hope you are starting to really get a picture of your space and your room is coming together.

Step 6 was about your personality and giving soul to your space.

Step 7 is the last step of this course and I’m going to give away my decorating secrets that help you put everything together and also, get it right… every time!

The first thing to remember about any design project is to imagine the larger whole and then focus on the details but ALWAYS ensure the decisions you make refer to the larger idea.

This might sound a little outrageous (or not), but simply put, if I wanted a clean, minimal, bright and contemporary space – I would chose colours that inspired me, but probably wouldn’t purchase open shelving to display my crystal collection (well not unless it looked like a piece of art…

  1. The easiest way to tie your room together as a whole is to unify something… anything… just unify 1 thing and make it obvious. For Example, you might have lots of bright colours that show off your eclectic and arty style, but you have one colour that is repeated constantly that ties it all together and makes it look whole.
  2. Now without too many Big Lebowski Quotes coming up the main things interior designers use to tie a room together are: colour, a rug, a central painting, collectables and fabrics. If in doubt, just test your ideas, swap one item at a time and take a photograph so that you can see your room as though someone else is looking at it.
  3. You might of heard about layering. This is the main way interior designers tie a room together to tell a story. You can tell a story about you and how far you have come, you can tell a story about the season, a point A to B. Just think about any really great story, there is also a bit of drama. Ask yourself what is the story in this room and ask someone else what they see as the story too.
  4. And Finally, how to Feng Shui your office for success. You might be wondering why I put this last in the challenge? Well It comes down to what you believe… If you believe that you must put your desk in the north Eastern corner to gain success then that is what you must do. If you believe that having a lucky crimson bird in the South is the anchor you need to know you are on a path to success, then that will work too. It comes down to whether you believe you are attracting success or not. I don’t hinder myself with superstition, but I do believe that anchoring in certain things helps remind you each day what you are working towards. I also like to use Feng Shui for “styling”. I like the practical aspects such as using mirrors to deflect unwanted flows of energy, but that is for another challenge!

I believe Feng Shui is a practical tool as well as a fantastic way to anchor in your desires. “It always seems impossible until its done”  Nelson Mandella.

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Quick Links to the rest of the challenge:

STEP 7 – TIE IT TOGETHER WITH A STORY

STEP 6 – SHOW-OFF YOUR PERSONALITY & STYLE

STEP 5 –DEFINE YOUR THEME & MOOD, THEY ARE THE KEY TO ALL OF YOUR DECISIONS

STEP 4 – INVEST IN PIECES YOU LOVE, THEY WILL INSPIRE & MOTIVATE YOU

STEP 3 – DESIGN STORAGE. HIDE WHAT YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE AND SHOW OFF THE REST

STEP 2 – BE CREATIVE, DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT FIRST AND THEN MAKE IT PRACTICAL

STEP 1 – BE INSPIRED, HAVE VISION AND DECIDE ON WHAT KIND OF  SPACE YOU WANT

Home Office Interior Design – Step 6

Step 6 – Show-off Your Personality & Style

Step 5 was about defining a theme and mood because these give you a tool to filter out the items you don’t need to buy, show or even include in your home office space.

This is where we are going to talk about you!

Domestic interior design wouldn’t exist if there were no people willing to express their personality and style. What do you like or what are drawn to and what sets you apart from others?

Are you drawn to beautiful photographs?  Do you like hot pink or are you a sucker for gorgeous sculptural plants?

Whatever floats your boat, embrace it, because the only person who needs to enjoy this space is you.

Here are my tips on how to personalise your home office and give it some heart:

  1. Stand back and ask yourself, what in this room is missing a bit of me? Is the wall colour too murky or could the curtains have more zig zag?  This is where you accept that you love tribal art or that actually you need way more black than white.  What colours light you up, inspire you and bring you joy and why haven’t you included them?  There is no point in creating a gorgeous minimalist grey and white interior, when you have a colourful personality that is energized by colour.  Accept who you are and don’t be afraid to include your personality into your design, this is what makes it real.
  2. Now that you have thought about the overall room, what about the smaller items?  Do you like to collect quotes?  How about displaying them in a way that is very you?  If you aren’t confident with expressing too much of your own personality yet, start with smaller items, such as picture frames, rugs, pot plants, crystals or cushions.
  3. This is my favourite!  Use what you already have… Instinctively we collect items that we like, a piece of paper that you picked up from your travels, a gift that means so much to you, a photo of someone you love.  These things define you, so don’t be afraid to use them.  If the photo needs to be reprinted, however, because it’s faded or needs a new way of being displayed, then now is the time to do it.  Look around at the things you have collected, make them special again and use them to be inspired and show off your personality.

Did you realise how important you are in this process?  Make sure you write down at least 5 things that define your personality or style.

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Quick Links to the rest of the challenge:

STEP 7 – TIE IT TOGETHER WITH A STORY

STEP 6 – SHOW-OFF YOUR PERSONALITY & STYLE

STEP 5 –DEFINE YOUR THEME & MOOD, THEY ARE THE KEY TO ALL OF YOUR DECISIONS

STEP 4 – INVEST IN PIECES YOU LOVE, THEY WILL INSPIRE & MOTIVATE YOU

STEP 3 – DESIGN STORAGE. HIDE WHAT YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE AND SHOW OFF THE REST

STEP 2 – BE CREATIVE, DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT FIRST AND THEN MAKE IT PRACTICAL

STEP 1 – BE INSPIRED, HAVE VISION AND DECIDE ON WHAT KIND OF  SPACE YOU WANT

More Ideas To Change Up A Room

Last week I gave you some ideas on how to revamp a tired room and I had lots of feedback saying that you liked the simplicity of the ideas and wanted more! So here are a few more ideas to pimp up space on a budget and without spending too much time on it either!

Create Storage or a display

I often find myself telling clients that all that is really missing in a particular room is storage. Be creative about how you store items. People do this easily with children’s rooms, but then forget about it when it comes to other rooms. If you love having a display of something you own, create a collection of something, books, pictures, photographs, shoes. Anything can be displayed in a creative and fun way and these days with the internet, try googling “Objet d’art” or “interesting ways to stack books”.

Organise your spaces to function properly

This is actually really rewarding and can save you time searching for items later. I always say, when clutter goes, creativity flows…

Update your light bulbs and lighting

Can you swap your lighting for a home system on an Ipad or RAKO style keypad, or a dimmer switch? You usually don’t have to really rewire with some systems either, you just need the system and some dimmable bulbs. This can completely up level a living or kitchen space, especially if you want to entertain or sell up.

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Create a mood for the daytime and a mood for the night time

I do this in my living room by turning on different lights during the day to make the space feel really bright, but at night I love only turning on the mood lights with candles and I even close the shutters early (while its still bright outside) so that I feel cosy when the weather is cold!

Replace something that you dislike

There is nothing more tormenting than a stained bed sheet or an ugly old set of chairs (I’m not talking shabby chic here, I’m talking broken, you get angry when you look at it and you waste your energy on hating it) –I rotate colours every season, but I usually go for yellow or green in spring, Blue and white in summer, red in autumn and white and black in winter. For some reason, these colours brighten my mood and compliment the weather for me. So find a colour theme that you can work with year round if you aren’t prepared to rotate and start replacing certain things with a vision in mind of the grand picture… you have one right?

A Few Ideas For A Tired Room

I usually get 3 types of requests from clients.  I get asked to:

  1. Completely overhaul a room
  2. Bring a room into this century (make it more modern) or
  3. Give some ideas for a tired room.

I actually think the third is quite easy and I think anyone can do it.  So here are a couple of ideas to spruce up a room.

Clean it up

Never underestimate the power of a clean space.  It not only changes your mood but also helps you purge unwanted items too. While you are at it, read about the Kon Mari method and the magic of tidying up (it’s a lovely read).

Tickle your senses

Freshen the air with a candle or flowers, put an inspiring quote or picture or put some nice music on to suit your mood.  If you haven’t noticed already, I always have a fresh bunch of flowers at home. I use these to highlight colours, change the mood but also to freshen the air. For me, flowers are the least expensive way to create a gorgeous view and freshen the air.

Create a vignette

A vignette is like a little artistic display.  It gives somewhere for your eyes to focus, especially when you have a room that doesn’t have much architectural merit.  I do this often with food on my chopping board in the kitchen or in the bathroom with luxury pamper items.

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Paint the walls

This is usually avoided at all costs until the room is emptied somehow, but you could paint one wall at a time. If you live in rented accommodation, ask your landlord, they will usually allow this, especially if you supply the paint and labour. If you can’t paint the walls why not try covering large parts of walls with a screens, artworks, curtains, or tapestry. This is also a good idea if you move regularly and want a familiar place to come home to.

Revamp the flooring

If the flooring is hard or the carpet is old and you cannot replace it. Try covering it with one or more rugs.  Hessian, sisal and seas grass rugs are really fantastic for this because they are usually neutral in colour and they come in lots of different sizes and are usually made in a really hard weave which is quite firm underfoot. They are usually pretty cheap in comparison to other rugs too.

As you can see these aren’t mind-blowing things to do!  But try doing 3 of these things in any one room and I bet it feels less tired.