16 June 2012


1   First impressions count, and nowhere more so than with the front door.  The finest can add up to 10% to the value of a property, according to some agents.  Neatly painted, with smart letterbox and doorknob is a must, but colour also matters.
Workmanship is always the most important - a smart door will reassure potential buyers that the whole house is well-maintained.
At the moment people are keen on mossy greens teamed with a nice silver letterbox.  Glossy black looks great on grand, stucco buildings, but rather forbidding next to red brick or on a smaller house or cottage where soft greys work well.  Blue was voted most appealing in a survey of buyers, but whatever the colour, a trick used by high-end decorators to achieve the best finish is to use several coats of paint thinned with white spirit.
Regarding the door furniture, chrome has largely taken over from the traditional brass.

2  If the budget allows, give your house a facelift. This can transform an ugly ducking facade with clever rendering or re-cladding in timber or tiles.  Study the local vernacular and contact an architect before devising a scheme that is in keeping with the rest of your street or area.
Consider rendering and limewashing the lower portion of an uninspiring b4rick house and weatherboarding the top half.  For the environmentally-aware, radial cut timber creates less waste.
Consider banishing flat roofs: a tiled pitched roof provides better draining and insulation, and improves the look for the house.

3  Are your windows as attractive as possible?  Replacing PVC windows, particularly in a period house, can add value to a property.  But it can work in modern houses too, where PVC windows have been installed that look ugly, either because they have yellowed or because they are poorly designed.  Ask whether your local building firm has a qualified joiner and view the work to check on quality.

4  Make sure your front garden lifts your spirits whatever month of the year it is.  Buyers often walk away without viewing a property if confronted with an unattractive approach.  Take a good look at your front elevation and see how to improve the facade with planting.
Accentuate good points, disguise eyesores.  Carry through front door colour to any pots or plantings.  To maintain substantial healthy plants in pots which don't blow over, need watering or get pinched, remove the bases from the pots using an angle grinder and put deep pockets of soil beneath them to the plants root into the ground.

If you have steps up to the front door make sure they are over-wide and generous, perhaps planting bay, box or yew balls within the treads to give them an edge.

5  Hide the car.  If you have space out front, you have options.  To avoid fighting your way to the front door through a sea of metal work, you need to earmark car parking spaces for yourself and visitors away from the line of vision to the front door.  Then treat the space immediately in front of the door so that it is possible to drive over it occasionally (when you arrive home in lashing rain and laden with shopping), but so that it still looks to visitors as it if is a car-free zone.  Use a pattern of gravel, paving and setts, combined with cleverly positioned planting.
Avoid the Gobi desert look of block pavers or bald tarmac.  To hide or partially conceal cars you can use edging, dense trellis (to a height of around 1.5m), or both.  Add the odd small tree.  Car ports or a simple structure of beams and posts with evergreen climbers have the advantage of providing extra camouflage.

Start from the bottom ...

6  Once inside, flooring is central to the feel of a home.  Genuine wood floors look and feel wonderful to walk on and will stand the test of time: reclaimed flooring always has the most character.  Natural stone flooring looks stylish in modern or traditional homes.  Laminate floors instantly undermine any property.  If you are stuck with them, invest in some plain, good quality, contemporary rugs that will feel nice underfoot and absorb sound.  
In summer take up heavy, dark-coloured rugs and revert to floorboards (paint in pastel green or blue for a fresh look) or replace with simple sisal runners.
Think about underfloor heating, especially if you are considering a tile or stone floor.  The heat in your home will be much more even and you can do away with bulky radiators.  Choose from either electrically heated cables or hot water flowing in pipes.  But be aware, if your insulation in walls and windows is inadequate, then underfloor heating  won't provide enough warmth.  It's vital that the system is properly designed and installed.

7  One of the cheapest ways to transform your house is with a pot of paint.  In our silvery northern light, plain white walls can look drab. Consider repainting with a clever use of three off-whites to give a room more depth and warmth. (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/rich-brown-pale-blue-colorther-93793) A trick of interior designers is to paint the three parts of a panelled door in three different whites, the darkest one in the panels, to make it look more substantial.  The skirting and floor should be the same shade to increase the feeling of space, the walls another, and the ceilings the third colour. Avoid bright white ceilings, as they are too harsh.  Use a colour with a slight blue or pink tinge instead for definition.  Achieve a contemporary look by painting cornices the same colour as the walls, rather than white.
For a softer effect, try limewashing walls, either by thinning paints with water -half and half works best - or sourcing specialist limewashes.
Considering painting your walls a taupe colour as it makes everything - whether mirrors, flowers or paintings - look grander.
Invest in the best5 paints you can afford.  They earn their keep with better coverage and colour.
Buy good quality brushes and eco paint in inviting colours and attack any loitering pine, be it floorboards, furniture, panelling.  Unless it's antique pine, paint it!  New pine looks cheap, and makes a space feel smaller.

Let there be light ...

8 Lighting can make your house appear bigger, fresher and decidedly more chic, as well as add value.  Here are some trade secrets:  
  • Light up your best features, such as a good fireplace, by installing tiny uplights either side.  It provides a focus to a room, even when the fire is not lit.
  • Make your kitchen look contemporary while also saving money by installing hidden fluorescent lights at the top of the units.  These bounce an attractive light off the ceiling and cost little to run.  It's a trick used by many of the most expensive kitchen designers.
  • If you want to make a room such as the sitting room look bigger, put an uplighter in the corner.  It will pool light on the ceiling and increase the feeling of space.
  • Achieve a contemporary look by replacing table lamps with recessed light strips, or horizon lights, at the back of a long bench built along a wall. Cover with frosted glass for a wonder, soft light.
  • The underside of stairs is always dark, but you can increase the feeling of space in your hall with clever lighting.  One solution is to conceal a light behind a batten four inches away from the wall and painted in the same colour.  This creates a lovely, soft light.  Uplighters in wall recesses create a dramatic look.
  • If you're extending into a new basement, lure people down there with the most fantastically lit staircase. LED lights sunk into the walls alongside the stairs can work wonderfully.
  • Obscure an ugly view by planting up a window box, with fake plants if necessary, and position a light outside above the window.  At night this will increase the feeling of space inside as the eye is drawn out, as well as providing something attractive to look at.
  • Place a downlighter or other light source directly over the dining table to create pocket lighting.  It looks really dramatic.
  • Instead of putting downlighters over a shower, particularly in a room with high ceilings, put smart stainless steel external lights just above the tiles. 

9  Mirrors can help make the most of the light in a room.  Open up dark rooms and areas with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.   Or find appropriate salvage (large overmantels, paned windows, great picture frames) and add mirror panels to them.  Otherwise consider buying an old mirror and repainting the frame the same colour as the walls.

10  Nothing beats the glow of a real fire.  Installing a fireplace in your home will add both warmth and value: traditional or contemporary woodburning stoves, coal and gas burning fires and stoves.

11  Hang crystals on fishing wire at the windows to catch the sunshine and send it dancing in rainbows round the room; inexpensive but so effective.

Cook up the perfect kitchen ...

12  Kitchens are the heart of the modern home but they date quickly.  Travel through the smart showrooms for inspiration and then go about sourcing similar products for less money.  A local carpenter may be able to copy the style of cabinets at a fraction of the cost.  Alternatively, buy low-cost carcasses and have bespoke doors made to your taste.  Doors are also available from specialists online. 
Or simply upgrade your existing kitchen: worktops are perhaps the single most effective improvement.  
Adjust kitchen cupboard doors so that they close properly and line up with each other.  People often think they need a new kitchen because the doors and drawer-fronts on the old one are a bit wonky. Every cupboard door has two hinges, and each hinge has four adjustment screws - two for up and down, one for in and out, and one for tilting side to side.  Half an hour with a cross-head screwdriver and a bit of patience can have your kitchen looking like new again.

Banish broken bathrooms ...

13  Bathrooms can clinch the deal when it comes to selling your house but that does not necessarily mean that you need to rip out and start again as plumbing can be both expensive and troublesome.  
As long as you have the obligatory white bath, basin and loo, there is much to be done that doesn't cost the earth.  Start with the taps. While your bath may not be anything special, it can be upgraded with decent taps, the higher quality the better.  Central taps, rather than end ones, are gaining popularity, but classical or timeless styles are undoubtedly the best investment.  
Buyers expect luxurious bathrooms theese days but what they absolutely don't want is anything gimmicky such as water fall taps or shallow basins without plugs.  
Showers should be as spacious as possible, and at least a metre across.  Look at sales at big, upmarket showrooms as they regularly offer discounts. Wet rooms are an option but do investigate the practical considerations of installing one (http://www.wetroomexperts.co.uk/). Boring or tatty tiles should be replace.  Try large slabs of marble or stone, rather than smaller tiles, for a clean contemporary spa look.  As well as well knows places also look at local tiles shops for cost-effective copycat styles.
Install a downstairs cloakroom, especially in a family house where a second lavatory is essential.  Annexe space in a large utility room, hallway or even under the stairs.  Corner lavatories and wash basins fit snugly into the tightest of spaces.

Door to door ...

14  If you can't face a total overhaul then revamping old, tired doors on cupboards can completely change the feel of kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms.  Repaint your existing cabinet doors a contemporary colour such as pale grey, eau de nil or taupe.  
Standard sized, plain round knobs emphasise the mass-produced look of cupboards.  Replacing them with unusual handles will add interest and character.  Cup handles are an original option.  Aim for texture, and avoid bright lacquered brass; it looks tacky and wears badly.  

15  Get creative with your visible and concealed storage options: dry goods, bathroom accessories and other paraphernalia are more accessible and pleasurable to use if you keep them in wicker, jute, bamboo or similarly interesting containers.  A freestanding ottoman can serve as comfortable seating, coffee table and concealed storage; opt for a plain, contemporary shape, or the more traditional curves.

Spring into summer ...

17  It's easy to give your home a fresh new look and feel with the seasons.  Just as you peel off wintry clothes when the weather warms up, remove unnecessarily heavy layers from your windows and furnishings.  Those heavy velvet curtains may have been great for keeping out winter draughts but for now all that's needed is yards of floaty muslin or jewel-bright sari silk.
If you prefer an understated style for your curtains try roller blinds in plain cream or white. Dressed with muslin full-length curtains they look light and modern but not too stark.  Natural fabrics work well.
If you're handy with a sewing machine, it's easy to ring in seasonal changes with your soft furnishings.  With a little imagination, you can transform antique linens into unusual curtains, blinds, sofa and armchair slipcovers, cushion covers, upholstered seats or linen bags.  Vintage white and cream linen is perfect for spring and summer soft furnishings.

Add a touch of glass ...

18  Adding a conservatory or glass fronted extension is one way of enjoying the changing seasons from the comfort of your own home. Modular extensions not only save you money, they also keep building hassle to a minimum.  Made largely off-site in a factory, these steel and glass constructions can look just as good as the traditional bespoke ones, which involve architects and builders intruding into your life for up to a year and usually take just a few weeks to assemble one-site.
Consider replacing part of a wall with floor to ceiling glass as a cost-effective way to light up a dark room.  Low emissivity glass increases energy efficiency by reducing the transfer of heat or cold, keeping your house at a steadier temperature year-round.  Alternatively, try installing glass sliding doors, in aluminium or timber.

Go green . . .

19 Harvest rainwater. Units can be installed on the room to collect rainwater, filter and store it so that it can be re-used for washing machines, flushing the lavatory and watering the garden.  If it cuts down your water bill it might just be worth it.
For ideas for greywater recycling (from baths, showers and washing machines) and ground source heat pumps (http://www.cat.org.uk/).

20  Install a sunpipe, a reflective tube with an internal mirror finish which runs from outside to inside your home, intensifying and reflecting natural daylight.  It is relatively easy with a bit of professional help and can light up a living space without adding to your electricity bill.

21  If you're planning a light overhaul consider switching to a green supplier which uses renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power (http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk)

Get back to basics . . . with the following advice from building experts.

If you own your home, then, whether you like it or not, you are saddled with the responsibilities of regular maintenance.  That means you must either maintain it yourself, or pay someone else to do it for you.  How much you can actually do yourself depends upon your own skills, physical fitness and enthusiasm for the task, of course.  But many building problems can be averted by simply keeping an eye on things and knowing when to call in the professional.

Overhaul gutters and rainwater goods.  The usual advice about gutters is to clean them out every winter or spring, after the leaves have stopped falling.  If you have a ladder and a head for heights, then it is a good idea to have a glance along the gutters, and to scoop out any excessive build-up of leaves or silt.  
Most gutter problems are not caused by leaves, however, but by leaking joints.  Plastic guttering has a high coefficient of thermal movement, and this constant expansion and contraction can push adjacent sections apart.  Manoeuvre them back into place, and check that the supporting brackets are lined up correctly so that it doesn't happen again. 
If you don't  fancy climbing a ladder, then next time it rains, take your umbrella outside with you and just have a look to see if there are any leaks, if not then all well and good; if there are, get a man with a ladder round to investigate.

Paint external woodwork.  Timber windows and doors will last for years if they're protected from the rotting effects of rainwater and the drying effects of the sun by regular painting.  There are surviving examples from the 15C and 16C to prove the point.   Unfortunately, many modern homeowners can't be bothered with this, and prefer to believe the salesman's hype that replacement plastic windows are 'maintenance free'.  
Strange then, that all the major paint manufacturers are now selling PVC paint, to restore and protect that degrading plastic.  If you're lucky enough to have original timber joinery, then treat it with the care it deserves, and give it a five-yearly rubbing-down with fine sandpaper or wire wool, and a fresh coat of oil-based gloss.

Remove ivy and climbing plants.  Ivy might look nice, but it roots in mortar joints and as the roots expand they push the bricks apart.  In addition, the build-up of fallen leaves around the base of the walls holds moisture and encourages wood rot and insect life.  Keep all vegetation (even pot plants) a healthy distance away from your walls.

Ensure outside ground levels are kept below the damp proof course (dpc) and air bricks. Ground levels should be at least 150mm (6"/two brick courses) below dpc level, because this is the height to which rain can splash off the ground.  Unobstructed air bricks are vital for ventilating below suspended timber floors so clear away raised flower beds and lawns, and don't lay new paths or patios without first excavating the existing surfaces.

Draught-proof doors and windows.  The single most cost-effective way of saving energy is draught-proofing.  As little as £10-worth of self-adhesive rubber draught stripping will make it cosy, and will pay for itself within a year.

Fit secondary glazing.  Once you have draught-proofed your windows, the next best thing is to add sliding secondary glazing.  This preserves your original windows and has the great benefit of reducing external noise, a must for people troubled by traffic.

Check central heating system water, and add inhibitor, system cleaner or both as necessary.  The combination of metals in the average central heating system (coper, steel, cast-iron, zinc and maybe aluminium), connected via the electrolytic medium of water, leads inevitably to corrosion.  At best, this can cause a build-up of sludge in the radiators; at worst, it can cause leaks or boiler breakdown.  Check your system water using a Fernox or Sentinel test kit (from plumbers' merchants) and if necessary add corrosion inhibitor.  If the system has been neglected for years, it'll benefit from first using a system cleaner, and then flushing out before refilling using the inhibitor.  With conventional central heatings, these additives are all poured into the header tank in the loft; with combi systems they can be injected through one of the radiator bleed valves.

Add limescale preventer to the cold-water supply.  People regularly ask about the supposed benefits of magnetic and electronic limescale inhibitors.  These gadgets are not cheap, and there is no clear independent scientific evidence to support their manufacturers' claims.  A cheaper and more reliable option is to dose the water supply with phosphate.  Suspend a bag of Fernox Limescale Preventer in the cold water tank or, if there's a mains-pressure system, fit a Quantomat phosphate doser to the rising main.
Buy a dehumidifier - and use it.  Every home will benefit from one. Most dampness problems are caused by moisture produced in the home, by cooking, showering, clothes-drying and even sweating and breathing.  Good heating and ventilation should deal with most of it, but many british homes have neither.  A dehumidifier is good insurance against condensation, and great for drying clothes.  Plus, for every unit of electricity used, it emits two to three units of heat. Strangely, however, people buy a dehumidifier, find it collects water, use this as evidence that their home is damp, and then put it away in a cupboard.  There is no point buying a dehumidifier and not using it.

In the garden ...

22  Making your garden work as an extra room in the summer is a good way to gain a feeling of increased living space.  Try creating an outdoor eating area with an attractive table and chairs, even junk-shop finds can look every bit as good, especially when re-painted in subtle blues, mauves and greys. A simple pergola will provide welcome shade.  A swinging seat upholstered in faded flowery canvas is inviting and comfortably.  Paving is expensive but Indian stone is low maintenance and more affordable, mix with gravel, bands of planting and generous pots.

Grapevines provide good shade just when it's needed in high summer and a gloriously sybaritic feel, with bunches of ripening fruit dangling overhead.  They can be intertwined with scented roses or jasmine, but while you wait for the plants to grow, you can make a simple yet stylish awning by throwing a banner of white or striped fabric over the top and securing with ties.  
Sari silk would also look sensational.  If you already having a seating area, jazz it up with new cushions or by hanging pretty bunting or weaving tiny fairy lights overhead.  For lounging during the day, it's worth investing in one or two seriously good pieces, such as a free-standing hammock.
Awnings provide a highly usable and comfortable area with extra privacy.  Now with the smoking ban in effect they are popping up frequently.  Check planning laws: temporary structures should only be up for 30 days, otherwise consent is needed.  Wind stabilisers are also available.  

To continue outdoor living into intimate, atmospheric evenings, bring out piles of soft woollen throws and invest in a fire bowl or a chiminea.

Create a honeypot for children by adding a sunken trampoline.  It's great aerobic exercise, ideal for improving co-ordination - it's also fun!  Get the largest you can accommodate and then dig a big hole so that the bed is at ground level.  The excavated earth can be mounded around the edge to form an amphitheatre.  A mini digger can usually do this in a morning at most.  The advantages are two fold: it can be made virtually invisible, even in a small garden, and it's far safer because anyone falling off is less likely to hurt themselves.

Just as you can bring the indoors out, you can also bring the outdoors in, with great style.  Forget expensive cut flowers and plant an indoor garden instead.  Most garden plants will do fine for a few weeks inside and, given the right conditions, many will thrive.  
Lavender would make a stunning scented centrepiece on a dining or coffee table, so long as the light is good.  
You could even bring a potted shrub or tree in from the garden for a short sojourn, covering any unsightly soil with a smart mulch of pebbles, shells, even glass marbles or old corks.  And don't stop there.  Morning glory can be grown in windows to great effect, or screen bathrooms with sweet-smelling jasmine in a pot on the windowsill.  Only remember that most plants will need more watering when inside, so be vigilant about signs of stress.

No comments:

Post a Comment