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Home Ideas
In this section
Everything you need to know about making the most of the space in your house.
       
Get a firm Quotation Planning
Bathrooms Bedrooms
Dining rooms
Kitchens
Living rooms The home office
Room plans Flooring tips
Finding the right balance Housekeeping
 

(1) Get a firm quotation

To minimise the risk of disappointment on work around the home that means so much to you, it's essential to employ a good tradesman and have a clear idea of how much any work should cost.

What is a quote?

To obtain the exact fixed cost of a job, you should always request a quote before any work is undertaken.
The quote should be written and "signed off" by the contractor. It should include a schedule, especially if it's a large job. Plus specifications on the items and tasks that make up the job. These will provide a breakdown of costs for each of the main stages of the work.

It's important when obtaining a quote to confirm how long the price is valid for and whether it includes GST.
Be sensible, and be awareĦ­ A very cheap quote can appeal to your wallet - but it may mean the use of poor quality materials or inexperienced workers. To avoid this, it's recommended to request at least three quotes before selecting a contractor.

What is an estimate?

If you're provided with an "estimated cost" for a job you should remember that this is simply a rough calculation. This is not a fixed cost and will almost certainly change upon completion of the job. To remove any doubts, you should always request a written quote before any work is undertaken.

Price guide for home repair quotes

Hourly charges and call-out fees for tradesmen vary across the country. Some always charge a call-out fee whereas others don't charge them but may add travel time instead.

Tips - batch your little jobs for better value

Delay small repairs and write them down on a list. Keep the list in the kitchen so you always know where it is.
Once you have a few jobs, ring your local tradesman. This will save you from having to pay a call-out charge for each job.
Make sure you read the tradesman the list when asking him to call so that he has some idea of what materials to bring and how long he needs to do the job.

 

(2) Planning

Avoid a home improvement nightmare by following our essential guide. Follow our tips to ensure you achieve real improvements, while saving time and money.


Planning your decorating

Planning sounds boring but it does save time in the long run. It helps you think the job through, make all those difficult decisions about colour schemes and so on, and get together everything you need before you start work.

Budget

If you're going to redecorate a room, begin by deciding how far you're going to go. Will you just repaint the walls, ceiling and woodwork? Will you be papering the walls for the first time, or do you want to replace the paper you already have? And how about changing the carpet and curtains, even the upholstery and the lighting? These decisions will often depend on the size of your budget.
The choice is yours, of course, but be sure you know what you're in for before you start.

Start a file

Unless you like white rooms, you'll need paint colour charts, wallpaper and even fabric samples to help you decide which products to use. Buy a cardboard pocket file or a scrapbook from a stationer's to keep them all in.

*Pick up free colour charts from the stores
*Ask for samples of unwrapped rolls of wallpaper and borders on display
*For fabric samples, try curtain shops and department stores in your local shopping centre
*Local markets can be an excellent source of cheap fabrics
*Tear pages out of monthly home magazines for colour scheme ideas
*Many home magazines have a Stockists List at the back for all the relevant product details

Get organised

Last but not least, make sure you know exactly what's involved in a total task - and LIST every element concerned.
For example, a bathroom makeover could involve replacing all the old wall tiles or tiling over them - painting the ceiling and the woodwork putting down some new cork tiles and waterproofing them. And include that annoying dripping tap on the plumber's list while you're at it. Remember, tiling (the messiest bit) should come first, then painting and finally flooring.

 

(3) Bathrooms

The bathroom is usually the smallest room in the house. Apart from expensive designer baths or crystal bowl washbasins, designs remain simple, basic and uninspiring.
This is because the plumbing set-up often means the key elements of the room cannot be moved. Within these constraints the following hints may help:

 

*Colour - white is often the best colour for a suite because it's timeless and matches everything. It gives that fresh feeling and it brings light to this smaller room - even with your lights off. Consider changing your suite to white - replacement toilets and washbasins can be relatively inexpensive and bath re-enameling is now more reliable.
*Decorating - tile paints and transfers can update and open a small space.
*Storage - de-clutter your bathroom. Specify vanity units with function. And remember all toiletries and towels don't need to be stored in the bathroom.
*Flooring- hygiene and safety are paramount. A wood or vinyl flooring is currently the most fashionable and they help to make a floor space appear larger.
*Lighting - building regulations dictate the positioning of sealed units within bathrooms.
 

(4) Bedrooms

Whether it is a master bedroom or a guest room that doubles as a study, the key principles of bedroom design should always apply. By following the hints and tips below, a bedroom can be made to look more spacious and stylish.

The room plan
Creating a room plan can help you decide where to place your bedroom furniture. Placing the bed is the main hurdle when planning the layout for a bedroom and a number of issues will influence the choice of spot:

*Access - a double bed or bigger may require access for two occupants, so it shouldn't be placed in a corner. Bunk beds need clearance space for safety and access to the upper bunk.
*Power points/TV aerials/phone sockets - socket availability may dictate where bedside tables, a dressing table or a TV unit are placed.
*Door - personal taste or feng shui may influence where the bed is placed in relation to the door.
*Storage units - bear in mind that the bed should not be placed within the arc of opening wardrobe doors or drawers.

Dressing the bed is as important as placing the furniture. Linen doesn't have to slavishly match other fabrics in the room, but attention to colour and textures will help give the room a sense of style and completeness. Layering the bed with folded throws and scatter cushions creates a cosy and welcoming environment when not in use.

Furniture myths and musts
The bedroom has the longest list of supposed "must-have" furniture of any room in the house, but a crowded room looks untidy and is difficult to relax in. Consider these options:

*Do all your clothes have to be stored in the bedroom? Clothes that are worn less frequently could be stored elsewhere, reducing the need for wardrobes.
*Is a bedside cabinet needed or will a shelf do?
*Must a computer workstation be kept in the bedroom? Some sleep therapists suggest even the presence of a computer in bedroom can lead to disturbed nights.
*Is a dressing table really required if a bathroom vanity unit exists?

Good lighting and flooring are vital in a bedroom to create atmosphere and add to comfort and convenience. Check Flooring section following.

 
(5) Dining rooms

One of the biggest problems with dining rooms is that they are often neglected just because they are such a trek from the kitchen.
Just as a room plan frees your mind from your current furniture arrangement, consider whether it is possible to change the use an alternate room.

Things to consider:

Is your dining table the correct size and shape? If there are three people in your household, but your dining room is dwarfed by a larger table used only at Christmas, consider changing it to create more space. Look at the range of extendable tables available. Or try some money-saving DIY - a larger table top can be created easily from plywood. It can be covered with a tablecloth and used for entertaining then stored in the garage when not required.

Do you have adequate storage? - Another reason that dining rooms are under-used is that tableware and cutlery is stored in the kitchen, so setting up a breakfast bar is more convenient for quick meals. Consider splitting your collection and storing some crockery and cutlery in a sideboard, or putting them in modern baskets in the dining room. These options can also add decorator touches.

Do you think traditionally? - If you have discounted your dining room because it is too small, think again. Two small bedside cabinets or a corner display unit can provide the same storage as a traditional sideboard or dresser. Foldaway chairs and drop leaf tables are now available cheaply and are space-efficient, or you could revamp a second-hand find.

Function

Dining rooms often double as offices or play spaces. Decide whether this is an appropriate use of the space, as there may be better locations for play spaces and offices in the house. But if you want to allocate space for them in the dining room, make them discreet and disposable:

*Discreet - if a computer work station and office filing needs to be stored in a dining area, consider investing in fold away storage that closes to look like a standard cupboard or drawer unit. If you are unable to alter the workstation itself, consider screening it with a concertina style screen or partial curtaining.
*Disposable - Toy collections could be pared down or packed away in rotation. Those in use could be stored in an ottoman or baskets - many modern storage units can look stylish in a dining room.

Traffic

Dining rooms are often in traffic lanes within a home, so keep traffic in mind when redesigning or changing floor plans. If this is the case in your home, try storing your table against a wall when not in use to make access easier.

Furniture placement

When placing furniture ensure that storage doors can open fully. This avoids the need to move a heavy dining table each time a cup is needed from the dresser.

Lighting

Lighting can have a dramatic effect in dining rooms - clean and fresh for daytime family eating, subtle and romantic for evening dining.

 

(6) Kitchens

Kitchens are at the heart of modern homes, so space is at a premium. Yet there are many essential items and appliances that need to be located in the kitchen.

If you're thinking of redesigning your kitchen, shop around and get at least three quotes, as the cost of the design and installation can vary widely.


The golden triangle

Much is spoken of the 'golden triangle' principle of kitchen design - it's a common sense principle that the most used equipment and work areas should be grouped together to allow the user to operate effectively and efficiently while cooking.

The problem with the triangle theory is that individuals rank their most used equipment differently. Some would choose the cooker, refrigerator and sink, others might add a dishwasher or microwave as their most used items. It's unlikely that the plumbing for a sink or dishwasher could be altered easily, so these items should anchor the 'triangle'.

Storage myths and musts

Kitchens invariably suffer storage problems - too little and surprisingly, too much.

*Too little - if you don't have the cupboard space for everything you need to store in your kitchen, consider creating a suspended pot rack that makes use of ceiling space. Don't forget that the tops of eye-level kitchen units form extra shelf and storage space, though the items are less accessible and prone to dust.
*Too much - just as it's a shock to hear a room can be too large, some kitchens are designed with too much storage space. Clutter expands to fit the cupboard space available. Throw out unused fondue sets and a sell-by date check can often halve a grocery collection. Banks of cupboards are unnecessary and unattractive in a kitchen and disposing of some may leave space for a breakfast bar or another appliance.

Kitchen replacement vs. revamp

If you are happy with the positioning of appliances and storage within your kitchen, then a revamp may be more cost-effective than full replacement. Changing a few elements from the list below will give your kitchen a fresh look:

*Re-painting or re-papering walls
*Re-tiling or replacing splash-backs with chrome or waterproofed tongue and groove
*Changing cupboard door handles
*Painting or cladding cupboard doors
*Replacing doors (some companies do a door-only service)
*Replacing work tops
*Introducing new elements e.g. cooker hood, butcher's block
*Updating appliances
*Installing a skylight

Shop around, the price and quality of units varies widely, as do installation charges.

 
(7) Living rooms

Living rooms are often long and thin with the main light source being windows at either end. Creating a floor plan will help to categorise the size of the living room.

Focal point

Living rooms work best when they have a focal point.
In reality, this is often the TV. Don't arrange furniture in a way that makes viewing awkward, but consider whether the item you are the most proud of displaying to visitors is really a metal & glass box?
If the living room has a fireplace this could be the focal point, so be sure you are happy with the way it looks.

Fireplaces

*Brickwork or tiling - if removal is too expensive, consider painting the brickwork and tiles in a tone to contrast with the walls to highlight the feature, or to blend with the wall colour for a subtle effect.
*Mantelshelf - de-clutter. The mantle is a style focal point not a magnet for keys, loose change and letters!
*Accessorise - if there is an open fire, then a log basket, tongs and poker may automatically theme a traditional fireside area. If you have an unused hearth or an electric or gas fire and you're looking for a modern, minimalist look, a collection of large church candles will provide warmth, light and atmosphere. In summer, fresh flowers draw the eye.
*Artwork/mirrors - to reinforce the fireplace as a focal point, hang your best artwork over the hearth or place a mirror in that spot. A large mirror will also create a visual impression that the room is larger, more open.

Furniture

Having chosen your focal point, arrange the furniture to complement it.
Seating arranged around the fireplace automatically creates a comfortable area for gatherings, but make sure that the view from the doorway is not a row of chair backs.
Placing a rug in front of the fireplace is practical and adds a touch of warmth if the room is minimalist and modern.

Sofas

The sofa is likely to be the largest and most influential piece of furniture in a living room, and it doesn't have to be traded in if you want a change of design.

*Large throws or bedspreads can effectively change its colour and texture.
*A folded throw on the arms or centre back can disguise a dated shape.
*Scatter cushions can complement the room's theme through the colours and textures used, or the amountĦ­ Single, large pillows are modern and minimalist, whereas several, mixed designs create a cosy feel.

Function and traffic

Living rooms often double as the eating area for a household and occasionally as an office or playroom. If possible, it is best to separate these functions, but if this space has to used as an office or a playroom, try to disguise these areas:

*Plan a dining area in one end or corner of the room and consider screening it off with a partition or curtain, or stylistically with a change of floor covering - or use a large sofa do define the separation
*If the room is used as an office or play space during the day, remaining clutter will make relaxing in the evening difficult. So consider practical, hidden storage such as lidded seating for toys or files, and screen off workstations. Find out more about de-cluttering.
*If the room is a through lounge, avoid placing furniture in areas used as traffic lanes. A large sofa blocking patio doors will ultimately become an irritant. Centrally placed coffee tables, though frequently featured in magazine designs, may be impractical in reality.

Striking a balance between convenience and designer-style in the living room will create a space that you can be proud to show off and be content to relax in.

 
(8) The home office

This room is primarily task-orientated so its design will be governed by practical considerations, but once these basic needs are met, go wild - if you have to work at home, you may as well be happy in your environment!

Drawing up a room plan will draw your attention to the issues to take into account when designing a study, these are:

*Windows - screen glare can be an issue with computers.
*Door - you may need to face the door, or you'll find it distracting.
*Sockets - power, phone and TV points will govern the placement of the furniture.

Design hints

*Avoid office furniture - while the keyboard area and chair may need ergonomic design, adapting the shelving inside a wardrobe creates alternative storage. Baskets or wine racks could also replace in-trays.
*Comfort zone - studies often double as guest bedrooms so a futon or sofa-bed may be incorporated anyway, but consider adding seating to this area even if it is not required as a change of perspective can aid concentration.
*Wall art - a memo board may be required, but with the addition of photos or art prints it's inspiring as well as functional.
*Lighting - function with form, good task lighting is vital in a study.

Striking a balance between domesticity and function in a home office is the root of successful study design.

 
(9) Room plans

Creating an accurate plan of a room is vital before undertaking a redesign project to get a clear idea of the space you're working with.

Estate agents say that 90 per cent of homeowners don't know the dimensions of their rooms. Most people base their calculations on an exaggeration of how they view their rooms.
So, they are surprised that the "box bedroom" is actually larger than they guessed, but a "spacious conservatory" is often smaller. This mistaken view reinforces another truism of interior design that "box bedroom" clutter makes a space look smaller, while "conservatory" light creates a feeling of space.

Measure up and draw a plan

Before making any changes to the room itself, measure up and draw a to-scale floor plan. Drawing a room floor plan will clearly outline the kind of space available:

*Small - if either dimension is less that 3m (10'), then the room would be classified as small, but don't panic, efficient use of space and a few design tricks will overcome this.
*Long and thin - if the length of the room is more than three times the width, then this is known as the "corridor" effect and, if there are windows at each end, inventive use of lighting will be needed to "open up" the space.
*Large - most homeowners see large rooms as a blessing, but if either dimension is greater than 9m (30') furniture placing will be vital to overcome the un-welcoming "warehouse effect".
*Now - with a soft pencil and eraser - you can plan and evaluate the movement of tables & chairs. Lounges & coffee tables, bookcases and sideboards. Lots less effort than physically moving things until you get it right!

Note the immovable

The key to successful design is to detach yourself from what is currently in the space, however, some things can't be moved without a great deal of extra work, so note the position of doors, windows and radiators on the plan.

It is also important to mark "sweeps" on the plan - the space required to open doors or French windows. Be careful not to place furniture in the path of sweeps. The same is true if the furniture has drawers or doors that need space to open - and you need to stand next to it as well! Power points, telephone and aerial sockets are less important, but may influence some decisions, so it might be a good idea to note them on the plan.

Furniture cut-outs

If large items of furniture must remain in a room, but you would like to experiment with locations, measure the item and cut a card to scale, move this around the floor plan to assess the options. Again, a lot less tiring than physically moving the furniture!

Function and traffic

Consider carefully what the room is actually used for and how frequently different areas of it are used. For example, a dining room is likely to require a table, but the space may double as an office and the room may serve as a walkway for access to other areas. So don't place a table where it will block traffic and remember to leave space for a workstation. There are more specific tips on these principles in the room sections.

Creating a floor plan in this way ensures you are aware of the correct dimensions of a room and the constraints of power points, radiators and household use, but it frees the imagination to completely re-arrange the contents of a room.

 
(10) Flooring tips

Flooring can influence how a visitor sees the size, shape, function and atmosphere of a room. Changing the flooring is not as expensive as you might think. Here are a few flooring hints:

*Foam-backed carpets, although less hard-wearing, are cheaper to replace as trends for colour and texture change.
*Click-system, wood-effect laminate looks similar to real wood parquet, but it's cheaper.
*Carpet off-cuts can be "edge-bound" to create inexpensive rugs.

Zoning

Where a room is used for different purposes, a change in floor covering can help define the space e.g. in a lounge-diner the sofa area might be carpeted, while the dining area is timber or cork.

Function and safety

The function of a room should influence the choice of flooring.

*Ceramic tiles are waterproof and easy-to-clean, but get slippery when they are wet so they may not be suitable for bathrooms.
*In kitchens, crockery dropped on tiles would break and could even crack the tiles.
*Woods and laminates are practical and stylish, but can react badly to the moisture in kitchens and bathrooms or the heat in conservatories.

Floors and furniture

Floors can be easily damaged by furniture, so:

*Use castor cups to help protect carpets from pressure marks.
*
*Always lift, don't drag, furniture when moving it.
*Remember, vinyl flooring can be easily torn.

Scratch marks in wood and laminates can be difficult to repair.

 
(11) Finding the right balance

The trick is to strike a balance, so that your living space looks organised and homely.

With a few simple interior design tricks, a stylish space can be easily created, where favourite items can be pleasantly displayed. There are three key ways to achieve balance and harmony in the home:

*Tidy up - it's the most effective and cheapest way of making your home look better. Keep clutter out of sight by having adequate storage in each room. Floor to ceiling cupboards look streamlined and hide a multitude of possessions.
*Create focal points - each room should have an interesting place for the eye to settle on. Traditionally, the focal point of the living room used to be the fire, but it is now often the TV.
*Symmetry - balance the furniture and the displays of objects. This is especially important in the bedroom, where the view should be calm and uncluttered. This should be something that delights the eye, so separate appealing objects so that you don't have too many objects fighting for attention.

Finishing touches

When decorating, consider the room as a whole, even down to the finishing touches. By planning ahead, you'll be able to create a room that's balanced and ordered, where all the furnishings complement each other.

A few carefully co-ordinated objects will add character and individuality to a room - it's all down to how they are displayed.

Scale is important when choosing objects for a room as each item is 'framed' by its surroundings - therefore, place big objects in open surroundings (and vice versa). Another interior designer trick is to group odd numbers of objects together, such as three vases or five pictures, which often gives a better impression of balance than even numbered items.

Many of us have lots of small objects rather than one or two large pieces. Displaying the same kind of objects in a group will look better than placing them separately around the room.

Remember, less is more, so keep it simple!

 
(12) Housekeeping

Finally - some great, simple ideas on Cleaning and Stain Removal

First and foremost having a good rummage in your kitchen cupboard, where you're sure to find an array of cleaning materials masquerading as food products.

Stubborn stains

Lemon juice is a domestic lifesaver in the never-ending fight for cleanliness, and it's been popular as a stain remover for centuries. Try using lemon juice to remove rust and stains from plastic, either neat or diluted, and give curry stains on carpet the heave-ho with diluted lemon juice. For common carpet spillages such as beer, try simply dabbing the stain with soda water.

Water marks on wooden surfaces, can be removed by rubbing half a brazil nut onto the offending area, first ensuring the surface is completely dry. Alternatively, try applying mayonnaise on a soft cloth or toothpaste on a damp cloth to the water mark.

And if your family is leaving grubby fingerprints on your walls, an age-old housewives' trick is to simply rub the mark with slightly moist, stale white bread.

Shine on

Achieving that all-important shine isn't all about elbow grease; choose the right cleaning product and you'll glide effortlessly through your chores.

Next time you're having a headache over the less-than-sparkly chrome taps in your bathroom or kitchen, try another pantry alternate - rubbing them with flour. Rinse the flour off and buff them with a soft cloth. To ensure your stainless steel sink doesn't appear dull in comparison, rub the surface gently with baking powder or buff with a scrunched-up ball of newspaper.

Another truly indispensable item in cleaning closet is white vinegar. Use it to wash glass and windows for a smear-free finish. For the final buff use scrunched-up balls of newspaper to add an extra glossy sheen to the glass.

Also, a solution of water and vinegar will spruce up wooden furniture. Wash the furniture with the solution, leave overnight to dry, apply quality furniture polish and buff the surfaces.

Lingering limescale

White vinegar, for use on those tough, hard-to-shift stains; its disinfectant properties make it an amazing all-round cleaner. Blitz any bath stains with a 1:5 solution of white vinegar and water. Unclog showerheads by first dismantling them and then soaking them for 20 minutes in vinegar.

Remove hard water marks by pouring a can of fizzy cola down the toilet bowl; leave it for an hour, then flush. And finally, after all that hard cleaning, it's time for a glass of white wine - but not for you, for your glass shower doors, to rid them of stains and limescale.

 

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