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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
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
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.
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 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.
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
*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
Last but not least, make sure you
know exactly what's involved in a total task - and LIST every
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.
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:
- 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
*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.
building regulations dictate the positioning of sealed units within
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
*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
Good lighting and flooring are vital
in a bedroom to create atmosphere and add to comfort and convenience.
Check Flooring section following.
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.
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
*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.
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
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 can have a dramatic effect
in dining rooms - clean and fresh for daytime family eating, subtle
and romantic for evening dining.
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.
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
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
*Installing a skylight
Shop around, the price and quality
of units varies widely, as do installation charges.
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.
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.
*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.
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
Placing a rug in front of the
fireplace is practical and adds a touch of warmth if the room
is minimalist and modern.
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
*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
*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
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.
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.
*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
Striking a balance between domesticity
and function in a home office is the root of successful study
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
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
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
*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
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
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.
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
*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
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,
*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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.