Your home is for living in, a place in which you can feel as relaxed as possible, so it should be happy, comfortable, attractive to the eye but not overpowering, while providing for your individual needs. It should create the atmosphere you want so that you are able to say: ‘There’s no place like home’.
Articles on home improvements can be very irritating when your budget is even more limited than the designers’ favourite ‘shoestring’ budget. You don’t often read much about ordinary houses worked on by the people who live in them, such as people in rented flats and terraced houses. You may not want, or be able to create, a gallery from your attic, but sometimes such ideas can start you thinking along lines you’d left unexplored. If you can bring a fresh eye to bear on your home, look at its problems and its good points in a clear, unbiased, and even unconventional way; then you will find that new, exciting and not necessarily expensive ideas will emerge.
Although you can achieve a great deal by redecorating, making some new curtains and so on, you might have to undo your work if your basics are wrong. That might mean rethinking and starting again from scratch to achieve the effect you want. Perhaps you should consider major changes before you start to think of redecorating. You have four elements to combine: the character of your home (its age, fabric, architectural style and location), plus the needs, priorities and personalities of the people who live there.
Every house has an intrinsic character: if you try to impose another style on it, it may look quite ridiculous. This applies particularly to alterations and additions, not just to decoration. What you might think is a modernization, the next owner will probably find outdated, perhaps shabby, and their first task will be to rip it out. If you always keep in mind the original design of your home, you should be able to choose alterations, such as colour schemes, that won’t look out of place, won’t date too much and will appeal to those with different tastes.
This is especially true of the exterior. Very few homes are detached, so most houses should blend well with their neighbours. Each house should have an identity —but if it is too individual it will spoil the unity of the group as a whole. In addition, if your house looks odd, it will lessen not only its own retail value on the market but also the value of the area.
In the same way as you have to consider the character of your home, with its good and bad features, you must not forget your own needs. Your home must suit your own tastes, your interests and your way of life. Be honest and emphasize the things that you know you are good at, such as house plants or built-in furniture, and keep away from the areas for which you have no talent.
Don’t be influenced too much by magazines or by other people — you must develop your own taste in decoration to feel truly comfortable in your own home. Learn from your mistakes and successes: it will be a slow and sometimes rather painful process, but in the end you’ll have something that’s unique and suits you absolutely. As a general rule, it’s better to be rather cautious — keep things simple and restrained (it will make your rooms look more spacious anyway) until you’re absolutely confident. Draw several different plans for each room, and make models. For example, if you’re thinking of putting in a new window, hang a piece of paper of the same size on the wall where the window would be.
Each room should relate to the others — a feeling of continuity throughout the house will make it seem like one large living unit, not a lot of little boxes. You can achieve this either by having compatible colour schemes, or by running a consistent feature right through — the carpet, for example.
Try not to have any preconceptions about colour — if you think that you hate blue, remember summer skies and forget-me-nuts. A good colour can boost you enormously, and cheaply. If you are at all timid, choose a fairly neutral basic colour and keep the brighter ones for the details. Gather examples (snips, scraps, bits of paper coloured with felt-tipped pens) of everything you’re going to include, then pin them side by side on a piece of card. You will find it most effective if you keep your scheme either mainly monochromatic (shades of one colour), related (similar colours), or contrasting.
Most of us flounder a bit with pattern; we either go overboard and live in a dizzy mixture or fight shy and have everything plain. One way out of this is to reserve your patterns for smaller items — they’re easier to live with, and easier to change if you find that you can’t. Changes of texture are also extremely important — if everything is too much the same it will make the best of schemes bland and uninteresting.
Often you can achieve a lot by discarding your conventional thinking about which rooms should be where and instead, decide what will suit you best. It’s the same with furniture: it’s quite likely that you could manage much better with less, even though finding storage space is always difficult. Even reorganizing your furniture in a more rational way will probably give your rooms quite a lift. Altering the actual fabric of your home — moving doors, dividing rooms, putting in a different staircase or pulling down a wall – may achieve something really worthwhile in terms of the extra space and enjoyment it will provide. Remember, however, that such activities are governed by various regulations and you must consult your local authorities, and, in the case of removing walls, a builder. Your home is like a house of cards: remove the wrong part and – crash.
So far as furniture is concerned, don’t despise the second-hand. Obviously, the home improvement magazines, the shops and the advertisers all want us to buy, buy, buy. But you must remember that new is not necessarily best, or even necessary. You can get a great deal of satisfaction in finding something old (not necessarily antique) and perhaps renovating it so that you have something which suits your purposes. Alternatively, a collection of small decorative items can become a hobby which will provide an inexpensive and perhaps unique point of interest.
Such details are of surprising importance: they give the feeling that a home is an interesting place, changing, growing, cared for in a way beyond the normal housework chores. It’s that sort of environment that will give its occupants something of the security and serenity we all need.