Planning A Successful Happy Home

Successful, happy homes don’t just happen, they must be carefully planned to suit the present needs of those who live in them and flexible enough to adapt to the changing lifestyle. Many people start out in a small flat or house just right for one or two, and use it as a stepping-stone to somewhere larger once the family begins to grow. Nobody wants the constant upheaval of moving, but it might make sense to move several times – from first home to family-size , and back to a smaller, easy-to-run property in later years.


Ideally, a home should be based on as flexible a design as possible, but this tailoring process is entirely a personal matter; only you know exactly what you require, and what is practical in terms of the space and funds available. It helps to sit down with paper and pencil and work out what you need, then aim for as ideal an arrangement as possible. This often means forgetting conventional ideas about using the space available in many typical three and four bedroomed houses. In an average three bedroomed ‘semi’ for example, the parents may start off sleeping in the largest bedroom, using the smallest bedroom as a nursery for the first baby, and the second bedroom as guestroom and study. The two downstairs reception rooms may be separate dining and sitting rooms. Later it might make sense to knock them into one large living area and extend the kitchen out into the garden to provide a kitchen-dining room with ‘utility’ area. At the same time, a second bathroom might be built over the new extension, and made en-suite with the second bedroom.

The parents could then use this large bathroom as a dressing room and move into the second bedroom, giving their growing family the largest bedroom as a playroom/bedroom, and turning the smallest bedroom into a study/den. The extension might also provide a downstairs lavatory – or extend an existing one to include a separate shower.

Later, when teenagers need a place to do their own thing, the small bedroom might suit one child, the second bedroom become a bedsitting room for another, and the parents could move back into the largest bedroom, making it a dual-purpose bed and adults’ sitting room.

Many other permutations can be worked out, depending on the property.

Furnishing to allow such flexibility is not difficult – have as much built-in storage as possible, including adjustable shelving which is fairly easy to move from room to room. Keep most of the furniture basically simple and adaptable, chosen from ranges which can be added to, or will complement other ranges. Two chests with a link top, for example, used in a nursery for clothes and as baby’s changing table, can next become a play surface, then a desk for homework and finally a dressing table. Sturdy bunk beds can be taken apart to make two adult-sized twin beds and can be moved round as necessary.

Function and space

Don’t be afraid to re-think your home and the way various rooms are used. Just because conventionally we usually sleep upstairs and live downstairs, this may not be the most sensible way for your family to use the available space. Look at each room critically. How much more use could you get out of it? Apart from planning dual-purpose rooms such as nursery/playroom or study/bedroom , it may make sense to use one of the larger bedrooms as an upstairs sitting room and to make one of the downstairs rooms — preferably with access to the garden – into a playroom/bedroom for the children. The other downstairs room could then be a family living area.

The hall is often wasted space which could double as a dining area or incorporate a study corner- it is surprising how much room there is under the stairs, if this area is not already used as a cupboard. And a downstairs cloakroom/wc will often convert into a small second bathroom, shower room or even a utility area with space for washing and drying machines.

A large bathroom can be used as a utility room too, but appliances such as a washing machine or dryer must be safely, professionally installed and any power points sited outside the room.


This may be achieved simply by making some rooms dual-purpose, refurnishing to include lots of storage, or changing the use of some of the rooms as described previously.

The way you use mirrors, combine patterned and plain surfaces or plan colour schemes, can create an illusion of space. If you have a very small house, flat or bungalow, this can best be achieved by continuity of colours throughout. This does not mean that all rooms have to be decorated in the same way or in the same colour scheme, but it helps if you have complementary schemes. It is also sensible to have the same colour, though not necessarily the same material, for all floorings throughout the ground floor and on stairs and landing.

Structural alterations

If your problem is really one of the ‘shrinking’ house, you may have to contemplate structural alterations, possible extending the property.

Knocking the downstairs rooms into one ‘through’ living room is one of the most common structural alterations made to create space, although this is not always the most practical solution. Apart from the fact that removing load-bearing walls will necessitate strengthening the opening with an RSJ to support the area above, having to tidy up the family clutter before visitors arrive, or sitting in full view of the washing up is not always a comfortable way of living.

It may be more practical to enlarge one downstairs room by taking down part of a wall, removing the staircase, and putting a new staircase into an extension hall, or replacing the existing staircase with a spiral or open-tread one, which rises from the newly enlarged room. Either treatment would still leave two separate downstairs rooms. Or it may be possible to make the hall and ‘front room’ all one open-plan area, with the stairs closed off. If you do this, try to leave a bit of hall as a vestibule or to build a porch on the front of the house to prevent draughts. If you can’t get permission to build 54 onto the front of your property, screen the front door by hanging a thick curtain on the back of it, or curtain right across the door wall if this is practical.

Sometimes it is possible to take down the wall between two smallish upstairs rooms, to make a bedroom/dressing room/bathroom combined. Floor-to-ceiling wardrobe cupboards can divide the two areas, with the necessary gap closed by curtains or vertical Venetian blinds.

Split level

Rooms with very high ceilings can be used for split-level living. A sleeping platform can be built on top of storage cupboards, or it may be possible to have a gallery, half to one-third the height of the room to take the bed, leaving space underneath for a desk or dressing table and storage – or seating accommodation if it is a bed-sitting room. This arrangement is ideal for one room living or for teenage rooms. If the room is not very tall, you can still have a bed platform, supported on low storage units. Adapt inexpensive white-wood ones, or use faced-chipboard ones from furniture warehouses – or support the mattress on a specially constructed frame, with ready-made louvred doors forming the sides, and concealing pull-out storage underneath such as wire racks or boxes on castors. Often there is possible storage space over the bed – the type of cupboards used to fill the gap between a wardrobe cupboard and the ceiling can be ceiling-mounted to form a canopy over the bed. If it suits the decorative style of the room, they could have curtain track fixed to them, so the bed can be draped four-poster fashion.


There are many people ready and willing to help you extend, convert and improve your home, but beware of firms who use high-pressure methods of selling, and ‘cowboys’ who do a poor job or disappear with the money, leaving the work incomplete.

First think through the project thoroughly to be sure that any improvement will be really practical, and give the greatest possible value for money. Often, a little extra spent now will give you twice the amenities for far less than twice the price, whereas if you want to add a little extra at a later stage it could be prohibitively expensive. Also, when you are coping with the upheaval and mess of structural work, you might as well get it all over and done with in one session. NOTE: once a house has been improved, the rates may be increased, so take this into consideration.

Don’t over-improve

‘Improving’ can mean anything from installing a fireplace or refitting the kitchen to building on a major extension or making a large house into several separate units. Most such improvements add value to your property, making it more attractive to a would-be purchaser and a more enjoyable place in which to live.

If you have a small property, decorating attractively, installing a bathroom and central heating, and refitting the kitchen may be sensible, but don’t fall into the trap of spending so much on improving that you would not see the return on your investment should you be forced to sell.

If you are redesigning the kitchen, for example, you should not spend more than one-tenth of the value of the property on this improvement, and on the bathroom about one-twentieth of this amount

PLANNING THE HOME 5 5. Other ‘sensible’ expenditure will depend on what you plan to do, and the amount of increased space and facilities it will provide. If in doubt, ask a surveyor to give you a valuation now, and to say what the house will be worth after the various improvements have been made.

Also beware of spoiling the character of the house – ‘bijou’ residences, which look out of keeping with their surroundings and over-fussy, do not fetch the substantial price expected if they have to be sold. Always try to retain any interesting architectural details and to emphasize and enhance the character of the house. You will find that many extensions and roof-raising alterations have to be in keeping with other properties in the area and the building materials used may have to be the same as those of the original structure, particularly if you live in a conservation area.

Start right

If planning structural alterations you may need planning permission. The rules about this change fairly frequently, and vary in some parts of the United Kingdom. Many extensions and improvements come under ‘permitted development’ but you will have to obtain the necessary approvals under the Building Regulations – and it is essential to do this before you start work, otherwise you could be forced to undo it all. You may have to deposit plans with your local authority for building control approval. Generally speaking, these regulations apply to all works involving the erection of new buildings, extensions to existing buildings, structural alterations and the installation of various sanitary fittings and heating appliances. So, if you are installing a bathroom you may have to conform to the Building Regulations but it is unlikely if you are refitting the kitchen – unless you are extending it at the same time. The regulations also apply where there is to be a major change of use or where the property is to be divided to provide more than one dwelling.

As a starting point, visit your local council Building Inspector or District Surveyor, explain what you have in mind and ask their advice. They may also point you in the direction of a good local builder, architect or surveyor.

Other ways to find a reliable builder are to ask friends locally or, if you notice an attractive extension/improvement nearby, knock on the door and ask who did the building work. Some builders advertise in local papers, others are listed in the Yellow pages Directory, but this is no guide to their size or competence.

If you do have to submit professionally drawn plans and details of construction you will need the services of a surveyor, architect, draughtsman or competent buil der. The detail necessary will vary, according to the size and complexity • of the work, but if you don’t give enough information the plans could be rejected.

Most authorities want the plans in duplicate, and you should keep a spare copy in case of loss. They may also want a location plan showing where your house is, and the size and shape of the extension in relation to the existing property. This can be shown on a copy of the local ordnance survey map.

The usual waiting time for approval of the plans is about six weeks, although it can be longer. It is also wise to allow for possible rejection and replanning. Once approved, you will find the work has to be inspected at various stages, according to thejob.

Inform the council’s Building Control Office several days in advance when it will be ready for inspection, so that work is not held up. If thejob is in excess of £1,000 you may have to pay an inspection fee as well as a deposit when the plans are submitted.

NOTE: builders/contractors usually expect payment in instalments, and this will normally be agreed when you accept the estimate. If you are getting financial help with the work e.g. an increased mortgage, these payments, too, are usually made in stages and the building society may send somebody to inspect progress.

Bring in the builder

Once you have lodged plans with the council, find a builder. If the work is extensive and you are employing an architect or chartered surveyor, he will ‘put the work out to tender’; that is, he will contact several builders and get them to estimate for the work. If the job is smaller, do the same thing yourself – get at least three estimates. Show the builders the specifications and plans, and brief them fully about what you want them to do. You may want them to cope with everything, but if cash is short you could undertake some site clearing/excavation work and some of the finishing yourself. Ask when they could start, and how long they will take – get these facts in writing along with the estimate, and the terms of payment.

Once you have obtained several estimates, wait for the local council’s go-ahead before accepting the most suitable one in writing. Work can then commence, but do plan ahead.

Contingency plans

Discuss with your builder what upheaval is likely to be involved, and if water, light and heating are likely to be shut off for any length of time, try to send the family away for those critical days. Similarly, if the work involves the removal of the staircase and some ladder-climbing, young children and pets would be safer elsewhere.

Protect the part of the house not affected by the work. Cover furniture and floor-coverings with dust or plastic decorating sheets and seal doors with masking tape to keep out dust and dirt. NOTE: if you do decamp while major building work is going on, deposit all valuables in the bank or take them with you. Put all fragile items in a really safe place or, again, take them with you. Even if the work is being supervised by an architect or surveyor who has undertaken to visit the site daily, go as often as you can yourself to sec that work is progressing according to schedule. If you are controlling the work, visit the property daily – if you can— and try to vary the times of your visits.


Some house improvements, repairs and insulation work required to bring your house up to modern standards are covered by a home improvement grant, which could pay up to 90 per cent of the cost. These are given by local councils and there are several different types available, so again the starting point should be a visit to your local council office to see the Home Improvements Officer. You can also get several helpful free leaflets from the local council, Housing Aid Centres or Citizens’ Advice Bureaux.

To be eligible for a grant you must be either a home owner or a tenant with a certain number of years to run on your lease, and intend to go on living in the property for at least another 5 years. You can get a grant to improve a property 57 which you intend to let, and the rent may subsequently be council controlled. Most grants are not paid on properties over a certain rateable value. Grants fall into three main categories:

– Full Improvement Grants given to improve homes to a good standard. They can help towards the cost of converting a property into several separate dwellings, or improving a property so a disabled person can live there. These grants are awarded entirely at the discretion of the council. You are unlikely to get more than a percentage of the cost of the work — up to 75 per cent , but up to 50 per cent or 65 per cent grant is more likely. 2. Repair Grants, for structural repairs to 58 homes built before 1919, can include installing a damp proof course, or major repairs to the roof, foundations or walls, but does not cover maintenance work – at the time of writing expense limits for this type of grant are £5,500 in Greater London and £4,000 elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Again these are discretionary. 3. Intermediate Grants are mandatory and given towards the cost of installing certain standard amenities, such as a fixed bath or shower, sink , and an inside wc in a property which does not have one.

You do not have to carry out all the work at once, and there are no rateable value limits, but there are certain expenditure limits – up to a total of £3,500 I’ Greater London and £2,500 elsewhere. You will have to put the whole property into reasonable repair if you accept the total grant.

You must not start the work until the grant has been approved, in writing; otherwise you may have to meet the total cost yourself. And your rates are likely to be increased when the work is finished, because of the improved amenities and standard of the property.

Several other grants are available – an Insulation grant is given towards the cost of insulating the loft, so long as it has no insulation, and normally covers two-thirds of the cost, up to a maximum of £65, but pensioners who receive rate rebates or supplementary pensions are eligible for more. Get the leaflet Sai>e Money on Loft Insulation from the sources previously mentioned. Soundproofing and double-glazing against noise is another expense for which you may be eligible for a grant, if you live within a certain distance from an airport or motorway. Grants have been discontinued in the Heathrow/Gatwick Airport areas, but may be awarded for people living near to the third London airport or some new provincial airports. Enquire at your local council office.

Finally, if your home is one of architectural or historic interest, there are Historic Building Grants – to help towards the cost of restoration work in the main. For more details contact the Department of the Environment, 2 Marsham Street, London SwiP 3EB.


Whether you intend to extend, enlarge and improve your home, or merely to redecorate and rearrange your furniture, it helps if you get your ideas down on paper. This way you can see whether they will actually work. Make sure you have sufficient lighting and power points handy to plug in various gadgets in the kitchen and workroom, as well as facilities for lighting a dining table, desk or worktop. See whether your furniture will fit its proposed new location, or if intended new purchases are a practical size and shape. The ‘measure-and-draw’ method is invaluable when you are moving home , and essential if you are refitting a kitchen or replumbing a bathroom.

Measuring up. Use a steel rule, or yardstick and measure the main dimensions of the room; include the length and height of structural features such as alcoves and protruding chimney-breasts. As corners are rarely completely square, measure the diagonals as well — particularly important in a room which is to have fitted furniture or important plumbing changes, or is an unusual shape. Draw a plan and include these measurements. Note which way doors open — measure the width of the door, the jamb and the distance between this and the corner of the room. Plot the position of existing light/power points and switches, plumbing pipes and radiators. Think ‘three dimensionally’, and measure the depth of skirting boards, the height of any picture rail from the skirting , depth of any frieze , depth of any cornice or coving, and so on. Take accurate, detailed measurements of the windows: inside frame, outside frame or window reveal, depth of the reveal, depth of the sill, and the height of sill from the skirting and the floor.

Once you have jotted down all these measurements transfer them to a proper workable, scale plan.

Making a floor plan

The easiest way to do this is to use squared graph paper, transferring your first rough sketch and measurements, in scale. Indicate fireplaces, doors, windows etc. and show which way the doors open. Plot the positions of radiators, points, switches and pipes accurately. See if your furniture will fit by measuring it, drawing the shapes to the same scale as your plan on another piece of squared paper – cut out, colour with a felt pen to make them easier to see -and moving them about on the scale plan. If you are buying new furniture, the catalogue should give accurate measurements — but take a rule with you when you visit the shop just in case.

When planning to install cupboards and units allow for the opening of doors and drawers — similarly drawers and doors of freestanding furniture. In a sitting area, allow space to get round furniture and to stretch your legs out in front of settee or easy chair. In the dining room allow for chairs to be pulled back from the table to enable people to sit down. In the bedroom, allow sufficient room for the beds to be pulled out for making.

Making an elevation

If you want to work out a special treatment for an awkward wall, or want to see whether furniture will fit three-dimensionally, make an elevation of the walls of a room using the same method. Work in the same scale as for the floor plan; measure first, and transfer the measurements to a scale outline on the squared paper, again marking positions of fixed items. Draw in accurate shapes of doors, windows, fireplaces, fitted furniture and so on.

Making a model

This is the best way to visualize structural, and other, alterations, or work out ways of improving the proportions of rooms. Make a floor plan and elevations of all the walls, to scale. Stick these to stiff card, cut out, and fit together with sticky tape to form a three-dimensional model. Make models of your furniture from card, or cut out of blocks of polystyrene, and fix these to the floor of the model where they will actually be positioned.


Apply the same basic principles of selecting and planning, as for the kitchen. Make your list of priorities, make a scale plan and plot the plumbing before ‘shopping around’. Visit builders’ merchants, home improvement centres, bathroom specialists and department stores, and collect manufacturers’ literature. One major difference is that if you don’t already have a bathroom or inside wc, you may be eligible for a grant towards the cost.

You will also need a reliable plumber , and you will find the Council of British Ceramic Sanitaryware Manufacturers’ literature helpful.

A ‘second opinion’

Once you have some idea of what you want, call in a plumber to get an estimate for the work. He can also give practical advice about water pressure, whether the hot water tank is likely to be large enough to fill the new bath and so on. But remember, you are going to use the bathroom, not the plumber, so be prepared to question and argue if necessary. Obtain two or three estimates – these are usually provided free, even from bathroom specialists who may provide a complete ‘package’ including supplying sanitaryware, tiles, flooring, all decorating items and carrying out the work. Plumbers, unless they are part of a building team or firm, usually only install the items and

PLANNING THE HOME plumb them, leaving you to do the decorating.

Space considerations

There are certain minimum measurements to be considered when planning the bathroom since people need to be able to use the various items comfortably. There should be sufficient space at the side of the bath to allow you to step in and out easily, to dry yourself and, if possible, kneel and bath, dry and dress a child. The basin must have enough space for a person to stand in front of it, allow elbow room on both sides, and be large enough for hair-washing. The optimum recommended height from floor to rim is 80 cm. Choose a basin which is large enough and easy to clean, and don’t site shelves or cupboards too low above it, where heads could be knocked when hair washing.

The shower cabinet should be at least 90 cm square, with a space in front of it for drying yourself at least 70 cm square. The wc and bidet need space of 80 cm wide, to allow for knees, but if sited side-by-side the overall width can be reduced because they are not likely to be in use at the same time. But there are special regulations for installing bidets – check with your plumber.

If the room is very small, and you can’t fit in all the equipment you want, ships’ baths are available ; these have a seat in them, take up about half the space of a conventional bath, and can be combined with a shower above. If you want a separate shower in your bathroom and there isn’t enough space, consider installing one in a downstairs cloakroom or undcrstairs cupboard. Or you may be able to install an instantaneous shower, complete with its own cubicle, in a bedroom, landing cupboard or other walk-in cupboard.


Installing a new kitchen is a major investment in terms of time, labour and money, so it is wise to have professional help.

Start by collecting relevant leaflets, and cuttings from magazines of ranges/layouts you like, then ‘shop around’. Go to Home Improvement Centres, kitchen specialists and department stores to see the ranges and displays. They may offer to plan your kitchen for you, and so will many of the kitchen unit manufacturers. Most charge a fee , which is refundable if you buy from them, so if you can afford the luxury of two separate plans, you could then choose the one you like better. Even if this means losing about £25 it could save you from making an expensive mistake.

Choose appliances in the same way — collect leaflets and advertisements, then ‘shop around’. Local Gas Board and Electricity Board showrooms have trained home economists who can give you free advice on choosing and using cookers, freezers and other domestic equipment. Visit local electrical goods shops and department stores, too. Many kitchen and home improvement specialists can recommend, supply and install all the necessary ‘machinery’ at competitive prices.

Take your time

First make your own workable scale plan, marking in fixed items like plumbing/inlets and outlets, cooker points, boiler position, power points, etc. Measure and make in-scale shapes of any appliances to be retained like cooker, fridge, washing machine, etc., and move these about on your plan to see where they can be practically sited. This will give you an idea of what else you can accommodate in the way of units, tables and other appliances. Think ‘vertically’ too, if necessary making elevated plans of the walls, so that you can see whether units will fit under window sills, or whether wall cupboards will be practical above a table, appliance or work surface.

Make a list of priorities – decide exactly what you must have in the kitchen, but also think ahead and try to include items you would like to add later when the budget allows. Decide on the style of kitchen you want – strictly functional and labour-saving, or more of a country-farmhouse kitchen. Think seriously about the way you use the kitchen. If you are an enthusiastic cook, you may want a pantry as well as a fridge, and possibly a deep freeze, and a large cooker. If food is not so important to you, facilities for cooking and food storage can be simpler, but you may want a micro-wave oven as well as the cooker. If you entertain a lot, a dishwasher will probably top your list of priorities, with a washing machine/dryer well down on the list, but if you have babies, small children or teenagers these last two appliances will be all-important!

If you do call in a kitchen planning expert, kitchen supply specialist or manufacturer to install the new kitchen, brief them thoroughly; explain your list of priorities, and if you don’t like their plan, don’t be afraid to say so – get them to revise it. And check on the interior fittings available with the units – some have a range of integral wire racks, revolving shelf units, etc., included automatically in the price, whereas with other manufacturers these are extras.

When they quote for the job be sure that you understand exactly what the estimate includes; ideally, it should cover the removal of old equipment and making good, before the new is installed. Some specialists completely redecorate, others leave this to you — in which case it makes sense to have the old kitchen taken out, then prepare all the surfaces for decorating, and undercoat the woodwork and decorate the ceiling. You can then complete the decorations once the units are installed. Ask how long the j ob is likely to take – and allow for it to run over time.

The ‘work triangle’

If you draw lines between the three main areas in a kitchen -the food storage and preparation area, the cooker and the food serving, and the washing up area – you get a ‘work triangle’. Ideally the distance between these points should be kept to under 5 m and each area should accommodate all the materials and utensils used there, to save time and the cook’s legs!

The sink usually forms one corner of the triangle and is often sited under a window because of ease of plumbing the outflow pipe.

The items needed to wash, drain, dry, chop and prepare food should be kept as near to the sink as possible; waste bins, rubbish bags, tea towels, etc. will also need to be near at hand. If you have, or plan to have a dishwasher, this should be positioned next to the sink, under a work surface.

The cooker should be close by the sink, but never placed opposite the sink, unless this is absolutely unavoidable — there could be an accident with hot pans. The cooker must have an adequate heat-proof surface on one side of it, to stand hot pans on when taken from the hob or oven; ideally, there should be a heat-proof surface on both sides. Sometimes one will double as a food preparation area. Keep seasoning, herbs, stirring spoons, spatulas, oven gloves, etc. as near to hand as possible. The most used pots, pans and accessories should be stored next to, or possibly below the cooker.

The food preparation area completes the work triangle and should include storage space for frequently-used ingredients. The refrigerator might be positioned under a worktop which is used for preparation, 61 *. and dry goods can all be stored in a wall-mounted cupboard above. You will also need to have preparation tools handy – mixer, scales, can opener, food processor, bowls, baking tins, and so on.

Ideally, there should be a food serving area as well, including space for trays, china, glasses, cutlery, mats and all the items needed for serving and eating a meal. In some large kitchens, an island unit can be installed to divide cooking from eating area, and this also provides an ideal serving top. In other kitchens, serving-up can be done on a surface under the hatch to dining or living room, but in very small kitchens the cooking and preparation surface would suffice, while items for the dining table could be stored in the dining area.

Basically there are six possible layouts for a work triangle – the single line layout; the galley or parallel layout; the L-shape; the U-shape; the F-shape , and the island layout.

Think vertically

You also need to think about vertical layouts; plan these to reduce bending and stretching to the minimum. Check which walls are strong enough to take the weight of wall-mounted cupboards full of china or tins. You could stack equipment like washing-machine and dryer, or a fridge-freezer combination and/or a broom cupboard against this wall.

Any wall cupboards or open shelves should be mounted at least 40 to 45 cm above worksurfaces so they don’t obscure the back of the worktop, but they must not be sited so high that you cannot reach them easily. Wall-mounted cupboards can have concealed lighting under them to light the work surface below.

Don’t place wall cupboards on an area of wall ‘where there is nothing underneath, as people could walk into them. And cupboards should not be mounted above a cooker hob because of the fire risk — to maintain visual continuity you can line up a cooker hood with the wall cupboards.


Before you choose colours and decide on design you will need to think about surface treatments. And this involves some practical planning.


As most schemes are likely to start with the floor , consider the ‘traffic’ and wear and tear the flooring is likely to get. In a busy family home, for example, it would be impractical to lay off-white shaggy pile carpet throughout, although this might be an ideal floor treatment in a bachelor pad. A tough floorcovering which will not show marks is appropriate and hardwearing carpet with a patterned or textured surface might be a sensible choice.

If money is short, halls, dining areas, childrens’ and family room floors can be covered with lino, lino tiles, vinyl tiles, cushioned vinyl, or properly sealed cork -all of which can be softened with rugs if you wish.

Ceramic, quarry and terrazzo tiles are other possibilities. Although more expensive, they are easy to clean, come in a wide range of colours, textured plains and patterns, and are likely to last a lifetime, but tend to be a little hard on the feet if you are standing for a long time. They look most effective and are practical for halls, stairs, dining areas, sun rooms/extensions, conservatories and utility rooms, bathrooms and shower rooms. But if you plan to install them upstairs, make sure that the joists are strong enough to take the considerable weight.

Wood floors, if in a good state of repair, can be sanded smooth, sealed and polished; partly covered with rugs, they look very elegant. Old floor boards can be repaired, and very bad ones replaced and gaps filled, before sanding. Wood floors can also be painted, colour-stained or stencilled in a variety of ways. Various woodblock floorings are available which may be professionally laid or tackled by the do-it-yourselfer.

Cork tiles must be properly sealed, and in bathrooms, kitchens and utility rooms it is wise to lay the pre-sealed type. In other rooms, you can use the sort which are sealed after they have been laid – these can be coloured with wood dyes.

Linoleums and lino tiles are not so popular as they used to be, but some lovely colours and marbled effects are available. Lino is sturdy, and can be inlaid to make individual patterns , although tiles are easy to cut to shape and lay.

Cushioned and sheet vinyl come in many widths, patterns, grades and types, as well as in sheet and tile form. Some types have to be professionally laid and stuck down; others -such as most of the tiles – can be tackled by the amateur. There are also ‘lay-flat’ types which only need to be fixed at doorways. All these resilient floorings are hard-wearing, although some of the less expensive ranges of sheet vinyl are not so long lasting – rather like a carpet, you get what you pay for.


There are so many types of carpeting available, the choice can be confusing. The golden rule is to choose the best quality you can possibly afford for heavy traffic areas such as hallway, stairs, 63 landing and main living rooms, and to use the lighter weight, cheaper grades for rooms which get less wear, like bedrooms. The carpet industry has produced a labelling system to help you. The traditional types of carpet are woven. These are:

Axminster, usually patterned and with an extensive choice of colours within the design. The pile yarn is seen on the surface and the backing is jute or hessian, sometimes strengthened by polypropylene. Different fibres and blends of fibres are used, but frequently Axminsters are made in an 80 per cent wool/20 per cent nylon mixture, and from acrylic fibres.

Many different widths are available, including broadloom up to 5 m wide. Axminsters are also sold as carpet ‘squares’ with bound edges, rather like large rugs, the advantage being that they can be turned round to even out the wear.

Wilton is usually plain, though there are some patterned Wiltons, with a restricted number of colour combinations. The carpet is close-textured with a velvet, close-looped or mixed cut-and-loop ‘sculptured’ pile. Any yarn not used on the face of the carpet is woven into the backing, to add thickness and strength. The backing used is the same as for Axminster.

Different fibres and blends of fibres can be used, but usually Wiltons are made in 100 per cent wool or an 80 per cent wool/ 20 per cent nylon mixture.

Wilton carpet is woven in narrow widths from 68 cm to 2m wide, and widths are seamed to fit when fully fitted carpet is required. Widths up to 3.6 m are also available and can be bound to form a carpet ‘square’.

Tufted. This is by far the most widely available and comes in many different effects, textures and fibres. Tufted carpets can be patterned or plain and widths can be from im to 5m. The tufts are needled into an already-woven backing and anchored with an adhesive. Backings can be of hessian, Latex or foam – a high-quality, foam-backed, tufted carpet can be laid without an underlay.

Bonded. These are made face-to-face , the ‘filling’ being the carpet pile, held between two specially treated woven backings. The carpet is then sliced through the middle to make two carpets. All the pile is on the surface, and can be in a wide range of lengths and textures from a shaggy effect to a close-cropped velour. The fibres can be traditional, synthetic, or a mixture, and the carpets are usually plain. Broadloom widths are normally available.

Needlefelt or Needlepunch

A fibrous mass is machine-needled into a strong backing, creating a looped ‘corduroy’ or a dense felt pile. They can be plain, mottled or printed, with a resin-coated or foam backing. The fibres may be natural, synthetic or a blend, but usually this type of carpet is made from synthetic fibres, and broadloom widths are the norm.

Style of carpet

Many distinctive styles of carpet are available, creating different surface effects:

Velvet or Velour is a close-cut velvety surface, normally used for plain or two tone carpets, which are made in several different ways, and come in a range of fibres and fibre blends.

Twist or Hardtwist is curly and crush-resistant. The kink is put into the yarn before it is made into a carpet. They are made in several different ways -frequently, high-quality Wilton is woven this way, in different fibres or blends of fibre.

Loop pile is made by a continuous run of loops, which can be used to create different textures. This group includes Cords, which have tight loops and look ribbed and are made from a range of different fibres, and Berbers which have a larger loop and look more homespun. Originally these were made from an un-dyed, rather coarse wool, but now come in synthetic yarns as well. Hair cord is a very hardwearing cord carpet woven from natural animal hair – it is expensive and not seen very frequently these days. The wearing quality of ordinary cord should not be confused with haircord. Shag-pile or Long-pile carpet has a richly textured surface. Pile lengths can vary from 1 cm to 3 cm , or even longer, with a variety of strand thicknesses. The pile can be looped, twisted, ‘kinked’ or stranded, and a range of fibres and fibre blends are used. This group also includes a fairly new style- Saxony – a shaggy pile carpet which has a lustrous look, usually made from shiny synthetic fibre.

Sculptured pile, sometimes called ‘cut-and-loop’, is made from yarns of different heights, or a combination of looped and velvet pile to create a patterned or ‘carved’ effect. Sometimes two or three tones of the same colour are used to enhance the patterned effect; two or three different colours can also be used. Fibres can be natural or synthetic, or a mixture.

Printed carpets are made in a number of different ways, including a computer-controlled dye injection system. The overall effect is the same as a patterned woven carpet, but on closer examination the pattern is seen to be only on the front of the pile. Carpet made this way can be multicoloured or have a two and tri-tone effect, and fibres are usually synthetic.

Shadow style has contrasting colour on the pile – the darker tone is on the base, lightening towards the tip. The pile is usually lustrous, made from a synthetic fibre, and when the carpet is walked on the dark tones show through, creating a shadowed effect. The pile can be velvet or sculptured, and sometimes several different toning colours are used to enhance the iridescent effect.

Types of fibres

Wool and other natural fibres were originally the only ones used in carpet construction, but now the choice is wide, and each type gives its own particular characteristics to the finished carpet.

Acrylics have good resistance to flattening, but do not have quite such long-lasting qualities as wool and show the dirt more. Always try to select one which has been treated to resist staining and to be anti-static.

Blended fibres give, in proportion, the advantages of all the fibres used in the blend. For example, 80/20 per cent wool/nylon blend combines the soil resistance and resilience of wool with the hard-wearing characteristics of nylon. Many different fibres can be blended in carpet construction.

Cotton has the advantage of being cheap and it washes easily, but it also flattens quickly and soils easily.

Nylon. The hardest wearing fibre yet developed for carpets and it can give a lustrous and luxurious look, but on its own it soils easily and can look scuffed and bedraggled very quickly. When nylon is added to other fibres, it increases the strength of the carpet.

Polyester. A soft fibre, usually used in mini-shag and fluffy carpets, it has only moderate wear and appearance retention.

Polypropylene. Often found in cord carpets, it provides moderate wear and appearance retention, is impervious to water and much used for backings.

Viscose rayon. Inexpensive but does not wear well, and soils and flattens as badly as cotton.

Wool. No complete substitute for wool has yet been found. A blend of the right kinds of wool will provide hard-wearing, 64 resilient carpet which shows soiling less than other fibres, but this is expensive. If you want wool, you will have to pay for it. A wool and nylon mixture in 80/20 per cent blend gives the best performance.

Carpet squares and tiles

Carpets art-available as ‘squares’ and as tiles. Either type can be manufactured in the ways described, from any of the fibres discussed, and in several different styles.

Carpet squares are like large rugs, are easy to lay, do not necessarily need an underlay and can be turned round to equalize wear.

Carpet tiles come in various sizes and qualities and are usually loose-laid, so they can be taken up when you move or for cleaning. Buy a tew extra so you can replace a tile if it becomes damaged. They are easy to lay, and particularly practical in bathrooms where there is a lot of’cutting-in’ round basin, pedestals and so on.


These are the next most important surfaces — woodwork is usually painted with oil-based gloss paint, as this protects it and makes it easy to clean and redecorate, but some people prefer a satin or lustre finish – this is not so practical in areas which get a lot of condensation, or are prone to sticky finger marks. Wood can also be stained, or left completely natural, and scaled.

Walls can be decorated in a number of ways including paint, paper and a multitude of different wallcoverings from fabric to wood cladding. Again, the task of selecting a suitable surface is largely one of common sense.


Upholstered furniture comes in many shapes, styles, sizes and price ranges. If you have children, choose something hard-wearing and robust – this means looking in the medium-price range. Covers should be easy-to-clean or, for more flexibility, choose attractive tweedy or leather textured upholstery and have a set of washable loose covers as well. In an ‘adults only’ household, more fragile fabrics can be used, but the choice still depends on the style of the decorations and the likely wear and tear.

Cabinet furniture

The choice is enormous: wood, veneered chipboard, moulded plastic, laminated plastics, metal, glass and Perspex, rush and cane. When choosing furniture, price, function, lifestyle etc. all need to be taken into consideration.

Beautiful inlaid antique tables and fragile furniture are fine in a home without children and pets , but more robust finishes should be selected for family rooms. In children’s own rooms, painted furniture from a range which can be added to as the children grow is a practical choice. ‘Junk shop finds’ can often be painted to match and supplement it.

Kitchen units should be easy-to-clean, inside and out, and as good a quality as you can afford. Remember, you are likely to live with them for a long time, so stick to colours you really like and around which you can plan several different schemes. Avoid over-bright or jazzy patterned worktops.

NOTE: the same comments apply to selecting colours for bathroom sanitary-ware, ceramic wall and floor tiles, and any other surfaces which are difficult to change.


Once you have worked out the likely furniture positions for each room you will be able to sec just where you need direct light, and make any necessary arrangements for rewiring and fixing new points. Think about this at planning stage, so that any channelling out of walls or lifting of floorboards can be done before you start decorating.

Direct lighting

All main rooms will need direct lighting to enable various activities to go on, and background lighting to provide a soft glow.

In the living area you will need indirect lighting behind or to the side of the television set when viewing: lamps positioned behind chairs and settees to give adequate lighting for reading, sewing etc; lamps to light surfaces so you can see what you are doing when pouring drinks, putting on records or tapes. A study corner or desk should be lit by concealed lighting from the front and above the writing surface, with an adjustable lamp if a typewriter is used.

In the dining area, the table needs illuminating, without direct light shining in the eyes of the diners, and this is best lit from above with a lamp on a rise-and-fall fitting with a wide shade — if the table is a long one you may need two lights. Units or storage cupboards need adequate lighting from lamps or concealed lighting under shelves.

In the bedroom, lighting should be- thought about in relation to the function of the room. The main bedroom should have lamps each side of the bed, for reading – high enough to throw light onto the page when the reader is sitting up in bed, but not to shine into the eyes of the partner who may want to sleep. Dressing tables should be lit so the light shines on the face, not into the eyes. In bed-sitting rooms, a desk lamp may be needed, and any play surface in a child’s room should be adequately lit. A nursery should have soft indirect lighting, which can be left on if a child is afraid of the dark, as well as safe direct lighting for nappy-changing etc. Illuminate cupboards from inside, with a switch mounted on the door frame which comes on when the door opens.

In the hall, lighting must be sate, light the edge of stair treads well, and be dual-switched for control from both landing and hall. Treat any understairs or linen 65 cupboards as bedroom ones, and have a lamp on any hall tables, plus a porch or front door light controlled from inside.

In the kitchen, lighting must be really adequate. Have lighting above the sink, so you can see what you are doing at night – this can be pelmet lighting, strip lighting or spots. The stove should be lit from above so both the hob and oven can be seen clearly. Work surfaces should be well lit – concealed lighting under wall-mounted cupboards, which shines onto the surface is best. The insides of deep cupboards should also be lit. Treat a table or breakfast bar as for the dining table. Small kitchens can have strategically placed ceiling-mounted track with several movable spots.

In the bathroom, the mirror should be well lit for shaving, make up etc; illuminate from the side, not above. Linen cupboards should have interior lighting, and the bath should be well enough lit for reading in the bath as well as seeing to wash oneself- again spotlights, mounted on track, can be a practical possibility.

Background lighting

Background or diffused lighting can be used to create a mood — or very dark corners may need some form of lighting during the daytime. \.ill lights are one solution bin they must be carefully sited – not too high – and are most useful if dimmer-controlled.

Pelmet lighting can provide soft background illumination, but if you have curtain poles and pleated headings the curtains can still be softly lit from strategically placed spots to emphasize lovely fabric. In old houses, spots can be concealed behind beams. Illuminated alcoves or shelves, lit from above with concealed lights, also provide good background lighting.

Pools of light can be provided by lamps and house plants or flower arrangements look really dramatic if illuminated from below by uplighters.

Always plan for much more lighting than you think you will need, so you can change the mood and atmosphere of a room at will, and won’t have to rewire when you change the scheme or decide to move the furniture round. 66

Planning A Successful Happy Home

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