Interior Design – Getting the Framework Right
Getting the Framework Right
The Professional Approach
Good interior design is as much about practicality, comfort and detail as it is about style and aesthetics. Any competent designer asked either to improve a home or to plan one from scratch would first try to find out exactly how the occupants live, how they would like to live if they were sufficiently wealthy, and how much they can actually afford to spend. Starting with the ideal and working backwards towards a realistic budget is as good a way as any of sorting out the genuine priorities.
The most useful thing that the designer can do at first is to draw people out in order to establish their tastes and the factors in their home that make them feel most at ease. This done, the designer can use the information as a basis for his or her design solutions. Obviously, if you are acting as your own designer, it makes sense to ask yourself the same kind of salient questions, however elementary they might seem, and to take a hard objective look, in the light of the money available for the project, at each room you want to decorate. The most successful decoration is the result of effective elimination. And working slowly within a clearly defined framework gives you more time to think problems through, to experiment and to learn.
The questions that a designer would ask clients generally come under three categories: the practical, the aesthetic (on questions of taste and style preferences) and the budgetary. The following are typical examples of questions a designer would be likely to ask you, and which you should therefore ask yourself.
* How long do you expect to stay in your present home? Are there, or are there likely to be, children in the household?
* What is the maximum number of rooms you think you will need? Can these be found from existing space? Could you, for example, use roof or attic space?
* Do any elderly relatives live with you, or are they frequent house-guests? Do you, for example, need extra lighting or hand-grip rails?
* Are there any pets in the household? (This, of course, affects the types of finishes and surfaces used.)
* Where does the family feel most comfortable eating — in the kitchen, living room, family room or dining room?
* Almost certainly some of your rooms will have multiple uses (for example, the children may do their homework in the dining room); if so, are the needs of the various users likely to conflict?
* How often do you entertain, and how? How many people do you generally entertain at once? Where do you entertain? The living room? The dining room? The kitchen?
* Is sleeping accommodation cramped for the family?
* Are the washing/bathing/toilet facilities inconvenient? Are there problems at peak times (for example, in the mornings)?
* Is your overall storage space insufficient? If so, is it capable of being expanded?
* What are the regular leisure-time activities of the members of the household? Watching TV or video, or using a computer?
* Do any of the family have any specialist activities or hobbies, requiring rooms to be set aside as workrooms? Should there be rooms reserved for equipment such as the washing machine and dryer, or the freezer?
* Would you say you and your partner share similar tastes or do you have decidedly different tastes? Have you agreed to have your own way in different rooms?
* When it comes to colour schemes, do you feel quite sure of what you want? Are you confused and uncertain, or are you open-minded?
* With what particular colours are you happiest? Are there any colours you really dislike?
* Would you say your taste in decorating and furnishing is eclectic? Traditional? Modern? Romantic? Idiosyncratic? Minimalist? Do your views depend on the house or room in question? And what styles do you admire? Country style (from whatever country)? Sophisticated townhouse? Oriental? Indoor – outdoor? American Colonial? Empire? Regency? Victorian? Neoclassical? Post-Modern? Edwardian? Art Nouveau? Art Deco? 1950s retrospective?
* Do you possess any particular painting, fabric, rug or similar item which would make a good starting point for your basic colour scheme?
* What do you feel is the maximum you can spend on your project (bearing in mind that you should always keep a contingency sum in reserve for emergencies)?
* Do you think this budget will be restrictive? Reasonable? More than adequate? Is your opinion on this based on research into current prices for merchandise and services, or is it just guesswork? (If the latter, it is essential that you research all prices first. You will find that almost everything is more expensive than you think.)
* If you could list (ignoring costs) the ten luxuries that would make your home seem more attractive to you, what would they be?
* Is any member of the household good with their hands? (This can make a big difference to the overall budget.) Skilful at carpentry? Painting?
* Even if your budgeted plans are reasonably modest, will you have to borrow money from somewhere, such as the bank? Would it make sense, in terms of the value of the house or your desire for a better lifestyle, to be more ambitious in your plans and arrange a large loan?
Once you have a rough idea of what you need, want and think you can afford, list the rooms you want to reorganize, noting for each of them any repairs needed and any alterations that you would like to make. Ask yourself some more questions:
* How will you treat the walls, woodwork, ceilings and windows? Would it be an improvement to add French doors anywhere?
* How new is thein the house? Is it up to the standard required by the law, and is it adequate for your needs? What sort of lighting will you need and how will you achieve it? Do you have enough sockets (outlets), and are they in the right places?
* If you have air conditioning, are the units unsightly? If so, can they be improved? Could you remove them from the windows and re-site them in the walls?
* Is the heating adequate? How old is the system? How much would it cost to have it replaced? If you have unsightly ducts for hot-air heating, how much would it cost to replace the system with hot-water pipes?
* What about means of escape in the event of fire? Are there laws in your area governing such things as fire doors and fire escapes? Should you consult an expert on this?
* What about the plumbing? Can you fit in another bathroom, shower room, or lavatory? And how much would this cost? Do existing fixtures need replacing or can they be resurfaced? How (and how well) do all the toilets flush?
* What about the flooring? Are there handsome floorboards under the existing flooring? Can they be scraped and sanded? Do they need repairing or replacing? If you would like a different kind of floor (for example, quarry tiles or marble), is that feasible and, if so, what is the cost? If the price is too high, what about painting the floor, or doing interesting things with linoleum or vinyl tiles? Where do you need carpeting, and what is that going to cost?
* Do you need to put in burglar, fire and smoke alarms? How much will these cost?
* Is the house fully insulated? If not, is it important to you that it should be? Again, how much will this cost? (If it proves extremely expensive, it may make more financial sense not to insulate — but this is unusual.)
* In what condition is the existing— door handles, locks, fingerplates, window catches, light switches, dimmers and taps (faucets)? Do they need replacing, replating or rebrassing? What will this do to your budget? (These are just the sort of details that can all too easily be forgotten.)
Structure and Services
All the questions noted above might seem elementary, but in the enthusiasm or the confusion of the moment it is easy to forget the basics: far too many people embark on ambitious decorating and furnishing projects before they deal with basic structural matters. Moreover, unless you know the answers to all these questions — and the likely costs in each case — you cannot really form a realistic budget. If you own your home, it is vital that you get the framework into good, solid workable order before you embark on the more glamorous cosmetics, such as wall, window and floor coverings, the furnishings and the other various accessories. It is a waste of time, effort and money to start to decorate before the structure is put in order.
So that you do not miss defects that you will later have to remedy, whatever the cost, it helps to make a preliminary checklist. The two main headings are ‘Structure’ and ‘Services’. By each subheading under these main headings, note the basic state of affairs: if a service is in good working order or if improvements or repairs are needed. A typical example of such a list, with the comments written in, is shown here:
Rented homes are, of course, another matter. It is to be hoped that the landlord will have taken care of any structural faults. Nevertheless it certainly helps to be aware, before you sign the lease, of the external condition of the property and the state of its— heating, air conditioning, wiring, plumbing, windows, drainage, roof, and so on. If they seem not to be in good order and the landlord is unwilling to attend to them, think very seriously before you take on the lease, especially if it is for a reasonable period of time and you want to embark on your own decorating.