Our home is our haven, it is in a place we want to be, have chosen to be, and spend a significant amount of our earnings in order to create our own personalised space. When we close the front door, we are safe away from the world, and the colours, lighting, décor and furnishings are all ours to choose.
So what are the elements we want from our home?
Key Elements: Comfort, Daylight and Fresh Air, Views, Space, Style and Landscape
The first principle of a good home is always that we want and need to be warm and dry - quite often, warmth is harder to achieve. Until fairly recently, due to the lack of understanding and inadequacies of poor construction techniques, tired and out-dated buildings have been cold and draughty.
Due to the climate, here in the UK we became adept to staying dry from the very early days. Pitched roof of slate, stone, clay, thatch and shingles have served us well since we emerged from the caves and much more recently the evolution of a whole new standard of roofing and glazing products has helped to eliminate the age-old problem of leaky flat roofs, split lead gutters and leaking roof-lights. New build properties, in particular since the 1980’s are built to be more warm and dry.
Environmental awareness since the 1970’s and the ever-increasing cost of fossil fuels (gas, coal, oil and hence electricity), drove building regulations to ensure higher insulation values and lower energy costs. For existing properties, this brought forward the opportunities of injected cavity insulation, loft insulation, replacement double-glazing and more efficient boilers, all of which really help the comfort of our environment.
So, the first thing to consider in creating your ideal home is to make sure that you are warm and dry - that’s the best start to making sure that you are comfortable. Assuming that you don’t have a leaky roof, take a look at your home, where are the cold spots, draughts or rooms you don’t enjoy being-in because they are chilly or dark? How are we able to transform that.
Natural daylight and fresh air are crucial elements to achieve within any home, so we should always endeavour to make the most out of every opportunity. Glazing technology is now such that we can provide large areas of glazing in houses without compromising the insulation of the home, and simple additions such as roof-lights can make a massive difference to a living space.
“People perform better in daylight environments. Bright lighting is generally believed to make people more alert, and well-daylit spaces are generally perceived by occupants to be “better” than dim gloomy ones.” Mardaljevic et al, 2012
We can all agree that when the sun is shining, we are all more cheerful, and in that respect, if it shines into our home then we are going to feel more cheerful in that environment. When it comes to maximising the daylight entering your home, purchasing large sheets of glass for windows no longer has the price tag that everyone expects.
“Daylighting has been associated with improved mood, enhanced morale, less fatigue, and reduced eyestrain.” Robbins, 1986
If there is no opportunity for more windows due to the layout of your home, big mirrors and clever wall colours are a great way to brighten up rooms that might be slightly dark and have a larger impact on your mood, than you think.
How many times do we hear the words ‘just popping out for a breath of fresh air’, when someone wants a break and to ‘take a breather’. Fresh air is crucial for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle and is how we remedy stress and make ourselves feel better.
Therefore, it is very important that the opportunities of fresh air are a high priority in the home. One of the main reasons people will open up the windows and doors of their home, even during winter, is to let out stale air. By opening windows and doors, you are getting rid of the stale air and bringing in new, fresh oxygenated air. A well-ventilated home is a healthy environment, so think about your home and where it might be stale, make a hit-list of problem areas.
Ask yourself, where do you most like to spend your time and why? It might be that you love watching the Television, in which case a cinema room or Video/TV space with no distractions or intrusions is where you most want to be and what we need to achieve. Alternatively, you might enjoy looking at your favourite tree in the garden or glimpsing between buildings to see activity in the park or on the nearby River.
Recently, there has been an upturn in people wanting a bath in their bedroom or in front of a window in order that they can enjoy the view whilst bathing or showering. Hot tubs and waterproof televisions are now a very popular addition to the home. Clearly bathing and showering is a favourite activity, probably because it is most relaxing, and if you can do this with a view or whilst watching your favourite programme, then you have the best of all worlds. The challenge then, is making sure that you retain some form of modesty to the outside world / you don't end up electrified in the bath / you’re not sitting naked in the car park because the hot-tub is too heavy for the balcony!
When it comes to views from your home, think about where you want to view when doing your daily activities. Large windows to the garden above the sink are a time-old favourite, as it presents an opportunity to look out to the garden and take in some important sunlight / fresh air when doing mundane tasks.
Adversely, if you’re next to a building that you might not like to see, such as a large industrial building or rubbish store, then it might be worth assessing what it would take to move the window a couple of metres or to a different wall and replacing the window with a large mirror. The impact this could have in the long run is likely to make a massive difference to enjoying that room and your home.
The art of good spatial design is the difference between just building a structure to inhabit, and designing and creating a great space to be. This is not something that can be readily learned from books or videos, it really comes from spending time creating and inhabiting spaces, and understanding what does and does not work. In the UK, land is precious, ‘they aren’t making any more of it’, hence those who own land demand a high price for its value, and therefore our homes tend to be crushed into tight plots with minimal space around.
It is also not cheap to build in order to comply with the requirements of building regulations. The complexities of keeping out the wind and the rain, ensuring that the house is warm and dry, that there is plenty of daylight and fresh air, and that your home is economical to run, all involved skilled labour and a variety of high quality materials.
On this basis, we have to make the most of every spare square millimetre of space in our home, so what space would we like? The current trends are for open-plan living, kitchen/ dining/family rooms, separate cosy living spaces where you can escape from the noise, bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and dressing rooms, and we never have enough storage, all of which have to be achieved and afforded within a limited budget!
The art of making the most of an area is to eliminate any space that is not ‘working for its living’, and where spaces can be merged, connected or interchanged, designed for maximum flexibility. It is amazing how spaces can be transformed with a sliding or folding wall which merge two rooms or bring the inside to the outside on a bright and sunny day.
We all love to exhibit our own particular style, it portrays our character, be it brightly coloured and radical, cool calm and collected, fiercely and regimentally traditional, quirky and eclectic the list goes on. We are all judged by the style of our homes, and judge others accordingly. The obvious and comic example of this is in the 1970’s and 80’s when if you lived in a terraced house, in order to make your home different and special, you might splash out on stone cladding, or maybe a contemporary addition!
I have clients who have restored Victorian houses to beyond their original Victorian splendour, to the point where they have stockpiled hundreds of old filament light bulbs which are totally energy inefficient, in order that the look of their wall lights is not compromised by the push for LED.
At the other end of the scale, we have clients where every detail is sacrosanct, everything is to be hidden, and if you leave a pair of shoes in the wrong position it destroys the clean lines that have been so carefully considered – unless of course they are a well-considered pair of shoes....
For the majority of us it’s somewhere in-between, but much is led by the actual style of the property. If we pick-up on that and maximise the opportunities offered by that style, there is no reason why we will not move from one to another throughout our lives, enjoying the variety and fashions of the time, riding the ‘ups and downs’ of furnishings, colours and trends as they become tired and worn, and when we start to refresh, realising that one thing leads to another, and the whole process starts again.
If we are lucky enough to have a garden to enjoy, then this can play a significant part on the enjoyment of our home. This brings wildlife, colour, fragrances and diet into the equation, a carefully considered and tended garden, however small, brings joy and variety to the home.
‘We started married life in a small Victorian terraced house, which had a yard with raised planting beds. Every birthday, Christmas, Easter and special occasion brought forward a new shrub as a gift which was usually in bloom, and of course every spring in desperation for fresh air, the first trip to the garden centre brought forth a series more.
Within a very short time the raised borders were overgrown, and every birthday, Christmas and special occasion was celebrated by burst of colour and fragrance within the garden.’
This is just the beginning. Due to the variety of climate in the UK, the opportunities for living and integrating with the garden become more common, and on this basis we can plan for rooms outside with a variety decking, terracing, pergolas, bar-be-ques, Pizza ovens, water features, hot tubs and large screen TV's, the opportunities are endless.
This together with the prevalence of the internet, Wi-fi and working from home means that we can plan to utilise every square millimetre of our external space as well as the internal, and really maximise the potential of our well-earned space.