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Home Front: Planning home improvements? Take these top tips

New year, new home improvement project? It’s never too early to start planning and Cate Burren of Angel + Blume Interior Design has some suggestions to help ease the process. . .

Planning makes perfect when remodelling - Image Peter Bennett x Angel + Blume
Planning makes perfect when remodelling - Image Peter Bennett x Angel + Blume

Two years ago almost exactly, we moved house. We loved the house - we ended up buying within minutes of seeing it - but it very obviously needed an overhaul; not a huge project, not structural, no planning permissions, just a reorganisation of space and a full facelift.

Two years on, we are nearly finished and I am really happy with the result. I do however feel ever so slightly exhausted by the process and, given that I work in this industry, it does make me reflect on the stresses and strains for the homeowner of an interiors project.

The truth is that having work done in your home is fantastic in terms of creating your own space, making your mark and enjoying the end result. The element that should never be ignored is the fact the process for those who own and live in the home is emotional, time-consuming, and very often more costly than originally hoped for.

So what can make the process better? Who you work with is obviously key and unfortunately there is no easy solution to how you find the right people for the job. Contractors who are good aren’t cheap, but it isn’t as easy as simply paying for quality. You need to make sure that they are the right people for the job; that you get on with them, as communication is vital in a project; and that they have the time to do the work.

I can’t honestly give you an insight into finding the best people to work with, but, when you do, hang on to them with everything you have got - and a key element of being able to do that is playing your part as a good client.

Any project will be better if you know what you want before any of the work starts. This is not a vague idea that you want your bathroom redone – the shower doesn’t work, I hate the tiles, I need some storage – it is real details of what you want, such as the make and model of shower you prefer, the tiles you want to use (including information on layout configuration and grout colour) and details of exactly what storage you want included or built.

You may have to be flexible when the project starts, as often things have to change as you go along (it is only when an old bathroom is taken out that you will know what is possible in terms of plumbing, layout and so on), but if you try to design spaces and decide on things as you go along, it will be stressful for you and the contractor and it is unlikely that you will end up with anything near to what you originally hoped for.

Once you know what materials you want (light fittings, flooring, paint colours etc), make sure you agree with the contractor who is responsible for buying them. It could be you or the contractor, or a combination, but being clear and then also knowing what the lead times are on all items is vital.

If you are buying materials, make sure you will be available to take deliveries, know whether things can be returned if there are any problems with them and consider where they will be stored while the work is being done. One top tip is that it often feels good to buy items cheaply online and this can be a great bargain, but more often than not it comes with pitfalls - particularly if you find you need some customer service down the line.

Budgeting is tricky. It is important to start off with a good estimate for materials and for the labour required. However, many projects go over budget and that is not (hopefully) because of poor estimating, but more often about things being uncovered once the work starts.

It might be that you find problems that are only exposed once things are stripped out, or you might decide to do some further works while you have your contractors on site. Whatever the work you are doing, it pays to have some spare budget. If it is very minor work, you may not need to be overly cautious, but if it is a big refurbishment, I would suggest having a fairly sizeable contingency fund so that you are not losing sleep when the work is underway.

If you are having work done on just one area of the house, the disruption you feel may not be huge, but try to consider what having contractors on site will mean for you and for them. A project involving a utility room with exterior access will be much less intrusive than an en-suite bathroom, but either way, it pays to think about how you will cope with noise, rubbish (there is always more than you think there will be) and whether the electricity will need to be turned off (and thus internet and possibly heating).

If you work from home or have young children, think about how you will manage day-to-day life while people are working in your home. For big projects, or those involving a kitchen or main bathroom, it may be worth thinking about whether you need to move out for a certain part of the work. When you are booking the work, it is important to think about whether you have any busy times that are worth avoiding (visitors booked in? GCSEs on the horizon? Christmas at your house?) – and however long you think the project will take, allow some overrun so that it doesn’t cause problems if things get delayed.

I think projects at the broadest level have three phases – the initial planning stage where things are exciting and you have lots of enthusiasm for the work; the middle phase when the work is being done, which is a roller-coaster ride of the highs of seeing progress and the lows of wishing that everyone would leave your home and let you get on with your life; and the final stage when you reclaim your space, put your stuff back, add a layer of accessories and breathe a sigh of relief.

It is, of course, all much more complicated than that - but what is certainly true is that the better your planning, the better chance you give yourself of having a good experience with your project.

Find out more about Angel + Blume Interior Design at angelandblume.com

Pictured: Bathrooms are one of the trickiest projects; they often involve coordinating plumbers, electricians, joiners, tilers, decorators etc – not to mention the many decisions you need to make about where things should go and what products you want to have. . . Image: peterbennettphotography.net

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