Tradespeople quotes: getting ripped off and getting even. Monday, Jan 31 2011 

You’ll have got the drift, by now, that I like doing most things myself, if I can.  But there are occasions when even my enthusiasm and energy flag.  Such as rendering the outside of my house, re-wiring it, replacing an entire window, and so on.  So there are always times when you need to call in the trades: builders, plumbers, electricians….

As a woman (I hate to say, this, but it’s true), particularly as a woman, I feel I can get bamboozled by guys coming to quote.

It’s kind of like taking my car in.  All kinds of technical issues suddenly arise.  Complicated-sounding jargon makes me feel ignorant.  Large problems seem to be isolated to my particular case, which, of course, is going to increase the price.

I start feeling overwhelmed, confused and out-of-my depth.  And more than anything, I start feeling that they are pulling the wool over my eyes.

I hate getting ripped off.  Don’t you?  So girls (and guys if you’re reading this) – here’s how to get even….

Rutherford quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Firstly, ask lots of questions.  As the quote above so aptly summarises – if you want to save money, you have to use your brain. 

When an electrician/builder/plumber uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, ask!  What does that mean?  Is that isolated to my case only?  Do you come across that often?  Is there a way around it?

If you don’t ask, you’re going to get more lost as the tradeperson continues.  And he knows that.  And he’ll charge you.

If you DO ask, when the next person that comes to quote (because you ARE getting at least three quotes, aren’t you?) you will be very well-informed.  It also means that when the work is underway, you’ll know what’s going on.

quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Secondly, be very clear what you do and don’t want done.  It might be easier with that wall knocked out, or with the light hung a metre to the left of centre, but is that what you want?  Stick to your guns.  Ask why they want to do something different.  Ask if there is an easier way.

Thirdly, GET THREE QUOTES.  It’s a hassle isn’t it?  Half the people I call don’t even turn up.  That’s how easy business is here in Australia….  Here are some of my stories as to why you should get three quotes.

When I wanted to get my house rendered on the outside, I asked a reliable building company to quote.  Their figure was $72,000!!!  Well – for that price, I couldn’t afford to have it done.  So I got more quotes.  They came in at $32,000 $14,000 and $7,000.  I was staggered.  I had no idea that quotes could vary so widely.

I discovered why later, when I was going through the debacle with my garden that I wrote about here.  One landscape contractor (who I pummelled with questions) eventually relaxed and admitted that he was really busy, and had more work than he needed.  I’d asked how much a whole swimming pool would cost, as a small garden pond was being quoted at $50,000.  He said,yes, you could do a whole pool for that price, although last week, he hadn’t really wanted a job, so had quoted $500,000 ( yes you read that right – half a million dollars).  He’d been staggered when the client accepted.  He was pleased as punch, and said he’d be happy to squeeze that job into his diary.  I felt for that poor, foolish (rich) client.

So – be warned.  Sometimes the quote is high as they don’t need the work.

Four – if you think the quote sounds good (I liked the $14,000 render quote), but you feel anxious, ask to speak to former clients or to see former work.  I drove round addresses where Mick and his team had rendered houses.  They looked fabulous and my mind was at rest.  I also asked why his quote was less.  It was based around scaffolding (he had his own) – something which costs a lot to hire.

Five – if you don’t like the chap, don’t hire him, even if he’s cheap.  I did this once, and man oh man, I regretted it.  The carpenter (who was building a car port on a house 12 years ago) moaned all day, turned up late, and generally made a meal of the job.  I didn’t like having him around, and that meant the working relationship was never as good as it could have been.

Six – if you have a complex project that involves more than one trade, get a recommendation from the primary hire.  My renderer recommended a painter to paint the render.  My kitchen fitter recommended the sparky he’d prefer to work with.  If strangers work together, one will blame the other for things that go wrong.  Using people who like each other, and work together regularly, means that the painter won’t blame the renderer for a poor surface.   Makes your life a lot easier.

Finally, if your gut tells you it’s not right.  Don’t do it.  There are plenty more tradespeople out there.

women quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

(and if you’re wondering why I’ve put quotes and not pics – it’s because I’m writing about quotes….)

Painting a mural: the agony and the ecstacy Friday, Jan 28 2011 

I am quite obsessed with murals, especially the ones that look to be real.

And, as I’ve written about before here, I love the forbidden delight of painting on your own walls.  I’ve painted a red marbled staircase but here I really went to town….

There was a blank wall in the laundry (ideal for a trompe l’oeil mural) and a blank week in my diary.  What better thing to do, than to spend 18 obsessive, rapturous and agonised hours a day painting ‘Muriel’ – as she is now called?

I confess I do become obsessed – thinking about the next step, wondering if something is going to turn out alright, marvelling when something does. 

mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

I don’t have a before photo because I become completely sure of my inability to create a decent mural (despite this being my fourth or fifth), and my certainty I will jinx it.  And it just looks so HIDEOUS for the first two or three days.  Really.   That is the tough bit, where after sleepless nights and hours painting, I’ve created something that a 5 year-old would be embarrassed about.  I have to motivate myself to carry on.

It inevitably gets better.  After the mid-point crisis, it starts to gel, and I start to think that maybe I won’t have to paint it all out before anyone can see.

I’ve been asked several times where I learned to paint murals, and the honest answer is – from a book.  Just like following a recipe.  There are several tricks.  Perspective is the main one.  Hundreds of tiny illusions convince the eye that the image is 3D: strong light, clear shadows, looking through an archway, curtain or window, lines pointing towards the vanishing point.  After that, technique is a secondary issue (thank god, as I don’t really have any).  You can see below the strong shadows (and the poor technique!)

light shadow mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

I wanted an image reminiscent of England (my mother country).   So I played around with some hills, woods, irises and a walled garden.  The perspective is only right from when you’re about to walk into the room (which is where I thought most people would see it).

light shadow mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

There are many fabulous books on murals, and how to do it, but my favourite is “Painting Murals” by Patricia Seligman.  There are step-by-step instructions and pictures.  As you rough it out in paint first, and build up layers, it does look very amateurish until you reach the final layers.  The suggested additions of highlights and shadow transform a roughed out image beyond belief.

So, if you did some art at school, or do some hobby painting now – you can definitely do this.  And if you’ve done one already – send me a photo – I’d love to publish it!

finished mural trompe l'oeil paint effects interiors

Getting a gourmet kitchen on a tight budget Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

kitchen interior recycled

Kitchens can be SO expensive.  And SO gorgeous.  How do you get gorgeous on a budget?

I often see images (whether of interiors or clothes or gardens) that I covet, and then mull for weeks over how to create that look affordably.  The design-work is the part that makes it look amazing - so if you have a clear design that you love, imitating can be a lot less expensive than paying for the creation of something new.

kitchen interior recycled

Firstly (I love this bit) do your homework – look at lots of picture and cut out all the photos of kitchens you like.  (Not out of library books – out of magazines.)  Gathering all your photos and images together, work out the common themes.  This will help you work out what you like.  Is it a colour?  The flagstone floor?  Do you like the antique pot racks with copper saucepans hanging down?  Or do you prefer glass cabinets?  Or wood?

Getting this clear in your head at the start save expensive mistakes later on….

kitchen interior recycled

Then have a good honest look at your current kitchen.  Is the layout working?  If so, it might be possible to leave the cabinets and either paint or change the doors.  This is a great solution as it is inexpensive and environmentally friendly.  If you’re going to attempt to paint the doors yourself, take them off and paint them elsewhere.  This way, you’ll be able to get to the bits inside the hinges and so on, without making a mess in your kitchen.

small galley kitchen white

Ensure you use durable paint (you don’t want it chipping off).  And make sure you sand and prepare well – for the same reason.

If you are painting them yourself, you could consider a different colour for the inside of cupboard doors – as inspired by Scott Weston here.

If not, you’ll have to pull it all out.

Firstly – don’t chuck the old kitchen.  You may well find a taker on eBay who is prepared to dismantle and take away your old kitchen for re-use.  I gave mine to a home for small children – they came and took it and used it.  I was so thrilled!

kitchen before renovation

I changed mine for a number of reasons:

1. The left hand wall (you can’t quite see in the photo) was floor-to-ceiling cupboards with no bench space.  You can see, above, the other bench space.  Basically there wasn’t any!  And I love to cook.

2. The veneer on the cupboards was very old, very dated.  It was starting to peel and to turn a strange pinkish shade.

3. The pink splodgy marble bench top was about the most hideous thing I could imagine.

But I still lived with it for three years!  (yup – that’s the before and after – above and below…)

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop

I changed the design so that the bench extended all round the edge.  This greatly improved the kitchen’s usability.  And I re-did the whole thing for less than $8,000.

How?

1. If your appliances (oven, dishwasher etc) are working fine, then keep them.  This will save you thousands.  Most appliances these days last at least a decade.

2. Custom-made kitchens are the most expensive.  And having your own cupboards built will not make them more durable in any way.  Almost 15 years ago I saw the most amazing kitchen I’d ever seen in an architect’s home in London, so I now always buy the brand he recommended. His kitchen was the ultimate in chic and desirability.  I couldn’t quite believe it when he said… IKEA. 

Yup!  I know.  Hard to believe. 

But in actual fact, more time is spent on the design, more rigour is put into the durability, and it has more flexibility than most other kitchens.  They have a 10 year guarantee against paint chipping etc!

 kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

3. Consider wood for the bench top.  I actually love the look of wooden bench tops, but they are also hugely practical.  They don’t require large amounts of marble to be mined and transported.  They can be fitted immediately (unlike man-made stone which has to be moulded to size over several weeks).  A monthly oil (with linseed oil) keeps them fresh and water-tight.  And if anything terrible happens you can always sand them back.

I’ve had mine installed for 4 years, and the wood is as good as new.  Wood also has anti-bacterial properties, which makes it a hygienic choice too.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop chopping board

4. Have it professionally fitted.  I got a fabulous carpenter to install this kitchen as he can make it look far more professional than I ever could.  He actually cut the bench tops to fit into the glass bricks (before there was a separate sill there – this solution not only look better, it bought me more bench top).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks

5. Install your upper cabinets up to ceiling height (look at the divine kitchen below – I love how they’ve done it there).  This does a number of things: firstly it prevents dust and dirt congregating on top of the cabinets.  Secondly, it gives you the wonderful vertical lines and height I talked about with curtains.  And finally, it will look far more finished and elegant.  They don’t have to be real cabinets that function – just the doors cut to size will work perfectly.

high ceiling kitchen white cabinet interiors

Make sure you build in niches and space for things YOU use.  I wanted a shelf for cookbooks, room for glass jars… so I included them in the design.

To break up the look, I used glass-fronted cabinets above.  This also had the effect of making the glass bricks look ‘meant’ (rather than just dated).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks cherries

I changed the lighting too and installed lights under the cabinets above the bench – which is the spot you want brightly lit.

I’m lucky to have a lovely view out of the kitchen – so I made sure this was as uncluttered as possible.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

Things to avoid:

1. If you choose a strong colour for the cabinets, it is likely to look dated over time.  If you want a strong colour, why not use it on the walls?  (I have also heard at least one terrible story of the strong colour for the upper cabinets not matching exactly the colour on the lower ones.  Ouch!)

2. Don’t use marble or granite for bench tops unless you are fully aware of the drawbacks of porous stone.  Beetroot and red wine will stain these.

3. Splashback fashion changes.  Stainless steel is looking very last millennium.  Go for something timeless – simple tiles or even untinted glass (which is what I chose – although most of mine are glass brick).

4.  Open shelves are very fashionable – but you may regret it.  Kitchens generate huge amounts of dirt from cooking and open shelves (and their contents) will quickly become dirty.

Above all, think about how you will use it.  And if you don’t cook – don’t get a fancy kitchen!  Spend your money where you’ll appreciate it.

Gosh, my posts are getting long aren’t they?  Too much to talk about!

How to make a roman blind Monday, Jan 24 2011 

A few days ago I posted about what curtains and blinds work for which windows and which colours and fabrics to use.  As promised, here is the first ‘how-to’ – for a roman blind.

You can make a roman blinds starkly modern with a crisp strong fabric, blousily Victorian with a floral print, or even moodily historic - it all depends on the fabric.  And these are so easy to make, it really doesn’t cost the earth (although a curtain maker will ensure that it does…).  So have a go – all you need is a basic sewing machine, and the courage to give it a try.

The first step is to measure your window.  Decide whether your blind will hang inside the frame, or up to the ceiling.  Add 10cm to the width for hemming and/or attaching the lining.  You’ll need to add 20cm to the length (for attaching and hemming).

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Once you have cut out the fabric, sew the lining and the blind fabric together, ensuring that about 2cm of the blind fabric folds round the back (that way if it flaps open in the breeze you don’t see the lining).  Press the seam flat.  Yes really – this is important.  I always skip steps if I can, but this will make it look neat.

Above you can see the blackout fabric as lining, with a toile-de-jouy turned over.

Then work out where you want the folds in the blind when it is pulled up.  If you want a 10cm drop when it is closed, you will need to sew the blind tape at 20cm intervals, so it folds in half to a 10cm drop.  Take time to do this calculation several times.  There is nothing worse than sewing the tapes on and then realising they are all in the wrong place and you have to unpick them all and start again.

Actually, there is something worse – spilling red wine over your nearly complete blinds.  But we won’t go into that here.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains blind tape

Sew your blind tape horizontally across the blind.  This is a very easy way of ensuring your blind is horizontal and even when folded.  All you do is tie your blind string to the lowest tape and feed it up through the others until you get to the top of the blind.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Hem your blind.  Iron the hem.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Then cut a length of timber to the size of the top of the blind, less about 5cm (so that the wood doesn’t show).  Staple the blind to the wood, ensuring that the drop length at the front is the right measurement (you can make it longer or shorter at this stage).

Once it is attached, screw in small loops to the underside of the wood (as shown in the photo above) and thread your string up through the lines of tape to the loop (this should all be in a straight vertical line) at the top, and then feed it along the loops until the end.  This will be where you pull it up and down.

You can then attach the blind to the wall by drilling two holes through the wood, and putting it up with rawl plugs and screws.

It will take a week or so before it ‘settles down’ and starts hanging naturally in the folds that it is designed to.  For the first few times you take it up and down you may have to straighten the folds by hand.

If you want stiffer folds, you can make pockets in the lining (just 1cm wide) and use long steel dowels about 2mm thick to stiffen it.  I only do this for very wide windows.

Shameless Saturday, Jan 22 2011 

Cats on coffee sack chair

Dear reader,

If you enjoy my blog, get pleasure and perhaps a little escapism from my posts, I’m asking you for a favour.

Apartment Therapy is running its annual celebration of new blogs here.  If you can face registering to comment – I’d love to be nominated.

You can nominate either in green home or home design.

Shameless of me to ask?  Of course it is…. but I think I left shame behind in my 30′s when I discovered that you’re more likely to get something if you actually ask for it.

I hope you enjoy, as much as I will, all the talent that is showcased there.  What a wonderful window onto the world the internet is!

Clare

PS – I feel a bit wrecked posting a pic of my cats as Diesel is currently in cat hospital with a suspected furball blocking his intestine.  I am a very worried ‘mother’!

Salvaged mantlepiece: create a fireplace focal point Friday, Jan 21 2011 

mantlepiece interior renovation

Maybe you’ve got a fireplace and you’re thinking about changing it?  Or maybe (like me) you have a room without a focal point, and you’ve decided that a fireplace is the answer.

I’ve covered the new fireplace briefly in the sitting-room makeover, but this fireplace has a secret.  It isn’t real.  It houses the stereo and the CDs. 

(I realise that CDs are a soon to be outdated technology, but I’m sure I’ll find another use for the storage then.  Books perhaps?)

stripped mantlepiece

Firstly, you can buy the wood surrounds new.  However, for less than 10% of the price, you can buy one from a salvage yard.  It’s a bit more work, but worth it.  This one I stripped using a heat gun.  You can read how addicted I got to that blistering and peeling paint (SO SO satisfying) just from the application of a very hot hairdryer here.

You can see it above when I was propping it up, working it all out.

I did like the look of it stripped, but I needed to build it in, and I just couldn’t get wood to match and look seamless unless I painted it white again.

Also – the corbels were white plaster (as you can see) and I thought they looked a little odd.

build fireplace mantel mantlepiece white wood

I propped the wood fire surround about a foot out from the wall.  I used another piece of wood the same thickness, and screwed that on, to extend the top to the wall.  Some builders bog filled in any gaps between the two.

Then I built plywood sides so that it started to look like a proper fireplace.  These are now painted grey (above) - as the inside of a fire is darker.

hidden shelves fireplace mantlepiece whiteThen I built shelves in behind.  one massive one ran the length of the mantlepiece, forming both the shelf for the stereo, and also the top of the firebox to be painted grey.  Beneath that I build individual shelves just wide enough to hold CDs.  I trimmed them with beading to make them look beautiful.

fireplace wood white mantel storage stereo CDs interiors

If you look carefully in the photo above you can see the join between the mantle surround and the extra wood I attached to extend it to the wall.  Admittedly a professional could do better, but no-one has ever noticed – or at least been rude enough to comment!

 white mantlepiece fireplace after

The room not only has a focal point, it has now has storage for the stereo and CDs – all hidden from view.

Nifty?

Until someone tries to light a fire and our stereo goes up in smoke….

fireplace wood white mantel storage stereo CDs interiors

The other secret of a good-looking fireplace is not to leave it empty.  This wonderful copper urn (secondhand of course!) fills it beautifully.  And the Elk Antler (obviously secondhand – the Elk had it first) adds interest to the top.

If you notice, there is also a tiny carved figure from Papua New Guinea – I love the way she stands guard there.

Have you found a great way to conceal storage?

How small pops of colour brighten an interior Wednesday, Jan 19 2011 

I had the good fortune to have lunch with Scott Weston the other day.  He is one of Australia’s top Architects and Interior designers.   Scott has an imagination and an attention to detail that defy belief.  There are so many ideas in his work, and lots of techniques and themes that can be used elsewhere.

I thought I’d share some of his amazing creations, and some of the lessons I’ve picked up.

scott weston fuschia pink stair carpet

If you absolutely love a strong colour – then why not use it for a stair carpet?  You only see it in transit (you don’t sit down to dinner or on a sofa and stare at it for hours) so you’re unlikely to tire of it.  And it really lifts an otherwise functional area.  It just makes this stair and landing pop!

scott weston internal drawers cupboard colour

One of Scott’s trademarks is his use of unexpected colour, particularly for interiors and hidden areas.  Every time you open a drawer or a cupboard there is a delicious surprise!  For those who like to live with muted colour or neutrals, this is a fun way of having some colour in your life.

scott weston tiled interiors pond and niche

Scott uses this technique to draw attention to focal points.  In this instance, a pond and tiled alcove in a courtyard.  It makes the area feel exciting and vibrant without the need for any extra decor.  A small amount goes a long way to brighten the whole area.

scott weston gold leaf pantry cupboard

Even the mundane is special and glamorous when glossed with gold leaf.  Here a pantry cupboard is slathered with it!  This is the home of the editor of Vogue in Australia, so you’d kind of expect something luxe!

Scott Weston felt lined drawersScott personally works on every little detail and it shows.  Drawers are divided into convenient sections and then lined with cobalt blue felt.  How I wish the interiors of my drawers look like this!  What utter joy I would feel on opening them every day.  Maybe I’m inspired?  Felt is such a brilliant idea as it’s easy to work with.

scott weston beading on light fringeEven lamps are carefully selected for colour and then trimmed with beading.

Scott actually makes models of all his projects.  Look at this utterly darling little doll’s house of a bedroom!  And once his client is happy, he creates the real thing for them. 

scott weston model for bedroom

Even shelves are constructed with colour singing on the wall behind – bringing the whole area to life.  This is such an inexpensive way to liven up a room.

 scott weston mauve behind shelves

Here a linear kitchen is hidden by a long curtain.  Don’t bother with the washing up and mess – just draw a veil over it.  Don’t you love that?

scott weston linear kitchen curtained off

This hair salon was designed by Scott and is a total fantasy for me.  I’m sure Marie Antoinette would have come here to have her hair done (although she may have had some issues getting all the way to Australia…)

scott weston hair salon design faux panels

I love that Scott isn’t afraid of colour.  It’s rare to see a designer use it in such proliferation.  And even if that isn’t your style, maybe his work has sparked some ideas for you?

scott weston moroccan seating

How to create restful grey bedroom colour schemes Sunday, Jan 16 2011 

 Grey bedrooms are hugely popular at the moment, and my post on shades of grey and how they look different to what you might expect has been one of the most read.

grey gray bedroom interior colour scheme

So here are some ways to make grey work for a restful bedroom scheme. 

Grey is strongly associated with flannel (remember the 1980′s aftershave Grey Flannel?  I had a boyfriend who wore it… sigh…) pinstripes, suiting, so using this association in a playful way can work well.  The bedcover above picks up themes of cashmere, flannel and pinstripes and still looks cosy and welcoming.

grey gray bedroom interior colour scheme

Darker greys, charcoals, head towards black – which can be a dramatic and sometimes sexy choice for a bedroom.  This will look best by lamplight, however.  if you spend a lot of time in your bedroom by day, you may find this depressing, rather than welcoming.  Make sure you have sheen on the wall, as a matt finish will suck the light out.  And a high white ceiling will work much better than a low one.

Alternatively combine it will lemon yellow (as below).  This will make it feel sunnier, although lamplight is still going to be the best light.

grey gray bedroom interior colour scheme

If you have wooden floors, a charcoal and chalk chequerboard design just looks stunning.  It will anchor a colour scheme of greys without making it too heavy.

black white grey gray  interior colour scheme chequerboard

If these feel too ponderous for you, or if you prefer lighter, brighter rooms, then head for the white end of the spectrum and use grey as an accent.  I love the monochrome mural below.  It looks so chic, and so timeless.

Whichever shade you pick, make sure you use a pattern somewhere to blend the grey and the white.  Either a bedcover (even stripes will do), or curtains.  This will stop it looking too officey or formal – neither of which you really want when you’re going to sleep.

For an opulent touch, highlight the grey with silver.  This brings bursts of reflected light and a sense of opulence.  I just love the panel behind the bed!

With a very simple grey scheme you can afford to mix up lots of pattern without it being overwhelming.  Stripes and checks work well below.  I love the way the colour of the wood furniture has been echoed in the fawn velvet cushions.

grey bedroom tartan stripes gray

Add a toile de jouy fabric into the mix and grey looks more feminine and girly, but without being frilly.  You can really layer patterns here without worrying about whether it goes – if it’s all black white and grey, you’ll be pretty much fine. 

grey bedroom toile  interior gray

In terms of art, black and white photos look magnificent in this scheme.  You could use landscapes, or, if you’re feeling daring – some tasteful nude photos!

With grey, you don’t want to go too plain.  The room below is bordering on feeling cell-like.  Grey needs layers of texture (flannel, cashmere, silk, linen), layers of pattern (stripes, checks, toiles) and art (photographs, murals) or antiqued and distressed accents to make it feel comfortable and relaxing.

grey bedroom black and white photos

Finally, if you love your art, you could go crazy!  As I mention here, behind the bed – there are no rules other than go HUGE!

black white grey bedroom art hang interior

Patio and roof garden design: before and after Friday, Jan 14 2011 

roof garden patio before

This was the patio as it was when I bought this house…. I called it my prison exercise yard.  It was a square of ugly brick walls, with pink tiles.  There was so much not to like.  The 2cm of thick grey grout between each tile.  The flesh pink of the tiles themselves, that clashed with the yellow-grey brick.  A selection of half-dead plants and disused furniture cluttered the area.

veranda before

This has been one of the most rewarding projects.  I had the walls rendered to cover the brick, and eventually I paved over the old tiles with a fake travertine ceramic (real travertine picks up mould and dirt as it is porous).

I then set about designing a planting scheme.  Here is what I learned along the way:

veranda after

In a small area, stick to two or three plants only.   Any more and it looks cluttered and messy.  I put Lilly Pilly (an Australian native that is very similar to European Box) hedges around the edge and used Magnolia Little Gem and Junipers as accent plants.

Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio

As a focal point in the centre I bought an old bronze water feature, with a double fountain.  I don’t have this wired up, but the rain keeps it full (and when necessary I top it up).  My gorgeous cat is fascinated!

bronze statue little boy water carrier patio garden design

I planted a pot of gardenia in the corner as I can’t resist their heavenly perfume.  But overall, I wanted a French Formal garden look, so I kept flowers to a minimum, (and only white ones), and went for geometric shapes and hedging (structure) rather than wild planting.  In a small area I felt anything else would be overwhelming.

white gardenia flower

I selected plants that are evergreen (easy in Australia) as I want this to look verdant all year round as I see it from the kitchen and dining areas.

potted magolia little gem patio design

I sought advice from a horticulturist on which plants would do best in this environment.  Having spent the first 30 years of my life in England, I’m no expert on Australian plants (although I am improving).  Plants can be expensive and I didn’t want them dying on me!

Bronze statue Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio

To make it feel more like a garden (and less like a concrete patio) I hid the walls by planting hedges in front of them.  Initially I was concerned that this might make the area feel smaller, as I was losing about 60cm all around the perimeter.  but just as moving your furniture away from the walls doesn’t make your room feel smaller, so this just made the area feel more garden-like.

As this is actually a garden built on the roof of the living room below, the only soil is that in planters and pots.  Size matters here.  Go as large as you can for the benefit of the plant…

Bronze statue Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio2

I bought the plants from a wholesale nursery, which was about a third of the price of retail.  You can’t pick out your own plants, but I was prepared to sacrifice that for the financial savings I was making.

White magnolia flower

The water feature attracts lots of native birds.  This is a gorgeous Galah.  And this is why the cats are always on their hind legs – drinking very the water that the birds have bathed in?  What could be more delicious?!

galah bird bath fountain roof garden patio design

Here is another ‘before’ shot, from above.  I didn’t change the lattice work, which gives privacy around the edge of the roof garden, and would have been pricey.  It was very sturdy and in good condition.  Instead I covered it with nature-reed.  I think this looks a little more modern and interesting.  I also considered growing creepers or vines over it, but this fitted with my simple, formal scheme best.

patio before from above

I used large planters.  Fewer large pots look much better than lots of little ones (which I had before).  The larger the pot, the happier the plant – it doesn’t dry out so easily, it has more soil and nutrients and can grow more healthily.  

It also works to keep to one pot design.  Lots of different ones again look messy and cluttered.  I used different pots for my focal plants, and otherwise kept to a neutral vanilla ceramic euro-trough.   This was a big lesson for me.  Few pots, all of the same type, are what you need for visual impact!

roof garden patio design lilli pilli

This last photo is a tantalising glimpse of the indoor-outdoor living area I created.  I’ll post before and after photos of that shortly.  I was aiming for  Hamptons-style area in which to relax, but on a non-existent budget.

verandah roof garden patio garden design

Which colours and fabrics for curtains and blinds? Wednesday, Jan 12 2011 

double silk lined curtains drapes interiorReams of embroidered silk; yards of thick nubbly linen; thick and heavy velvet, glossy with its silken weave…  I could spend hours looking at fabrics for curtains, dreaming of windows I’ll never look out of, and fantasising about châteaux and villas I’ll never wake up in.  But a good curtain can prolong the dream….

Caramel Silk curtain drape fabric interior

Curtains can be very expensive.  Good fabric can cost a lot of money and curtains eat up the yards, meaning that you can spend thousands of dollars (or pounds) before you know it.  So it definitely pays to get this one right.

silk fabric curtains

My first recommendation is that if you are tempted by an outrageous fabric – save it for a cushion.  You want to get at least ten years out of your curtains, so choose something relatively plain that you won’t tire of and that won’t date.  If you know you always like outrageous things – then fair enough, go for it.  I just tend to tire of pattern and strong colour after a while.  It’s fine for clothes which you only wear for a day.  But curtains are something you’ll see day in, day out.

cream silk curtains drapes

The easiest way to get a curtain looking good is to choose a colour close to the wall colour.  Just a shade or two lighter or darker makes the curtain blend into the room and gives a relaxing feel.  The change in texture of the fabric will give enough interest.

If you want your windows to be the focal point, then pick a bold colour or a strong border to make them stand out.

Velvet is a luxurious, rich choice.  it catched the light, muffles sound and looks sumptuous.  Make sure you pick one using the newer technologies that give the depth of sheen seen above.  Silk velvet is by far the nicest, linen velvet is the most durable, but most thread combinations are pretty good these days.

damask curtain fabric interior

Damask is a fabric that can look slightly dated.  It can be used to great effect to create a feeling of grandeur and timelessness.  But use this one wisely as it can definitely look as though it was your grandma’s.

silk stripe curtain fabric interior

Stripes hung vertically will really emphasise the height of a room. 

Horizontally is a harder one to pull off. 

You have to get them matching exactly on all blinds and curtains, and it will create a sense of movement around the walls, which can be disconcerting.

Subtle embroidered patterns in the same colour as the background can work well.  However larger patterns like chintz are more challenging.  You won’t see the pattern properly on a curtain as it folds back on itself, and it can be overwhelming if there are lots of colours or a busy pattern. 

If you like this, then you’re really committing to a certain look.  (I’d have this as a cushion or a loose chair cover that I could change).  Simpler chintzes – like the one below that consists of a single colour will be easier to live with.

chintz fabric curtain interior

Silk is one of the most beautiful fabrics for curtains.  But it actually rots in sunlight.  This hasn’t stopped me using it for blinds with some sumptuous Indian trim, as shown here.  The secret is to line it so that the sunlight hits the lining not the silk itself.  Six years later the blinds are showing some wear, but aren’t too bad.

Polyester and other man-made fabrics overcome this issue, but they never look quite as good as the real thing.  Linen doesn’t have this issue at all and looks gorgeous at a window.

In terms of lining, the most common lining is a blackout fabric which blocks out all light (particularly useful in bedrooms where you need it dark).  I prefer to use a lovely contrast as a lining if I don’t need total darkness.  This makes a curtain look stunning and very luxurious.

I’ll also use layers of curtains, with muslin or something light behind a heavy ‘statement’ curtain.  You can read more of that here.

muslin and linen curtains texture

In the next couple of weeks I’ll take you through making a curtain and a blind…. believe me – this is far easier than choosing the fabric.

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