So you’ve bought a house. Or a flat. Contracts have been exchanged, removal vans booked. What now? You may well have spent the last six months poring over paint charts (if you’re anything like me) but the truth of the matter is that the colour is the last thing you will actually choose. Partly because the decoration of the walls is one of the last things to be done, but also because you can’t really decide on more than the basic shade – pink, green, cream – until you have moved in and lived in the spaces for a while. Some will tell you have to give it a year. I’m far too impatient for that but you do need to see where the sun hits at certain times of day, where are the dark corners? Things you don’t really understand until you’ve spent a while in the space. And, of course, not forgetting that a golden south-facing light will intensify a warm pink turning it peachy while the cool blue of a north-facing room can turn a cool grey cold. Better to decide on the broad colour and worry about the exact shade later.
So we’re going to park the colours for now. The first thing, if you haven’t had the opportunity to do this during the sale process, is to measure all those odd angles the estate agent didn’t plot on the floor plan. I’m able to do this today, a week before we move in, but for those who are moving long distances or who, for whatever reason, haven’t had the opportunity to do so now is the moment.
And if you’re still in the process then do see if you can go round with a tape measure and check the following sorts of things which will make it easier to plan the changes you may want to make.
For example, exactly how wide is the fireplace? Which means, in turn, how wide are any alcoves either side – in period properties they are often not the same. How deep are they? It’s common to put wardrobes in alcoves but be aware that a hanger is about 45cm and an alcove might be typically around 30cm so it will stick out.
The estate agent will also only tell you the widest dimensions of each room so you will need to check the narrow parts they’re keeping quiet about. Often they don’t bother with bathroom and hall measurements at all and if you know you are re-doing the bathroom – most of us do at some point – you need to know very precisely if you can fit a double basin, or how big your storage can be. And if you are replacing hall flooring (as I am) you probably need to measure that space yourself. It’s important to do this as early as you can as lead and supply times are long at the moment. My new house also has several odd angled walls and I need to know how long they are so I can see if a table or a bookshelf will fit along them.
Finally, the doors. I’m slightly obsessed with doors and have devoted a whole chapter of my online course to them. Do you need to swap the hinges so they open against a wall rather than into the room – the Victorians did this for privacy but nowadays we feel that can block furniture placement and make a room feel smaller.
If spaces are tight can you replace a door with a sliding one? I will be doing this all over the new house as we are downsizing and I need to maximise the space in narrow hallways and on tight landings. If you look at the floor plan from the other day you will see that the entrance to the sitting room is on an angle and there’s no way to make that slide but equally when open it’s going to take a huge amount of space. My early thoughts are that I will cut this in half and create a small double door which will dominate less when open.
Once you know the full dimensions of what you are dealing with you can start to think about what you might want to change. To do this you need to visualise yourself in the building and how you live. There is a whole post in this but, briefly, is the bathroom in the right place? Do you want to create an en suite? Is the downstairs open plan and will that work for you? Can you squeeze in a pantry – yes they are fashionable but they are also good storage. What about a laundry cupboard upstairs? We are considering adding sliding doors across the open plan sitting room as we would rather have two smaller rooms with the option to open it all up.
When you have worked out your measurements and decided where you want the rooms to be, you can talk to builders about what it will cost to make those changes.
Then you start to get into the details of the décor.
Start with the flooring. This is a huge upheaval to change later even if you are just laying new carpet so take the time to think about what you want and do it first. This is also your opportunity to lay underfloor heating if that is what you want. We will be replacing all the floors although not every room will have underfloor heating – only the kitchen and bathroom is the plan at the moment. But we hope to replace ugly radiators with more attractive ones which is another early job that is disruptive later on. Especially if you need to move them from one side of a room to another or realise, once you have moved in, that the only place for the sofa is in front of one – another common issue.
Doors, floors and radiators considered (we are focusing on redecoration rather than extensions and new windows and all that sort of thing). The next thing you need to look at is the electrics which means you need to go back to the floor plan because successful electrics are based around furniture placement.
Most of us will leave the lights where they are but if you are moving into a period property there’s a high chance there will be not enough sockets or they won’t be in the right place.
So think about where the beds will go – are there plugs either side for bedside lamps and phone chargers. Can you plug a light at the end of the sofa or by the reading chair? Do you need an overhead light over the coffee table or dining table?
Again, these are jobs that are annoying to do later so think about them at the start.
Having thought about that, is there money in the budget to replace the traditional white plastic with something you might like more – the devil is, as they say, in the detail. Form has finally caught up with function there so you can have brass, transparent, painted to match the wall, black or polished chrome. And sockets now come with USB ports built in which is a space saver.
Now you have planned your rooms, your entrances and exits, your heating and flooring and the electrics will correspond to where your furniture will go. You are ready to think about colours both for walls and windows and the finer details of how you want each room to look
We will look at that next time.
I'm a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.