Creating the perfect canvas in our new house

We will use three colours from Farrow and Ball throughout the house and sand and oil the original floorboards to add warmth to the downstairs living space. We will carpet the upstairs using a natural jute carpet and use jute rugs downstairs for continuity. Painted woodwork will highlight the original 1930s doors, banisters and architraves throughout the house. Images from Blomma London.

Taking on this house is a long term project to create a lovely home over time – we definitely can’t afford to make it perfect from the start. In this first round of works our main focus is to make it liveable for a start and then to create a blank canvas on which we can build and add to in the future – fresh walls, floors and a layout that will work for us is the aim. Any ‘luxuries’, as I like to call them, such as the wood burning stove that I was talking about in my last post, a new front door to replace the UPVC one and cabinetry work for example has got to wait. Therefore, all I am really thinking about this point is creating a canvas that will last and that we won’t get bored of.

The big thing for me about the house is creating a sense of space as it is very small. I have never, ever been into big, bold colours and I am definitely not into the current trend for dark interiors even though I can appreciate it in other peoples homes. For me, it is really important to have as much light and space as possible as this is what makes me feel calm and centred. A white uncluttered space is my priority dotted with interesting furniture and textiles.

However, to make the space feel as big as possible, whilst also adding a cosy feel, I want to add some colour to create a sense of cohesion so each room flows to another, almost as if each room is an extension of the one before it. For some, this is the absolute opposite of their design philosophy; they want each room to be completely different in colour, tone and style. But for this house I don’t think that would work. Therefore, I plan for the woodwork throughout the house (skirting, architraves, doors) to be painted in Farrow and Ball’s Light Blue, which is a colour I absolutely love and have used before here. The walls will be All White to give me the all important light I want and the woodwork and below the dado rail in the hallway will be the gorgeous Inchyra Blue. Although this is a dark colour the fact that above the dado rail and the ceilings will be All White will keep it bright. Also, I really love the idea of going from a dark colour in the hallway and opening up onto lighter colours in the living space. This is similar to the effect I would like to achieve in our hallway:

I also really love the paint effect in this house that uses the same colour throughout on all the woodwork (wishful thinking that our house was this size!):

Image from Living Etc by Paul Massey – do click through and take a look at the whole house.

I don’t plan to recreate the room below but I really like the soft, relaxed vibe of this room and that’s the feeling I would like to recreate throughout the new house. I want it to be bright, light, comfy, cosy and welcoming with a mixture of textiles and interesting furniture and objects.

Another project that I have found really inspiring is a 1930s house designed by Doris Lee. I particularly like the bathrooms and hallway.

I haven’t really planned the furniture around the house too much yet as I would quite like to move in and let that happen a bit more organically but I hope I will have achieved a lovely canvas by that point.

Katy x

Week one: our house renovations

We excitedly rushed down to the new house yesterday morning to see the progress that has been made this week as our contractor started on Monday (you can see how it looked before we bought it here and since we stripped out the plaster here). We plan to visit every Saturday to see how the project is coming along, check that we are keeping up to date with the building schedule (ten weeks and counting) and that we are happy with the work that has been done before we pay the weekly invoice. We then meet our contractor every Monday morning on site to run through how the last week has gone and what decisions need to be made.

You can always see the most drastic change at the start of a project like this as it takes no time to knock down walls and the like. During week one the remaining plaster, coving, skirting and architraves have been removed, the wall between the loo and bathroom has been knocked out, the fireplaces removed, half of the kitchen has been stripped out ready for the wall to be knocked down next week and the loft completely stripped out as there were three redundant water tanks up there. The other major job that has been done is the re-wiring. This is one of those jobs that we had to plan really carefully as it will influence the design and decor a huge amount. For example, deciding where pendant lights go dictates where the dining table will be placed and wall lights in the alcoves downstairs dictate whether or not shelves go in them etc. Also, I would like pendants hanging either side of our bed over bedside tables ( I have chosen these new Anglepoise ceramic pendants) so I have had to decide where the bed will go before being able to see it in the room.

Here are a few pics that I took yesterday…

The small kitchen will have the right hand wall knocked down next week so the cupboards and work top have been removed as has the tiled floor as I would like to extend the floor boards into this space. I have some DIY plans to make the left hand side of the kitchen more ‘me’ and then we will have a temporary kitchen island where the wall was until we have saved enough to do an extension out into the garden, which will house a new kitchen.

The two doorways into the separate loo and bathroom have gone and a new one is being built, which automatically gives the bathroom far more space.

Knocking the wall out between the loo and bathroom has really helped us visualise what this room will be like (I will blog about the details of this room soon).

The loft has been stripped of the redundant water tanks that were up there and we will have a loft ladder fitted and Jules will lay some OSP across the floor joists so that we can use the valuable space for storage. After living in flats with zero storage for the last twelve years I am SO excited about this prospect!

We had to do a clear plan of the power sockets and lighting for the first week of the build in order to rewire the house. This is actually quite tricky as it’s so hard to know what type of lighting and how much you will need until you have lived somewhere so fingers crossed we have got it right! Also, it directly impacts the layout of your furniture and design decisions. This image shows our bedroom and the bed will go in the middle of this wall with two pendants hanging either side over bedside tables.

The fireplaces have been knocked out – sorry to anyone who liked the originals!! We will plaster over the one in the dining area as we need all the space we can get there and then I have bought two small original cast iron fireplaces to be fitted into the bedrooms (I’ll explain more about this in another post).

Love it or hate it?! This is an original fireplace surround that I bought from eBay this week to go in the living area where we plan to have a wood burning stove. We can’t afford to buy the stove or have it fitted yet but I didn’t want to have it plastered over as I knew if that happened we would never get round to doing it.

I will post again in a couple of days with an idea of how I visualise the decor for the house – hopefully you won’t get bored of all this renovation chat anytime soon!

Katy x

iRobot Roomba 966 vacuum review: does it really work?

You may have cottoned on to the fact that I’m a bit obsessed with vacuuming (or rather being aware that our home needs to be vacuumed and constantly moaning about the fact that I am the only one who sees that fact). I have had a cleaner since I bought my first flat and have always seen it as a good investment  – a proper weekly clean really does help to keep a property in a good state. My lovely cleaner has been with me for the last six years or so and she saw the gradual decline of the cleanliness levels of the flat we have just moved out of with the arrival of Otto five years ago and now Mimi. She likes to remind me on an almost weekly basis how nice my flat was before we welcomed a particularly hairy dog who gets covered in mud most days and a baby who is an expert mess maker. Fair enough, to be honest, as the difference was pretty huge.

So, our main issue is keeping the floor clean and hair/dust/mud free. It’s basically an hourly battle with a golden retriever and a hard floor and that really isn’t an exaggeration. I’m sorry if I’m sounding slightly insane but I’m not talking about a few specks of dirt, I’m talking about tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling across the floor and the effect of someone brushing off ten walking boots’ worth of dry mud. We currently run on a two vacuum cleaner system – a big corded vacuum that my cleaner uses once a week and a lightweight cordless vacuum that I use a couple of times a day as and when needed to ‘spot clean’. I also have to do a full house vacuum with my cordless and then mop once or twice a week. For me, this is way too much and it’s driving me potty. I’m pretty sure other people aren’t vacuuming every day and mopping every other day…are you?!

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I was asked to review the iRobot Roomba 966 vacuum. IT WILL VACUUM MY HOUSE FOR ME. The answer to my problems, no? Well, I’ve been trying it out and I’m now ready to tell you whether this is what I have been praying for…

We are staying with family at the moment whilst our new house is renovated so I decided to try the Roomba there.

What does the iRobot do?

Let me begin by giving you a brief rundown of what the Roomba actually is and what it can do. A vacuum robot that uses Smart technology to navigate its way around an entire level of your home cleaning as it goes, the Roomba can vacuum anytime, anywhere. The Roomba 966 model (one down from the top of the range model) can run for up to 75 minutes and can clean any floor surface. It will automatically return to its charging dock to recharge and then resume the job until it is done. It cleverly maps out your home using sensors and knows exactly where it has been and where it needs to go, as well as detecting dirt when it comes across it, and you can use an app on your phone to start the Roomba as well schedule regular cleaning jobs. Well, this all sounds amazing in theory but what about the reality?

The Roomba automatically returns ‘home’ to its small charging dock when it has run out of charge and then resumes its cleaning job. You could keep the charging dock under a piece of furniture like a cabinet, which would make storing the Roomba very discrete.

What does the iRobot do well?

1. It cleans really well. If you are able to give your Roomba enough time and space (in my opinion it really isn’t meant for homes with loads of clutter and stuff all over the floor) it will slowly but surely do as good a clean as a conventional vacuum. It definitely takes longer than a ten minute blast of the vacuum and doesn’t give instant results so it needs a full run to show what it can do. I would say that you need to be organised about the way you use it; schedule regular cleans using the app that it connects to and if you have a house make sure it gets moved between the levels regularly. I think of it as a maintenance tool not a quick fix; if you schedule it to clean every day it does the amount of vacuuming I wish I had the time and energy for so that my home never gets to the point where it looks and feels like it needs a really good vacuum – does that make sense? Basically it maintains a good level of cleanliness and collects the dirt that you don’t even know is there and this is where its real value lies.

2. It navigates its way around furniture very effectively. Sometimes I like to just sit and watch my Roomba and how clever it is, to be honest! The Smart technology maps the Roomba’s route and over time it learns the layout of your home as well as the obstacles so it becomes more and more efficient. It can make its way around the legs of furniture, as well as going under furniture if it can fit (it is very slim). It cleans edges and around corners and it will ‘spot clean’ if it detects a problem area so it goes over and over the same spot until it is clean. However, there are always spots that it can’t get to for example, behind doors, the dust that collects around cables, around piles of clutter etc.

The Roomba learns its route around your home and navigates furniture so effectively. It can clean around the feet and legs of furniture and fit underneath pieces but make sure there is no way it will get stuck.

3. The app that connects to the vacuum is brilliant – it gives a really clear record of where the Roomba has cleaned and how long it has cleaned for. You can set the Roomba to clean at specific times on specific days or set up a regular cleaning schedule so you don’t even have to think about. However, it can get a little disconcerting when you get an alert on your phone whilst you’re out that the Roomba has got “stuck near a cliff” or “help, I’m stuck!” – ha! As I said, you do need to make sure that there aren’t little bits everywhere (toys, for example) if you want the Roomba to do an effective clean. We had a tipi tent set up for Mimi that was full of her toys and the Roomba kept on going in there and getting wound up in all her pull along toys so we learnt that we needed to make that a no go zone.

4. You can set up an invisible boundary line with a ‘virtual wall barrier’, which was the perfect solution to the tipi tent issue. This is an accessory (you get one with the Roomba but you can order more if you need them) that has two modes: Virtual Wall Mode keeps your robot in the rooms you want cleaned and out of the ones you don’t and Halo Mode keeps your robot away from items you want to protect. All you have to do is position the virtual wall barrier in front of the object you are protecting or at a doorway if you want to keep the Roomba in one particular room. One thing to note is that the Roomba will not fall down stairs; it detects the stairs as it approaches them and will turn around when it needs to. Therefore, you do not need to worry about that if you leave the Roomba to clean by itself.

The virtual wall barrier can either mark a straight line that you don’t want the Roomba to cross or create a halo around an object you don’t want it to go near.

5. I was particularly impressed at how well the Roomba travels from one surface to another. There are lots of rugs on hard floor where we are staying and that will be the same case in our new house so I was worried that the Roomba would get stuck every time it came across a rug. However, it travels seamlessly between carpet, rug and hard floor, which is really important if you want to leave it to clean whilst you are out. Also, you don’t have to mess around with different settings for different types of flooring; it will clean any floor type as well as the next.

6. One thing that frustrates me about my cordless vacuum is how short the battery life is but this is definitely not an issue with the Roomba. It will clean for up to 75 minutes and it will charge itself when the battery does run out. 75 minutes of non-stop cleaning is a very thorough clean but depending how dirty your floors are you will probably have to empty the cartridge where the dust collects during that time. The Roomba will also dock itself by going ‘home’ when it has run out of battery and carry on its clean once it has charged.

What does the iRobot not do well?

1. It is noisier than I expected it to be. I don’t know why, but I had the idea that it would be super quiet and I could have it on whilst I was doing other stuff and not be disturbed by the noise. However, it is pretty noisy – quieter than conventional vacuums – but definitely not something you could have running in the background whilst you watch TV in the evening.

2. If it gets trapped whilst you’re out you won’t be able to rescue it so the clean stops, which can be frustrating. It is really important to learn the obstacles in your home and make sure those are clear so that you can avoid it getting trapped at all.

3. The cartridge where the dust collects is pretty small so in our home it always needs emptying after about 40 minutes so we can’t just set it off to clean all day when we’re out.

4. The Roomba can’t do stairs, skirting boards or tricky spots around clutter so I think I would always want to do one clean a week with my conventional vacuum for those spots. Plus, there are times when there are spillages or you need to get rid of dirt really quickly so my cordless cleaner is best for that.

Otto hiding from the Roomba as he knows it turns around as soon as it reaches the stairs – ha!

In summary, I am really impressed by how thorough the Roomba is if you take the time to set up a regular schedule for it to clean and ensure that it is not going to get stuck around loads of clutter. I am also delighted that the regular maintenance of keeping our floors clean no longer falls on my shoulders and that the floors never get to that stage anymore where they look horrifically dirty. It is completely ideal for a pet owner like me as the Roomba is so effective at picking up pet hair every day so it never builds up into a horrid mess. Could I keep the floors clean with the Roomba alone? In short, no. I do think we need a cordless vacuum as well as the Roomba for spillages that we need to quickly get rid of, the stairs and to get into corners where there is clutter. Can I get rid of our massive conventional vacuum? Yes! To be able to hand over the main bulk of vacuuming to the Roomba is just wonderful and makes it 100% worth the money in my opinion (if cleanliness is important to you). I can’t wait to set it up in our new house once we move in as the downstairs is going to be all open plan and we will have carpet upstairs so I’m thinking it’s going to have a lot of cleaning on its hands!

Do ask me any questions I haven’t answered for you in the post. Just pop them in the comments below.

Katy x

*This post was written in collaboration with iRobot.

Stripping the house out

It’s been a few weeks since we completed on the house and even though our contractor doesn’t start until the end of May we wanted to get a head start by stripping out the floor and plaster from the house so that we can get the electrics and plumbing redone. For various reasons we have been forced to remove most of the plasterwork (rather than just skimming over what was there) so even though brand new electrics and plumbing aren’t completely essential it makes a lot of sense to get it all done at this point whilst the house is stripped back.

This is what will be Mimi’s bedroom with the nice surprise of another original door in the loft.

The cost of paying for a skip and someone to strip the plaster has been cheaper than the quote to remove the wallpaper throughout the house so we decided not to do it ourselves – there’s just no way we could have juggled it with looking after Mimi especially as there will be so many other DIY jobs to be done along the way.

As a result of removing the plaster we will have to reinstate all the coving and picture rails but I’m very much looking forward to lovely smooth walls and perfectly positioned light switches, power points, radiators and the assurance of a brand new boiler. Apart from anything I just love being able to see the bare bones of the building and discovering original doors stashed in the loft!

Here is how the house looks now…

Downstairs

The carpet has been ripped off the stairs and I’m still not decided yet as to whether we will re-carpet them. I’m a bit worried that a carpet on the stairs will get very dirty with a dog so I’m going to think about it a bit longer. The laminate has also gone from all the floors downstairs. I am very, very pleased that the floorboards are in such a good condition as that will save us a fortune on new flooring (although a little sad I can’t justify herringbone parquet).

We are actually going to keep this side of the kitchen as it is until we have the budget to completely re-do it and push it out into an extension. This is a big compromise but I’d much rather have a brand new bathroom and make do with the kitchen as it is for a while (I know a lot of people will disagree with that preference!).

The back reception has had a lot of its plaster removed and floor stripped – we just need to get rid of the fireplace now.

The plaster in the front reception has been partially stripped as it wasn’t in too bad a condition and again we need to get rid of the fireplace although some who have seen it rather like it…what do you think?! I would like to have a wood burning stove in this side of the room if budget allows.

Upstairs

All of the ceilings upstairs have been taken down as they were plastered so long ago they need updating. Therefore we can now see right up into the loft space, which is quite amazing. We also found an original hearth in the front bedroom, which will be our room. It’s a shame that the tiles are so cracked. I think we will carpet upstairs so these will get covered up again unless I can get Jules to agree to adding a fireplace to our room. It would be purely for aesthetics but I think it would be so nice to add a bit of character back to the house.

The small bedroom has also been stripped out and it will eventually become a small guest room.

It feels very exciting to see changes happening to the house already and so much easier to visualise the space now that the previous owner’s stuff has all gone. I’ll keep you updated!

Katy x

Green fingers with Homesense this Spring

Wasn’t last week completely wondrous? All that beautiful weather and time spent outside. Staying with my sister whilst we renovate the new house we don’t have a garden here but we did spend quite a bit of time in my mum’s garden and Mimi had her very first paddling pool experience, which she thought was the best thing ever. As I have already talked about I have started thinking a lot about our new garden and the possibilities of making it the perfect space for us so I jumped at the chance to team up with Homesense to have a good look at their huge garden collection and show you some of my favourite pieces and share ideas to make the most of your green fingers: whether you have just a windowsill, balcony or sprawling garden.

I visited the North Greenwich Homesense store and I love the thrill of never knowing what I will find there (I go there a little too much, truth be told) as the stock is updated every day with one off finds and once it’s gone, it’s gone. I also love the fact that there are so many bargains to be had as the Homesense prices are often way below the recommended retail price – is it sad I get excited every time I look at the price tag?! At the moment we are restricted to indoor plants at my sister’s flat – she would love to grow her own herbs as she’s an amazing cook. Therefore, I was on the lookout for pots for herbs for her as well as a few things to make my mum’s garden a little more welcoming. Here is what I found and my top tips for making the most of your indoor plants and/or garden space:

1. Plant your own herbs

Whether you have a huge garden or just a tiny kitchen windowsill, herbs are such a perfect way to introduce green into your home. Also, if you are able to grow, pick and use your own herbs you can play your part in reducing waste because you won’t need to buy those hideously expensive plastic packs from the supermarket. I found these brilliant pots in Homesense that are self watering, which is perfect if you want to make growing plants as hassle free as possible. You just fill up the bottom of the pot with water and a thick piece of string goes up into the soil and down into the water reserve and sucks up water as and when needed. Very clever and especially good if you are prone to under-watering or over-watering your plants. They also come with a pair of herb scissors so you can snip what you need for whatever you are cooking.

These clever self watering herb pots were £6.99 compared to the RRP of £10.99 and they even come with a pair of herb scissors.

2. Hanging herb planters

A good tip is to plant herbs in a hanging planter for your kitchen as that frees up worktop or windowsill space and I think they look great too. If you have a garden you can plant herbs into a colander (provides perfect drainage and looks great) and hang it by the back door so you can access herbs easily.

This hanging planter has a unique draining system so it collects a reserve of water in its base so you are not in danger of overwatering your herbs and you can empty it via a plug in the base. It also acts as a self watering system. This great pot was only £4.99 compared to its RRP of £12.99 and it is ideal for my sister’s kitchen as she doesn’t have much worktop space to spare for pots.

3. Watering tricks for indoor plants

Firstly, always keep an indoor watering can full of water by your most thirsty plants as this way you are much more likely to water them. Secondly, if you are going on holiday during this warmer weather and are worried about your plants dying place a cup of water next to them and place a string in the water and put the other end of the string into the soil of the plant. It will water itself whilst you are away!

4. Terrarium

If you want to be more green fingered but don’t have a garden try planting a terrarium. I picked up a lovely glass lantern at Homesense and instead of putting a candle in it I planted it with succulents that require very little water and looking after so the perfect way to introduce green into your home with minimal effort. To find out more about planting terrariums read my terrarium guide.

A new addition to my bedside table in my sister’s house. This pretty lantern makes a perfect terrarium for succulents and it only cost £9.99. There is a huge range of all sorts of garden accessories in store at Homesense from lanterns to birdhouses.

5. Use baskets as pots

Homesense is full to the rafters with all sorts of pots and planters but have you ever thought about using a basket? It’s a great way to hide a very cheap plastic plant pot that plants often come in and adds great texture to any room. Homesense have the best selection of baskets and I even found ones lined with plastic that would be ideal.

This lovely basket is ideal for one of my plants that I bought in a cheap plastic pot. I love the contrast between the basket and the plant itself. I have placed a dish in the bottom of the basket so that any water drains out into that so the basket doesn’t get ruined. I found this basket in Homesense for just £12.99.

6. Eclectic pots

Make your pots as interesting as your plants to make your garden or indoor plants a real showstopper. Homesense has a huge variety of pots: ceramic, glazed, all the colours of the rainbow, novelty shapes, big, small, you name it, they have it.

Homesense have a really big range of pots that it is so hard to find elsewhere let alone at such reasonable prices.

I absolutely loved the glazed green pot below that would perfect filled with succulents in the garden and it was only £19.99 compared to its RRP of £39.99. I can;t stop thinking about it and wish I had bought it but it was too big and heavy for me to carry home by myself with the other stuff I bought. I HATE shopper’s regret!

7. Create an inviting spot in your garden to hang out

Whether you invest in a full garden furniture set (check out the one I found below in the North Greenwich store!), simply add outdoor cushions to your garden chairs or set up a rug on the grass you do need to make the space appealing otherwise it is less likely to be used. I found a brilliant selection of outdoor rugs in store and I immediately bought one as I have ruined way too many wool rugs over the years by plonking them on the grass to be mucked up by mud and whatever else. I will also take this out with me every day in the warmer weather so that Mimi and I can stop in the park and sit on the grass. I also grabbed one of these fab jute pouffes as they are great extra seats or can be used as a footstool with a garden chair. They can also be used indoors during the rest of the year.

I love these jute pouffes that double up as an extra seat or footstool for a garden chair as well as being able to take them inside as they add loads of texture and warmth to interiors. This pouffe was £29.99 compared to the RRP of £39.99.

Otto is very keen on the outdoor rug I bought that has a waterproof backing. He basically spent all weekend lounging out on it.

I was very excited by this garden set that I spotted in store for £549.99 for six chairs and the table, which compared to a lot of outdoor dining sets is very reasonable indeed especially as the chairs are very comfortable.

8. Add a mirror to your garden

A mirror is a great way of making a small garden or terrace feel bigger and can be a good focal point. I found loads of beautiful metal mirrors in Homesense that would be perfect and the more exposed to the weather they are the better they will look, in my opinion.

The mirror on the right cost £49.99 compared to £109.99! A huge saving and it would look amazing in a garden as it resembles the sun and would age beautifully over time.

9. Lighting

We tried to have dinner in my mum’s garden the other day and realised that it was too dark and they have no lights that make it possible to be outside after dark so I think lighting is crucial. Try LED or solar lights as a really easy option. There’s a great range in store of all shapes and sizes.

10. Get equipped

If you do want to be more green fingered it is very important to commit to it and have what you need to make planting and caring for your plants as easy as possible otherwise you are liable to waste a lot of money on plants that just die. A potting bench is a great investment for the garden and get some basic tools – you can find everything you need in Homesense’s garden collection.

I would love this potting bench in my new garden – the galvanised metal top is perfect.

The garden collection at Homesense extends to all the practical things you will need for gardening so you really don’t need to go to the garden centre at all to get started.

All we need now is for the sun to come back so we can get back out into the garden! Now, do I head back to Homesense to see if that big green pot is still there…

Katy x

*This post was written in collaboration with Homesense