Home and Garden
Barn or bungalow, cottage or cave, farmhouse or flat… an Englishman’s home is his castle. But what’s the state of affairs elsewhere? We’ve scoured the globe for the most enchanting abodes in existence, judging them not on their financial worth, but on their personality, presence, timelessness and ingenuity.
1. Pretty Beach House (Australia)
Dubbed “Australia’s most intimate and luxurious guesthouse”, the Pretty Beach is an idyllic getaway for you and your loved ones. With no TVs, time stands still. In fact, you’d be wise to check out some gift ideas for her before you go, taking something to read against the backdrop of ancient Bouddi National Park and infinity pools! We’re enticed by the laid-back personality of this home built of mud bricks and hand crafted timber posts.
2. Gary Chang’s Apartment (China)
Gary Chang’s apartment is only 105 square feet, making it the smallest home on our list. Using hydraulics, Gary’s design enables the walls to move to create 24 individual rooms and a great deal of storage. We think this home meets our definition of ‘greatness’ as it acts as an example of innovation at a time when Hong Kong’s population is struggling with an ongoing shortage of space.
3. Jacob’s Ladder, (England)
Jacob’s ladder just so happens to be Kevin McCloud’s favourite house in Britain – and with good reason. It has unparalleled personality, constructed from cedar, glass and steel, and is nestled modestly into surrounding woodland. Its creator, Architect Niall McLaughlin, explains its magical presence by stating that “…it sits in a gap in the trees and we felt like it was a window in the woods”. Sounds dreamy!
4. Bohumil Lhota’s Roundabout House (Czech Republic)
Bohumil Lhota’s home has been referred to a cross between “a Hobbit’s home and a building from Star Wars”. The dwelling moves up and down, and can rotate on its side to follow the sun. Granted, it’s not the most luxurious house on the planet – but it does have adequate living quarters and a swimming pool. By building it underground, Lhota’s home maintains a stable temperature all year round. So why has it made our list? Well, it blends design of the past and future, has tons of personality, and thoughtfully considers energy usage in a way that conventional homes rarely do.
5. Lake Wakatipu House (New Zealand)
This home is an absolute knock out. Set against majestic mountains, this house doesn’t just sit respectfully within its environment: it becomes it. The use of sharp lines, subdued colour and natural textures give this home a presence and timelessness that rivals even its highest snow-capped neighbours. It’s our favourite.
6. Tower Studio (Canada)
Tower Studio is a dark, twisting, three story home situated on a stretch of rocky coastline in Newfoundland. From the exterior, the thirty-two-foot structure is perplexing…. it appears to ‘buckle’, leaning forward and backwards as it reaches up towards the sky. Inside, however, is completely whitewashed, bright and minimal. So why’s it made it to the great list? As well as being ecologically sustainable, it prompts discussion: it’s quizzical, unique and impossible to ignore.
With winter rapidly approaching, it might be a good time to improve the energy-efficiency of your home. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but it could help you save money throughout the cold spell – so check out these five simple tips:
Take a look at your Energy Performance Certificate
If you have recently moved home, or were thinking of selling up, you might have access to a recent Energy Performance Certificate. This will include information about your property’s energy use and typical energy costs as well as recommendations about how to make your home more eco-friendly. Take a look at these suggestions, as you could find several ways to reduce your outgoings when the temperatures drop.
Arrange a boiler service
The cold weather is sure to set in over the next few months, so why not book a gas boiler service in good time? An approved engineer will make sure everything’s running properly and will replace any broken or damaged parts if necessary. If your boiler cover’s in date, don’t forget to check the conditions of the policy, because annual gas inspections are often included.
Switch to energy-saving light bulbs
If your house is lit up like Vegas throughout winter (particularly at Christmas), try to use energy-saving light bulbs. According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact flourescents are a great alternative to traditional bulbs and LEDs can replace 50W halogen downlighters – so see what you can find. While we are on the subject of lighting, try to turn all switches off when you leave a room and use candles and lamps whenever possible to reduce your energy output.
Insulate your home
Does your house get a little chilly from time-to-time? Are there cold winds blowing around? If so, take steps to insulate your home. Get hold of some self-adhesive sealant strips to close up gaps and buy special foam to spray between doors and windows. Once that’s done, fit draught excluders to your letterbox and underneath your doors and buy yourself a keyhole cover. A few small changes can make a big difference, so it’s worth taking action – sooner rather than later.
Bleed your radiators
If your radiators are warm at the bottom and cold at the top, there might be an air bubble trapped in the system. This blockage is called an airlock and can stop your central heating from working properly. To solve the problem, try bleeding your radiators by turning the bleed valve anticlockwise and waiting for the air to hiss out. Once water emerges, tighten everything back up and check things are working as they should be. Still having issues? Then ask your insurance company to send out one of their qualified heating engineers.
Winter is just around the corner, so do all you can to make your house energy-efficient.
In recent weeks we’ve looked at the many ways in which homeowners have undertaken work around their property with a view to achieving a higher sale price and hopefully, a quicker transaction when the time finally comes to move on.
Even if you’re not in a position to move just yet, it can pay to look at methods recommended by experts that will actually help to increase the value of your home. But what are the best ways to achieve this?
It’s generally accepted that first impressions are crucial for any prospective purchaser so the front of your property is an important area to pay attention to. Doors, garages and their accompanying accessories can easily be painted or replaced but there are other aspects that you should also consider.
Your front garden, no matter how small it may be is also one of the first things that potential buyers will see and particular care should be taken to bring it up to a desirable standard. It seems however that many UK homeowners are doing just that as a survey carried out by HSBC suggests that we will spend an average of £185.00 per person in improving our own personal outdoor spaces.
The HSBC Gardens Survey has been published just ahead of the launch of the Chelsea Flower Show and it claims that households are not only improving the look of their outdoor spaces for their own pleasure, they are acutely aware of the difference such actions can make for property prices.
“Britain has traditionally had a love affair with gardens but with households facing financial pressures, people have to make difficult decisions about where to spend their cash,” said Peter Dockar, head of mortgages at HSBC. The inference clearly is that more is being spent on gardens than we might have expected.
“The survey reveals that spend on non-essential items has gone down in favour of general improvements, including landscape projects. Improving the general outlook of the garden can not only boost quality of life but also help to increase property value,” Mr Dockar added.
The survey also revealed a big discrepancy in the amount of money spent across the country. In the East Midlands, the highest spend of £253.00 per person is expected in 2012 while at the other end of the scale, those in Yorkshire and Humberside are due to spend just £112.00 on their garden this year.
Overall, however, it seems we are a nation of garden lovers and whether we are conscious of the fact or not, our efforts can help to drive up the price of our property.
The Bank Holiday weekend is almost upon us and a survey carried out by HSBC suggests that over 50% of us will be staying at home to carry out some of those DIY jobs that we’ve been putting off since the beginning of the year. A significant percentage of those people will be working around the house with a view to selling their property and there are many small and larger tasks that are known to help achieve a quicker sale.
If you believe the weather forecast, we are certainly in line for the type of weather that suits indoor DIY but what are the jobs that will carry most value when it comes to selling your home?
The 2012 HSBC Home Improvement Survey shows a list of jobs that property experts believe will add value to your house, while it also indicates how much importance individual homeowners place on those tasks.
As far as the experts are concerned, de-cluttering space is the most vital job by far with 93% claiming that this task made a bigger impact on potential buyers than anything else. In contrast however, only 71% of property owners felt that this was necessary.
This is just one area where experts and individuals disagree and it shows that there are many popular misconceptions over which jobs are vital to the vendor. It even seems in some cases that property owners are still falling into the clichéd traps of putting out fresh flowers and brewing fresh pots of coffee.
One of the key elements that HSBC stress is the importance of first impressions and there are many jobs that can be done right now that will have a tangible impact on any potential buyer.
“Many householders spend the Bank Holidays on DIY projects to help boost property value and saleability. However it is often the smaller jobs like painting the front door that can make all the difference when looking for a quick sale,” said Peter Dockar, head of mortgages at HSBC.
The front of the property is simply vital in regards to those crucial first impressions so aside from the front door itself, if you have an immediately visible garage door then this should be looked at. Door furniture is important too and if you have tired finger plates and letter boxes, they can be easily and cheaply renewed.
Fences and gates are other areas that experts believe will aid a successful property sale and above all, the HSBC survey highlights the disparity behind those expert views and the ones held by the homeowners themselves.
If you want to achieve a quick sale at a price to suit, the results of the survey should certainly be considered by any vendor.
This is a sponsored article from Harveys, The Furniture Store.
People have long held a love affair with the balanced style defined by Scandinavian design. Its characteristics of airiness and space make it an exceptionally livable interior scheme, whilst at the same time it remains accessible thanks to its simplicity. Since spring is here, what better excuse can there be to embark on a Scandinavian makeover for your interior?
Scandinavian style isn’t a matter of whitewashing the walls to within an inch of their life, and neither is it an attempt to obtain design magazine levels of perfection. It is about finding your balance of chic, practical living. Follow the fundamentals of colour, aesthetic creativity and harmonious furniture, and you will soon be relaxing in your own small slice of Stockholm.
Unless you have unresolved issues with hoarding, switching to Scandinavian is easier than you might think. Remember, this is not minimalism. There is no need to de-clutter for no good reason. Think equal parts busy and equal parts quiet. By all means parade your collectable thimbles or that set of match programmes from the 1961 season, but make sure you juxtapose against pastel shaded walls or display in spacious cabinets.
Light pastel shades and white walls are not essential parts of the Scandinavian look but they help. Going gentle on the partitions means that the bold colours and patterns are liberated to pop in bursts elsewhere. Once again it is that equilibrium between quiet and busy.
A difficult moment when transforming the interior of one’s home, comes when it is time to confront your soft spots. Whether it is the creaking old rocking chair in the corner or the well-loved armchair in front of the flat screen, sometimes things have to go. At this point a trip to the furniture store is the quickest way to cheer yourself up as you choose your next comfort companion.
Keep the key characteristics of Scandinavian design in mind when it comes to looking at new sofas and chairs. Large and bulky is out, contemporary and clean is in. Pick a suitable colour to match the scheme of your walls and your sofa will become a focal part of your living room.
Your home’s assimilation into a haven of contemporary Northern European living does not stop in the living room though. With some creative decorating, the kitchen can follow. Wooden worktops add a rustic effect, high stools create contemporary flair and exposed metal will cool the whole room.
Finish with a flourish of personal touches. Employ your own decorative aesthetic brand remembering the Scandinavian penchant for peculiar sculpture, weird wall hangings and oversized clocks. Or just make do with a pastel striped rug thrown across varnished floorboards.
Scandinavian countries often top the charts for standard of living, just think, with a simple North European makeover you might begin reaping the benefits too.
Energy provider E.ON’s recent announcement that gas bills will increase by an average of by 18.1% and electricity prices by 11.4%, with effect from 13 September 2011 underscores the huge rises in energy prices confirmed by the UK’s other major energy providers in the last month.
However, homeowners in the UK who have installed solar PV are mitigating against the price rises. They benefit from payments from the Government’s Clean Energy Cash Back Scheme, which pays homeowners 43.3p per KWh they generate. The average resident will earn (and save on their electricity bill) in the region of £1,100 per year.
Homeowners who have installed solar PV will be interested to read new research by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which finds strong evidence that homes with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems sell for a premium over homes without solar systems.
The research finds that homes with solar PV in California have sold for an average home sales price premium of approximately $17,000 (approx £10,500) for a relatively new 3,100 watt (kWh) PV system (the average size of PV systems in the Berkeley Lab dataset).
The Berkeley Lab research is the first to explore empirically the existence and magnitude of residential solar PV sales price impacts across a large number of homes and over a wide geographic area. The research analysed a dataset of more than 72,000 California homes that sold from 2000 through mid-2009, approximately 2,000 of which had a solar PV system at the time of sale.
Anwar Harland-Khan, CEO of Sustain Worldwide, which is an élite membership organisation of the world’s leading sustainable property developers and architects, said:
“The Berkeley Lab research supports our long-held contention that energy efficient and energy generating homes have a value premium over conventionally built existing homes.
“At a time when energy prices are rising rapidly, particularly in the UK, new home buyers with installed solar PV are saving a considerable amount on their electricity bills and can look forward to a higher sales price when they come to sell up.”
Gordon Miller is sustainability & communications director of Sustain Worldwide. He writes for The Financial Times and The Sunday Times and founded eco homes website whatgreenhome.com and local energy and awareness social enterprise The High Barnet Green Home Zone.
For more information about Sustain Worldwide’s members’ luxury sustainable homes, resorts and communities, visit www.SustainWorldwide.com or call +44 (0)20 7754 5557
The Government’s has today launched a new £15 million ‘Renewable Heat Premium Payment’ scheme. The initiative will open for applications on 1 August this year until March 2012. It is claimed it will support up to 25,000 installations.
The scheme will be mainly focused at around 4 million households in Great Britain not heated by mains gas. These residents have to rely on higher carbon forms of heating which also tend to be more expensive than gas, such as heating oil and electric fires to keep warm.
Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said:
Today starts a new era in home heating because we’re making it more economical for people to go green by providing discounts off the cost of eco heaters.
This should be great news for people who are reliant on expensive oil or electric heating as the Premium Payment scheme is really aimed at them.
Householders will need to ensure they have basic energy efficiency measures in place before applying for the grants, which will be available on a first come first served basis.
From 1 August, grants for the following technologies will be available:
• Ground Source Heat Pump – £1250 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
• Biomass boiler – £950 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
• Air source heat pump – £850 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
• Solar thermal hot water panels – £300 grant (available to all households regardless of the type of heating system used)
Anwar Harland-Khan, CEO of Sustain Worldwide, a membership organisation of developers and architects, said: “The Renewal Heat Premium Payment scheme is a welcome initiative but in truth it’s a stop gap before the Renewal Heat Incentive scheme and the Green Deal are introduced in 2012.
“However, for anyone considering installing solar thermal before next winter why not grab what is effectively a £300 discount on the average £3,000-£5,000 purchase and installation cost?
The Premium Payment scheme will be run by the Energy Saving Trust. Householders can call 0800 512 012 or visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/RHPP. A factsheet on the Premium Payment scheme can be found here.
Gordon Miller is sustainability & communications director of Sustain Worldwide . He writes for The Financial Times and The Sunday Times and founded eco homes website whatgreenhome.com and local energy and awareness social enterprise The High Barnet Green Home Zone.
It’s quite common these days to see boundary disputes reach the local and sometimes national headlines. Arguments about trees and hedges have caused neighbours to fall out forever and in some cases for tempers to erupt into violence and harassment.
So, do you know where your boundary is or who owns it? Surprisingly, lots of homeowners are unsure. Usually the only time we see where our boundaries are is when we receive our title deeds when buying a new house. The title deeds will show you a scale plan of your property with the boundaries clearly highlighted. You can also obtain a copy of your boundary plans from HM Land Registry for a fee. The price for boundary plans differs, but paying a small fee could put your mind and any dispute to rest if you are experiencing real problems.
How to Avoid Disputes
Of course, it’s always best to try to avoid disputes with your neighbours. If, before you move into your new house, you think a dispute may arise at some point then it’s prudent to take some photographs of your boundaries when you move in. The previous owners may have tipped you off about problems or potential problems so it’s a good idea to at least be vigilant. That doesn’t mean installing CCTV and keeping a diary on your neighbours. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt first! Tact is important to avoid upsetting anybody.
As with most things prevention is often better than cure. If you are planning to erect a new wall, move a fence, or plant a new tree or hedge, you should speak to your neighbour first. Best to do that than start taking out a fence whilst your neighbour is at work or putting in a conifer that blocks their natural light.
If you are going to erect a fence, custom dictates that posts sit on your land whilst the face of the fence points to your neighbours. It’s definitely worth sacrificing a couple of inches of land in order to avoid your fence encroaching on your neighbour’s land. You should also ensure your new fence complies with Planning Regulations and you can usually check this with a quick phone call to your local office.
If you’re planting a new hedge try to position it at least 1.2 metres within your boundary. That way once it starts to grow it’s less likely to cause a problem for your neighbours. You should also try to keep your hedge trimmed to no more than 3 metres in height.
What to Do When a Dispute Arises
If you have a problem with an overhanging tree or your neighbour is planning to build a new fence a little too close to your boundary or over it, it’s always a good idea to raise any points politely and clearly. If you have a good relationship with your neighbours, that’s great. Most problems never make it to a full on dispute and are solved with a handshake over the garden fence.
If a dispute has arisen and you’re at the end of your tether with your neighbours or they have a dispute with you it could be time to study the title deeds in detail. You can obtain your title deeds and those of your neighbours if they are not forthcoming with theirs.
The problem with most disputes is that they are born out of more than a disagreement about fences or trees. Deep rooted (pardon the pun) feelings from the past and presumptions about your neighbours can often make a dispute lose its real meaning and cause tempers to flair. Sometimes mediation is what is required.
Paul Crosland is a mediator with Bristol Mediation: “Mediate, don’t litigate,” he says. Neighbourly disputes, he says, “are usually about what people think about each other, with layers of presumption to be removed.”
A community mediation service can assist in finding a way to a seemingly impossible solution. “We’re looking for a win-win scenario,” he says.
Local authorities hold lists of mediation services or you can find them online. You’ll be paid a visit by a mediator to discuss the situation and a letter will be send to your neighbour to arrange a face to face meeting to talk about the situation in order to hopefully reach a satisfactory conclusion.
“We look at what’s really behind the dispute, and once that’s resolved the rest usually follows,” says Mr Crosland. If a written or verbal agreement can be reached the mediator will then back off and check back to make sure the agreement still stands.
The next step is the courts if you can’t come to an agreement and that is going to be a costly long journey that could cause a fallout with your neighbours for good. A much better idea is to solve any boundary problem quickly, smoothly and with as little distress as possible.
Now the weather has turned cold in the UK, our thoughts have turned to how we can keep warm – indoors as well as outdoors. For many of us that simply means turning up the thermostat another notch. But with reports of fuel price hikes of 7% and higher imminent, suddenly energy efficiency has become an even hotter topic.
Starting with our existing homes, the key word is insulation. The idea is to keep the heat in and the cold out. 25% goes out the roof – so lay up to 270mm of insulation; 35% escapes through the walls. Combat this by having cavity wall insulation. If you have one of the 6 million solid brick wall homes, consider dry wall lining.
Windows and draughts account for 25% of heat loss in our homes. So plug the gaps with filler, use draught excluders on your exterior doors (and don’t forget the letter box). If you can afford it, think about double (or even triple) glazing. If that’s too costly, secondary glazing is a cheaper alternative.
Next, find out how much electricity you use (or waste). Buy, or rent from your local library, an electricity monitor. These clever gadgets show you how much electricity you are using in the home. Flick the kettle on and you’ll see it costs a shocking 25p to boil water if it was to be left on continuously for one hour. So fill the kettle only with the amount of water you need and don’t boil, walk away and then have to reboil.
Look at what you leave on standby overnight – do you need to? Get a standby isolator or switch the items off at the wall (except the Sky box, which would then need reprogramming). Don’t leave old style mobiles charging overnight as these ‘vampire’ gadgets continue to suck electricity even once the battery is fully charged.
Or take a look at a more permanent electricity reduction solution. The VPhase is a new device that through independent testing has been shown to cut electricity bills (typically by 10%), reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions. Find out how much money and CO2 you could save with the interactive tool at www.vphase.co.uk
VPhase uses voltage optimisation technology to reduce and manage the voltage coming into your home, making your electrical appliances use less electricity and cost less to run. Unlike smart meters which require a change in behavior, the VPhase device works immediately, without any need for a change in lifestyle.
The unit costs around £250 installed when fitted at the same time as a fuse box, and can be quickly and easily fitted by a qualified electrician. The VPhase has a five-year warranty and with payback periods typically less than this it represents a risk free green investment.
If you’re considering buying a new house in the UK, you’ll find that they are at least 25% more energy efficient than houses build pre-2006 (and at least 50% more than a Victorian property and probably more) through legislation. Housebuilders are achieving such greater efficiency by using better insulants when building,
sealing gaps better and by preventing thermal ‘bridging’, which allows the cold to travel from the outside in via metal pins or ties.
In some cases, the net result is homes that require little or no heating – even in winter. The latest built homes don’t even have radiators installed. Generally, energy efficient under-floor heating provides what heating they do require. In other examples, mechanical heat ventilation recovery units recirculate rising hot air to keep the homes warm at ground level.
In more temperate foreign countries, where many Britons choose to buy a holiday home, or retirement property, the same technology that provides heating in winter is reversed to provide air-conditioned cooling in summer. If the electricity required is generated from a renewable energy source, such as solar, there is no in-use CO2 impact, and electricity bills can be negligible.
The housebuilders and developers who are the members of Sustain Worldwide (www.sustainworldwide.com) are each building homes, resorts and communities around the world where energy efficient, eco-friendly and sustainably constructed properties and communities are the norm.
Sustain Worldwide Chief Executive Anwar Harland-Khan said: “The energy-efficient homes of today are stylish, beautifully finished, invariably with warm and light spaces for living. It comes as no surprise that sustainably built homes are now standing tallest of all, while the walls of conventionally built homes are starting to show cracks.”
This article was contributed by Gordon Miller, sustainability and communications director of Sustain Worldwide. +44 (0)20 7754 5557 www.sustainworldwide.com/
Hope you enjoyed reading my previous article on first impressions, the first of my Interior Design tips? So now on to my next tip!
So we’ve spruced up the entrance and made a fantastic impression, undoubtedly they’ll be buying!! However, we now need to continue this feel around the rest of the home, so let’s move on to the family/living room. This is also a very important area, as it will most probably be a main area of interaction for anybody that moves in, so it is vital that it is also looking its best and sending across the right “vibe!”
Let’s begin with the furniture. Is it old and dated; do the legs to the coffee table wobble; is the settee there from when you first moved in…years ago? If so, then it definitely needs to be changed or updated in some way. Nobody is attracted to old and obsolete…maybe shabby chic, but even this is an acquired taste! There are many options that you could go for. For example, you could reupholster pieces yourself if you’re feeling brave enough? There are also options of hiring some great pieces of furniture and after shopping around you can find some good bargains out there. Or maybe you want to buy the furniture for your new house a bit earlier and use that? But I would be careful with the last option, as you may end up loving the new living room too much and decide against leaving!
Next, think about the colour palette, is it warm and inviting? I generally feel that living rooms should have a warm and cosy feel, especially if they are the main room if the house where the family tends to collect. So choose colours that are inviting and neutralise the space, but this does not mean that the space has to become magnolia and boring. Maybe go for soft blues and browns and a few cushions or well-chosen accessories as accents to liven the place up.
Make sure there is room to breathe. After living in the same space for a while we all have a tendency to “collect” things together; thinking they look good, but in all honesty they need to be put away! So make sure that the space is clutter-free, I don’t think this can be said enough! This includes re-thinking what is on the mantle piece and side table; and anywhere else you may have added that basket of faux flowers from your anniversary or those coasters from Spain! Another way to ensure that the space is breathing is thinking about the way furniture is arranged, is it inviting and open, or does it close the space? Think about how you would walk through from one end of the room to the other?. Try to space things out and don’t have too many obstacles, as this is likely to close the space and make it appear smaller than it may be.
Finally, make sure the windows are clean and dressed nicely; nowadays you are able to pick up a pair of curtains and pole for great prices. A pair of worn out curtains is definitely not a way to attract a new owner. When buyers are visiting put the lights on or keep the curtains open, ensure that the space is feeling bright and airy.
There are many more tips and ideas that can be incorporated within your space. For more information, and a friendly chat about what Sav Design is able to offer, do get in touch.
Savita Kalia is the principal interior designer at Sav Design, an interior design firm offering a variety of commercial and residential services. Life is too short to be badly designed, contact Sav Design today!