Ask Simon

Here are some questions that Simon is often asked by his clients:

How do I improve my lighting?

Good lighting is vital for creating atmosphere at night and for usability. Ignore complex home automation systems – the most effective investment you can make is a dimmer switch which costs about a tenner. You may wish to upgrade your lighting which need not require much rewiring or damage. This needs to be done before any decoration. A mix of downlighters, uplighters and wall lights is best, or if ceilings are high enough perhaps a feature hanging (pendant) lamp. Don’t feel pressurised into studding the ceiling with dozens of architectural (recessed) downlighters, they can be a little harsh and are expensive to run – I suspect they won’t be in fashion for ever. Weigh up the pros and cons of mains voltage and low voltage, apart from anything they give different qualities of light. Qualified electricians will be needed for most upgrading, definitely in bathrooms, but there are simple changes a competent DIYer can do to save money. If you have a good view of your garden from downstairs you may wish to install garden lighting though again this needs to be done professionally and is notifiable to your local council.

What colours should I go for?

Colours are a personal choice and I am always interested to hear clients’ preferences and work with them if possible. Neutrals and light naturals are a good bet and generally look great in a room with good natural light perhaps with a few colourful accents or natural wood. They’re also a wise choice if you plan to sell your property in the near future. But using white to brighten a room with small windows is often disastrous resulting in a depressing grey box. This might be the room in which to try a strong colour. Your eye will adjust and the outside might even appear brighter! There are all sorts of tricks you can use to make rooms look bigger, corridors shorter, ceilings higher etc but there are no hard and fast rules, most solutions are completely dependent on the set of circumstances in your home and will require a visit.

This room doesn’t work for me!

I hear this a lot. Try to analyse what you mean by that before you get a professional in. Is it that the room has a poorly defined purpose or perhaps duplicates the function of another nicer room? Is it an aesthetic or lighting issue that means you don’t want to spend time there? Or is it something more fundamental? Aesthetic issues may be solved by rearranging furniture (or adding or removing it) or redecorating, but a deeper rooted problem may require structural changes, changed access, thermal insulation, sound proofing, improved lighting, shelving or storage, or a change in flooring.

What floor should I have?

More than anything this should be dictated by what you do in that room and who uses it. There is a huge range of flooring types in almost any colour and texture. What you use can make a huge difference in the feeling of a room, sometimes more than any other change you make. Wood is beautiful and very popular but careful thought needs to go into how it will warp and shrink and how it matches other colours. Natural fibre matting are beautiful too but have major practicality drawbacks so are not suitable everywhere. There are a bewildering number of carpets but these can be quite easily narrowed down by thinking about purpose, light and location.

Should I put in a fireplace?

I try to put a wood burning stove or fireplace in almost every major redesign. They make sense in our climate and are very good for the soul. It needs to be done to regulation standards but most houses other than the very newest will have chimneys that can be adapted. Exposing a covered-over fireplace is often worth doing do give the room a focal point, even if the original fireplace is long gone. Older houses may have nice brick that can be revealed here.

How can I get the feeling of more space without extending or converting the loft?

Think about going upwards. Vertical space can literally add a whole new dimension to a dingy upstairs room. In a typical Victorian terrace or semi it is relatively easy to remove one of the upstairs ceilings and vault it to the rafters, thus creating a mezzanine floor or flexible storage space over the other bedroom. Usually this will not require planning permission though you will need structural advice and possibly local council inspections.

Should I try to recreate my interior exactly as it would have been when my house was built?

I don’t believe so. The range of materials, lighting, wall finishes and furniture is so much better than it was even 20 years ago. Give a nod to the past by all means – an original or reproduction fireplace perhaps, or the original doors and windows if at all possible. But beware of making life difficult for yourself – Victorian houses were usually uncompromisingly dark and gloomy all over, and until recently kitchens were small private work stations not meant to be seen or enjoyed.