Doing up a home is an intense labour. The dream scenario is to appoint a marvellous interior designer, explain clearly your heart’s desire, move family plus dogs into a fine hotel, and then return some six weeks later to a perfectly constructed and spotless vision of your new and improved abode. Sadly in all my years of editing this magazine, I have never encountered this. And I don’t think that’s just because fine hotels are seldom keen to house large slobbery hounds. Rather, it’s an impossible fiction. Most of us find it difficult to articulate what we think we want/need, designers don’t work via telepathy and, unfortunately, being able to decamp en luxe for the duration of works is the financial preserve of the few. Not forgetting, those aforementioned works often overrun due to myriad random factors. Personally, I find the necessary intrusion the hardest to bear. When your hitherto private retreat from the world is invaded by dust, dirt, builder’s kit and too many people at once, it can swiftly become overwhelming.
The thing is, I absolutely maintain that the journey of improving your home is one of the best things you can ever undertake. Shaping and colouring where you live to suit your particular familial needs, temperament and taste can only, in the long run, have a positive effect; I believe that the spaces we surround ourselves with on a daily basis have a huge impact on our physical health and emotional wellbeing.
But to get there is not without its tests. Let’s assume we’ve mood-boarded our way to an agreed scheme; the responsibility then shifts to the builders, joiners or decorators. Are they available, sufficiently detail oriented and/or dedicated to the task in hand? What of the unexpected? The uncovered leak, crumbling plaster, rotten joists or hidden wet rot? What too of, whisper it, changing your mind? That said, I insist that it’s far better to change your mind at a stage when something can be done than to stay silent and harbour regret. Hopefully, with much mocked up at the mood board stage, huge shifts of intention can be avoided, but I grant you, with things like colour, it’s sometimes just too hard to really see what it feels like until it’s done.
Unfortunately, there is no golden set of rules to protect against all of this. I’d advise only the following: go in with your eyes open, be realistic about costs, accept change as inevitable and, throughout the whole ordeal, stay mindful of your objective. An improved home = a happier home. It’ll be worth it in the end, it always is. After all, none of the homes I have ever featured in ELLE Decoration got to where they are now without going through this too.
Three things I learnt this month…
1 If you receive bi-annual water bills, then regularly check your water meter. When all of your taps are off, the dial in the centre should not move. If it does, you have a leak! To check whether that leak is inside or outside your home, isolate the stopcock. Dial still moving? The leak is outside your property. Stopped? It’s inside. Either way, call your plumber/water company to avoid being billed for the wasted water.
2 A cucamelon is a real thing. A cross between a melon and a cucumber, it hails from Mexico, looks like a teeny-tiny version of a watermelon and tastes like a lemon-zesty cucumber. Available at Waitrose.
3 Installing a Velux sun tunnel might not be as easy as I originally thought. I will report back next month.
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the July 2016 edition of ELLE Decoration.