PLANNING FOR YOUR FIRST HOME
SUCCESSFUL LAYOUT PLANNING ON A BUDGET
When making that big decision to move out and buy your first home, it is essential that you make the right decisions for the layout planning. We have gathered together some facts and interesting information along with ideas to give you an insight of how to design your new home in style, and make it extra special for all friends and family.
Planning the Layout
Truthful self-assessment of needs and requirements, rather than wishful thinking, is the key to successful planning, particularly of small spaces. Take a good look at the way you presently live and work, and keep a relatively restricted time frame firmly in mind. One day, you may become an enthusuastic gardner, one day you may develop a passion for cooking elaborate meals for large dinner parties; if neither of these activities feature prominently in your life at the moment, you do not need to accommodate them.
At the same time, you do need to take a long hard look at the assets and drawbacks of the space at your disposal. If you own your home and there are trouble spots or elements requiring urgent repair, you must accept the fact that putting these right will have to take priority.
If you are in full-time employment, your home will essentially function as a place of retreat in the evenings and at the weekends. Think about getting rid of conventional room arrangements to create an informal, open layout (and make sure you have given due consideration to security if the property will be empty for much of the day). On the other hand, if you need to work at home part of the time, a dedicated workspace is essential, which will mean that you may have to build in at least some degree of separation between living and working.
First homes generally coincide with a sociable stage of life. If you like entertaining, even if it is only having a few friends round to share a takeaway, an open arrangement again makes sense, as it will enhance the feeling of spaciousness and provide a more adaptable framework for different types of activity.
Affordable housing for first-time buyers is a short supply in many urban areas. A number of architects are currently responding to the problem by devising prefabricated micro-flats, living modules that can be manufactured off-site and delivered by truck, which dramatically cuts the cost and time of construction.
One such prototype, a 32sqm (350sqft) micro-flat with walls and floors made of insulated panels, has been inspired by compact fitted spaces such as caravans, board and Japanese capsule hotels. inside, a curved ‘utility module’ houses kitchen, bathroom and bedroom storage. The bedroom at the read is separated by a sliding screen, while the open living space leads directly to a balcony. Although such designs are only just beginning to make an appearance on the market, you can draw inspiration from their compact and functional planning when it comes to the layout of your own space.
First homes are often single spaces, but even where they comprise two or more distinct rooms, open layouts make a great deal of sense at this stage. Where space is confined, doing without conventional barriers and partition walls gives you the illusion of spaciousness as well as an important degree of flexibility in terms of emphasis and practicality. If you own your property and can afford to carry out simple structural alterations, you might consider knocking down walls between rooms or between circulation areas of hallways and stairs to promote a freer, more adaptable internal arrangement.
Open layouts, however, are not successful where activities run tohether in a muddle and some forms of diversion are usually necessary. Flexible ways of defining different areas include free-standing partitions or storage units, half-height counters used to block views of a kitchen or cooking area, moveable screens and even furniture placements. Most people, even if they are living on their own, usually prefer some form of enclosure for a sleeping area. If there is enough ceiling light, a platform bed or mini mezzanine level can be a good way of seperating a bedroom from the main space. Alternatively, a partition with openings on either side, serving essentially as an over-scaled bedhead, can be signal the shift between public and private areas within an otherwise open space.
Open layouts go hand in hand with fitted storage and to some extent fitted furniture. When there are no doors to close on clutter, fitted cupboards allow you to keep household paraphernalia out of sight when it is not required. The most elegant solutions, as well as those that maximize every centimetre of space, usually require some professional design input, although this is well worth the investment, especially if you expect to stay put for some time.
Kitchens and Bathrooms
Those setting up home for the first time often find the service areas of kitchens and bathroom particularly lacking, both in size and character. How much can be done to redress the situation depends largely on budget but also on lifestyle, particularly when it comes to kitchen planning.
The ‘utility module’ idea, as featured in the micro-flat design and coincidentally in the service planning of many lofts and other free-form spaces – is a good one to adopt if you have the opportunity and the budget to plan your home from scratch. Grouping services makes practical and logistical sense, as well as maximizing space for more living-oriented activities.
If you are not a particularly enthusiastic cook, it makes sense to restrict kitchen facilities to the minimum. By the same token, if your entire social life takes place away from home – and if you tend to eat out a great deal – there is no real need to devote space to a kitchen or to equip a cooking area with much beyond a kettle, mini-fridge or microwave. Compact kitchen areas that can be shut away behind a screen or sliding door when not in use are perfectly adequate if your idea of cooking is warming up a ready meal.
Small kitchens, however, can be highly efficient, provided they are properly planned. Where space is limited, fitted layouts are much the best solution – the simpler the better. A single-line kitchen, with appliances slotted under a worktop and wall-hung units is neat, efficient and unobtrusive. The same simplicity and discipline should be extended to equipping the kitchen. Avoid space-hungry appliances and gadgets; a restricted range of basic, plain ovenware and tableware is much less of a storage headache than different sets of glasses and plates for everyday and special occasions.
For those who are reluctant to spend much money on fittings and fixtures they will eventually leave behind, free-standing modular units and ‘plug-in’ kitchen ‘work benches’ incorporating sink, hob, oven and fridge allow you to take your investment with you when it is time to move on. Similar designs include space-saving kitchens built into cabinets that simply connect to existing services.
If there is very little in the budget at all, you can refresh tired or shabby kitchen units with a coat of paint and new handles or by replacing the doors and drawer fronts with new ones.
In a first home, the bathroom may not only be the ‘smallest room’, it may be positively minute. Short of moving walls around, there are a number of less costly and disruptive ways of easing the pressure on space. Replacing a door that opens inward with a sliding panel or screen can make a cramped bathroom seem a little roomier. Substituting a shower for a bath will also win you some additional floor area. Small sinks, particularly those that are wall-hung, are also space saving. Converting a bathroom into a fully waterproofed wet room is perhaps on of the more practical ways of making the most of a small area.
Decoration and Furnishing
Even those on restricted budgets can put an individual stamp on their home. Basic decoration and a few well-chosen simple furnishings can transform the most unpromising surroundings. At this stage of life, necessity is most often the mother of invention: economic considerations can inspire lateral leaps that prove to be as aesthetically as they are cost-effective and functional. If you are renting, make sure you study the fine prints of your lease or consult your landlord before undertaking major decorative projects, particularly those that entail ripping out or painting over existing surfaces and finishes.
A fresh coat of paint is instantly uplifting, not just on walls but on other surfaces and finishes that you may not be able to replace immediately, such as floorboards, fitted units or tiling. Make sure you select the right type of paint for the job it has to do and follow manufacturer’s recommendations with regard to preparation and undercoating. It’s worth spending time making good; filling cracks and dealing with other surface imperfections before you get out the paint roller. Time spent on preparation makes a vast difference in terms of the quality of the final finish.
White or light-reflecting shades are a good idea if the outlook is poor, the space is confined or the quality of natural light leaves something to be desired. At the same time, you have nothing to lose by being daring. First homes represents a learning curve in many ways and this is the chance of experiment.
Other economic and virtually instant cover-ups for walls include fabric stretched and tacked in position or blown-up photocopies of favourite images for a photomural effect. Good-quality wallpaper is not cheap, but a couple of rolls may be enough to paper one wall; a single plane picked out in this way can be a very effective means of introducing strong colour or pattern.
The floor is a defining element in the interior; it also represents a substantial surface area which means that new flooring often can be costly, especially once fitting and underlay have been taken into account. If reasonably decent floorboards are lurking underneath layers of carpet on worn vinyl, one budget solution is to remove the old floor covering and paint, stain or sand and seal the boards.
Wood laminate may not be as authentic as solid wood floors, but it is cheap and, in the snap-and-lock format, easy to lay. Sheets of plywood are another economic alternative. If you prefer the comfort, warmth and sound insulating qualities of carpet or natural-fibre weaves underfoot, look out for suppliers selling remnants or discontinues ranges. Large plain rugs can hide a battered or stained floor covering if your budget is very tight or your stay in your present accommodation strictly limited.
One of the cheapest ways of changing the atmosphere is by improving lighting – both artificial and natural. You cannot change the basic orientation of your home, but you can enhance the amount of daylight by keeping windows relatively uncovered. Blinds, translucent Perspex panels or slatted screens allow more light through than heavy drapery – the more light, the greater the feeling of wellbeing and the greater the sense of space.
Where artificial light is concerned, the key is to increase the number of light sources in a room or area and to vary the direction of light. A single, central source, such as a pendant light, has a deadening effect on atmosphere, whereas individual points of light dotted around the room at different levels make a space seam bigger and more expansive. Reflecting light from ceilings or walls by using uplights or angles spots will also enhance spaciousness.
Good-looking basic light-fittings, such as clip-on spots, anglepoises, aluminium pendants or variations on the theme of the paper lantern, are easy to come by and very economical. It is worth spending money, however on having additional power points installed if there are only a limited number, as this will add greatly to the potential flexibility by lighting arrangements.
Furnishing a home on the cheap used to mean scrounging cast-offs from friends and family and improvising the rest. These days, however, there are plenty of retailers and other outlets where decent, basic furniture are available, and where you can find pieces that offer both a veneer of contemporary design and an affordable price tag. In many cases, such furniture is flat-packed and self-assembled at home.
When you are short of space as well as money, look out for simple designs that can serve more than one function: a basic table can be used for both eating and working’ futons and sofa beds fulfil a double purpose’ anonymous chairs can work as occasional seating in a living area or as dining chairs; and stacking stools function as side-tables, additional seating or as places to perch a lamp. Modular designs, from a sectional seating to storage units, which can be added to as living space and income allows, are another practical idea. Indoor-outdoor furniture in wicker, slatted wood or metal is lightweight, generally well designed and often very affordable; when you do make the move to a more established home, such pieces may well find a use in the garden.
While improvisation still has a role to play, such as the stereotypical table that compromises a door balanced on trestles or shelving made of scaffolding planks and bricks, it is worth spending as much money as you can afford on items such as sofas, sofa beds or mattresses that directly affect your comfort and wellbeing. A good-quality mattress may not be the most exciting purchase you will ever make but it will more then repay the investment.
Where space is very tight, fitted furniture can be a good idea. Tables that pull out from the side of a kitchen counter or flap down from the wall, beds that fold down, and workspaces that are enclosed by sliding doors or screens when not in use keep the floor as clear as possible and provide the illusion of greater space. One proviso is that such features must be robust and truly workable, which often means custom design and construction.
Inherited or retro pieces can supply that sense of continuity or rootedness that a first home may otherwise lack. Retro furnishings discovered in junk shops are appealing not only because they are quirky and cheap but also because they provide a link with the past. Places generally begin to feel like home when they have little history attached; here is a way to get it sooner rather than later.
One advantage of setting up your new home for the first time is that the number of possessions needing to be housed is generally fewer at this stage than in later life; the downside, however, is that storage space, indeed free space, may well be sorely lacking – few first homes come with convenient attics or basements where stuff can be stashed away. With this in mind, it can be a good idea to edit your belongings before you move. If you do not want to shed things permanently, consider renting storage facilities for those items you can do without on a daily basis but may find room for some time in the future.
Fitted storage makes particular sense in a small living space. Sacrificing a certain amount of floor area to build in cupboards along the length of one wall is a small price to pay for a more clutter-free lift. Raised levels, such as platforms or mezzanines, provide the opportunity to fit out the space underneath; cupboards and shelving can also be neatly integrated into hallways if they are wide enough, or sited under the stairs.
Open storage, such as shelving and hanging rails, attracts attention and is best restricted to those inherently appealing possessions, such as books, which ‘furnish’ a room. If you opt for the shelving route, fitting an entire wall with shelves is more satisfactory and wholehearted solution than dotting a few about here and there. Modular storage boxes in cardboard, metal or Perspex are an economical and unobtrusive way of organizing clutter.
If part of the pleasure of setting up home for the first time is enjoying your own territory and expressing your own tastes, when you set up home with a partner you may find yourself coming up against very different notions of decor and design. This may take the form of a typical gender devide, radically different approaches to domestic clutter or competing claims for personal space, or it may be as specific as blinds versus curtains, wood floors versus carpet.
Compatibility in other spheres of life does not necessarily translate into shared preferences when it comes to wall colour or sofa design. The British DIY chain recently conducted a survey that reported that six out of ten couples had an argument during or after visiting their stores.
Living together entails compromise; in the context, compromise, where it is a true fusion rather than a watered-down solution, can result in a more distinctive result than one person getting their own way to the exclusion of the other’s tastes and preferences.
A shared home should express joint interests and that may mean redecorating in such a way that suits both people or making a few new purchases together, such as the purchase of a sofa or the choice of flooring, is important for long-term harmony; so, too, is making the effort to allow each person a degree of individual space.
Avoidably, sharing a home means double the stuff. While hanging on to two copies of the same CD might express some pessimism about the longevity of a feature, moreover, that can persist well into middle-age. On a purely practical level, pooling your belongings may simply mean discarding duplicate items after hanging on to whichever is the better quality; equally it may involve accepting the fact that there isn’t room for everything and either rented storage space or permanent disposal is the answer.
Another shared home scenario, and one that is becoming increasingly common as property prices in urban areas continue to escalate, is where a group of friends decide to pool their assets together to buy a home in the interests of gaining more space for their money in a better location than they could manage by going it alone. At a stage of life when friendships are often more enduring than relationships, this can be a sensible way of beginning the slow climb up the property ladder, but while this strategy might superficially seem no more than a logical extension of the shared student house of flat, clear rules and contractual arrangements are necessary from the outset in order to avoid disruptive and damaging disputes in the future.
Obtaining a joint mortgage where the parties in the question are friends rather than partners is no longer a problem with most financial institutions; it can be a problem, though, if one of the parties decides it is time to sell up and move on. It is therefore a good idea to get an additional legal document drawn up setting out some basic ground rules.
Gardening may not be high on the list of most people’s priorities at this stage of life, but any outdoor space, however confined, is always an asset. Balconies, small paved terraces and even windowsills provide an opportunity to connect with the natural world and a place to display a few containerized plants, flowers or herbs. By framing views and drawings the eye onwards, well-tended outdoor spaces can have a great impact on the quality of indoor space, serving as a green buffer between your home and the surrounding environment. If there is space to sit out in fine weather, so much the better.
When you lead a busy life, perhaps much of it at work away from home, easy garden maintenance is essential. Hard surfacing such as decking, paving, stone chips or gravel is more practical than grass which will need to be mown on a regular basis. Where the garden immediately connects with a ground-floor area, using similar materials underfoot indoors and out enhances the sense of space. Drought-tolerant plants that will survive a little neglect and infrequent watering are a good idea if your gardening instincts are intermittent; suitable species include those that flourish in coastal conditions, as well as grasses, bamboos and other ‘architectural’ plants.
For roof gardens, or other similarly exposes locations, plants need to be particularly robust in order to survive relatively extreme conditions and exposure to wind; some shelter in the form of trellising can help in this respect. You may need to consult a surveyor in order to establish whether the structure of an existing balcony or roof will support the extra load imposed by containerized plants and outdoor furniture. Timber decking can be a good way of covering up a poor surface, with the slats aiding drainage. You should also think carefully about safety. Secure screening with trellis, wire-fencing or woven panels will not only provide better climactic conditions for plants and some privacy if necessary, but will also prevent accidents.
Simple planting is highly effective in small gardens. A balcony with a flowering climber threaded through the railings can be intimate natural space; window boxes planted with the same species in the same colour have more impact and are easier to look after than lots of different containers planted with lots of different plants. Window boxes and other containers provide the opportunity to respond to the seasons, with a display of spring bulbs giving way to bright summer annuals. Scented species, such as lavender, or edible plants such as herbs, add to the sensory benefits.
In Japan, where population densities are very high and balconies are the closest many city-dwellers get to experiencing the great outdoors, every opportunity is taken to make the most of them. Furnishing an outdoor space with a simple table and a couple of chairs – and perhaps outdoor lighting – will mean that you are more likely to use it than ignore it.