Monday, 22 August 2011

Setting up your first home


UNDER STARTER'S ORDERS:  Kitting out your first home can be a daunting prospect.  Interior Designer Jamie Hempsall offers advice on getting it right and making the best use of your budget.

The chances are that anyone furnishing their first home is likely to be on a tight budget, but wants to make the place special.  The trick when money is limited is to be resourceful and interpretive.

There are two key trends in interior fashion which work well for those facing this dilemma and can turn it into a fun pursuit, rather than an impossible challenge.  The first is retro chic - it might be old, but it need not be out of style.  Embrace this with confidence and you should save a packet.  

Mid 20th Century is currently enjoying a real resurgence, so Ercol and G-Plan are currently appreciating in value, but good quality Edwardian and Victorian furniture is probably at an all-time low so picking from this era will make your budget go considerably further. Do not be put off by worn fabric or the odd scratch.  They add character and can be a good DIY restoration project if undertaken carefully and sympathetically.

The second “friendly trend” is eclectic, literally combining a variety of styles and ideas.  Adopted in the right way, this means that you positively avoid a matched interior and go instead for a melting pot of design.  The important thing to ensure is a link between pieces so the effect is designed, rather than dumped.  Colour is probably the easiest connection (even if it is one cushion on a piece).

My advice when starting out is to make second hand, junk and antique shops your friends.  Take your time, find what is available and get a feel for prices.  You have got time to come back, but remember it is not like shopping on the High St as there may well only be one of what you want – so if you really love something bite the bullet and get it.

In the second hand market no price should be set in stone and it is well worth haggling to see what you can get off.  You might be surprised that even a cheeky offer might be considered if the vendor has had the stock a long time and wants to get rid of it.  Cash is king, so at least have enough for a deposit with you to hold an item once you have secured your price.

So where to start?

Floors and walls are the essentials for making your first home a blank canvas.  If you are inheriting carpets, hire a professional carpet cleaning device (usually available from your local dry cleaners).  A deep clean in this fashion will revive most carpets and provide you with a cheap and quick method to a hygienic base.  If you find the carpet difficult to live with you can dress it with cheap rugs, which can also be used to hide stubborn stains or burns.

Paint is definitely the most cost effective way to cheer up any room (even if it was previously wallpapered, provided the surface is still in good condition).  Paint all rooms in one light colour (walls, ceiling and woodwork) to avoid tying you to any particularly scheme.  Off-white will give a light and clean feel.  Avoid plain white as this tends to look stark and cream can often just look dirty.  Remember to dust sheet everything to save your flooring and if you are a novice now is a great time to ask your parents or experienced friends for tips.  Take your time as a rushed job will be with you for a long period.

Seek out decorators merchants and opt for trade paints as these are often better quality.  When it comes to paint a cheap tin is not necessarily the most cost effective as it can be low on pigment and, therefore, require more coats.  Even one extra coat is 50% more paint, so the cost can soon add up.

Privacy and warmth are the next staples you require.  Your key to this are your window dressings.  At night and in the winter uncovered windows might just as well be open.  A heavy curtain which is lined (and ideally interlined) will make an incredible difference – keeping important warmth in and helping light sleepers by shutting out early morning sun. 

Interlined curtains can be expensive, but second hand options can be a bargain.  One of the best websites I have seen is which is easy to navigate and well laid out with style and colour guides.  Alternatively, specialist shops like The Curtain Exchange at Boston Spa (01937 849 755) keep a range of good quality curtains and can give advice on whether they will fit your window. 

Choose your curtain designs and colours carefully and make these the basis for any additional decorating scheme.  Once you have the established your base, you can move onto the main details – starting downstairs.

A sofa or a couple of comfy chairs are a must for any starter home.  Do not feel the need to have any more as visitors will be happy to perch on a dining chair or sit on a cushion on the floor.   You really just need enough for you to sit on to relax in the evening.

Purchase a drop-leaf dining table as they take up less room and are incredibly versatile, being perfect as a desk, side-table or even a TV unit.  Early 20th Century versions are good value and stylish.  There is a trend to paint them, but they are also beautiful in their natural wood.
In a starter home four dining chairs means you can comfortably entertain (and save money by not going out).  They can also double up as desk chairs and bedroom chairs, so can be stored in other locations.  For a balanced eclectic look opt for two pairs of chairs which will be considerably cheaper than buying a matching set of four.

Lamp shades are the most cost effective way to dress an overhead light and there are usually plenty of good priced options at TK Maxx or BHS.  Also purchase at least one table lamp (two is preferable); this can make a good “task” light if you are working in the room, but also allows you to create a more intimate environment as overhead light is incredibly harsh.

Kitchen utensils are often available for pennies from second hand shops and some of the old designs are brilliant.  Build up a mix of crockery, glassware & cutlery, but make it feel like a proper collection by matching the design per setting (e.g. all side plates the same, but with contrasting dinner plates).  Mixed glassware is fine, but you should aim for two of each design to make it a feature.

Your bedroom is as important as your living area, because you spend a lot of time there and bad sleep causes a lot of problems.  Second hand bed bases can be attractive, but always purchase a new mattress.

Concentrate your spending on securing the best bedding possible (ideally a minimum of 140 thread count in 100% cotton).  Plain covers avoid limiting your design options later on and are easier to match into your second hand curtains.  You can dress the bed with a throw or cushions.

The minimum extra furniture you need is a wardrobe and a chest of drawers.  These provide the clothes storage you need and the chest can double as a bedside table-cum-dressing table.  The wardrobe is essential for hanging storage and they will often incorporate a full length mirror which no home should be without.

Keep lighting simple with an overhead shade that provides good light (essential for getting ready or doing make up).  Add a reading lamp for each sleeper to minimise night-time squabbles and create the perfect intimate environment.

Champagne tastes great even from an old chipped mug – so keep some budget back and crack open a bottle on your first night to toast your home in style.

Jamie Hempsall, BIID, is an award winning interior designer.  Visit him at or call him on 0800 032 1180.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post on Saturday 20th August 2011

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