Building, Decorating, Home, Project, Property, Property Development, Renovation, Saving Money, Uncategorized
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Where to start…? (a guide of what to spend your money on at home)

Happy January 2017 everyone. We made it!


I enjoyed my week away from work, writing, interiors and all things loft extension, but it’s now time to crack on with life again. And i’m ready for it.

It’s at this time of year, after taking the Christmas decs down and giving the house a good clean we start thinking about making home improvements and giving our homes a bit of love. My inbox has been rammed since December with people wanting some help, advice and design work done in January. Which is brilliant of course.

Home Office in a Day

My first day back at work in 2017 was a full house consultation in Manchester. The homeowner had been working really hard to save some money in order to give her family home, a lovely 3 bed, pre-war semi an update. When you’ve got several rooms to tackle, each room with its own issues and problems, it’s hard to know where to start. The last thing you want to do is go about it the wrong way, and find out something you bought last month now needs ripping out or replacing.

Where do I start?

With the bones. The bones of the building. If you start there and work outwards, you’re on the right path. With any project, you HAVE to deal with the boring, practical issues first. And this stuff can eat into your budget and the results are invisible, so there’s no real sense of satisfaction. But, if you’ve got damp, deal with it. Plastering and painting over it is literally a waste of your money. If your window frames are a wreck, or your glass is blown, invest invest invest. No matter how gorgeous your room is, if it’s cold and draughty, you aint gonna want to sit in there. The bones of your room are key.


All of the panelling around the windows on this project needed complete renovation before we even got to any of the fun stuff. Well, it was over 100 years old.

Think of it like this:

You’ve bought the most beautiful dress, some expensive designer number and it’s going to make you look and feel a million dollars. But in the flurry of excitement and in an attempt to pull back some extra pennies, you’ve failed to invest in a decent pair of knickers and a good bra to wear underneath. So you have to wear your old baggy undies and a bra that lost its elastic back in 2008. Damn it. It goes without saying, the dress, although still beautiful on the hanger, now looks pretty shit once you’ve slipped it on. Waste. Of. Money.

The same applies to your home, anything in fact. Don’t get sucked in by online images of the finished result and rush to get there. Don’t just buy beautiful things and think that will transform your home, as the fireplace you hate and the tired skirting boards with the chunks taken out by your son’s hallway car races are still there. Ruining everything.

And the good thing is, once you’ve got the bones sorted, you can be much more savvy with what goes in the room. Take, Kate Moss, she has good bones, like literally. She can wear what she wants and it looks awesome. Put a £10 t-shirt on her, looks great. You’ve got to give your home the biggest chance of reaching its good bones potential and this way, whatever you put in it, will look a million dollars. Have I convinced you yet?

What should I spend my money on then?

Here’s where I think your money should go before you even get anywhere near a paint brush.

  • Fireplace – They’re expensive, confusing, and seem impossible to sort. They’re not. We sit facing them (most of the time), so stop faffing over what picture or mirror to hang over it because no amount of fiddling is going to stop you hating that fireplace. Deal with the problem and then enjoy the fun stuff.

Sherwood Forest Project

  • Windows – Another financial burden. But if you can afford to fix any problems with your windows before you update a room, please do. Especially if you plan on wallpapering as once that wallpaper is on, you really don’t want windows being ripped out.


New sash windows were fitted in the Drawing Room Project

  • Radiators (upgrade your 70’s rads to something a) more efficient b) more attractive. We’ve been doing ours one room at a time in order to make it more affordable. And the difference it makes is amazing.

The Edwardian Bedroom Project with its new cast iron radiator

But if you can’t afford to get new ones just now, paint ’em in. Make ’em disappear. Please!

Oh and if your boiler is screwed, then that obviously take precedent over any fancy radiators. A functioning boiler is a must have item.

  • Flooring – If you’ve got floorboards, save them. They will last and love you in return forever. If you continue to look after them that is.
  • If your walls are knackered, normally so in period properties, consider getting your walls re-skimmed. It will breathe life back into a room and make what ever wall covering you eventually choose look its best.
  • Light switches and sockets

You don’t have to go designer, but try and make sure they are in keeping with the room. Also try to be consistent throughout. I’ve still yet to master this one at home. Definitely on my to-do list for 2017 (sorry husband).

  • Internal doors


This door had been panelled over in the 70’s (what were they doing?) so we rescued it, got it dipped and stripped, rehung and left bare. Looks stunning no?

  • Ceiling Lighting. I repeat. CEILING LIGHTING. –  I can’t really go on about this enough. A drum shade on one of these gives me all kinds of nightmares. You’ve got literally nothing to put on your ceiling apart from a light. Invest in something that’s going to draw your eyes upwards for all the right reasons.Ceiling-rose_pendant-image-e1365529600873

A plethora of ceiling lights

And that, ladies and gents, is what i’ve been pondering for the last couple of days. Where should you put your money? You might not get excited initially about a new radiator, but once you’ve got one, I bet you love it. Just be aware that once you update one, you will instantly notice how crap all the other ones are.

A house is NEVER finished. It ages and weathers, moans and groans and is affected by the seasons just like us. Think of it as an additional member of the family. Definitely worth looking after the bones me thinks.

Do you have any plans to update your home this year? If so, has anything I’ve written here given you any food for thought? Would love to hear your take on this one…


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  1. Oh my god, couldn’t agree with you more!! And sadly, so many lessons I learned updating my own home where we went about it SO MANY TIMES the wrong way. In our next house? Floors, walls, fireplaces are all top priority because they are all things that we left until ‘later’ and then sadly, it’s a right pain in the arse to sort out when the room is pretty much done. This is why I’ll never have a fireplace in my current living room – it’s just too late now – and why I’m still suffering with a shit ugly carpet in my bedroom (a little difficult to sort it out when the rest of the room is fully furnished and done). Gah. I think your advice is spot on though. We rush to get to the pretty without thinking through the practical. Oh and none of my light switches match either. Ahem. Great post xxx

    • We’re all guilty of it. Me included. But i’m getting better and planning ahead. It also helps to explain to clients why things cost more than expected. It’s all the invisible things that get forgotten about. Happy new year Ms D!xx

  2. madaboutthehouse says

    A brilliant post. I wish I had written it! Brilliant advice as ever Karen XK

  3. Ru Mojito says

    Just what I needed to read right now as I tackle a new (old) house, thanks

  4. freshdesignblog says

    Great tips, Karen! We changed all the doors in our previous house and it made a huge difference. Eventually we want to here too, but it’s on a long list of other things.

  5. Great advice, as someone doing a renovation project I couldn’t agree more, we invested first in new windows and radiators and it’s amazing the difference they make, all the other nice bits can be added as you go along, but the bones are the most important! x

  6. Good advice here, I have made so many mistakes along the way! I have to really think about my twin daughters bedroom, we need to make it space saving, practical and pretty too! I have my work cut out I think!

  7. Susan says

    A great article indeed! Can you tell me where the plant holder is from please as we have a similar panelled window in our new home & it would look fab!
    Thanks, Susan

    • Karen Knox says

      Thanks Susan. The planter is from La Redoute. West Elm also sell similar (for about twice the price!)

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