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Tips and advice

January 21, 2020

Brighten up a courtyard wall

To make the most out of them consult an HIA garden designer who will be happy to offer advice.

In the meantime here are some ideas for brightening up a bland courtyard wall. 

  • Paint it a different colour to lift or calm the room, perhaps a subtle shade of green or grey or something more vibrant to turn it into a feature.

  • If you are handy with a paintbrush, and have an artistic bent, why not try for a trompe l’oeil, a painted scene which deceives the eye and makes it look like an extension to your garden. Alternatively, you could employ a professional muralist who will work to your ideas, suggest different angles and produce a startling effect which is also a work of art, but I have seen some excellent work done by talented amateurs.

  • Install an ornamental trellis which will soften the blank wall and can also give the illusion of more space. Another trick, suggested by the gardening expert on a London newspaper, is to have a toughened glass mirror set in a door frame or trellis arch.

  • Just as large mirrors in small rooms give an illusion of extra space, this will create the impression of a door through to another garden. The mirror will also reflect more light into the courtyard.

Bushfire precautions

Here are some standard precautions to keep you, your family and your property protected.

  • Clear debris that may have collected over the winter from roofs, gutters and any outside areas close to the house such as decks and courtyards.

  • Choose materials that will not burn such as metal or concrete instead of timber. Consult your local authority for specific regulations governing construction methods and materials to be used in bushfire-prone areas.

  • Check your access to water supplies which may include rainwater tanks, dams, swimming pools, as well as the mains. A sprinkler system connected to these supplies should be ready in case fire approaches.

  • Do not store firewood against the walls or underneath the home and make sure all doors have close-fitting screens. Keep grass close to all buildings cut short and remove fallen branches that could provide fire fuel.

  • Plant trees and shrubs away from the home, as the resulting open space will create a fire break. Put screens over any chimneys to catch falling embers which will otherwise have a way straight into the interior.

Remember it is everyone’s responsibility to take all possible precautions. You could be saving your life and those of your family, friends and neighbours.

Colour for your home

The skilful use of colour can create illusions – pale hues reflect light and make small rooms seem larger, while dark colours can make large unwelcoming spaces feel cosier. A light colour on the ceiling – white is probably the best option – makes it seem higher, hallways or passages seem wider.

Cool colours such as blue, turquoise and blue greens are most effective in warm rooms that receive a great deal of sun. Warmer colours include the full range of reds shading into pinks, orange and yellow. These colours also tend to be mentally stimulating and energising, making them best for rooms such as studies where creative work takes place.

Follow these suggestions to make a new colour work for you.

  • Create a feeling of harmony and transition within the home by gradually introducing colour changes. This is especially important in open plan settings, but also looks best when adjoining rooms have a progression of colours rather than violent contrasts.   

  • Bathrooms and kitchens are often at the top of people’s renovation wish list and are usually the most expensive to renovate, but there are now paints that can be used on tiles, whitegoods, laminate and flooring to revitalise a tired room without breaking the bank.

  • Allow colours to represent your moods and personality, or those of the people around you. Children will have greater ownership of their space – and possibly take more pride in keeping it tidy – if you allow them to have some input into the choice of colours.

There are now so many colours, shades and hues on the market that there is bound to be something just right for you. You major challenge will be finding it in an extensive and sometimes bewildering range. In that case, seek professional advice. Ask the paint retailer or contact an HIA member for the best solution for you.

Creating a healthy home

Asthma is one of the most widespread and little understood diseases in Australia – its cause is not known and there is no cure. However, it can be treated and its effects mitigated by designing and maintaining homes which keep allergens to a minimum.

Allergens are substances that are in the air and produce an allergic reaction to asthma-prone individuals. In the home, allergens can come from a range of sources – from skin or hair shed by the family pet to the type of soap used in the bathroom. But the most significant source is usually dust and the mites that breed there.
Allergens are harboured in carpets or other fabrics, so if asthma is a problem for you or your family, consider the following options to minimise the problem.

  • Use smooth, hard floor finishes such as timber or cork. Dust mites cannot breed there and they are generally easier to keep clear of dust.

  • If you do have carpets, choose short pile synthetic fibre with a rubber underlay and have them regularly steam cleaned. Follow this up with a vacuum cleaner that has a filtration system that does not spread allergens through the air.

  • Electricity is considered the best form of heating for asthma sufferers, largely because it has no naked flame requiring oxygen so does not set up draughts that can stir allergens into the air.

  • Condensation is inevitable in most homes and occurs wherever there are significant variations in temperature. It is generally not harmful unless it continues for long periods, promoting the growth of mould, mites and bacteria.

  • Simple measures may help, such as keeping the lids on pans while cooking, drying clothes out on the line rather than inside the home, and making sure steam from the bathroom does not drift into the rest of the home.

Additional precautions can be taken with the installation of extractor fans in high moisture areas such as bathrooms, the kitchen and laundry and the placement of north facing windows for light and ventilation.

Contact an HIA member for more advice on how to make your home healthier.

Designing a workshop that works

Domestic workshops tend to be intensely personal places and people who own and actually use one (as opposed to those which are left to the dust and spiders) jealously defend their modus operandi as ‘working for them’. Any attempt to impose a system or layout for such places is often deeply resisted.

Regular users always seem to know exactly where, for instance, the wing nuts are kept amid what to others seems complete chaos. But if others are to use the workshop, or at least have to try and find things there, some kind of order is recommended.

Consider the following options to improve your workshop.

  • Use the walls as storage places by mounting large wooden boards – plywood is a good option – and using nails on which to suspend the larger tools.

  • For smaller items, such as nails, bolts, washers etc, use a cabinet. This could even be a discarded piece of furniture from the main house. Ideally it will have plenty of drawers which can be labelled to make it easy to find things in a hurry. Alternatively, you can build a frame for a series of transparent boxes so that their contents are instantly recognisable.

  • If the ceiling is high enough, make use of it as a place to store awkward things that would otherwise get in the way. Beams constructed a few centimetres below the ceiling are handy for holding lengths of wood or metal. However, these should not get in the way of good lighting, essential when the tasks being carried out involve exact measurements, as well as being a health and safety issue.

  • Ventilation is another area which is often neglected. If paints and varnishes are being used it is essential that a continuous flow of clean air is maintained. The system does not have to be particularly sophisticated – a powerful fan and an open door or window will do the trick in most cases.

If you are starting from scratch, consider getting off on the right foot with a custom-designed workshop. An HIA builder will be able to give you valuable advice, both on the overall structure and the internal layout to suit the kind of activities you have in mind.

Essentials for the perfect patio

Patios should be easy to maintain, efficient and simple, providing a calm, private place that allow you to unwind after a long day at work.

A poorly designed patio can be gloomy and untidy, cluttered with garbage bins and bicycles. These can quickly start looking neglected and become a waste of space.

Follow these suggestions to get the best result for your patio garden.

  • Orientation is important. You may want the sun in the morning for summer breakfasts and in the evening you may welcome the shade, but will this suit in other seasons?

  • Size is another significant issue. Many patios are too small for comfort. A little strip of concrete or pavers out the back is hardly worth the effort. Use all the space at your disposal and plan carefully.

  • A table and a couple of chairs should fit comfortably. If they don’t, then the patio is too small, both for you and the person who may be buying the property from you down the track. Once you have established you have sufficient space for these essential items add some adornments, such as flower beds, statuary plants or seasonal pots of colour.

Contact an HIA member for more advice on creating the perfect patio for your home.

Finding space for a bath

But how can you do this when there just isn’t enough space for a standard bath?

While a shower is great for getting you awake and sparkling for the working day, or for a quick freshen-up before a night on the town, it’s hard to beat the therapeutic value of a nice long soak.

In Japan, the daily bath is an essential ritual that cleanses not only the body but the mind. Given space is at a premium in crowded Japan, most homes are much smaller than their European counterparts and what the bath lacks in length it makes up for in depth, ensuring that when you sit in it the water reaches up to your chin.

While the Japanese tradition involves using a shower first and then simply immersing yourself in the hot, clean water for relaxation, in the West many homeowners are installing these baths as a space-saving alternative to the shower.

There are two main varieties – the timber, free-standing tub or the acrylic bath which is either sunk directly into the floor or, if this is impractical, built into a platform. Both are now available from selected suppliers in Australia.

To reproduce the Japanese experience, your bathroom should have large windows, inviting the natural world to become part of the ritual. You should also have large wooden ladles to splash the water over the parts of your body the bath does not reach.

The short but deep Japanese bath does not require any more water than its Western equivalent, and will fit more easily into a small bathroom.

Floors with more

Here are some ways to make the most out of your flooring.

  • If you have decided on a suitable material, colour and texture, consider running it through all the main rooms. The first thought is that this will look boring and unimaginative, but unless your home is vast with extensive, clearly defined areas, it will be easy on the eye and promote the ‘flow’ from one room to another.

  • If you don’t want a continuous theme try to ensure your choices complement and blend into each other. Any sudden changes of colour and texture between rooms can jar and gives the impression of a composition thrown together on the basis of cost rather than aesthetics. You can always break up the monotony with striking, unusual rugs and carpets.

  • If you want to update your flooring but don’t have the time or finances to do so, there are techniques that can be used to camouflage the worst of the problems. Rugs are a simple, effective and inexpensive solution, but remember they work on the basis of less is more. Too many rugs will only draw attention to the fact you have something to hide.

  • One large rug, strategically placed, is the preferred option. For larger areas consider a carpet in traditional patterns. Furniture can also be used to draw the eye away from the floor. Pull items away from the wall and minimise open space. Table and wall lamps are better for illumination than overhead lights, which shine directly down on to the floor. 

Home health spas

If your budget allows for it and your lifestyle demands it, consider including these elements in your bathroom project for the ultimate in indulgence and convenience.

  • Exercise machines

  • Steam ‘cabins’

  • Spa baths complete with chromotherapy mood lighting

  • A sound system

  • A plasma screen television that slides into a recess when not in use.

A bathroom like this is a significant investment, cost somewhere around $80,000. Even so, real estate experts are predicting that even that kind of money can still reward you with increased property values. What were once considered luxuries are fast becoming necessities for today’s bathrooms.

A more budget-friendly option is to add a single feature, such as a steam cubicle or cabin. Some offer several functions apart from the steam, including a freezing shower for contrast, side jets, an MP3 player and atmospheric lighting.

Contact an HIA member to learn more about luxury bathroom options to suit your budget and lifestyle.

Renovation - making the most of a shoebox

These steps may help you create an extra functional space or even another bedroom.

  • Clear the room of all the furniture and junk you have collected there. You will probably be surprised at how spacious it looks when it is bare.

  • Work to a plan. Furniture in a small bedroom, for example, should be kept to a minimum. Bedside units can take up a lot of space and if you can get away with one, rather than one on either side of the bed, so much the better.

  • Consider placing a mirror on the wall above the bed to draw the eye up, away from the confines of the floor plan. It will also reflect light.

  • Choose colours and furnishings that are light and unobtrusive.

  • Include an unusual focal point within the room to distract from the lack of space. Let your imagination run wild!

Planning a kitchen for purpose and pleasure

For instance, if you are planning to get into gourmet cooking, providing new and exotic meals for the family and for dinner parties, then you will want a highly functional kitchen with plenty of storage space and up-to-date appliances.

If several members of the family are going to be using the kitchen at the same time then space becomes a priority. One of the most important things in kitchen design is the ‘work triangle’, with the sink, the cook-top and the refrigerator at the three points. The total walking distance on a round of the points should be between seven and 10 metres, depending on the number of people you expect to be working in the kitchen at any one time.

Once you have assembled your ideas, find an HIA architect who can prepare a plan for you or look for an HIA specialist kitchens and bathrooms designer. A lot of people like to go straight to the Yellow Pages, but remember, cheap and available does not necessarily add up to best.

Work with your architect or designer on how big an extension you plan, its effect on other parts of the home, and your ideal materials. Try to get these decisions made early and stick to them. People who change their minds halfway through a project often face delays and extra costs.

A carefully planned kitchen renovation or extension will be a pleasure for the enthusiastic cook, make life more convenient for the family and add value to the home.

Sliding glass doors for flexible living

One way to have the best of both worlds is by installing glass sliding walls which still allow for uninterrupted views when closed and have configurations to suit any arrangement, from the dining room to the home theatre.

Sliding walls offer flexibility and are becoming increasingly popular in new homes and in major renovations to existing residences.

A typical installation involves laying a track along the floor for the wall which is usually made up of a series of panels operated by an electric-powered system. The panels stack away when not in use. The system can handle curves and corners, has an electric lock for security and can be sealed against the weather.

Contact an HIA member for more information on sliding wall systems.

The pool debate

On the one hand rising temperatures mean they will have a longer ‘season’ in more temperate areas of Australia.

On the other hand, water restrictions are making continued use of them increasingly problematic.

Pool owners now have to consult their local authority over what they can and can’t do. In some areas, it is illegal to fill pools without a permit; in others, permission has to be sought to empty them. Put that alongside maintenance costs and safety requirements and it is not surprising that some homeowners are having second thoughts about whether it is worth the trouble.

On balance it is a question of lifestyle. For growing families there is no better way of keeping the kids amused than a pool on a summer’s evening after a baking day.

Weary wage-earners enjoy its cooling and calming effect, and friends and neighbours will eagerly accept invitations to summer barbecues if a pool is part of the attraction.

On the downside, very young children and weak swimmers need constant supervision; hassles about maintenance produce stress, and pool parties can have the dangerous combination of alcohol, glass and deep water.

Real estate agents have mixed feelings about pools. In larger, more expensive properties they are expected and not to have one can be a drawback. However, in more modest dwellings, where the pool takes up most of the back garden, it can be a disadvantage.

For those who might want to get rid of their pool, the obvious solution is to fill it in. Replacing it with lawn or other plantings will still require some water but a paved courtyard is a water-saving possibility.

Whatever your feelings, consult an HIA builder or landscape designer for options. If you can’t bear the thought of doing without a pool, an HIA member can offer suggestions for minimising water loss and maintenance costs.

The right storage for your liquid assets

The reason is likely to be a combination of cost – a good cellar is expensive to build and maintain, and that’s before you fill it with pricey bottles of quality wine – and poor knowledge of wine storage requirements.

Poor storage, especially in Australia’s climate of fluctuating temperatures, can ruin potentially good wines and, if you are a serious collector and drinker, the rack in the corner of the living room or in an ordinary basement, just won’t do.

A refrigerated wine cabinet is a less expensive alternative. Free-standing versions can be purchased in Australia, but one HIA kitchen designer offers them as a built-in option.

A typical refrigerated cabinet can hold up to 120 bottles and has variable zones so that different wines can be stored at their ideal temperatures. Smaller versions are scaled down to between 20 and 30 bottles. Built-in wine storage units are well on the way to becoming an almost automatic accessory in the modern kitchen.

Of course for the dedicated wine buff, nothing short of a full-scale cellar will do and one real estate agent believes that the additional cost of installation is worthwhile, even if you are not going to fill it with your favourite shiraz or chardonnay.

‘Because they are so rare, a good cellar can actually put between five and 10 per cent on the value of a home,’ he says. ‘And in the meantime you can use it as just another room.’