Your Home Made Perfect is a BBC2 property show and another opportunity for first-time buyers to learn from existing homeowners.
The programme’s premise is that two architects compete to redesign a house on budget, pitching their designs via virtual reality. The homeowners then bring the winning commissions to life.
The first series of eight episodes aired the first five episodes in spring, and the final three in autumn. This might be because of the nature of filming mega renovations. The show has lots of ideas though, so no matter how much or how little work you want to do, you should find something below.
I definitely got a mansion’s worth of inspiration from Your Home Made Perfect and I’ve organised all their tips. This is another long post therefore (I don’t write any other kind usually…) I hope it’s a reference you can return to again and again over time.
Your home made perfect (almost)
The Your Home Made Perfect architects are Laura Jane Clark and Robert Jamison. Robert’s designs are Eastern influenced while Laura is most interested in how we use a house practically. (She’s also a keen kickboxer, so I’ll just live vicariously through her, thank you).
The two homeowners usually have completely opposite ideas about how to redesign and are at a stalemate. The architect’s challenge is to improve the space for both people while presenter Angela Scanlon is the intermediary between everyone.
The title is tricky. I know the point of property shows is to make us envious of other people’s dream homes as a catalyst. However, we don’t really want someone else’s home. We want a space that works for us and demonstrates our personality. This is achievable, but it will likely never be “perfect”. We can make something more convenient, or practical, or beautiful, but be wary of striving for perfection.
If we expect a perfect first home at purchase, or even after a paintbrush attack, then we could be disappointed. The sooner we get comfortable with life often being uncomfortable, the easier everything becomes. This mindset makes choosing and problem solving a discounted property easier to overcome too.
Who the show is really for
This show is perfect though if you’re indecisive, or need a multi-purpose space. More of us are working from home. Have eyes on a bigger properties than your budget? Planning to have a lounge which is also a study/dining room/home gym/guest room therefore?(!) Find out below how to turn one room into several without chopping it into teeny tiny pieces.
Even if we could get a mortgage on a monster house, what if we use most of those rooms rarely? It will cost us thousands and thousands in interest over our lives to own what is essentially empty space. Why not up the potential on a smaller and more affordable property instead?
Or perhaps stakeholders like the Bank of Mum and Dad want a big say in any changes…Too many cooks is confusing. If we don’t know what designs we like, or what layout would suit, then shows like YHMP can help find our taste and strengthen our own ideas.
Even if we’re not ready to buy yet, researching the potential of properties is crucial groundwork. For most of us, the only way onto the property ladder is to apply our imagination rather than landing our forever home with our first set of keys.
I reevaluated my priorities to match my budget and bought a small fixer upper that needed refurbishment. I expect my home might evolve again in future, even if it means doing a renovation. I would be lost without shows like Sarah Beeny’s Renovate Don’t Relocate (recap in the link. That show also uses virtual reality, but we can still transform a home without VR). I’d also take the time and effort of DIY any day over renting again.
Here’s what I’ve covered below:
- The Basics Of Good Design #1: Use Of Space Inside
- The Basics Of Good Design #2: Use Of Space Outside
- The Basics Of Good Design #3: Making The Most Of Light
- To Open Plan Or Not To Open Plan?
- What’s Really Achievable On A Budget?
- How To Think Like An Architect
- Interior Design For First-Time Buyers
The Basics Of Good Design #1: Use Of Space Inside
Improving a space through better design requires making big structural changes first, then you can think about smaller design decisions and decor that preserves a space’s function, or multiple functions.
Whether there’s space to extend or not, always think about reordering existing space instead. Often poor layout is the problem, not a lack of square footage.
When viewing houses it’s sometimes quick and easy to predict the bottlenecks. No porch, or a cramped entrance will make swinging the cat harder. Moving a front door, or awkwardly placed stairs can be far cheaper than trying to build an extension.
If you move stairs, you have to check with building control whether you can just flip the existing staircase. Otherwise you need to put in new stairs in a different position. For example, turning a 1960s staircase and using the same opening would be allowed. Regulations don’t usually permit recycling a ’60s staircase from elsewhere and installing it as if it was new.
Add space by subtracting
After structural changes, we can then think about smaller design decisions that make the biggest impact. To enlarge a kitchen through design for example, pegs, hooks and open shelves are an alternative to fitted cupboards. They especially open spaces at high levels because cupboards at eye-line enclose a room.
Hidden shelf brackets in any room let you see even more wall. This solution is best for people who don’t have too much clutter and can keep their presentation tidy.
We don’t need more rooms
To avoid feeling enclosed when we need lots of storage, consider an entire wall of storage. If the cupboards have no handles and are all one colour then it will blend against the wall anyway.
Making hallways welcoming and stylish stops them becoming dumping grounds. Stash shoes and coats away.
In episode five, the family were very musical so had quite unique needs in this respect. Laura baffled the ceiling to sound insulate their music room and added movable blocks to build a stage. The latter means the room can have other functions without a permanent stage in the way.
Robert’s suggested design put a fire retardant carpet on the ceiling for sound insulation instead. This doesn’t stop the room having other uses. It might even lead to other hobbies like podcasting or filming, or making it a cinema for one night only.
Episode eight also featured some music lovers. What if you’re not living alone but only one of you has a loud hobby? An acoustic curtain can cordon off a space for playing music perhaps without bothering anyone else. This removes the need for a dedicated practice room. Most of us can’t afford to have a room for just one purpose if we’re not using it 24/7.
The Basics Of Good Design #2: Use Of Space Outside
Next we can tackle outside if we have that luxury. Or this might be first port of call if a small property’s unique selling point is a large garden.
Garages tend to become dumping grounds and are easy spaces to reclaim for living. Often all they need is wall insulation and to raise the subfloor to meet the house’s level. Depending on the size of the garage, this can be possible for a low four figure sum.
We all think of a garden as something that tacks onto the back of a house…If the garden is big enough, there’s no rule book saying you can’t extend into, but also around the garden. If indoor space is more important than landscaping, turn the greenery into an internal courtyard. This gives more inches around the border of your land over to the house.
Think of sheds as an extra room rather than a dusty dumping ground with a leaky roof. Converting a shed into a garden studio rather can still be more economical than extending the main house.
Episode eight had the most ambitious designs because the participants wanted so much multipurpose space. One idea was to dig a basement (very expensive). The other was to hide the ground floor under a garden mound leading up to a second storey. Combined with a reduced pitch roof upstairs this allowed outside space while staying in keeping with the neighbours. This is when it’s time to call an architect…
The Basics Of Good Design #3: Making The Most Of Light
And the Lord said, let there be light. He just said it really quietly so that most housing developers missed the memo.
Besides use of space we should also consider the sun’s path. Redesigning should gain as much daylight as possible.
Add daylight through structural changes
Again, reorienting front doors (for an estimated £500), or stairs can not only open up a space, but also change the use of the rooms that get the most light.
If this isn’t viable, an internal window that lets northern light through to the south side of the house is another fix.
A light well or light scoop is a way to optomise west daylight. Instead of a roof light, this involves taking a window up through the ceiling. Expect it to cost approximately £3k. It can also steal one metre from the floor height, and 1.5 metres of the floor from the room above.
Bifold doors are popular, but good old fashioned sliding doors can give more light because bifold doors have more frame.
North light gives a flat light which is useful for kitchens, but doesn’t illuminate other spaces warmly via windows. One alternative to this is roof lights to let in the most light.
These are not always cheap at the best of times, but it’s also important to set yourself up for success. They didn’t mention that if a roof is old, then adding a skylight might mean that you’re advised to replace the entire roof.
I saw on another show a couple that ignored this advice only to find their roof leaking all over a brand new kitchen…They had to not only have a brand new roof, but also have the skylight put in TWICE and the kitchen restored after the water damage. Best not to have to call the insurance company over something like this!
Add daylight through decoration
If obtaining more daylight with these options isn’t viable, brighten inside with decor.
Their top tips include:
- white washed plywoods
- storage to avoid clutter
- pale floors including concrete
- walls kept as clear as possible
- furniture that has negative space, such as a sofa with legs
- white as a canvas
For example with the last, paint an accent colour in the window recesses so that sunlight bounces it back into the room.
A gloss, metallic colours and hard surfaces all bounce light around, while light coloured curtains that pull back as far as possible increase available daylight.
How cool do you wanna be?
The opposite end of the price tags associated with new roofs or skylights is using bright sunny colours to lift the appearance of flat northern light. I have blue kitchen accessories, but I chose these with the reservation that blues and greens can make a room look “cold” in northern light. I’m also not a fan of spending too long in the kitchen, so candy coloured accessories were a way for me to add a bit of a fun to a room that I associate with chores.
(I’d say adding any colour with a microwave or caddies can curtail the expensive urge to change neutral backgrounds though. On the other hand, stainless steel for appliances like kettles will fit in no matter what happens to the rest of the room over time. Silver metallics compound a “cool” light effect while copper and bronzes can appear warmer).
I also changed my kitchen to large white tiles with coloured grout. It was cheaper to add colour with grout than to buy coloured tiles, and the latter look can date quickly. While using big white titles in a vertical pattern opened the room to the eye and reflected light, the light reflected is still “cold” northern light. Something to keep in mind.
I also covered the doors and drawers with a pattern on a white background. Making the space seem bigger with these techniques was more important to me than whether it appeared “cold”. Be aware of the tradeoff.
Join the mailing list if you want to know more about how I refurbished a fixer upper on a budget, and how you can do the same. That post will go live some time soon.
To Open Plan Or Not To Open Plan?
This has become a huge trend in modern design, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone, or every home.
Consider these three alternatives:
- Pocket doors
- Internal windows
If you can’t decide between going open plan or keeping some cosy or private spaces, replace a wall with pocket doors. Then you can choose whether the space is closed or open when suits. Kits start at £300. Paint them the same colour as the walls to make the space cohesive when the door is in use.
Pocket doors are also great for small rooms as taking away a swing door gives you back space. You can also maximise space by building them between the wall and storage. So if you’re going to have a bookcase against the piece of wall that’s left, offset the bookcase by 50mm so that the pocket door can slide in behind. Storage doesn’t have to be boring; make it a design feature.
The super budget version is using a screen to close off a space when needed.
When zoning open plan areas, half walls, furniture, lights, or textures can denote different spaces.
Another way to open up spaces and add daylight without going completely open plan is internal slot windows. This building job can be well worth the cost and hassle.
What’s Really Achievable On A Budget?
It’s possible to lose a pretty penny if we opt for extending, removing walls, adding windows, or hiring craftsmen to make custom storage and furnishing. As with all of life, we can do anything…but not everything.
There are ways to get a designer look for less though, including upcycling kitchens at the body shop, using prefab kits, and glowing up the walls behind cheap shelving.
Budgeting structural changes
Laura’s budgeting rule of thumb when extending is to assume each square metre you add will cost around £1200+VAT for walls and floors. For kitchens expect it to cost £1500-£1700 per square metre + VAT because of the additional hardware required. I’d expect the latter to be true for adding a bathroom also. This means we can aim to spend less on a refurb rather
than an extension.
If you do extend, or makeover the exterior, composite cladding is cheaper than timber cladding and requires less maintenance.
Turn restrictions into features to save your quids. In one episode there was a steel in the kitchen which couldn’t be moved in order to enlarge the room as it would have put them over budget and affected a recently decorated bathroom upstairs. The alternative was to enlarge the existing pillar. Instead of making it look like an elephant in the middle of the room, they decorated the pillar. Chalkboard paint or adding storage can make something structural decorative and functional.
Conversely, adding steels will always cost. If a wall feels solid this doesn’t mean it can never be taken out… But you would need professionals to put in steels instead.
When making big changes prioritise spending on structure rather than cosmetics. Adding windows will make a bigger difference to your daily life than a flash kitchen and you can always upgrade a kitchen later. One thing they didn’t mention though is that adding glass means paying for more curtains or blinds around the house for privacy and shade.
Budgeting for materials
The main expense in making windows floor length is the glazing, not the structural work. The lintel at the top remains unchanged; it’s just the sill that is dropped to the floor. One couple on the show spent £1400-1500 on three full length windows.
If it’s a choice of either/or, invest in surfaces that get touched a lot like worktops and floors before paying for soft furnishings, or dropping your entire budget on a statement lamp.
There are compromises to the cost of built-in storage. If you want to pay a carpenter, MDF and plywood make the carpenter more expensive than your materials.
One couple made an oak bookcase with a carpenter, and saved on the materials by reducing the thickness of the shelves as the bookcase ascended. The thickest shelves at the base were 40mm to hold the majority of the weight.
When customising is cheaper than off the shelf
If we want a designer look for less, in some cases crafting from scratch is cheaper than buying readymade. Other times we are better off customising a high street solution.
Use savings in one area to fund another. It’s easy to find square tables and chairs on the high street that will fit under the stairs; building around these uses every milimetre. For example, building a drawer that fits the underside of a table perfectly.
They didn’t mention that most of us would need a carpenter. However, if we don’t have the skills, we can use the savings from scavenging or sourcing a cheap square table and chairs to pay someone to optimise the rest of the space. Otherwise use storage cubes to snatch back any negative space. That would work with this stacking table and benches.
If you can’t find the colour you want for kitchen units, buy plain and take them to a car sprayer. I’ve seen this tip before on How to Live Mortgage Free and The House That £100k Built, as it’s a cheaper way to get a glossy high end look. Since the cabinets are sprayed, you can buy the cheapest nondescript units.
It’s also cheaper to buy basic and add designer flourishes yourself. Another couple chose cupboards without handles and then drilled their own holes. Adding quirky round inset handles made the kitchen unique to them.
Glam up flat pack furniture
Bench seating is extremely efficient when redesigning. Almost anything including benches can be bought as a prefab kit these days if you don’t want to pay for craftsmen, or if you want to save on someone putting something together for you. Even staircases can be bought as premade kits to assemble.
There are ways to spice up floor to ceiling flatpack furniture instead of paying over the top for designer pieces. Paint the wall behind and make that the feature rather than white, black, or MDF shelving.
How To Think Like An Architect
We like a good box in the UK. If we can make something square or rectangle, and close it behind a door, then job done. It limits our options though.
To get inspired before hiring an architect think about these gamechangers instead:
Changes in level
Changing the property edge
Finally, I get to be James Bond without the murder and mayhem.
First, swap boxes for angles when changing a space. A hallway can become a triangle to steal space from the room next door without making next door a small box in the process.
Changes in level
These add space without extending. For example, a rollaway bed that goes under the neighbouring floor creates a guest “room” in an open plan lounge. Otherwise we lose an entire room as a spare bedroom that isn’t used most of the year.
Changes in level can also solve issues like having little space between your front aspect and the street. Dropping the floor means not making eye contact when you look out the window while picking your nose on the sofa (as if you would). If this isn’t viable, painting a room dark makes it harder to see into from outside.
I’d add to that if you want to make the most outer parts of the house feel like part of the garden (especially if you extend and are worried about sacrificing outside space), you can use a change in level to your advantage. This can be extreme such as having steps down. Or sunken seating or low height furniture will make you feel closer to the ground. The common solution of adding masses of glass instead can inflate the budget considerably.
Changing the edge of the property
Again this gives extra space without needing a huge extension. A timber frame prevents the need for new foundations.
The way it works is the timber is cantilevered off the current floor. They become beams to extend the floor dimensions therefore. This concept requires three criteria:
Good existing foundations
Checks by a structural engineer
Building regs approval
Okay, so this might seem like a wildcard and like something off a movie set. It’s not far removed from the idea of pocket doors, or screens and curtains to partition multipurpose spaces though.
The big design trap this skips is adding warrens of hallways in creating new spaces. Build a secret door into a bookcase wall to link spaces together instead. This is ideal obviously if these aren’t private spaces as you go through one room to get to the other. Leave the built in door open when you want to join the two realms.
It’s hard to imagine not being a book lover(!), but the storage on the secret door doesn’t have to be a bookcase either.
Interior Design For First-Time Buyers
A key word to keep on the brain when approaching your first attempts at design is cohesion. The way we use colour and materials can tie disparate thoughts and spaces together into one decorating scheme.
If you want to connect the old house to your new design, using one material or one paint colour can turn it all into one cohesive space. If you think one paint colour sounds boring, it’s possible to use slightly different hues to add accents of light and dark.
Study design schemes until you can identify the hallmarks of that scheme. Industrial schemes start from the floor up e.g. a concrete screed floor in a kitchen/dining area. Industrial looks work well in kitchens because a kitchen is where work happens! And these floors can be very practical if that room has a door direct to the outside. Red oxide fits as an industrial colour, so concrete doesn’t mean a grey room either if that’s not your taste.
As for the rest of your colour choices in an industrial scheme, if there will be exposed brickwork, use the bricks as a clue to your palette. Some bricks have flecks of black and grey, or even purple running through. These paints on adjacent walls will highlight the natural colours in the bricks.
When would you use wood?
- If you plan to use a lot of wood everywhere to tie designs together from room to the next, be aware that it must be fire resistant.
- If you have desires for a wood burning stove for heat and their cosy look, then choose an ecodesign that will last. From 2022 wood burning stoves legally have to be low emission. Keep the same in mind if you’re buying a property with one included.
- Glass balustrades open up stairways whereas solid wooden sides can make them appear a barrier in corridors.
- Oak effect tile or laminate is cheaper than hardwood and can also create a through line from front to back to give the illusion of depth. If the space is narrow though, then laying the floor width-ways can give the illusion of pushing the walls out.
One last thing
A sight line to the back of the house makes everything look bigger, but also can draw you from one zone to another seamlessly. So when redesigning think about how far you can see into the distance and what materials your eyeballs will meet on the way.
Your Home Made Perfect?
Let’s wrap this up like a vase on moving day.
Maybe you’re browsing online to see what you might be able to afford in future. Or perhaps you’re ready to view properties. Here are the things to think about in the homes that don’t tick all the boxes:
- Is any lack of space really down to square footage, or poor layout?
- What’s the one structural change that would make the most difference?
- Or the smallest design tweak that would have the biggest impact?
- Do you want open plan, or could separate rooms be multipurpose?
- Is there any outside space to develop?
Floorplans with property listings often note the square footage. Some properties will surprise you with their real square footage as the layout might give the impression of a smaller home.
Remember these fixes also:
If you can’t afford to redirect the natural daylight, a house can be lightened with decor.
Adding steels, glass, or carpentry will always cost. You can spend less than average though by upcycling kitchen carcasses, assembling prefabs yourself, or jazzing up the most basic of furniture.
A home doesn’t have to be a series of square boxes.
Use your decor to unite any changes you make.
And while the participants on the show were working to a filming schedule, you can take your sweet time to spread the cost!
Your Home Made Perfect Series 2
Your Home Made Perfect series two is airing as I write this. Let me know in the comments if you’ve been watching and if you found this distillation of series one useful.
The project manager for the renovations Sian Astley supervised 15 renovations overall and has some extra tips from her experience. If you speak to her as a result of this post, let her know you found her through Save Like A Bear.
I haven’t talked in this post about how to pay for any of this, but there will be more coming to the blog about how to grow an income and then make that income go further. In the meantime you want the savings section of the blog.
I’m also going to do a post with more detail on my own refurb and how I spent as little as possible. Join the mailing list for the ultimate in savings and earnings tips. That will be the best place to find out when I update this post about the second series.