12 things to know before starting a house renovation, according to Lucy Williams

In an extract from her newsletter, Remotely, Lucy Williams shares twelve tips and tricks learnt during her 18 month house renovation
Christoper Horwood

This month's newsletter is dedicated to all things renovating and the pearls (ok, probably more like ball bearings) of wisdom I can offer having undergone an 18 month renovation of my own. For me, the renovating started way before the first sledgehammer was swung because there's so, so much that happens in the planning stage alone that shapes decisions.

I think many of us know what we like - though I felt at times I liked too much - and the hard part can be working that into a cohesive scheme, trusting your gut and making a decision rather than dithering eternally. Don't worry, I did my fair share of dithering. I hope the below can help you navigate where to start, how to hone in on what you truly want, and need, in your home, as well as a few extra practical and design tips.

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Lucy Williams brings her signature sense of style to her west London house
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Think about how you really live

It’s important to think about your actual day to day to life rather than how you aspire to spend your days. For example, do you need an enormous kitchen ripe for entertaining when you’re more into going out with friends than hosting at home? Do you need a massive bedroom or actually would you relish a larger bathroom/dressing room to house your extensive shoe collection and beauty products?

Think practically as well as beautifully

This especially applies to wannabe minimalists–which I definitely can’t count myself as, but I, too, have aspirations to be neater and more refined that I actually am. Things like gym mats and workout stuff, board games, children’s toys, pet toys, towels, sheets, Christmas decorations, and anything hobby related, all need a place and you don’t really want to be popping up to the loft every time you want to play Scrabble or change the sheets. If you’re someone who likes to have a place for things, make a place for them or they’ll just end up lying around.

Christoper Horwood
Don’t let fear drive decisions

While I’m still trying to overcome this in other parts of my life, I do think I managed it when it came to renovating the house! So many people I speak to fill their Pinterest boards with pictures of bold spaces and rooms but immediately shut down the idea of using a strong colour or something experimental in their own home because it makes them nervous. If you know that you personally couldn’t live with strong colour that’s one thing, but not doing something because of fear is another. I always think being a bit brave is worth it in the end. Personally I like skirting boards and ceiling all the same colour as the walls, but that’s me.

Remember lead times

Lead times are killer. We’ve just had to replace a radiator valve and it’s 5 weeks for that alone… Everything from bathroom fittings to door handles can be (not always, granted) 12 weeks+ from ordering to receiving, so don’t leave it a few weeks before you need it to save delays. If your builder is ordering for you, you’ll need to give them exact specifications of what you want or at least allow a price per unit at the time of tendering.

Christoper Horwood
Don’t go ‘in-built’ everything

In-built storage and joinery can be a real show stopper (so chuffed with my bookshelves) and so, so useful for family life. However it’s worth pausing over it rather than seeing it as a no-brainer for any alcove or nook. Forgoing in-built joinery for freestanding pieces can be so much more economical and it’s the perfect way to bring some beautiful vintage or antique furniture into your space. Freestanding furniture has far more character and soul than built-ins, plus you can take it with you if and when you move.

Aspect is everything

The direction a room faces, especially somewhere in Northern Europe where the light is so changeable throughout the year, is always a big factor when deciding on colours. A colour can look wildly different in a south-facing room than it does in a north-facing room. A bright, non-pigmented white for example can look dingy and grey in a north-facing room and a creamy, warm white can look yellow in a south facing room. Swap them round and you’re onto a winter! Before you start thinking about colours you like, try and think about what a specific space can handle.

Mix your eras

You like mid-century? Great, throw in a brutalist piece. You love traditional? Get a really bold piece of modern art in there. Mixing up furniture and art aesthetics and eras always keep things fresh and stops it from feeling like a set or too ‘perfect’.

Christoper Horwood
Electrical lighting too

The lighting layout is one of the most important bits of a renovation. Do NOT leave this up to your builder or you will potentially end up with lights in a grid of spotlights (shudder) or a central ceiling light in every room. I enlisted the help of friend and lighting designer Max Barlow to help with mine, particularly in my kitchen which was so useful. Unlike lots of people I’m not dead against spotlights thanks to Max’s advice, I just think you have to go for really nice ones that are placed and directed sparingly rather than littering a ceiling with them. I made sure to have lots of lower lights, be they lamps, pendants, and wall lights on a different circuit to the ceiling lights so creating atmosphere is easy.

Keep thinking of the house as a whole

There’s this concept of ‘the red thread’ which essentially is the idea of consistent little nods to colour, shape or texture throughout the house that tie it all together. Some might be deliberate, others might be subconscious, but they all help make it feel considered and not random.

Narrow in

Think about your favourite Pinterest and Instagram images. What is it about each picture you like? Is it the colours? The contrast of modern and vintage? The overall aesthetic of it? You like it, but can you live with it? As soon as you start understanding why and what you like in each inspiration image, you can start filtering out the ones that don’t wholly represent something you’re trying to achieve. Again with the feelings… Rather than thinking, “OK, how can I recreate this exact room” and trying to hunt down every item, think about how you can create the same feeling in your own way.

Christoper Horwood
Feel over look

After narrowing down the purpose of each space and the floor-plan, the starting point for each room should be about how you want to feel in that room, rather than just ‘what colour do I like’. For example, when thinking about our kitchen, I imagined coming downstairs for my morning cup of tea and wanting it to feel light, bright, and have that ‘mornings on holiday’ feel. Whereas our TV snug, I wanted to feel cocoon-like, cosy and extremely comfortable, I also knew this would be the room where my books would live. Feelings look different to everyone - some people will be energised by bright white, others by bright yellow - but identifying how you want to feel is the first step. Do you want to be energised in a space, or relaxed? Playful or calm?

Make it cohesive

I’m a believer that your entire colour palette throughout the house should work together. That’s not to say you want them all in the same room, but they should all speak to one another. You could have 100 different colours as long as they all create one unified palette or at least belong in the same family.

For more tips and tricks, you can subscribe to Lucy Williams' Remotely newsletter here.

@remotely.co | @lucywilliamshome