For the last few weeks I’ve been ankle-deep in scraps of sodden paper, as we systematically scored, steamed and stripped paper from virtually every wall on our ground floor. As I type, two phenomenally skilled plasterers are turning my crumbly, 150-year old walls as smooth as marble. They’re hiding the awful textured ceilings behind perfect new boards, and re-building the shape of the original bay window to restore satisfyingly crisp geometry that for so long has been warped and wobbly.
It’s finally time to lose myself in mood boards and paint samples, configure furniture and pick out fittings. Which prompted me to write this post: how to plan a room makeover.
How to Plan a Room Makeover
This isn’t about project managing full renovations or coordinating major building works. This method will work for redecorating spaces in your home: when you’re faced with a room that you know you want to change, and may even have an inkling of how you want it to be, but you’re overwhelmed by where, how and when to start.
Use this straightforward methodology, in this simple order, to make sense of the challenge ahead. In part one, we’ll use some simple questions to lay the ground work for your project. Then in part two, we’ll crystallise the vision and turn it into a real place of action.
Let’s get going…
First, Ask Yourself Six Questions
These are six questions that I believe will take you from “I want to change this room!” to “I have an actionable plan to transform this room”. For each, I’ll explain what we’re trying to get at with the question, and give you my sample answer for our downstairs makeover.
Question 1: How do I want to live in this room?
I bang on about this all the time but it’s SO important. Redecorating, redesigning or rearranging is entirely pointless unless it creates an improvement in the way you live in your space. Otherwise, you’re just swapping out cushions.
Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I’m only here for functional changes. Aesthetic tweaks – restyling a corner or indeed swapping out cushions – absolutely can change the way you live in a space. It’s subtle, but if it sparks a tiny fizz of joy when you walk back into that room for the first time and it feels somehow fresher, better, more you than it did before – great! You#ll enjoy the space more and be more inclined to live in it.
The problem is when we start making changes because we like how they looked somewhere else, or we like them in theory, without connecting that to how we actually live in our home.
For example, I love a glass-topped coffee table. I think they look brilliant and allow light to flow uninterrupted. But I have a cat that insists on grooming himself on every surface, and a partner who’s comfiest with his feet up on the coffee table. The reality is that I’d spend my time annoyed by the table being mucky. That’s now how I want to spend my time in the living room.
My answer: I want to spend wintry evenings in front of the long burner with a book or a good film; I want to curl up on the sofa on a weekend morning with no plans; I want us to actually use the dining room instead of eating on the sofa; I want the living room and dining room and deck to feel like one fluid space, and to work for entertaining guests
Question 2: How do I want to feel in this room?
This is similar but every-so-slightly-and-crucially different from the previous question. Now that you’ve thought about what you want to do and how, ask yourself: if I pull this makeover off perfectly, when I walk into this room at the end of it all, I will feel… Now, what does that mean the room has to do for you?
My answer: I will feel utterly relaxed in the living room, as it’ll be irresistibly comfortable; I will feel inclined to sit at the dining table instead of skirt round it, because it won’t feel like a transitional space anymore
Question 3: What problems are there currently in this room?
Or to put it another way, what’s stopping me living my answer to question 1, and feeling my answer to question 2. This one is tricky as the ‘why’ isn’t always obvious. There could be practical problems that need addressing like broken floorboards to replace, there could be style choices like curtains you hate, and there could be more emotional problems, like you don’t fully relax in your own bedroom because it doesn’t feel like it’s truly in your own style.
My answer: There’s too much big furniture in the dining room so we have to pick our way around it, and a six-seater table feels weirdly formal for the two of us to enjoy dinner. The cabinetry in the living room is impractical, we have to move furniture in order to access the meters and fuse box. More practically, the ceilings are damaged (or have terrible textured finishes!), the plasterwork is shoddy and the bay window needs restoring.
Question 4: What’s my timeline?
Ahh, we’re back on firmer ground now! This is a simple one – how long have you got? Is there a particular date you really want to hit, a season you want the room finished by or simply a length of time you’re willing to live with disruption?
My answer: We want to throw a Christmas drinks party in early December. I’ve planned for four weeks of preparation – stripping and plastering. Then we have two weeks of holiday in the mix. Follow that up with four weeks for painting (there’s a lot to paint and we’ll be doing it ourselves around work!), four weeks for floors and carpentry, then a couple of contingency weeks for snagging and furnishings. That should everything done by mid-November.
Question 5: What’s my budget?
Remember to consider all your costs at this stage – there’s nothing worse than finishing the redecoration and realising you can’t afford to furnish the place so you’re stuck with old furniture for another few months! This answer will look very different depending on whether you’re cash-flowing your project, using credit (I’d really recommend not doing this, but I’m not here to lecture anyone on finances), or drawing down from a mortgage or home improvement loan.
My answer: We’re using a combination of savings and cash flow to fund our project, while doing as much labour ourselves to keep costs down. We have £2,800 worth of replastering to do – this covers the over-boarding of 3 ceilings, and the walls of two rooms including one Victorian bay restoration.
After that, I’m budgeting around £250 for the dining room floor for either carpet or floorboard restoration – depends what we find when we lift the current carpet! We have £600 of bespoke cabinetry being made to box in some of those “quirky” Victorian meter and fuse box placings. There’s £150 for paint (we need a lot of paint and that F&B doesn’t come cheap!), and £100 for miscellaneous materials like paint stripper and tools for the brick chimney breast.
I’m expecting around £1,000 for new dining furniture and an armchair for the living room. And finally £100 for fixtures, switches and finishing touches.
Total budget: £5,300 for 2.5 rooms
Question 6: Where could I compromise?
If vision, timeline and budget are the three sides of your makeover triangle, which two are fixed and which one could grow or shrink?
Let me explain: if it turns out the painting you need to do could get done in one week rather than four, but it means paying a decorator and adding £200 to your budget – what would you do?
Or if the flooring treatment you wanted is unexpectedly pricey, will you compromise on the vision or spend more?
My answer: Our timeline is pretty fixed and unfortunately as we’re using cash flow, it’s tied to our budget. While we could spend more for finishing touched, it would mean waiting until the capital is available. So as much as I hate it, we’d have to compromise on the vision. 🙁
Now that you’ve answered those questions, you’ve got a better understanding of where you are now, and can articulate where you want to be at the end.
In the next part of this guide, we look at crystallising your vision (yes, there’ll be mood boards!), deciding on layouts and turning your rough project into a really clear plan.