Affordable ways to give your home an architect-designed look

I was recently invited round to a friend’s house for dinner and it didn’t take long before the conversation came around to architecture, homes and the property game. It then wasn’t long until the conversation steered to me being asked for advice on their home and what they could do to it. I don’t mind as I’m obsessed by homes and I never switch off from thinking about the possibilities of whichever home I’m in at the time. But, this time the question was slightly different. Rather than being asked how I would reconfigure the spaces I was asked was how could I make their house feel like an ‘architect-designed’ home without moving walls, ceilings and floors like I usually do. After my initial shock and comment that a cosmetic ‘changing rooms’ makeover can never be as good as a ‘proper architect-designed’ home I realised that their home, in terms of how their spaces were configured, actually worked quite well and didn’t really need to be changed. So how do you make a house feel like an ‘architect-designed’ home without changing the space? It has to be about style, finishes, lighting and changing the details.
Any architectural details that look tired and dated need to be given a major transformation and to get the ‘architect-designed’ look you need to go for smart clean lines and a contemporary look. That doesn’t mean it has to be cold and minimal (I’m not a fan of that at all), but you do need to balance clean/modern with homely. Kitchens and bathrooms are the first things to update and will probably be the greatest investment. Floor finishes need to be updated with good quality floor tiles, ideally in a natural finish like stone, slate or timber, with softer carpet finishes in bedrooms. Carpets should be quite simple and not overly patterned because the look of them will date quickly. The knack with ‘architect-designed’ is to make something look timeless. Any drab or dark wall finishes need to be lightened up as much as possible. Joinery details such as architraves and skirting boards can also be update. If they are very smart and traditional then keep them, as they will allow you to develop a more classic/modern look. But, if you have any cheap looking 60’s or 70’s joinery in the house then replace them at the same time as you are redoing wall and floor finishes. One minor spatial change I would make if you are going to do as far as changing skirting and architraves is to change all of your internal doors for something more contemporary and I always make doors full height right up to the ceiling. Ceilings then seamlessly run from one room to another and it’s amazing how much it makes a space feel more contemporary.
Old staircases and dated balustrading can also be given a makeover (I hate the ‘m’ word but in this case I think its right). If its ‘good’ and ‘stylist’ traditional then keep the balustrading, but if its a bit naff you can have it removed and replaced with a more contemporary timber look or even panels of modern glass. This is easier to do than you think. The treads and risers of the staircase can also be reclad in a more contemporary finish, but make sure that any changes to a staircase comply with building regulations.
Changing the lighting in your home is a great way of making it feel smarter and the possibilities really are endless. Feature lighting can be used to illuminate feature walls and stair treads or even walls displaying family photos or artwork. Softer lighting in bedrooms and bathrooms works well to make the space more homely and you can go to town with feature lighting in your kitchen. But, don’t go over the top. You’re trying to create a more contemporary home, not a nightclub! Personally I hardly ever use my standard pendant light fittings in a room as they are too bright for me, but obviously pendant lights give you the opportunity of picking a light fitting or shade that has a more contemporary feel. Lights by George Nelson or Alvar Aalto work a treat for the look we are talking about.
Finally full-height integrated storage is a brilliant way of achieving the architect-designed look. Us architects love clever storage systems as it gets rid of all the clutter. Keeping doors fairly minimal with very little detail is a great way to get the look and if you can afford to have the doors made from timber rather than just painted MDF gives them a quality feel to them too. Veneered plywood is by far the best material to use on a tight budget and it gives you the option of being able to choosing your own personal favourite time from light finishes such as ash and beech trough to oak and darker colours like walnut. Yes, veneered plywood is more expensive than mdc board but it’s cheaper than solid timber and really looks the business. I’m not sure where contemporary architects would be today without plywood!
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