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Eight great insider decorating tips

05 December 2018

Homes Under the Hammer star and property expert Martin Roberts’ expert DIY advice to make your home look great.

Interior design
If you're nervous about using colour use neutral tones with a few brightly coloured accessories

1. See the big picture

Before you start decorating, try to think about the whole house (or at least the whole floor) when you choose a colour and style for any room. If the look of one room flows seamlessly into neighbouring rooms, it will give your home a sense of continuity. This doesn’t mean it has to be all the same colour - but try to decorate with similar materials.

If you're using paint, look at the paint manufacturers website to see how the experts team different shades or colours together so you can divert from your main shade to a complimentary or accent colour with confidence. Use a colour wheel to look at how colours work together.

If you've seen a colour that you like, but perhaps don't like the price or want to look at alternatives, check out You can enter the paint manufacturer and colour name or number and it will show you similar colours from other brands allowing you to get that Farrow & Ball 'Mouse's Back' look without the price tag.

2. Choose colours to suit the space

When it comes to choosing colours, go for ones that will complement the room… dark colours will make spaces seem smaller and cosier, whilst light colours reflect natural day light making smaller spaces appear bigger. If you’re not confident with using colour, pick out a couple of neutral shades and just use a more dramatic colour in a small area. This could be just one wall or a recess and if you're still unsure keep all the walls a neutral palette but pick out colourful soft furnishings and decorative items – it's a lot easier to change a few scatter cushions and lampshades than to repaint an entire room!

Always, always test the colour on your walls. You'll be amazed how different they can look once dry and colours can even vary within a room depending on how much natural light falls onto a given wall.

3. Paint fresh plaster carefully

If you're painting newly plastered walls, make sure they are completely dry (no dark spots showing) and have been primed. Look for paints specifically for newly plastered walls or prime them with a mix of 60% white emulsion mixed with 40% water.

Applying this first will stop your chosen paint being completely absorbed by the plaster and leaving an uneven look. If you're painting older walls, it's vital you remove any old raw plugs and fill in holes and cracks with a quick drying filler. First wash the wall around the hole with sugar soap to remove grease or debris and make sure you push the filler right into the hole or crack and smooth off.

Allow time for the filler to dry and gently sand it down so its smooth. Get the hoover out and vacuum the walls, skirting board, window sill and around radiators to get rid of loose particles that can get into your paint.

4. Prep the walls properly

If you're wallpapering, take time to prepare the walls properly. It’s easy to just launch in but paper applied to poorly prepared walls will most likely lift at the edges or seams before too long. Strip away old paper to reveal the plaster. First, score the paper with a Stanley knife then use either a chemical remover (these are available from most DIY stores and diluted with water that you then paint onto the old wallpaper) or a steamer.

If using the latter, be careful if removing paper from very old plaster as too vigorous steaming can cause the plaster to blow and you could end up back at square one, having to get the walls re-plastered!

5. Follow the wallpaper rules

When choosing wallpaper, think about the look you want to create. There are themed wallpapers galore available and clever use can make your room seem bigger or taller.

Apply the same rules as shopping for clothes – vertical stripes add height, horizontal patterns add width. Don't shy away from bold patterns as they can add real character to an otherwise plain room but DO stick to just one design in any area to avoid nasty clashes.

If you live in a period home with uneven walls, thick embossed wallpaper can cover a multitude of sins and save hours of filling, sanding, priming and painting. If the paper is light in colour you may need to paint the walls with primer or Basecoat to cover stains that would otherwise show through.

6. Use a plumb line when papering

Few walls are absolutely straight, particularly in older properties so when papering always draw a vertical plumb line on the wall near to one corner and work clockwise around the room from this point lining the left edge of the first sheet to the vertical line.

When you reach a corner, take several measurements from the edge of the last sheet of wallpaper to the corner. Cut your next sheet 2cm wider than the widest measurement and hang this piece, carefully working the paper into the corner.

Next, mark another vertical guide using a plumb line at a about 2cm less than the width of your wallpaper on the next wall and line the right hand edge of this piece to this guide. This piece will slightly overlap the last piece in the corner but the amount of overlap will vary depending on how 'off' your walls are.

Cut away the excess at the top of both sheets together to get a neat line and use a seam roller to gently smooth down all the seams.

7. Fit coving to hide cracks and wonky edges

Unless your walls are terribly uneven, fitting coving is a great way to conceal settlement cracks and wonky wallpaper edges. Buy a lightweight type to make life easier.

Start by drawing a line on the wall and another on the ceiling where the edge of the coving should go to. Take care with this and use a measuring tape and long spirit level. Score the wallpaper underneath so that the adhesive adheres well or better still, prime the area with diluted PVA glue first.

Use a Mitre Box to cut the coving at an angle where it will be fitted to corners – and if this is your first time with coving, make a few practise corner cuts before committing to the finished piece.

Finally, apply adhesive to the back side of the coving and place it into position. Small gaps between the coving and the wall can be filled with more adhesive and use a clean, damp cloth to remove any excess.

8. Bring your tiling back to life

A tired looking bathroom can often be resurrected without needing major work. Often it’s the tiles that let the room down, so removing mould and mildew from this can make a vast improvement. You can re-paint tiles using specialist tile paint but if the tiles themselves are OK and it’s just the grout that’s gone off, replace this. You’ll have to scrape it out with a special grout rake or saw or for about £20 you can get an electric grout remover which will make the job much easier.

Choose a new grout that’s a close colour to the tiles - generally speaking light grey works well with white tiles and a beige grout is best for brown or natural tiles. Use a grout float held at a 45 degree angle to push the grout into the spaces between the tiles. Work in a methodical way across the wall and clean excess off with a clean wet sponge.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.