Shannon Vos, designer and former winner of The Block, details the design ideas to include at the reno phase, as well as the decorative touches you need to know, to warm up your place.
#1 sealing up
Without sounding like I’m stating the obvious, properly sealing your home should be your very first step. Draughts and icy winds will turn a toasty warm home into a winter wonderland, so it’s vital to stop the breezes coming through. There are the obvious culprits such as underneath the door, open windows and air vents but we can sometimes overlook major leaks. Poorly sealed window frames, gaps between your flooring, exhaust fans, places where plumbing penetrates walls, around doors, chimneys, and in between your cladding… this list goes on. Listen and look for rattles and whistles during windy periods, movement in curtains, light through cracks and airflow around floorboards, doors and windows, then seal where appropriate. Seek professional advice from a builder before conducting any major work. If your home uses gas for heating or cooking, a source of fresh air is needed for appliances to function properly and safely.
One of the top hacks for making a room look and, to a degree, feel warm, is to add loads of texture – plush pillows, blankets and rugs for starters. Now before you jump into shag-piling your whole home, restraint is key. All your elements need to have balance and contrast. Think warm textures – that’s your soft timbers, thick throws and furry hides. Contrasting these details with polished concrete or shiny metallics will bring character, and that depth brings its own levels of visual warmth. Plenty of cushions on beds and sofas, always oversizing your rugs and even specialist painted wall finishes or tactile wallpaper can go a long way to having a warmer-than-ever home.
Colour psychology has given us proof that the use of colour can affect mood and feeling. We all know the quintessential warm shades – your reds, yellows and oranges, and the typical cooler tones are blues, greens and purples. But that’s not where the buck stops. Blues can be warm and reds can be cool. Generally, the more grey and yellow in a colour, the warmer it will look – think of a grey blue compared to an icy clear blue. So, how do we employ all of this to make our homes feel warmer? Again, it’s all about character. Build character and you build warmth. Look to earthy tones and brighter shades and balance these choices with interesting textures and patterns. Even hints of colour can dramatically make the coolest spaces feel warm and cosy.
#4 heating options
The least cost-efficient (in the long run) factor is to heat our homes the old-fashioned way. A big stinkin’ fire pit right in the middle of the cave… well, you get what I mean. The right choice is a very subjective one. Reverse-cycle air-conditioners are the most energy-efficient heating (and cooling) option. Gas heaters are very responsive and relatively cheap to run, though a connection will be quite expensive if you’re away from the city. Electric heaters can be very effective, but can also cost the earth. In-slab hydronic heating (hot water circulated through pipes) is good for new concrete slabs and tiled floors. Ducted heating is great if the ducts are located quite low (as heat tends to rise) and there’s the possibility to shut off entire rooms. Timber fireplaces can be effective but wood costs are ever increasing. There are many different options so it’s really a matter of finding the right one for your circumstances.
Like a big, fat blanket on a cold night, insulation keeps our homes cool in summer and warm in winter. Up to 60 per cent of heat loss within a home can be attributed to poorly insulated walls and ceilings, so it’s vital that our homes are kept snug as a bug with proper insulation. Generally, insulation batts (either fibreglass or poly-blend) and a reflective sarking are used to keep our homes warm in winter, but there are a few other ways to insulate. Glass windows are the biggest culprits for letting out the heat so consider double glazing and using window coverings to stop or at least hinder the heat-transfer process. Concrete floors can also suck the heat from a space and even these can be insulated. Insulation under and to the edges of slabs can lessen heat loss, and covering polished concrete and tiles with rugs will go a long way to keeping your toes warm during the colder months.
#6 passive design
The most effective way to keep our homes warm during the cooler months is through smarter passive design. This concept uses environmental factors to heat and cool our homes when necessary. As a rule, the sun in Australia is generally to the north, so our homes should face that direction. The first warmth of the day is to the east and the hot afternoon summer sun is to the west. Passive design uses this movement as a factor when determining where windows, doorways, breezeways, eaves and other features are located throughout a home. Passive design also takes into account what materials our homes are made of. Thermal mass refers to the ability of the makeup of our homes to retain heat gained by exposure to the sun – think along the lines of a thick concrete slab releasing warmth through the night after absorbing heat during the day. Concrete has a high thermal mass, whereas timber has a low thermal mass as it’s more of a lightweight material. Take into account the climate of your home’s location for smart use of passive design.
Believe it or not, your lighting plan will have a big impact on the visual warmth of your spaces. No, I’m not talking about the old school light globes that get hot after a good while – I’m talking warm light vs. cool light. A fluorescent light will easily sap the warmth out of any room, as will cool LED strip lighting (best leave that to a dentist’s waiting room). Warm, yellow light in any home is crucial to building warmth, and a lighting plan that has variety and multiple sources of task and ambient lighting will add loads of character and give you that warm, homely feeling we all long for.
Shannon Vos is an interior architect and co-winner of The Block: Glasshouse.
Still not warm enough? Perhaps a fireplace will do the trick: