The great outdoors

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It’s very difficult when faced with estate agents’ windows and property search engines not to feel wholly and utterly inadequate when house hunting. You are faced with very many houses that are out of your price range, yet they all seem to represent a lifestyle you aspire to and possibly secretly think you are entitled to.  Estate agents are very good at encouraging these feelings of insecurity so you spend more on houses than you might otherwise want to.

I am going to ask you to put all that aside for the time being, and strip your thinking about housing back to basics. There are a number of more important things to consider when looking for a house than whether it looks like something out of a magazine feature or whether it will impress people. Ultimately you are looking for a home, not just a property, and these principles also apply to improving the home you are in, if you would like to live more comfortably but don’t quite know where to start. Making your outdoor space and environment work hard is one of the best ways to start.


We often forget that the layout of the home in relation to the direction of the sun really matters. If you can, choose a house (or flat) with both a front and a back door, preferably with a bit of garden or back yard as well in which you can dry your washing, doing away with the need for a tumble dryer or having wet washing hanging around your head semi-permanently like some sort of refugee camp scenario.  If the house faces east-west, it will get the sun on both sides.  If you resist the temptation to let slimy, abandoned household detritus ‘waiting to go to the dump’ take over the outdoor space, it’s relatively cheap and easy to set up a table and a couple of chairs out there, along with a potted shrub or two, effectively giving you what amounts to an entire extra living room in the better weather.  If they stand ready for action, you are bound to use it more. Use pea shingle to cover unsightly concrete, and think about bordering the area with old bricks or low willow edging panels, for an attractive effect. Potted lavender, rosemary bushes, geraniums and white hydrangeas are all plants that offer colour and sometimes scent, without needing too much care.

If you can’t manage to find something like this within your price range, and you end up going for a back-to-back house of some kind, or a flat on an upper floor, look for something that faces south or south west if you can. As the wise headmistress Wilena Hitching pointed out in 1910 to her schoolgirl readers, this means it will get the sun for a large part of the day, which is, and I quote, “the home manager’s friend”. As our continental neighbours will testify, the addition of a small, well-designed balcony to a flat can be a real asset for drying washing, as well as sitting out. With careful planning it is even possible to create a safe play area for young children in a limited space. Everything is possible, if you apply some old fashioned principles to the modern condition.

Image: Simon Howden /


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