How to wire a plug correctly for your home

Although you can strip almost any wire or cable with nothing more than a craft knife, for safety reasons it is better to use a wire stripper. If you plan to do home improvements or your own home repairs, a wire stripper is affordable and easy to use, and they produce results that are reliable and safe.
Stripping electrical cords
To remove the outer plastic sheath it takes a sharp blade, a steady hand and concentration to control the depth of the cut precisely. The one thing that you want to avoid is cutting into the cables inside the cord
The live wire (brown) has been nicked and is no longer safe.
1. Use a craft knife to score a circle around the outer cable, but don’t cut all the way through the plastic. This technique may look dangerous, but it’s safe as long as you apply very light pressure with the knife and keep your thumb on the opposite side of the cord.

TOP RIGHT: Carefully guide the knife around the cable until you reach your starting point. Bend the cable backwards and forwards at the scored line to break the plastic covering. NOTE: Always inspect the insulation on the wires underneath to make sure the blade didn’t nick them. If you see a cut in the wires, start again.

Note: The Yellow/Green wire (Earth) needs to be slightly longer than the blue (Neutral) and Brown (Live) wires, in order to reach the top terminal. It is better to have the cables slightly longer than necessary and cut them to the correct length than try to stretch cables to make them reach the terminals.

2. Use wire strippers to remove the outer plastic coating on the wires. Insert each wire into the stripper to an approximate depth of 20mm. Then hold the wire with one hand while you squeeze the stripper to remove the insulation.

Wiring a plug
While most appliances are supplied with a fitted plug, on older appliances, or where plugs are damaged, you may need to know how to wire a plug.

Inside the plug are three terminals:

Earth : This is where the green and yellow wire goes - however, double insulated appliances do not have an earth wire

Live : The brown wire goes to the live terminal, which is on the right of the plug

Neutral : The blue wire connects to the neutral terminal on the left of the plug.

1. Once you have cut the cables to the right length, and removed the insulation, twist the end of each cable. This ensures that there are no loose copper wires.

2. Thread the cable through the wire grip, and then thread each individual wire to the correct terminal. Tighten the terminal screws and the cord grip screw. Don't over tighten as you may strip the screw thread, but it needs to be tight enough that by pulling on the cable it will not come out of the terminal.

3. Position the cables within the plug so that they are not over - or too close - to where the screws or clip will go to hold the two parts of the plug together.
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Generation X leads property recovery

A more positive sentiment has returned to the property market in the US as well as in South Africa, especially among professionals who can afford to take advantage of the current market conditions.
According to John Loos, FNB Home Loan Strategist, the most noticeable increase in the property market buying share in South Africa was among the Generation X group who made up 28,1% of the total purchases in the first quarter of this year.
This is according to Peter Gilmour, Chairman of RE/MAX ofSouthern Africa, who adds that Generation X will lead the property market to recovery in the US and in SA. 
A report by an American company, John Burns Real Estate Consulting, revealed that of the 10 000 buyers and potential buyers they surveyed in 27 metro areas throughout the US, between 85% and 89% said that they felt now was a good time to buy a home and most felt optimistic about a new home purchase.
“There has been a marked increase in activity in both the local and international property markets in the first quarter of 2011, however, recovery in the global market continues to be slow as countries are experiencing different rates of recovery depending on the various economic policies they have in place,” says Gilmour.
In the US market, for example, the unemployment rate has reduced and the US stock exchange has rebounded massively since 2009. Positive property statistics have been reported with an increase in transaction volumes, especially in existing home sales and there continues to be a strong demand for distressed properties. 
Gilmour adds that as with the case in the US, South Africansare currently seeing more realistic property pricing and are experiencing the lowest interest rate in the last 38 years. This has had an influence on the market and has contributed positively to the increase in property transactions. Added to this, realistic houseprices and interest rates have also opened up the property market to people who could not afford to buy a house five years ago.
Around the world the Generation X population, which consists of  adults between the ages of 31 and 45 who are generally well established in their careers, are looking to get their foot in the property-ownership door.  According to real estate experts, these potential property buyers are most likely to decide that given the current market conditions, now is a good time to purchase a property.
The Generation X market segment makes up 32% of the property-buying population in the US.  While they are not the largest population-buying group, they are definitely the most active. In contrast Baby Boomers in the US, who make up 41% of the property-buying population, are still trying to make up losses in their savings and investments due to the recession conditions of the last few years and are more cautious in their buying decisions.
Statistically the population demographic in South Africa looks slightly different; Baby Boomers make up a much smaller percentage of the population than Generation X.  Between the years 1950 and 1965 there were 13,5 million births in South Africa (Baby Boomers) compared with the 18,74 million births (Generation X) between 1965 and 1985.  
However, when it comes to the buying population, South Africa has many similarities to the US. According to John Loos, FNB Home Loan Strategist, the most noticeable increase in the property market buying share in South Africa was among the Generation X group who made up 28,1% of the total purchases in the first quarter of this year. This is compared to the Baby Boomers whose buying share increased to 21.17% of the total purchases in the first quarter of this year.
Younger buyers have also made their mark on the property market recently and it seems that Generation Y will not be outdone by their predecessors. Loos says that information from Deeds Office data on individual transactions revealed that in the last four quarters, 15.3% of first-time buyers were under the age of 30.
“Overall market confidence has improved and we have seen a higher number of first time buyers in the first quarter of 2011 than during the last quarter of 2010. It is clear that it is the younger professionals who are leading the property market recovery both in South Africa and abroad. Although we may still have an interesting road ahead of us in terms of full market recovery, things are definitely looking up for property markets around the world, ” says Gilmour.  

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Save on the wedding and buy a home

If you’re planning to take advantage of dry, sunny weather to get married in the next few months, why not give yourself the deposit of a home of your own as a wedding present?

Buying a home is still the best way for most people to build a financially secure future, with their monthly payments going towards the purchase of an appreciation asset rather than just paying a landlord.
So while many young couples dream of a lavish wedding, most would do better to keep the celebration simple and put the savings towards the purchase of their first home.

And among their family and friends, there is much to be said for the old custom of giving a young bridal couple a gift of cash to help swell their “property fund”, instead of household goods and other items with a limited lifespan.

Clearly, the bigger the deposit the newlywed couple has in hand, the more easily they will qualify for a home loan and the smaller their monthly installment will be.  This will make it easier for them to afford their home and to weather any interest rate increases in their first years of ownership.

On the other hand it may mean that they are able to pay and additional amount per month over and above the minimum repayment, and so build equity in their home and gain financial leverage.
It is useful later in life to be able to borrow against equity to pay for other expenses, such as the education of children or improvements that will add further value to the property.
However, young couples should like all other prospective buyers, pay attention to their overall financial position before shopping for a home.

They should first reduce or pay off other debts such as student loans, car loans and credit card balances and make sure, with the help of a mortgage consultant, that they will really be able to afford both a monthly home loan repayment and the other costs of homeownership such as rates and taxes, the municipal charges for utilities and maintenance.

In addition, they should obtain copies of both their credit reports to see where they stand in the eyes of lenders.  It is often the case with young people that their credit histories need to be cleaned up before the banks will consider them for a loan, or offer them a lower interest rate, and mortgage consultants can also advise them on this.

Finally, young couples should not neglect to take out life insurance, for at least the amount owing on their bond.  This way, if something tragic should happen to one of them, the other will at least not be at risk of losing their home.

Be wise and make a good decision.

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Me and my house - is Cottage your Style?

For relaxed and informal dining, country style offers a casual atmosphere.
With a neutral foundation of creamy walls and a sea grass rug, mustard yellow-and-red toile draperies offer a punch of colour in this dining room. But it's the creative iron rods that add spice to the windows. A symbol of prosperity, wheat is often found in Country French design. Simple panels take on a fresh look with a band of coordinating red checked fabric running the length of the draperies.
The furniture in this breakfast room shows off the homeowner's fondness for the Country French style. The tone-on-tone yellow walls contribute to the feeling of warmth. This is topped with a border featuring a series of plates with a floral motif. The space also features a rustic pine hutch for display and storage. The homeowner selected a durable, inexpensive sea grass rug that also works with her design statement.
In this dining area, pale blue walls complement deeper shades on the chairs and draperies. The casual dinnerware and glasses complement the relaxed setting for informal dining.
Open-back chairs help preserve the feeling of spaciousness in the room. The large, distressed dresser fits perfectly between the two windows and the wrough-iron chandelier add an aged-country atmosphere to the room.
Inside the front door, in place of a traditional foyer, a long pine dining table invites guests into the cottage. With two leaves, the table stretches more than 2 metres, easily accommodating eight ladder-back armchairs. A low-hung chandelier brings intimate lighting to the table. If a party's in the works, the chairs can be pulled away and the table becomes a perfect buffet.

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Any home - instant gratification

  Any home - instant gratification

Are you tired of your home decor? Is your living space boring and uninspiring? There are many home improvement and DIY products that allow you to instantly update your decor - whether your budget is small or large... 

On a limited budget
Spruce up a plain room with a variety of fabrics in pillows, cushions, and draperies. Be sure to make sure the fabrics share at least one common colour to hold the look together. Your local stores offers a wide range of affordable soft furnishing and decor accessories, which means that you can afford to give any room a new look without spending a fortune. 
Add detail

One person's trash
Just because a piece of furniture is old and worn doesn't mean it's past its prime. If it's still sound and has nice lines, use paint to transform it into an accent piece you'll be proud to use and display. On wooden furniture give pieces a sanding down to remove any old varnish and restore the beauty of wood.

Wake up walls
Wake up a boring room with a bold colour statement. If you're shy about commitment but want a quick shot of colour, paint one wall; it can provide a colour fix and create a dramatic focal point. Then use colour throughout the room to keep the look cohesive. 

Flooring options
Belgotex offer a range of carpets to define a conversation area or to add colour throughout a room. To break up an open floor plan, use multiple area rugs to define certain areas or simply peel and stick DIY carpet tiles in squares of colour to the floor to define a space. 

Window dressing 
It's easy to add a new look to a room by creating more interest around windows. In a low-ceilinged room install curtain rods close to the ceiling, then add floor-length drapes to visually enlarge a room. For a small window use full-length draperies to create the illusion of a larger window. 

Paint is not just for walls. Paint woodwork and trim white to outline and visually enlarge the architecture. In rooms where architectural detail fades into the background, use a dark stain on light woods to create visual impact. 
Go with colour
The colours you choose for your living room will affect how guests feel in the space. Colours can energize or relax the space, depending on how intense they are and how warm or cool they are. 

A serene scheme of soft blue and white makes this spacious living room feel calm, cool, and collected - a gracious setting for elegant gatherings. A light tan carpet underfoot warms the space and keeps the cool tones in balance. 

Rearrange the furniture
It doesn't cost anything to move furniture around. Put some pieces on a diagonal or group them into smaller conversation areas instead of letting them hug the walls. Even swapping pieces from another room can create a refreshing change of pace. When moving furniture around try to arrange the space to reflect the way you and your family like to live, the location of the room, and its traffic patterns. If the room is designed for conversation, gather furniture around a central point and keep it cosy. If it's used as a serene getaway without a television, add a chaise lounge to complement a sofa. Be sure to allow for access to furniture and a pathway through the space.

Courtesy of: (edited by Active Network Properties)

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What’s wrong with my toilet?

f your toilet won't shut off, try jiggling the handle. It might work. When you get tired of that, and you will, it's time for a more proactive approach - and that doesn't mean picking up the phone

Flushing a toilet sends water from the tank rushing through the siphon hole and rim holes to push water in the bowl through the integral trap
Residential toilets are remarkably simple and most can be fixed for under R50. The trick is in diagnosing the problem.

Toilet Types
There are three main toilet types: gravity flow, pressure-assist and a few older, silent-flush models, the last are best left to plumbers.

Gravity-flow toilets use head pressure, or the weight of the water in the tank, to push the wastewater over the bowl's integral trap. The taller the column of water, the greater the downward pressure.

All gravity-flow toilets have two main components: a fill valve that brings water into the tank and a flush valve that sends water from the tank to the bowl. When a toilet like this acts up, remove the tank lid and watch the flush. Most problems can be spotted readily.

Pressure-assist toilets use water pressure to compress and store air in a plastic tank. A burst of air is released with each flush, which helps clear the bowl. These toilets require a different repair approach from the gravity-flow models. A sluggish flush in a pressure-assist toilet can originate from a leaking flush valve or a fouled air inducer.

Problem: Intermittent Running
When a flush valve in a gravity-flow toilet leaks, it causes the toilet to run intermittently. To remove a defective tank ball, a traditional flush-valve design, shut off the water and unthread the ball from the lift wire. Run a finger around the valve seat to check for mineral build-up or pitting. If the valve seat is not pitted but feels rough, scuff it with a scouring pad, then install a new tank ball.

Watch the tank ball fall onto the valve seat during several flushes. If it lands off-centre, adjust the lift-wire guide to the right or left.

A flapper valve is an inexpensive fix for a leaky tank-ball flush valve. Buy a conversion kit and remove the old lift wire and guide. Slide the mounting collar down the overflow tube. Hook the flapper wings over the collar pegs and make sure the flapper is centred over the valve seat. Then, attach the flapper chain or ribbon to the flush lever.
A pitted valve seat cannot be repaired, so you'll need to replace the valve or install a replacement seat.

To replace a flush valve or leaking spud (tank-to-bowl) gasket, you'll need to remove the tank. Drain the tank and use a long screwdriver and adjustable wrench to remove the brass bolts at the bottom of the tank. Lift the tank off, turn it upside down on the floor and use large pliers to remove the jamb nut that holds the valve in place. Then, clean the area around the tank hole. Install the new flush valve with the valve offset oriented away from the fill valve. Coat the new gasket with before mounting the tank on the bowl.

Problem: Continuous Running
If the toilet runs continuously in a faint trickle, look to the fill valve - in this case, it's a ball cock, a common valve that uses a float mounted on an arm to shut the valve when the tank water has reached the correct level. Remove the diaphragm screws and look for sand or mineral grit around the diaphragm seat. Remove this sediment with tweezers. If the rubber diaphragm seal is worn, replace it.

In many cases it's wiser to replace the fill valve than to search for old, discontinued parts. Inexpensive plastic models are reliable and easy to install. Shut off the water, drain the tank completely and loosen the supply riser coupling nut. Next, loosen the ball cock's jamb nut. Lift the old ball cock from the tank and clean the area around the tank opening. Coat the new fill valve rubber gasket and feed its threaded shank through the tank opening. Tighten the new valve in place and connect the fill line to the top of the overflow tube. Finish by installing a new supply riser between the shutoff valve and the fill valve.

Problem: Sluggish Flush
If your gravity-flow toilet flushes sluggishly, use a stiff wire to clean mineral build-up from the siphon hole in the bowl. Ream the holes under the rim, as well.

If your pressure-assist toilet flushes sluggishly, remove the tank lid and look for water around the top of the flush-valve cartridge. If you find water, replace the cartridge. First, release internal pressure by turning off the water supply and holding the flush lever down for 1 minute. Insert plier handles into the top of the valve and back the cartridge out. Check your owner's manual to see if lubrication is required on the O-rings of the new cartridge.
If you don't find water atop the flush-valve cartridge, assume that you have a fouled air inducer. Undo the inducer's large nut and remove the spring and poppet. Soak the poppet in vinegar a few minutes, then roll it between your fingers to remove any mineral grit. Replace the parts and turn on the water.
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Your property smiles - add colour to your winter garden

Autumn is the perfect time to plant Primulas – the ideal solution to add a bit of brightness and cheer to an often-dull winter landscape. They are inexpensive to buy, easy to grow and long-flowering – making them great for any garden.

Different varieties
You can include colourful displays of a variety of Primulas in pots or in your garden. The Primula acaulis is a small growing, dwarf-like primrose, which is available in a assortment of stunning colours – from yellow to red, pink, white, mauve and blue. The Fairy Primula or Primula malacoides, arguably the most popular variety, is a dainty, lacy type plant that looks great in a hanging basket, used as a border, massed together, or simply planted amongst other bedding plants. They are available in white, rose, pink, mauve and lilac.
Easy to grow
Primulas are exceptionally easy to grow and cultivate. They grow in most parts of South Africa, except areas that experience extreme drought or humidity, as they are not partial to temperature extremes. The cool autumn temperatures in the month of May provide the perfect environment to start planting Primula seedlings.

To prepare your beds for Primulas, make sure the soil is thoroughly loosened. To ensure a rich, well-drained bed, work in generous quantities of compost or manure. To boost root growth and profuse flowering, you can add a fine sprinkling of phosphate-rich compost. Make sure that your Primulas get plenty of water, but be sure that you do not over-water them, and in the warmer summer months, add a layer of mulch compost to retain moisture and water. By applying liquid fertilizer every fortnight over the growing and flowering season, you will ensure a colourful display for months.
Dig a hole deep enough to hold the root system without crushing it or bending the larger roots. The hole should not be so deep that the lower leaves of the seedling will be buried. Place the seedling roots into the hole, holding the upper part of the plant out of it. Fill in the hole with the soil mixed with organic materials. Place the seedlings about 15cm apart. Water thoroughly once the soil has been packed tightly around the base of the seedling.

A bright, cheery display
If well looked after, Primulas should flower from July through to November. Displays of Primulas are perfect for planting in partly shady areas, under trees, as borders, among other plants or in large groups. They will liven up a winter garden, and keep the landscape looking colourful right into spring. – Antonella Dési

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Decorating your property? Mistakes you should avoid

Whether buying a newly built or pre-owned house, or simply giving your own home a new look, decorating and furnishing your abode is easily done if you follow some simple rules.

Many homeowners jump right in and start slapping on the paint, but think carefully before you proceed. There are things to do and not to do when decorating and furnishing a home.
Measure up before purchasing furniture

Don't be too quick to rush out and buy furniture. Many homeowners buy items before taking possession of a home, or order furniture without thinking, with the result that when the furniture arrives, it often doesn't fit through the door or is too long or too deep for the room. Rather than making buying decisions based solely on a floor plan, live in your space for a while - you'll make better choices.
Don't make the mistake of buying furniture that is too large - or too small for that matter. People buy sofas that are too large, and rugs and other furnishings that are too small for the rooms they're in. Playing with the scale of furnishings is an art; a large armoire in a small room isn't necessarily a bad thing - if you create balance with a dark wall colour, large framed art and rich carpets. A sofa should fit on the short or long wall of a room; make sure if you place it along the short wall that you still have room for end tables on each side.
For day-to-day living - and certainly when selling a home – a neutral colour scheme is easy to live with. But some rooms cry out for something different and a feature wall may be the answer. In the dining room above a vibrant red was applied on one wall. Without the red the room would have been - well - average, but the red gives the room a burst of colour that takes it from average to awesome.
When choosing an area rug for a particular room, make sure you buy the right size rug. You want one that allows the front legs of your furniture to sit on the edge to define the space, so the rug doesn't appear to float in the middle of the room.

Choose sensible colours

After you have selected the colours for your home, look carefully at paint colour. You might have selected the right colour but the wrong hue. Hue is the lightness or darkness of a particular colour, and when you have a colour swatch in your hand you will see that the strip offers a selection of hues ranging from light to dark hues. A good rule of thumb is to work from the bottom up: darker hues at the bottom and lighter at the top, especially since floors are usually a darker hue than walls and ceilings are lighter than walls.
If you have decided that a particular room - or space - needs more impact, consider painting one wall with bolder colour to create a feature wall. Choose one wall that is as close to being solid as possible - without windows or doors - or use a wall that incorporates an architectural element such as a fireplace or a staircase.

Keep rooms uncluttered

We hoard, collect and often have too many things that don't belong, so learning to edit a room is a huge lesson. The easiest way to do it is to dress a room completely and then take away 30 per cent of the accessories, such as candles, picture frames and knickknacks. That will leave room to add items as the décor develops over time.

Vignettes of small collectibles are wonderful in a room on top of a coffee table, mantel shelf of dresser. Instead of placing them all over and creating a cluttered look - create big impact by grouping a collection on a table, or samplers or family photos on one wall. Dotting them all around the house only lends a cluttered look to your décor.

Hang it right
It is a common mistake to hang artwork too high. The rule of thumb is that the bottom of the frame should be 25cm to 30cm above the top of any piece of furniture, be it a headboard, sofa or dresser. In a passage or hallway, hang art so that the middle of the work is 150cm from the floor - or at eye-level.
Don't clutter up a lounge or dining room with too many family portraits or photos, rather save those framed wedding, school and family photographs for the hallway, home office or family room.
A blank canvas is created by painting walls, trim and ceiling beams in one colour. Look closely at the room above and you will notice that there is quite a lot going on in the room, as far as furniture and accessories are concerned. With walls and trim painted in one colour, these fade into the background and allow upholstered fabrics, accessories and flooring to stand out without looking too busy.
Highlight architectural features

While painting skirtings, ceiling beams, trim and crown moulding adds impact and effect, if your trim is less than 8cm in width or height, paint it to match the wall colour so it blends in; otherwise you'll end up with a racing stripe effect around the room. Additionally, painting skirtings, door and window frames, walls, beams and crown moulding the same colour also makes a room feel higher.
Add life to rooms

A living or dining space needs fresh plants or flowers, whether it's an arrangement of seasonal flowers or a potted plant. Using silk or artificial greenery is fine, but only if you rotate it and make it seasonal. Dusty, outdated-looking floral arrangements make a room appear old and in need of change.
Make a visit to your nearest flower shop or market, as opposed to local supermarket, and you will be surprised at how affordable fresh flowers can be.

Don't skimp on curtains and drapes

With the availability of inexpensive tab-top drapes and rods, buying and hanging quality draperies have been a low priority for homeowners in the past few years. While these are perfect for the family room or den, these window fashions do little to dress up an elegant living or dining room. Custom draperies never go out of style.
Pay attention to hardware and fit a curtain rod or pole that matches the room décor.

Stop being a square

Many homeowners - myself included - keep moving furniture in and trying to line it up. As an option, try dividing a long, narrow room by using the two-thirds/one-third rule: allow two-thirds of the space for the main seating area, and one-third a space for a reading chair, home office or a sunny spot by the window. You don't need to be afraid to show the back of a chair or sofa by using the piece to divide the room.

Choose upholstery fabrics wisely

You want your upholstered sofas, chairs and draperies to last many years. Opting for a bold colour fabric will quickly make a these pieces look and feel outdated, plus you will have the additional expense of re-upholstery when you get tired of the look. Instead, choose colours that are a shade lighter or darker than your wall colour, so furnishings work well together and maintain their timeless appeal.
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In your house - make the most of your dining room

Whether your dining room is large or small, or simply an area within the living room or kitchen, by choosing the right furnishings and decorative scheme you can create an atmosphere entirely conducive to eating and entertaining.

Modern open-plan living tends to dispense with the notion of a separate dining room in favour of eating areas that flow seamlessly between all the living areas. The open-plan living trend has developed for a number of reasons: modern homes are smaller, with just not enough space for a dedicated dining room, the modern lifestyle prefers a space where the homeowners can entertain and mingle with their friends and families while preparing meals, and lastly, because of the fact that most families prefer to eat casual meals in the kitchen, leaving the dining room largely unused for the majority of time.
Today’s open-plan dining areas are not just used for eating meals – they are multipurpose areas used as a makeshift office, homework room, craft area, gathering place, as a preparation area, and so on. This is important to keep in mind when you are planning the décor and layout of this particular space.
Basic planning
Any dining area needs careful planning – tables that are too small for instance, with cramped space for pulling back chairs, and inadequate surfaces for serving, all add up to unnecessary mealtime frustrations. As a rule of thumb, each person sitting around a table requires around 600mm of space on either side, and about 500mm from the table edge to the back of the chair. It is best to experiment yourself to find the amount of space you feel happiest with both for sitting at the table and getting in and out of the dining chairs. Also, make sure that there is adequate knee room underneath the table – be particularly careful when matching an antique table with contemporary chairs, or vice versa.

Choosing dining furniture
You can buy dining furniture as a set or you can make up your own combinations. However, if you opt for the latter, it is essential that you ensure that both the height of the table and the chairs work comfortably together. Visually speaking, some of the most stunning results often come from an extreme contrast in styles. For example, heavily carved antique wooden chairs can look impressive when teamed up with a minimalist glass dining table. Transparent Perspex Ghost Chairs work exceptionally well with antique wooden tables. Such unusual combinations take a bit of decorating nerve, but do create exciting effects.
Remember that dining chairs are often subjected to rough treatment, being pulled back and forth, and tilted on their back legs. In the long run, it pays to buy well-made chairs. Look for stretcher rails between the chair legs – these add to the strength of the construction – and inspect the joints to see that they are well made.
Benches are sold as an alternative to chairs, and are particularly useful in areas with limited space. Benches do not need as much space to pull back, and they generally can seat more people in the same amount of space than chairs. For example, in a corner space – a built-in upholstered bench running around two or three sides can save a great deal of space. However, he disadvantage of any bench is that everyone seated at the same bench has to get in and out at the same time.
Where space is limited, it is a good idea to choose rectangular or square-shaped tables, which can be extended to fit extra people. Other suitable space-saving alternatives include those tables that fold flat against the wall or the drop-leaf styles that fold down to take up very little space. Otherwise there is the popular traditional gate-leg style – but if you opt for this style, make sure that it is well made and sturdy.
A sideboard is a traditional way of providing more storage and many styles are available to match every conceivable style of table and chairs. However, if you are short of space, a floor-to-ceiling unit will provide more storage in the same amount of space as a traditional sideboard. Remember that it is useful to incorporate a surface for serving food into your storage arrangement, which can hold extra dishes when entertaining. A conveniently placed electric point is also a very useful addition, as this will allow you to operate various appliances, such as a hot plate, a coffee percolator, a toaster, and so on.

Lighting is an important consideration – it is essential that people seated around a table should to be disturbed by the glare from any unshaded bulbs. Pendant lamps hung low over the table are always effective, as recessed spots. However, arguably, the best fittings of all are the rise-and-fall-type models, which can be lowered for an intimate atmosphere, and then pulled up to provide a better overall light. – Antonella Desi

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Do you have a property with trees, roots and buildings ?

If you are planning to build an extension, take special notice of nearby trees which, for all their beauty, are a potential source of future structural trouble.

Beautiful, mature trees are a most desirable feature of any property. It is no accident that so many modern housing developments are either built around existing trees or include newly landscaped areas. But old trees growing too close to buildings pose a very serious threat to foundations and drains. Remedial work in such cases is almost always difficult and expensive and you will certainly need professional advice.
Serious damage to foundations can be very costly to rectify, and even if your property is covered by insurance, there are often legal problems over ownership of the tree which is responsible for other liabilities. Ground subsidence is a particular problem during long, dry periods and sometimes it is difficult to tell whether this is the effect of long-term geological changes or ground movement due to tree roots.
Some settlement occurs in all buildings, especially those on clay soils. And it can be presumed that, in the case of a very old house and a nearby mature tree, any damage that has been done – and accommodated by settling, may have given the house a topsy-turvy character. Attempts at altering this balance by removing the tree or tampering with the tree roots could have potentially disastrous consequences.
But the most dramatic and damaging effect of root damage is the cracking of walls when foundations subside. All parts of the building are likely to be affected: cracks open up in exterior brickwork in the familiar step pattern; roofs cease to be waterproof as flashings crack; ridge pointing falls out or tiles are displaced. Frequently door and window frames will warp and bind. Interior walls may show large vertical cracks. Solid floors may become uneven. Damp-proof course may fail.
Settlement and its causes
Tree root damage and subsidence problems occur commonly in areas of clay soil, known as hazardous clays or firm shrinkable clays. Clay is composed of a net of very fine particles which enclose relatively large pockets of water. For this reason, it is not very compressible, unlike sand and gravel soils.
Structures built on sands quickly compress the subsoil and drive out excess water under their own weight. Clay can only be compressed very slowly because it is impervious structure tends to retain water. Buildings on a clay bed may take ten or more years to settle down; this is quite separate to the related effects of tree root growth.

Since water is such an important structural component of clay soils, they are greatly affected by seasonal changes in moisture content. In the rainy season, when the ground is saturated, clay expands both upwards and outwards. In the dry months, cracks appear in exposed clay and the ground level falls. Variation in ground level from season to season is likely to be at least 50mm, but can be more than double this. To counteract this effect, buildings on clay have foundations that extend below the level where soil is likely to be affected by seasonal expansion and contraction.
But any problems caused by these seasonal changes in ground level are accentuated by the presence of nearby root systems.  In winter, a tree’s fine root hairs are inactive, and in spring, the root hairs grow and seek out additional water to supply the tree’s new growth. In summer, a tree will reach its peak need for water. Clay that would have been depleted through evaporation is further drained by greedy roots. The quantities of water involved are not negligible: a large mature tree may take in upwards of 55 000 litres per day.
Local influences
In any situation where you suspect present or future damage directly or indirectly caused by tree roots, there are a number of other important points to consider. Generally, in towns the seasonal changes in ground level are likely to be less than in open countryside. The soil receives less rainwater because a good proportion is prevented from entering the soil by buildings and paved areas and is carried away through drains. If there are trees present, and they do have roots extending near or under buildings, their action will exaggerate seasonal moisture differences more disruptively than in rural area.
Another factor is wind direction – if there is a strong prevailing wind, tree roots are likely to favour the windward side, so consider the relative position of a tree and a building when making any assessment.
Size and spread of root systems
The root system of a tree tends to be quite shallow, particularly where water is available near the surface. In locations with a low water table, such as high on a hill, tree roots tend to plunge downwards. Quite a large tree near buildings in such a situation may pose no threat. As a general rule, tree roots can spread laterally to a distance equal to a tree’s mature height. When making assessments, it is important to consider what a tree’s final height will be, not its present size.
Areas likely to be affected
Problems of soil shrinkage and expansion occur all over the world, especially in areas where there are large seasonal fluctuations in seasonal rainfall. Although problems are often associated with firm, shrinkable clays, other types of soil are not always immune.  Do not assume that because a garden has well kept soil, broken down by years of cultivation, that there is no clay underneath. It may be lurking there, covered by as much as 2m of topsoil. Pockets of clay are found in areas of predominantly trouble-free soil. Sometimes these deposits are man-made: major excavations and mining operations can throw up troublesome deposits on which houses are often built. Another problem is an underlying layer of shallow impervious bedrock, which forces roots to keep to the surface in their search for nourishment.
Problems for old houses
Old houses often live happily in equilibrium with their trees, especially when the trees have grown to maturity. But many old houses have substantial areas of underground brickwork that is saturated and slowly decaying. Tree roots can invade cracks and cause further deterioration. As roots penetrate foundations, they will have a jacking effect on the wall, causing lateral cracks at its base. If the tree is much too close, large roots may actually have the strength to displace foundations. No trees should be within a third of its height, or less than 4m, from a building.
Drains may become clogged as fine root hairs invade cracks or the collar here sections join. And leaking drains may encourage the spread of tree roots in their direction. But in general, a well established site will tend to have a balanced cycle of soil moisture content. Old houses have already undergone their settlement. Unless new trees invade the area, or weather conditions change drastically (as in a long drought), there may be no cause for alarm about existing mature trees.
If you are buying an old house, the question of trees in the vicinity is one which your surveyor is sure to examine carefully. Be suspicious of houses close to trees that have been recently painted or plastered. It could conceal cracks, large and small. Subsidence existing at the time you purchase your house might cause difficulty when you come to claim insurance damage after the next dry spell.
One of the greatest danger points for subsidence damage is an extension or garage attached to a house. Often these have shallower foundations that are differently affected by seasonal ground swell and contraction. When installed against old houses, their very presence may affect the balance of the soil moisture content in the vicinity. If you plan an extension, make sure that it will have adequate foundations and that the join between it and the house is flexible enough to resist some movement without allowing water to seep in, otherwise damage may be extensive.
Every problem of this type is different. It may be the case that simply lopping a tree or removing a newly paved area will keep the situation under control. You may have to proceed by trial and error over a season or two to see if things worsen. In serious cases the remedy is underpinning, which is definitely not a job to be undertaken lightly. Underpinning involves the excavation of a series of small pits, individually but in sequence, to enable installation of new foundations or supports to replace damaged ones. The building is usually supported by jacks while underpinning is installed. – Antonella Desi

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It's your property - mixing décor: Old with new

One of the strongest underlying trends that has consistently been  gaining momentum over the past decade is the inclusion and influence of old styles on today’s modern design ethos. This trend is notable across the board – from fashion design, to the design of motor vehicles, gadgets, architecture and of course in this reference, interior design. Modern designers all over the world are reaching into the past to create the future.

The reason for the resurgent popularity of these older styles is arguably the increase in the appreciation of the standards of quality and luxury that many items from the past are infused with. The saying: “They don’t make them like they used to” is the quintessential motto underlying this movement. In the not so distant past, furniture and décor items were constructed with good quality materials and designed to last and offer the maximum comfort and enjoyment possible. In the mass produced society we live in today – these are qualities that modern society aspires to.
Another proverb that speaks volumes about this movement is: “You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, just perfect it.” With regards to this, many designs are perfectly functional – it’s just a matter of taking them and tweaking them to make them new and modern again. A good example of this is the sling-back chair – perfect in its functionality and comfort to the extreme – this particular design has gone through many style regimes, from Victorian to ‘70s retro, however it has maintained its unique design and been slightly modified to match the trends of the time.
Much of today’s interior design is motivated by old, glamorous epochs and the combination of “old fashioned” stylistic elements, but with a modern edge – resulting in a piece that has all the beauty and luxury of older designs, but which is also relevant to today’s environment and design society. This dual-motivation offers an aesthetically pleasing conflict – the tendency towards the intricate, almost fussy and delicate designs of the past, amalgamated with the contemporary clean-cut functionalism of the more modern design styles.
The influence of the past is most definitely noticeable, however the way in which it has been modernised is clear as well – colours are subdued and organic, and more modern materials are used to tame the sometimes over elaborate pieces. The statement of luxury is never lost, however the overly gaudy design statements have been trimmed to reveal a highly stylised and contemporary sense of glamour and comfort.

Modern interior design is not just being influenced by the past – actual pieces from eras gone by are consistently finding there way into modern homes as well. Blending antique with modern and custom-designed pieces, is an emerging design trend that is a passport to timeless, sophisticated and avant-garde interiors. If blended in a professional manner, modern and antique pieces can complement one another and bring out each others best qualities. However, like many other things in design, it is essential that this is not done randomly – there are a few ground rules that need to be considered to create a unified and fashionable look. They include:
Unify the look – Tie all the pieces together by creating a unifying idea – this can be done by upholstering all the furniture in one particular fabric or using a particular unifying colour scheme for example. Old pieces can be given a modern lift by using alternative, textured or brightly coloured modern fabric. Modern pieces on the other hand, can be given a tongue-in-cheek old fashioned flavour by being covered in antique-inspired material.

Gallery display – Add interest to contemporary and minimalist interiors by including a beautiful old piece in a gallery-like setting. It is important to note however, that in order for this to be successful, it is crucial that the piece in question is truly spectacular – one that is less than stellar will not do.

Tone it down – For overly decorated antique pieces, items that are clean-cut and contemporary are the perfect complementary suitor – they serve to tone the old piece down a little, while the plain contemporary pieces highlight the intricacy and detail of the older piece without creating an interior that is overly busy. For example, if you have an intricately hand-carved antique dining room table, modern chairs such as a Louis Ghost Chair, would make for stunning complementary pieces.
Touchy and feely – texture is an essential element to a successful interior. The trick is to combine various textures that complement each other, and create an interesting aesthetic or corporeal effect. Material that is regarded as old fashioned, such as wood and velvet, can be strikingly contrasted with more modern materials, such as stainless steel and Perspex for example.

An even balance – When mixing various styles, it is essential that they are evenly dispersed throughout the interior composition. Don’t group all the modern items together, and all the old items together – rather intersperse them amongst each other.
Old furniture can be included in the interior or exterior of your home. It can be used as a functional piece of furniture or a feature in its own right. The combination of old and new is an accomplished way of creating a successful and interesting interior. However, it must be noted that which ever old and modern style you opt for, be sure to pick special pieces that speak to you – your character, your sense of style and your history. Mixing old and new styles is a manner of not only speaking of society’s past and future, but one that speaks of yours as well. – Antonella Desi

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