Archive for the ‘Design’ Category


Creative Use of Shelving Can Transform a Room

June 19, 2017


We easily think of shelving as purely functional – where else do you put all those books? But interior designers would see shelves very differently – as an inexpensive enhancement to any room in your home.



What shelving will you have? The range is considerable these days, both in style and materials.



And then, how will you arrange things on them? You don’t have to cram them – sometimes, ‘less is more’.



The possibilities are endless – so why not have a flight of fancy?



Our nice sales advisers would be happy to advise and assist you too.


Have You Met the Soil Pipe Monster?

June 9, 2017
Image: Niknaks Blog, via

Image: Niknaks Blog, via

Don’t know where this is, but hats off to whoever does their displays!


Building Factfile: the Renovation of 10 Downing Street

June 5, 2017


We came across a most interesting piece on the Make Wealth History blog about one building we all know very well from the press and TV. They have kindly given us permission to reproduce the article (you can find the original here). Thanks, guys!

10 Downing Street is the official residence of the Prime Minister. It’s one of the most famous addresses in the world and probably its most iconic front door, but I suspect that most people have never given a moment’s thought to its environmental performance.

There is, as you would expect, some history to the building. It was built, along with the rest of the terrace, between 1682 and 1684. The houses were designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but it’s the diplomat and property developer George Downing who gets the glory. He doesn’t really deserve it, as he cut a lot of corners on the building and didn’t dig the foundations deep enough. Consequently, the building has a much more checkered past than you might imagine.


After serving as a private home for many years, Number 10 was granted by the King to Sir Robert Walpole, usually considered the first Prime Minister, in 1735. It was intended as a gift, but Walpole refused and took it as an official residence to be passed on with the office. So it remained, although many Prime Ministers preferred their own grander houses and Downing Street eventually fell into disrepair, surrounded by gin shops and brothels. It was nearly knocked down in the 182os and with hindsight, it probably should have been.

By the time Benjamin Disraeli acquired the house, it hadn’t been lived in for 30 years. He began the first of many renovations, adding running water. A few years later William Gladstone added electricity and the first telephone. Central heating didn’t arrive until 1937. But by the 1950s the building itself was really on its last legs, “suffering from subsidence, sloping walls, twisting door frames and an enormous annual repair bill.” Once again, it was nearly bulldozed.

It was spared because of its historical value, but the whole building needed new concrete underpinnings, shoring up and strengthening. Rotten walls and floors were replaced in the 60s, and various refurbishments were made over the next two or three decades. That still wasn’t enough.


An official survey in 2006 found the building was no longer weatherproof. The heating and electricity was failing, there were leaks, and structural problems were resurfacing. The entire facade of Number 11 Downing Street has to be secured with steel pins. There was no question of knocking it down this time, but Tony Blair had to authorise another major refit, which is in fact ongoing.

And that brings us today. After centuries of fixing and tinkering with it, it is only in the last few years that its environmental performance has been scrutinised. It was pretty poor, so the most recent rounds of work have focused on improving efficiency. In 2009 a rainwater harvesting system was installed, with a large tank buried underneath the garden to keep the lawns green in times of drought. Low water use fittings were added, better insulation, new boilers and compact heat exchangers. Low energy lighting was fitted, with motion detection to turn lights off when rooms are unoccupied. A waste heat recovery system uses heat from IT equipment to heat water.


Being over 300 years old, it’s no eco-home. It still only gets a D rating for energy efficiency, but D is actually the average energy rating in Britain and for a Grade 1 listed building that is no mean feat. Last year Number 10 even won a prestigious BREEAM award for best in-use improvement, after reducing electricity usage by 13.5% in a year. If you’re so inclined, you can even go and look at the building’s real-time energy performance, although it wasn’t working when I checked just now.

It’s the age and listed status that make Number 10 an interesting addition to the series here. It shows that energy efficiency measures can be applied to even a busy and historically important building, and that there is enough flexibility within the Grade listing restrictions to make a difference. If you can retrofit Number 10, you can retrofit most houses.



How to Build a Retaining Wall

June 2, 2017

retaining-wallUntitled-1-292x300Today we came across a helpful “how to” article on retaining walls and their construction. It was on the website of Alabama-based Total Landscape Care magazine. We are very grateful to them for permission to reproduce parts of it here. You’ll find the original, expanded article by following this link .

You will need:

Wall Caps – of solid, flat material. Most blocks are designed to be used in curved or straight walls.

Interlocking Blocks – These come come in a variety of sizes, colours and designs. Some use pins to lock to the course below; others have a built-in tongue and groove system.

Gravel Backfill – a barrier behind the wall, lined in fabric and filled with gravel, to create an area for water collection and movement.

Landscaping Fabric – helps keep the voids in the gravel from packing with silt.

Topsoil – Leave room above the gravel backfill for topsoil. You can use the top course of blocks and/or the wall cap as edging.

Drainage Pipe – perforated pipe, which allows water to enter along the length of the wall, reduces pressure on the wall structure.

Compacted Gravel Base – A trench with up to 6 inches (150mm) of compacted gravel creates a solid base for the first row of blocks.


1. Lay out the wall

Use a string line for straight walls or a garden hose for curved walls, and mark out a layout line on the ground with marking paint.

2. Dig for a levelling pad

Starting at the end of the wall that is lowest in elevation, dig a trench with a bottom that is 1 foot below grade. Make sure the trench is nearly level in both directions.

TIP : If you find keeping your trench level is getting more than two-blocks deep, you can make steps in the trench that are equal to the height of the blocks you will be using.

3. Add and compact a gravel base

Add up to 6″ (150mm) of 3/4″ (20mm) gravel. Compact with a tamper or  wacker plate.

4. Set the first row of blocks

Lay the first course. Use a 4-foot level to straighten several blocks at once, end-to-end and side-to-side.

5. Lay the drainpipe

Connect enough perforated pipe to reach the length of the wall. Wrap the pipe in landscaping fabric and position it just behind the first course of blocks. Slightly raise the end away from the desired pipe exit for positive water flow.

6. Add additional courses

Break up the vertical lines by centering the first block of a new course over a joint line of the course beneath.

7. Backfill

With the second course in place, backfill the first course with gravel. This backfill gravel should not have any sand mixed in. 3/4″ (20mm) is ideal because water must pass through it. Continue adding rows and backfilling until your wall has reached its desired height.

8. Top it off

Wrap landscaping fabric over the gravel backfill and trim the fabric. Add topsoil as desired.

Your local builder’s merchant will be able to supply you with all of the materials listed in this article. They’re there to help you build!


Definitely Heavy, Definitely Metal!

May 31, 2017


A pretty nifty bit of welding here. We like it!

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