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7 ways to make your home feel happy this winter

And you’ll be so much happier too, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

As the saying goes, home is where the heart is – and it’s amazing how a little bit of love and attention around the house can improve your wellbeing.

We’re not just talking the typical new year clear-out, deep-cleans and getting organised. But the little things that make all the difference.

From finishing touches like switching your succulents around, grouping plants differently, or hanging them in a different space where there’s plenty of light – and then wondering why in the world you didn’t place them there in the first place, when you notice the happiness it brings every time you walk in the door. This same principle can apply with so many things.

Here’s how to give your home – and yourself – a happiness boost to see you through the rest of winter…

1. Go through your photos and refresh your favourite pictures

Whether you have a nest of photo frames or one or two on a shelf, those moments you’ve captured hold a special place, and it’s funny how we forget to update our displays to reflect what’s going on in our lives right now.

Alternatively, take time out to reflect and look back on the past. Nostalgia makes us feel good and keeping old memories fresh in your mind will make your surroundings feel that much more special.

2. Move the furniture around

If the short gloomy days are getting you down, think about moving the sofa or your favourite cosy chair to face more daylight. Chances are it’s still in the same place as before the clocks moved back, when sunlight streaming through the window was more an irritant causing glare on the TV screen. Now, a little light therapy with a furniture switch-around could work wonders.

3. Cash in on calming candlelight

There’s a reason posh hotels and restaurants always have scented candles burning, no matter the time of day – they look and smell good, and evoke a feeling of wellbeing and happiness. And don’t forget, you can always use LED pillar candles or votives to great effect, especially if you’ve got young kids and prefer to avoid flames.

4. Style up soft materials and layer blankets with cushions, throws and fleeces

Playing with texture and draping blankets along the back of the sofa, maximising those scatter cushions (think about being crafty and making a DIY pillow out of an old knitted jumper), and placing draft excluders at the base of the door (again, being imaginative and using a little’uns soft cuddly toy they’ve grown out of can bring smiles all round) will make everything feel that much cosier and welcoming.

5. Sort out your summer wardrobe

It’s hardly surprising January is the busiest time of year for booking a holiday – it’ something to look forward to and makes us feel good. But even if you haven’t got round to topping up your happiness levels with thoughts of far-flung places, or a big holiday is off the cards this year, sorting your clothes out will. Now’s the perfect time to shift through summer stuff and edit out anything you know you’re never going to wear again… Oh-so satisfying.

6. Pencil in a reading hour

So many of us love reading, but it’s not always easy to find the time. Snuggling down with a good book is a brilliant form of escapism though, and regular readers say it relaxes them, and helps them feel less stressed and depressed.

According to a survey by Worldbooknight, adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction. Plus it’s a great excuse to refresh your bookcase, or rearrange those glossy magazines, and get to grips with that novel you squirrelled away years ago.

7. Plant life

We’ve touched on sprucing up your succulents, but don’t forget how mood-boosting houseplants will give your home a whole new look and feel. From a mini herb garden (easy to grow and great for kitchen windowsills) to pots of lavender (excellent for easing stress and aiding sleep), to a Peace Lily (easy to care for and cited as one of the best indoor plants for cleaning and moisturising the air), all greenery looks gorgeous and will breathe new life into any room.

Is it better to have one big holiday each year or lots of little trips?

As tourism opens up again, Katie Wright debates the pros and cons.

Slowly but surely, travel restrictions are easing – making more countries a viable option for holidaymakers.

And after nearly two years of the pandemic, many of us are raring to make up for lost time, and put our passports to good use in 2022.

But when it comes to travel, is it better to pepper your year with lots of long weekends away, or blow your holiday allowance on one mega trip?

Here, we look at the pros and cons of each…

Keep it short and sweet

If visiting as many countries as possible (and bragging about it on your social media or dating profile) is a priority, minibreaks will help you tick off plenty of destinations.

A weekend away to somewhere like Rome, Brussels or Barcelona is a (mostly) stress-free option. You don’t need to pack a whole lot, the flight is short, and, if you book far enough in advance, you can get some really cheap deals.

Psychologists often talk about anticipatory pleasure – the kind you get from having something in your diary to look forward to – and booking a bunch of mini holidays will keep you going, especially if work (or life in general) is getting you down.

Short breaks are a great way to visit pals in other places or travel with friends, and there’s less chance of arguments when you’re only away for a few days.

You might end up spending more over the course of a year compared to one big trip, but you’re spreading the cost – and you might be able to get cheap last minute deals.

Realistically, there’s only so far you’ll want to venture for a short jaunt, but that might help alleviate the eco-guilt you feel from your frequent flying – plus, there’s less chance of jet lag.

In it for the long haul

If your employer will allow it, or you don’t have a boss to answer to, holidaying for over a week is the pinnacle of forget-about-the-real-world relaxation.

Sometimes you can get home exhausted after a long weekend away – particularly if it’s a boozy city break. An extended vacation gives you time to really chill out, and you don’t feel the pressure to make memories every waking moment. You can lounge like a walrus on the beach for days, safe in the knowledge you’ll still have time to visit that castle, temple or street food market at some point.

If you prefer to get out and explore, you can see a lot more of a place when you’ve got time to island-hop in Greece, backpack around Vietnam or road trip through the USA. While long haul flights are pricier (and more uncomfortable), you can jet all the way to countries where the cost of living is lower, and you might save money while you’re there.

A longer trip is ideal for a solo adventurer, because you’ve got lots of time to make friends and keep your options open, in case you want to switch up your plans and head in the same direction as your new buddies.

Plus, you can jump on cheap trains and buses as you travel around, which might help alleviate some of the guilt of your carbon-intensive flight home.

Homes Under The Hammer’s Martin Roberts on why ignoring repairs is a big mistake

The property expert tells Vicky Shaw how to weigh up the costs when considering repairs, and which jobs to prioritise.

Home repairs can be expensive – but ignoring them can cost even more in the long run.

Three-quarters (75%) of homeowners across the UK need to have repairs done, and half (50%) say delaying repairs in the past has ended up costing them more than an early fix would have.

The research, published by Gas Safe Register, found homeowners failing to act quickly could be left £1,876 out of pocket on average, with one in 20 (5%) spending £5,000 or more eventually getting repair jobs done.

Gas Safe Register has teamed up with Homes Under The Hammer’s Martin Roberts to help people understand the financial and health impacts of putting off repair jobs.

Roberts has shared his top tips on which repair jobs are worth it – and what can happen if issues are ignored…

If a house hunter sees several repair and maintenance issues when viewing a property, should that put them off buying it?

Roberts says: “No, it could be an opportunity to add value, but it’s important to know what damage might have been done through lack of maintenance – and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between superficial damage, and more serious long-term effects.”

What can house hunters do to work out whether the repairs needed would still make a house worth purchasing?

“At this stage, it’s probably time to call in tradesmen to give estimates for remedial works – they will be able to give a realistic assessment of the costs involved,” Roberts advises.

What’s your advice for homeowners working out how much property issues would cost to repair – should people get a range of quotes, and how many quotes would be appropriate?

“I would recommend ideally getting three quotes, and make sure they’re written – not just verbal ones. You can tell a lot about their professionalism from how the quotes are presented. And always ask for references and examples of previous work!”

How can people work out which repair jobs to prioritise, if there are more jobs than their budget will immediately cover?

Roberts says: “The priority has to be given to those that could give rise to safety concerns – like the maintenance of your gas appliances, for example.

“Poorly maintained gas appliances – such as boilers, cookers or gas fires – can not only put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it can also leak gas, and – in some instances – this can lead to fires and explosions. It’s therefore really important to ensure you book an annual safety [check] for your appliances with a Gas Safe Registered engineer.

“Next up would be repairs where a stitch in time will literally save nine. Things that left unchecked will cause more expensive problems in the future, such as leaking gutters.”

What’s your advice for budgeting to repair specific problems with a home – for example, should people add a certain percentage extra to deal with unexpected costs?

“Everything starts with a full assessment, which you should do in conjunction with a builder or surveyor if you’re not comfortable or experienced to do it on your own. And then whatever those schedules reveal can be budgeted – but always allow 15% to 20% contingency of the total repair cost for any unexpected issues.

“If you’re buying a house, don’t forget costs of repairs could come into negotiations on the price you’re purchasing at.”

Should homeowners keep a pot of cash to deal with general maintenance?

“You can take out maintenance contracts for a variety of potential household issues – including boiler service contracts – which will keep everything well maintained. Alternatively, if you are able to put a rainy day fund aside, that will be very useful in times of unexpected expense.”

What are the worst maintenance and repair problems you’ve seen generally with homes for sale – and are there any problems that would put you off buying a home completely?

“Gas appliances rarely seem to get the attention they deserve, because if not maintained they can be a major safety and health hazard. Drainage in all its forms (underground, gutters and downpipes) can lead to all sorts of major issues with damp – and in the worst case subsidence, if not looked after.

“As long as the price paid reflects all that’s needed to fix things, every house is worth considering – but you have to go in with your eyes open, and surround yourself with people who can help if you’re not experienced.”

Roberts’ top piece of advice is fixing things “before they multiply into more issues”.

Gas Safe Register is the UK’s official registration body for gas engineers and gas businesses. People can find and check a gas engineer by visiting gassaferegister.co.uk

10 snowdrop gardens to brighten up your winter walks

As snowdrop’s emerge from their winter dormancy, Hannah Stephenson looks at the best places to see swathes of them.

It’s always a sign of optimism when we see the first snowdrops appear, their dainty blooms emerging from the cold ground, creating white carpets which illuminate gardens.

Some of the best displays can be seen in the many gardens taking part in the National Garden Scheme’s 2022 Snowdrop Festival during January, February and March.

If you visit at least one garden awash with these pint-sized white gems, you should find innovative ways to display your own snowdrops, and may even discover some unusual species you’d like to plant.

1. Bruckhills Croft, Aberdeenshire (open by arrangement Jan 25-Mar 11 for snowdrops and winter walks. Details at scotlandsgardens.org)

If you struggle to grow snowdrops, you’ll find a planting idea or a cultivar in this three-quarter-acre country cottage garden, set in the heart of rural Aberdeenshire, which became home to a Plant Heritage National Collection of Galanthus (snowdrops) in 2021.

It houses nearly 500 varieties of snowdrop arranged in small groups among the herbaceous borders, shrubs, raised beds and an alpine greenhouse, with complementary plantings of scented witch hazels, winter jasmine and colourful dogwoods, plus thousands of common snowdrops in the wildflower meadow.

2. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, South Yorkshire (check opening times at english-heritage.org.uk)

The site’s half a million snowdrops and 200,000 aconites cast a haze of white and yellow across the lawns and throughout the woodland floors, while winter is also the ideal time to take a stroll around the formal garden, with its sharp lines and sweeping curves.

3. East Lambrook Manor Gardens, Somerset (open from Feb I for the Festival of Snowdrops (eastlambrook.com)

Celebrated plantswoman and gardening writer Margery Fish turned a derelict farmyard and orchards into this quintessential English cottage garden between 1938 and her death in 1969. With noted collections of snowdrops and hellebores, it’s an ideal spot to gain inspiration from contemporary and old-fashioned plants, grown in a relaxed manner to create this beautiful outdoor space.

The garden, which is renowned worldwide as the premier example of the English cottage garden style, celebrates its festival of snowdrops in February, featuring around 140 species and named cultivars.

4. Welford Park, Newbury, Berkshire (Snowdrops at Welford Park, open Feb 2-Mar 6 (welfordpark.co.uk)

Famed for being the gorgeous setting for the Great British Bake Off from 2014-19, there’s always great anticipation around the first snowdrop blooms, which create a spectacular, delicately-perfumed carpet in the beech wood at Welford Park each year.

One of the finest natural snowdrop woodlands in the country, this well-established garden houses four acres of snowdrops, which light up the landscape in February, as part of the celebrated snowdrop festival.

5. Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Northumberland (for opening times, visit english-heritage.org.uk)

Wrap up warm and enjoy the delights of Belsay Hall and its garden highlights, which at this time of year, include snowdrops. In the early 18th century, Lady Anne Middleton began the tradition of the women of the house planting snowdrops in the grounds together. Now, each February, vast white carpets of the plants can be admired in the garden, fields and woodland surrounding the hall.

6. The Old Rectory, Fawkham, Longfield, Kent (visits by arrangement in Feb, ngs.org.uk)

A sea of naturalised snowdrops and aconites is among the winter highlights of this one-and-a-half-acre garden, which has been developed around the snowdrops by the current owners for more than 35 years. It’s also home to 100 named snowdrops that have been added more recently. Other highlights include pulmonarias, hellebores and other early bulbs and flowers, foliage perennials, shrubs and trees, and a natural woodland.

Wherever you wander, you will see them – naturalised in the grass, throughout borders, the mixtures of single and double-flowered types creating a white tapestry throughout the garden.

7. Timber Hill, Chobham, Surrey (open selected days through Jan, Feb and Mar; ngs.org.uk)

Visitors to this 16 acre garden – bookable through the National Garden Scheme – will find swathes of snowdrops, crocuses and aconites, as well as witch hazel, camellias a little later, and a woodland area which offers fabulous views of the North Downs.

8. Westview, Great Glen, Leicestershire (open Feb 19 and 20, pre-booking available, ngs.org.uk)

If you’re interested in rare and unusual plants, this small walled cottage garden is one to put on your list, particularly the garden’s collection of snowdrops, which make a terrific February display.

Along with a formal box parterre herb garden, courtyard garden, herbaceous borders, woodland garden, small wildlife pond, greenhouse, vegetable and fruit garden, the garden’s collection of galanthus make a beautiful display in February. Recycled materials are used to create quirky garden ornaments that inspire many visitors.

9. Gelli Uchaf, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire (for arrangements for groups, visit ngs.org.uk)

Hundreds of thousands of snowdrops, including more than 200 cultivars and a unique Welsh Snowdrop Collection, daffodils, cyclamen and crocus are planted in this stunning 1.5-acre garden, set in an 11-acre smallholding 800ft above sea level, as well as copious woodland shrubs, roses, clematis and hydrangeas.

The garden has been created to complement the restored Welsh longhouse and the setting, and features much native planting.

10. Billy Old Rectory, Bushmills, County Antrim (open Feb 12 and 13, pre-booking available through ngs.org.uk)

This spot is perfect for a winter walk, to admire the swathes of snowdrops situated within the three-acre garden around a Georgian rectory. To the front is a large lawn, mature trees and a peaceful woodland. To the back, there’s another lawn – where in the summer you’ll find a riot of colour with borders of scented roses and shrubs, a pond area and a fruitful kitchen garden.

Make a splash: How to go big and bold in the bathroom

Want to make more of this often overlooked room? Think sharp and showy, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

When it comes to making our rooms work harder, perhaps it’s time to stand back and see the bigger picture in the bathroom.

A place where we can escape the day-to-day and take time out for ourselves, this haven also has the potential to be pivotal in our decorative prowess – but all too often they’re last on our list when it comes to home styling.

“I ask clients to start by looking at the bathroom with their living room eyes,” says Emma Merry, director of Emma Merry Styling (emmamerrystyling.com) and an interior designer on Houzz.co.uk, the home renovation and design platform.

“Think of it as a place to relax with luxe touches. A space that evokes the feeling of rest and rejuvenation, but you can definitely still have fun with the design.

“We aim to tap into all the senses, such as the tactile elements of natural stone and timbers, or the aromatic scents from natural oil steam diffusers set into purpose-built niches around the bath,” says Merry. “And finally, the visual impact of statement pieces.”

Many of us have taken a step away from the functional all-white space over the last few years, with homeowners and designers on Houzz making bolder design choices, investing more in their wash space and embracing a more varied palette.

“In 2021, the term ‘blue bathroom’ shot up by 170% in searches and the term ‘pink bathroom’ doubled in popularity, while ‘green tiled bathroom’ saw an increase of more than a third,” says Victoria Harrison, editor, Houzz.co.uk.

“Dark tones are also proving popular, with searches for ‘black shower’ rising significantly.”

Blending function with flair, if you’d like to dip your toe into a more maximalist bathroom design, professionals on Houzz recommend starting with the cloakroom or downstairs toilet (if you have one separate to the main bathroom).

“This smallest room is the perfect place to have some fun, whether you choose a dramatic wallpaper, interesting tiling or a gold ceiling, the options are endless,” suggests Harrison.

Think out of the bathroom box

“Just as living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms become hybrid spaces to enable working from home, our bathrooms are also spaces that should work hard and offer versatility,” says Lauren Kavanagh, Hovia’s creative designer.

“Consider flexible, multi-use pieces for your bathroom to optimise the space you have,” Kavanagh adds.

“Cater for more compact bathrooms by opting for vanity units that feature removable storage baskets, or boxes that can be moved or adapted with use over time.”

Remember, there might be pockets of space that can be used up more wisely – like beneath a sink or basin.

Depending on your budget, don’t feel like everything needs to focus on the bath tub, even though we’d all love to slip effortlessly into a luxurious freestanding bath. But there’s a whole room to play with.

“I’ve built a design around a sink before,” says Merry. “We started with a one-of-a-kind terrazzo basin, which we wall mounted with satin brass taps, and we let this be the focal point for the room. Paired with a muted colour palette of soft sage and creamy taupe, we laid the tiles in a stripe pattern in key areas of the room.

“The overall effect is still a calming space,” she adds, “but the design is that little bit more exciting and allows the beauty of that key piece to shine.”

Create a wonder wall with tiling or wallpaper

Focusing attention on the walls is a perfect way to jazz up a bathroom, with scope to really create an impact if you go for a bold, striking design.

“Incorporating a tile with a striking print can instantly refresh your bathroom space,” says Kavanagh. “Pair bold tiles with colour block walls, for a contrasted look that excites the eye but isn’t overwhelming in a small space.”

Larger thank life and another game-changer, Kavanagh says patterned geometric, botanical or texture effect wallpaper is a great way to bring in personality, warmth and character.

“Also, experiment with cork for its natural beneficial properties for this room, such as its resistance to mould and mildew.”

Colour code and accessorize

As Kavanagh puts it: “Use confident colours as a simple yet impactful way to create bathrooms with personality. An effective way to go bold in bathrooms is to strike a balance between brights and more muted tones, which brings newness to staple pieces.

“Instantly modernise a space with towelling, bathroom fixtures and hard accessories in solid, more primary colours.

“Combine multiple textures to create a playful, maximalist atmosphere,” adds Kavanagh. “Try mosaic surfaces, rattan baskets, wooden accessories, woven rugs, or fill empty spaces with house plants that thrive in damp conditions.”

And if the budget is tight and a complete restyle is out of the question, there are lots of ways to update a look by switching up accessories.

“If you’re low on cupboards, try hanging storage,” suggests Kavanagh. “Hanging baskets in the shower and on the walls is a fun, creative way to keep all of your toiletries and towels tidy.

“It’s also a much simpler DIY option if the thought of putting up shelves makes you panic!”

Getting organised: 11 stylish ways to clear up your clutter

Start as you mean to go on, says Sam Wylie-Harris. It’s a goal we all aspire to, getting organised.


Even if you love clutter, you want your clutter to be catalogued and for everything to have its place – so although a good old rummage might still be required, it’s not too much of a nightmare when you’re trying to hunt something down.

And then of course, you might be so minimalist that tidy is your second name – in which case ensuring you have enough stylish storage solutions to house all those bits ‘n’ bobs is essential.

Either way, if one of your New Year resolutions is to have a stellar sort out, these handy homewares will help you make those getting-organised dreams a reality…

1. Bembridge Storage Baskets, from £35, Garden Trading

Sturdy storage baskets can be a godsend when it comes to folding away tea towels, wash day sprays and laundry soap, although you could really use them for anything. Rustic and resilient.

2. Kitchen Trolley with Bamboo Top, £199, A Place for Everything

A quick kitchen fix, this island on wheels will not only double up as a scullery chef for all those cooking utensils, but can be placed strategically for serving, plating and most importantly, storage. Genius.

3. Rope Hanging White Storage Baskets, £32, Next

A tip-top trio, these hanging rope baskets lend themselves to any nook or cranny. Ideal for toiletries and beauty buys, they could even be filled with faux flowers if all your vases are full.

4. Large Spoon Storage Box, £22, Natalia Willmott

A soft solution for kitchen towels and knick-knacks, you could also stand cutlery and napkins inside so they’re within easy reach.

5. Cupboard & Fridge Organiser (middle shelf), £1.50, B&M stores

Olive oil, pepper mills and spices can be a messy business… Not with a bargain handy organiser to keep them neat.

6. Felt Woven Storage Caddy, £22, Next

If you’ve been getting crafty lately with a newfound hobby, or working from home means you need a carry-all for cables and techy stuff, this felt caddy could do the job nicely.

7. Slimline Slogan Boxes, £2.50 each, B&M Stores

These italic-style slogans might inspire a host of cleaning products for multiple surfaces, but they can also double up for magazines, filing and even outdoor storage.

8. Smartstore Basket Medium – Just Base, £6, Just Lid, £9, or £15 for the set, A Place for Everything

These white plastic storage baskets with a stylish Scandi-inspired bamboo lid are ideal for staking, and so versatile they can multitask anywhere in the home, from a utility room to the bedroom or even the garage.

9. Bloomingdale Valde Clothes Rack, £385, Sweatpea & Willow

An investment piece for sure, but if you especially like an open design, this neat clothes rack means you can hang key pieces with confidence, and the five fixed shelves are ideal for shoes, accessories and baskets.

10. Jewellery Box – Moona – Natural & White, £50, A Place for Everything

Trinkets: Tick. Timepiece: Tick. Reading specs: Tick. This stylish jewellery box ticks so many boxes.

11. Kubu Stair Storage Basket by Pacific, £44, Next

If you have a roomy enough staircase, this stylish storage basket could be just the ticket for tucking away scarves and hats or blankets. We love that it also has an easy carry handle and oozes county chic.

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