SweetSpot grew this summer, but with growth comes challenges. Our resident interior designer Hannah Collins had to work day and night to transform the old unloved buildings into homes suitable for our new tenants. We caught up with her now everyone has moved in, to ask her about why she made certain choices and her thought process when designing under pressure.
How many houses did you refurbish this summer?
We refurbished sixteen houses, averaging six bedrooms each in Nottingham and five houses in Exeter. That’s nearly 130 bedrooms in total – and we did this in six weeks!
What’s the most important thing to you about refurbishing a home?
That’s a tricky question. First and foremost, the most important consideration when refurbishing any property is to carefully consider the budget and the client’s expectations. If both these are managed correctly, then nobody will be disappointed.
Secondly, I have to focus on the brief. I need to think about why we’re doing this, who we’re doing this for and what we need to achieve out of it.
Our clients are students and they are the most important consideration in planning and designing each room. Of course, I would love to run away with my ideas most of the time but I am constantly having to pull myself back as practicality is of the utmost importance when designing any student home and surprisingly design and practicality tend to contradict each other. The challenge is achieving a happy middle road between stylish contemporary design and comfortable living on a competitive budget.
What’s the most stressful thing about doing a big scale refurb like this?
Managing everyone’s expectations. On a project of this scale, in such a short space of time, we could not achieve anything if we all didn’t work as a team. I know it might sound clichéd but there were so many different people involved that project management was of the utmost importance. It was critical that one job was completed before another could get started. For example, after every wall had been prepared and decorated, the carpets had to be laid. Until this happened, the furniture couldn’t be delivered and therefore the rooms couldn’t be made up. It was an extremely fast paced and finely tuned process by the end. We were turning houses around in three days in the last two weeks. It was an organised chaos. We had a great team behind us and overall everything went very smoothly considering the pressures we were all up against.
What’s the best thing?
The end goal! After the houses have been professionally cleaned and they’re all shiny and new, I love the styling process and the final stages working closely with the photographers to achieve the finished look. It’s all in the detail.
It’s such a super feeling of achievement when we put that over-worked dusty old kettle on for the very last time to make a cup of tea and everyone sits down and takes a step back to see what we’ve all created: from a tired unloved building to a sparkling stylish and comfortable new home. That’s the best thing.
What’s your thought process when it comes to designing for a new home?
Making an impact. That doesn’t have to mean a radical makeover but it does mean doing something to make a difference. I place a huge importance on colour and the effect colour has on a room and how it makes one feel. Of course, it goes without saying that a beautiful view and natural sunlight is one of the crucial elements of careful contemplation when designing any room. In a bedroom for example, ideally I will design a room around its natural features. It’s always a luxury to look out of a window from bed and to have a window to look out of while studying at your desk. Because space is at a premium I will always do my best to focus on the comfort of sleeping and study. Secondary to this, is storage. We all know how important storage is.
When designing any room I always try and imagine myself in that room. Is it somewhere where I’d like to be? Most importantly, the bedroom needs to feel secure and comfortable.
How should a home make you feel?
Somewhere you look forward to coming home to. Our homes are who we are.
A home should offer a sense of identity. Somewhere we can call our own and shut the door away from the stresses of everyday life and relax in our own private space, share with friends and enjoy in company. Your home should be welcoming and comfortable, safe and warm.
Why do you think so many student properties are sub-standard?
Because not everyone places as much importance on student accommodation as we do. We care about our students and want to offer them a luxury standard of living whilst they’re at university. We know what a positive impact our SweetSpot homes will have on our students and therefore place a huge amount of importance on this. We also feel that for many students a SweetSpot move will be their first move away from the security and all that they know of their home environment. We want to make their ‘flying the nest’ not only a positive one but a move that they’ll always remember as it’s such an important transition in a student’s life.
The rooms this year are almost colour-coded; red rooms, blue rooms, purple rooms, what was your thinking behind that?
I wanted to give each room an identity so I did this by expressing colour in punchy bursts of moody blues, earthy greens and tonal reds on statement walls in every bedroom. I wanted to highlight and define the space for study. As a team we all thought this was very important. I chose a versatile and universal palette of bold colours. I then coordinated the window blinds and the desk task lamps accordingly to tie in with the chosen colour scheme. To complete the space with designed a bright white beautifully bespoke clean-lined sharp Corian desk worktop. Therefore every room was defined by a different accent colour and this created a focal point and identity to each bedroom.
What makes the homes you design special?
I enjoy the aesthetic of beautifully worked clean lines. For example, every piece of furniture has to be thought out and it’s critical that a work of art is placed and hanged correctly. This artwork then has to work perfectly together with perhaps a mirror that has to be placed thoughtfully so it emphasises its best use of the light or refection from the window. Positioning and scale are incredibly important when designing a room.
It’s always very difficult to design any space with a limited budget but I’m very good at sniffing out my one-of-a-kind finds and special treasures. I have a keen eye for colour and detail and simply adore unique pieces and original artwork and uniting them all together. I have put some exquisite wall art in to our SweetSpot houses over the years. I find heritage pieces here, there, and everywhere and enjoy the history and authenticity. I love colour and I love statement. I will always shy away from mainstream mass production or ephemeral fashion trends. I feel the art of great design is keeping it classically simple but thoughtful. I can always spice a room up with a twist of colour and intrigue after all.
Whether you’re a student or not, getting your deposit back is a daunting, annoying and often stressful experience. Over 2011-12 less than 70% of deposits were returned in full across the UK and just over 13% got nothing back. The average amount taken off was a whole month’s rent – a staggering fee in some cases.
When you’re a student, these statistics get worse for a couple of reasons: landlords can view you as naive or unaware of the laws which are set out to protect you or because you have no expectation of getting your money back so why bother trying.
The facts about your deposit:
It is illegal for a landlord or agency to hold your money without registering it into a tenancy protection scheme regardless of who they are. This means that your money is held by an external and regulated body who are compelled by law to protect it: your landlord can’t spend it or touch it during your tenancy.
You are entitled to receive your deposit within ten working days of your ‘check out inspection’. This inspection works in accordance to your ‘check-in’ inventory which should occur at an agreed time when you move in. Make sure you get a copy of this for your records: if there is no ‘check-in’ inventory then the landlord cannot legally take anything from your deposit.
Most common reasons to lose your deposit:
1. Inadequate Cleaning: no one expects you or your flatmates to be professional cleaners, but you must make the effort to do a ‘deep clean’. Commonly missed areas include ovens, grills, fridges, washing machine filters and gardens. Pop some music on and spend a day getting down and dirty – it’s worth it. Cleaning bills can cost anything up to £1000 depending on the state of your property. You’d be surprised how much it costs to get someone in just to do the basics, the usual bill for a property that has just ‘missed’ a couple of things is a minimum of £200.
2. People leave on different days: This is something we’ve heard a lot from our tenants. It’s an unavoidable issue when you share a home with people on different courses with different end dates. Often, people will leave one by one until you’re the last person in the house faced with a massive pile of cleaning to do – nobody wants to do that after exams finish. The best thing to do in this situation is get a calendar together and mark when people leave – pick a day when you are all there together before the first person leaves and give the whole place (including your bedrooms) a deep clean (it’s better to have your leaving parties before this date obviously). That way, even if you are the last person standing it should only require a much quicker and easier once over before you go.
3. Wear & Tear: What does that mean? At SweetSpot we’ve rarely had to take money off for this, however it’s the area where a lot of landlords are flexible with the truth but luckily, thanks to regulating bodies, it’s getting harder to bend facts. If you’ve been sharing a house with five other people for a year or so it’s likely that there will be superficial wear on the property; a mark or two here and there from furniture and other things. This is fair. You are allowed to live in your home and enjoy it – no one wants to walk on eggshells 24/7, after all you’re paying for it. If your landlord tries to take money from you for this and you feel it’s unfair stand up for your rights and contest it. Going to your Student Union is a good place to start – they can tell you what to do.
4. Missing Items: Some items can cost a lot to replace, the odd throw / picture frame might be £10 but this soon adds up if everyone in your house takes something you could be looking at another £200 or so coming off your deposit. Leave it where it is. At SweetSpot we take care to make your homes special with antiques and one-off objects which can be pricey, we’re more than happy to tell you where we got them from though so you can get your own.
We help our tenants as much as we can: we share charge-sheets on inspections and our students are free to speak to the Sweeteners (people who live locally to our properties and help out when there’s any problem) about what they can do to make sure the property is ready for inspections. We even share the cost of the independent inventory checks with our tenants so they don’t pay the full bill. We only charge what we spend – we never round-up.
We want everyone to get their full deposits back – let’s work together so we can change the statistics and show the world that students can clean…
As you know, SweetSpot started with a simple thought: students deserve better places to live. The idea was to create houses for friends to learn how to make a home together, in places for 4 to 7 people, because long corridors and anonymous doors don’t make for good communities.
We are looking for students in Nottingham, Exeter & Oxford who have opinions, strong writing skills and want to be a part of a growing team of people who are passionate about student welfare.
We’re looking for bloggers; people who want to review restaurants or clubs & those who want to comment on the politics of student life.
Get in touch with an example of your writing or the kind of things you’d be interested in talking about: firstname.lastname@example.org
We all know it can be a little daunting when you move into your first home. Our houses are designed to give you room, and plenty of it, because we appreciate that having your own space is important, but so is sharing it with the right people. Sometimes you need to reach out beyond your immediate friendship group and enter a new community.
Most of our homes cater for 6 people, but we welcome you if you’re in a smaller group or want to strike out on your own.
If you’re looking to find some great flatmates feel free to post on our Facebook page, or tweet us and we will match you up with other groups / individuals. We encourage you to meet up and go for a drink or two and see how you get on. We know it can take time to find the right people. If we do our job right, which we usually do, then you could end up with friends for life.
We like to spoil our tenants so we’ve sent everyone a tasty egg to nibble on for this festive period.
But we don’t want you to eat it straight away. Instead, go on an adventure with your little chocolate buddy take some snaps and send them to @sweetspothomes or facebook.com/sweetspothomes. The one which makes us laugh the most gets £20 cash. You buy more eggs with that and start a little egg family. Or get a couple of bottles of wine…or go to a gig. Whatever, just take pictures so we can laugh at you.
DEADLINE 1st May
Check out some of the entries so far:
— Eleanor O’Brien (@Elleobrien09) April 2, 2014
Want to join us? Check out available homes here
Who wants to give money to PR companies? Not us. We figure that the people who could benefit most from £200 cash are you guys. Whether you’re already completely perfect and live in a SweetSpot home or out there in the world of far inferior houses not made by us, we invite you to take part.
SweetSpot started with a simple thought: students deserve better places to live. The idea was to create houses for friends to learn how to make a home together, because long corridors and anonymous doors don’t make for good communities.
What do I do?
It’s a simple process:
1. Refer a friend
2. They visit a house and decide they want it
3. When they put their holding deposit down get them to refer your name
It’s as easy as that – once your friend takes a home with us, they will pass on your details and we’ll send you £200 to do with as you please, you can even split it with them if you fancy.
Not our favourite subject but here goes: if you promote, yell about and spread the word enough to rent out, say 5 of our properties, you’ll get £1000 in your pocket!
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