Blog - Cooper & Co

9 quick cleaning tips that will save you time this Christmas

This is definitely the list you need if the idea of spending Christmas Eve knee-deep in cleaning products makes you feel like the Grinch. Christmas – and summer – is always busy and social, with lots of entertaining and unexpected guests sure to drop by.

But instead of waiting until the last minute to get your home in tip-top shape, here are nine easy ways to get sorted before your friends and family turn up on your doorstep.

1. Set the timer when you are doing certain chores. Experts say if you know how long individual tasks take, they seem less difficult. We like that idea.

2. Put clean sheets on your spare bed NOW. Even if you aren’t expecting any sleepovers from visitors, it’s one thing less to deal with if someone does end up having to sleep it off.

3. Use the commercial breaks wisely. You have two-and-a-half minutes to get something done, and tackling small tasks seems like a better idea than mindlessly watching ads!

4. Sort out the fridge before you hit the shops. Chances are your fridge and kitchen cupboards aren’t as jam-packed as they are going to be in a few weeks. If you have a proper clean out now, not only will it save you time in December, but you’ll also know exactly what you already have in stock.

5. Don’t bother scrubbing your stove top burners. If they come off, pop them in a snaplock bag, with a little ammonia overnight. In the morning, wipe them clean and away you go.

6. Bedtime equals cleaning time. While the kids (or you) are in the bathroom getting ready for bed, use that time to quickly wipe down the vanity, bath, mirror and toilet. Easy.

7. Try listening to podcasts while you clean. Not only will they help time fly, but you’ll learn a few things along the way.

8. Put clutter (like toiletries) away in a cupboard. Just shove them in there – no one is going to be looking to see if they are organised by floral fragrance!

9. The smell of fresh flowers, however, does make everything instantly better. Set some out the morning your guests are due to arrive, and enjoy this special time together!

5 realistic ways to make the most of your money during a renovation

Want to renovate but not sure of the cost? Here’s how to work out what you can afford and whether it’s worth your while doing it.

1. Start how you plan to finish

Work out what you want from your home and write down what you’d need to make this a reality. If your goal is to rent it out or sell it on, you will have a very different set of aims and outcomes to work from.

Start with the stuff that’s not so much fun but will improve the health and longevity of your home, eg insulation, new gutters or roof, relining walls, upgrading plumbing/wiring or installing a whole-house heating system. Then think about big-ticket items such as a new kitchen, bathroom or outdoor living area. Finally look at lower-cost improvements such as setting up a study or exercise area or buying a plush new lounge suite.

You may wish to aim for a balance between high- and low-cost projects – a brand-new kitchen combined with a quick bathroom makeover; or a state-of-the-art heating system combined with a fresh interior paint job. Once you’ve written your ultimate wish list, look at the overall scale of the work and ask yourself: would it be easier to simply move house?

2. Break it down

If you decide that you definitely want to go ahead and renovate, itemise every improvement you’d need to make to fulfil your vision. Prioritise the list with a focus on improvements that will make your home healthier and more appealing to potential buyers, even if you plan to stay for the foreseeable future.

Talk to friends and family about their renovations and find out what upgrades have made the biggest difference to them. Try to remove the emotion from your decision-making and be practical about this list, rather than fixating on the gorgeous new marble benchtop you’ve always dreamed of.

Malcolm Knight, a registered financial adviser at Threefold, says simple changes can often make a big impact, so if you’re going to spend up large it’s important to be sure the cost is worth it. “Cheap cosmetic improvements such as a fresh coat of paint can have a drastic impact on sales value on a tired or rundown property. Kitchens and bathrooms are the typical selling points in a home and can really drive price, but they can be expensive if you are making major changes such as moving plumbing.”

3. Work out your budget

Work out how much money you can access by tallying up any savings and talking to your bank about your borrowing potential. Make sure you understand the impact any loans will have on your lifestyle in both the short and long term.

Malcolm recommends speaking with a mortgage broker or trusted adviser at this point. “They will be able to quickly run the numbers for you and give an indication of the best finance options available to you. They can also get finance pre-approved for you (if required) before you start your project.”

Next, research what sum would be wise to spend on your home. Talk to a valuer or real-estate agent about the price similar homes in your area are selling for (and what your house would be likely to sell for post-renovation). Bear in mind what your house is for – if it’s your forever home, investing in its health and comfort is worthwhile. But if you’re likely to sell it, spending big on top-shelf improvements may not make financial sense.

Malcolm says getting this step right comes down to the value of your property and the neighbourhood it’s in. “If you’re starting from a ‘worst house in the best street’ position, your budget can be grand, but if you’re already in the best house in the worst street, you need to be cautious not to overcapitalise.

Calculate what you paid for your house, what it would be likely to sell for in the current market, and what it would sell for if you made the improvements. If you end up in the red at this step, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker – you just need to weigh up the financial risk against the intangible benefits your renovation will create (the joy of using a dream benchtop cannot be quantified!).

4. Talk to experts

Get quotes from a builder, architect and/or project manager about the cost per square metre of building in your area. Then, depending on the scale of the work you want to have done, talk to a builder or architect to come up with an estimate, including a contingency fund (15-20 percent of the overall cost is standard), for your renovation. Then get a second and
third opinion.

Malcolm recommends spending time on this phase to ensure you understand your budget and keep costs under control. “Getting more than one quote can save you thousands,” he says. “With tradespeople currently very busy and not needing to compete for work, we are seeing some real profiteering, particularly on relatively minor jobs.”

Once you have a good idea of what your renovation is likely to cost, you can tally this figure against your home’s value and calculate if it would amount to an overcapitalisation you’re not comfortable with – bearing in mind that monetary value doesn’t reflect the improved health and happiness your renovation might bring.

5. Revise and finalise

Revisit your reno plan and make any required adjustments – most people underestimate the expense of home renovation so you may well have to prune down your plan or even slash it back to the essentials. You may also wish to plan your renovation in stages to spread the cost over a longer period.

Malcolm says the biggest mistake people make when renovating is underestimating the costs and failing to plan. “Costs can quickly escalate through the process if you’re making variations as you go,” he says. “More time spent upfront in the planning phase not only helps you understand your budget, but also makes it more likely that you’ll love your end product.”

Coming up with a good renovation plan is all about balance – balancing high-cost improvements with low, balancing the current value of your home against its worth in the future, and balancing your wants with your needs. Take time to find the best balance for you and your family.

Words by: Sally Conor.


Avoid expensive store-bought decorations with these DIY ideas

Add some festive cheer to your home this Christmas with these DIY crafts that are quick, easy and look far more expensive than their price tag.

If you’re looking to save money over Christmas but still want your decor style to have that designer feel, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up our favourite festive DIY projects that look more expensive than they really are.

The best bit? You don’t need a degree in DIY.


Christmas crackers 

Create individual crackers for the table – your family and guests will love the thought you put into choosing something just for them. The key to making these crackers look luxe is the paper – we used a gold mock-croc wrapping paper from Whitcoulls.

Cut the paper into six pieces 32cm x 15cm.

Place a cracker tube, toilet roll tube or sections of a wrapping paper tube in the middle of each sheet.

Wrap paper around the tube and use double-sided tape to secure.

Slot in your customised gift then tie each end of the cracker with a 50cm length of ribbon.

Cost: $30. | Time: approx 30 mins.


Forest candles

Everyday bottles can be turned into stylish candleholders by removing the labels and adding some greenery. We used Antipodes water bottles and a packet of candles from Look Sharp.

Select thin fronds so they will fit through the tops of the bottles.

Fill bottles with water once foliage is in place and pop a candle in the top.

Leave a small gap between the water and the base of the candle.

These are lovely grouped on a table or sideboard or would look equally enchanting as a Christmas table centrepiece.

Cost: $20.| Time: 5 minutes.


Minimalist wreath

To make a beaded wreath take a 25cm galvanised metal ring (ours was from Spotlight) and cut the join so you can bend it open.

Thread beads onto ring in a pattern of your choice; ours was 1 big bead then 3 small (37 beads in total).

Bind the metal ends together with sticky tape, once the ring is full. We wrapped it around about 5 times for a strong join.

a length of wide ribbon about 75cm long, tie it over the join to disguise it, tie the loose ends together and hang.

Cost: $10-15. | Time: approx 10 mins.


Washi gift tags

Cut out gift tags from white card.

Hole punch a hole at the top of each card.

Thread through ribbon/twine or cord.

Cut Washi tape into different shapes and patterns, peel away sticky backing and secure.

Cost: $10.| Time: 15 minutes.


Fabric gift bags 

If you have time and a sewing machine, whip up some luxe fabric gift bags in navy linen and gold-flecked velvet fabric. While the fabric is more costly than wrapping paper, these bags are part of the gift and can be reused by your recipient. They’ll love the effort you’ve gone to!

Select fabric that doesn’t fray easily. Cut out a generous rectangle a little wider than you want your bag to be and twice as long.

Fold in half so the patterned side is turned inwards and sew a 1cm seam up the sides.

Turn right side out, place your gift inside and tie a ribbon or gold string around the top.

Cost: $25. | Time: 30 minutes.


Art deco block decorations

These art deco-style blocks make neat little tree decorations and were inspired by the stylish print shown in the photograph. Their colours really pop against the black tree.

Drill a hole through the middle of each block (you may need to use a vice for the smaller blocks).

Paint blocks in your three chosen colours. We used testpots of Resene ‘Santa Fe’, ‘Springwood’ and ‘Rhino’. Apply 2 coats per block, leaving them to dry between each coat.

Cut cord to desired length for hanging. Double cord and poke through painted blocks (mixing the different shapes) to make a loop at the top. Secure with a knot at the bottom.

Hang on the tree. How good do they look!

Cost: $25. | Time: 1 – 2 hours.


Linen napkins

Linen napkins look impressive but they can be expensive – some retail for more than $10 each.

Cut each napkin in half (turn over the cut edge by 2cm and sew along). To make ours we took $3 fringed blush linen tea towels from The Warehouse.

Fold and place in napkin rings and voilà: linen-style napkins with fringed ends.

Cost: $1.50 per napkin. | Time: approx 20 mins.


Feather wreath 

The beauty of a wreath is that it’s Christmassy but also super-versatile. To create this feathered version simply wrap two navy feather boas around a polystyrene ring and secure them at the back with glue.

Take a 35cm-diameter polystyrene ring and glue one end of the first feather boa to the back.

Wrap the boa around the wreath and glue at the back.

Take the second boa and follow the same process until the ring is completely covered.

Tie a length of gold twine or ribbon around your wreath and hang.

Cost: $26. | Time: 15 minutes.


Photography by: Wendy Fenwick, Chris Warnes/Warnes & Walton/Living Inside

7 tips to ensure your pot plants’ survival

Pot plants are all the rage but getting lush results takes a little planning. Here’s how to create a perfect potted garden.


7 tips to ensure your pot plants’ survival

With outdoor space at such a premium these days, many of us are gardening in containers. And why not? Pot plants are perfect for those with limited space or time, renters, beginner gardeners and children. You can move containers around to catch the sun, use specific soil mixes for your special plants, and choose from a huge range of things to grow. However, while gardening books and blogs might tell you it’s easy to grow stuff in pots, success rates will be better if you follow our savvy tips.

1. Water wise

While lack of water is a common problem with container plants, too much water is almost as much of an issue. Unless they’re checked regularly, drainage holes can easily become blocked, resulting in waterlogged roots and dead plants.

Another common mistake? Relying on rain to keep your pots watered. If they’re positioned against a wall, a lot of rainwater may get deflected. If the wall is north-facing, the potting mix can also get very warm. Likewise with hanging baskets; in hot summer weather you’ll need to water them every day (a little less if they’re planted with succulents). Adding water-retaining crystals to the potting mix will help, as will grouping containers together for easier watering. Mulch the top of the potting mix with pebbles, bark or compost to keep that moisture where it’s needed.


2. Hot spots

Cacti and succulents are ideal for hot courtyards and balconies, as are many drought-resistant natives such as Poor Knights lily (Xeronema callistemon), corokia and Marlborough rock daisy. Other sun-loving varieties include plants and shrubs from Africa and the Mediterranean such as pelargonium, strelitzia, leucospermum, lavender, rosemary and santolina.

3. How to choose

Containers can be costly so it’s important to select shapes that complement the form, texture and colour of the plants in them. Consider the big picture, too – will the pots work with the overall design of your home? If you’ve gone for a minimalist vibe indoors, one or three sleek metal or resin pots on the deck, either left unplanted or filled with elegant reeds or succulents, will look great. A cute cottage? Fill pretty pots with flowering annuals and place at the front door and on garden steps.


4. Health benefits 

Container planting is an excellent way to grow plants that might need a little more TLC than your average garden specimen. The soil is warmer in pots, making them ideal for heat-loving plants, particularly if you live in a colder area. If your garden soil is poor or unsuited to the types of plants you want to grow (eg acid-lovers like azalea) you can choose from a range of different growing mediums for pot cultivation. Containers are movable (buy castors for big pots) so they can be positioned where the best sun or shade is at different times of the year and moved to shelter when it’s frosty.

5. Suit the site

Whether in the ground or in containers, plants will always perform best if they’re chosen to suit the conditions of your site. Sun, shade and wind are the biggest factors to consider but also remember that the soil in pots will dry out quicker than in the garden, and nutrients will diminish faster. This means regular irrigation and feeding will be essential. If you’re not an avid plant grower, avoid potting up hungry or moisture-loving plants such as ferns, annual flowers and most vegetables.


6. In the shade

Shade-tolerant plants come in two main categories: those that prefer dry soil and those that like moist (but not boggy) ground. Try to emulate these conditions with your container plants. Ferns, hostas, rhododendron, impatiens, fuchsia, helleborus, many begonias, and lush subtropicals such as calathea or stromanthe all prefer the latter type. On the other hand, aspidistra, clivia, dwarf palms, hippeastrum, mondo grass or ctenanthe love drier shade, eg under trees or on sheltered sides of buildings.

7. Potting up

  • The number-one rule when potting or repotting container plants? Use the best mix you can find. It’s a false economy to opt for cheaper mixes as plants won’t thrive and you’ll end up spending the money you saved on fertilisers and plant boosters, not to mention sprays to combat the pests and diseases that attack unhealthy plants.
  • A good potting mix will contain materials such as pumice to aid drainage and soil that is not too heavy or easily waterlogged. It will also include an even balance of nutrients and water-retaining crystals so the mix won’t dry out too quickly. Avoid using garden soil in pots as this is usually too heavy (ie it won’t drain well) and can harbour pests, diseases and weed seeds.
  • Don’t fill pots right up to the brim – leave a gap of 5-10cm to make watering easier. And to reduce the amount of repotting required, don’t choose fast-growing species.