Q: The sunlight coming into my balcony can be quite harsh, and I would like to get quick outdoor blinds. Are bamboo chick blinds suitable? What are other alternatives that will withstand the sun and rain? Also, how do I maintain them?
A: Bamboo blinds will be a good choice for your balcony as bamboo is a hardy material that can withstand outdoor weather conditions. However, there have been cases of “bamboo” blinds turning mouldy or becoming porous and hence easily broken over time. That might be a hint that your blinds are not 100 per cent bamboo. Other alternatives to explore, especially if you prefer a more sleek and contemporary look for your balcony, are UV blinds and outdoor roller blinds. Both the components and materials for these blinds should be made for outdoor use. UV blinds look just like regular slatted blinds but are made from PVC to withstand the harsh sun and rain. The material can also be made to look just like wood, too! Maintenance is simple, says Jessy Ng, of window blind specialist Onna. “Just wipe the slats with a damp cloth to clear any water marks left from the rain or daily dust,” she says. Outdoor roller blinds use fabrics that are thicker and can block UV rays. Onna retails a perforated outdoor fabric that allows light to partially poass through it whle blocking UV rays. To clean, wipe with a damp cloth or vacuum the fabric.
Q: most new condos either do not have laundry areas, or have ones that are really small. Apart from using the balcony, is there a way to incorporate a decent space for hanging laundry? We aren’t keen on using dryers.
A: With the amount of sun we enjoy in Singapore, it’s a sheer waste not to use it for drying laundry. Using pure, natural sunshine saves energy compared to using a dyer, and it also sanitises clothes, kills dust mites, and makes them smell better, naturally! However, if you don’t have the space for a drying rack, get a good ol’ ceiling-mounted rack to hold your laundry poles. If your condominium doesn’t provide pole holders outside, consider getting an extendable pole system where the poles are attached to a ceiling-mounted bracket, which can be extended outside the window (usually by pushing or pulling a lever). “Made of stainless steel, the system is vertically adjustable to stop and release at any level to allow optimum exposure to sunlight and air,” says marketing manager Daphne Tan of Home Niche, which carries these systems. They also reduce the probability of people falling out the window when trying to put out heavy loads of laundry. Four- and six-pole systems are available.
Q: My home faces the sun directly, and on a hot day, the heat is intolerable. What can I do to improve the situation?
A: Your best bet is to stop the sun’s heat before it enters your home. Get your windows protected with 3M Prestige window film. This specially treated film will cut glare and UV rays by as much as 80 per cent, and keep your rooms cooler all day. It is also graded according to different tints, so you can choose a darker tint for better protection, without marring the view. Next, drape the windows with thick curtains in a light colour. Light hues will reflect back the sun’s rays, and heavy, thick fabric will trap heat in its folds so it never reaches your interiors. When you arrive home, open all the windows to let out the trapped heat. Let the breeze blow through and ventilate the rooms before you turn on the air-con; otherwise, it will have to work extra-hard to cool down the hot, humid rooms. Moreover, humid air will damage your belongings, with clothes and upholstered furniture attacked by mildew.
Q: I want to keep plants in my balcony, but the space isn’t exposed to sunlight. I also travel frequently. What are the most suitable plants for this space and my lifestyle?
A : Plants soften a space and relax your mind. Your choices are limited with low-light conditions, but there are still some outdoor varieties you can consider. “Indoor plants may need less sunlight, but most of them are fussy of their watering needs,” says Pablo Inigo Pablo, senior horticulturist at Far East Flora. Indoor plants that are more drought-tolerant include cactus species, which you only need to water well once every three to four weeks; Zamiculcas, which only need a good watering once every one to two weeks; and Sansevieria (commonly known as Mother-in- Law’s Tongue). If you ever think you’ll forget to water, Pablo recommends Far East Flora’s Plantplus range. It has a water indicator (which looks like a thermometer), and the markings will tell you if the plants need to be watered. If the red ball bearing falls to the minimum mark, it’s time to water them. When the water level is at the maximum level, the system will keep your plants hydrated for up to two weeks.
Q: It would be nice to design my own furniture and get someone to build it, but will it end up costing much more than what’s in the shops?
A: It is an additional source of pride for homeowners to say they designed the furniture in their home (especially if it turns out well!). Depending on the materials used, and the construction methods, creating your own bespoke furniture could even save you money. Kelvin Teo of Space Sense says that the most commonly requested pieces he is asked to design and build are dining tables, benches and bookshelves. “I don’t get asked to do sofas, as people usually want to sit and try the sofa before they buy,” he says. According to him, a customized dining table can cost as little as $1,500. For this price, he has built one with metal legs and a homogeneous tile surface which looks like wood. “The tile had a realistic texture, is waterproof, and resistant to scratches as well, unlike real wood,” he recalls. He has also built more unique designs, such as a table resembling an aeroplane wing, which cost $3,600. It was wrapped with an aluminium plate, riveted, and with an I-beam as the leg, connected to a metal base. Bookshelves can cost between $2,000 and $3,200 to build. Customised furniture can be done in a month or two. To save money, clients sometimes ask Kelvin to replicate the look of furniture they see in shops. “I can recreate the look, but because we can’t get the same material, it won’t look exactly like the original, although it might be cheaper,” he explains. Moulded plastic furniture and other pieces that require specialised equipment cannot be made either, he adds.