Stylish solutions for small spaces
They say size isn’t everything. When it comes to your home, though, none of us would say no to a little bit extra. Here in the UK, we have the smallest living spaces in Europe by quite a considerable margin. There are, however, many advantages to living in a more compact home.
‘Small spaces are more economical to run,’ points out Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Small Spaces. ‘And because the surface areas you are dealing with are more limited, you can choose more luxurious materials and high-end details. Small-space living also concentrates the mind as, with less room to play with, you need to be quite focused and selective – which is no bad thing.’
‘Start by thinking about the house as a whole and assess the areas where things are tight,’ suggests architect Mark Dyson. ‘Think about your priorities and how you need to use the space, then you can plan multifunctional zones.’
Living in a restricted space means your home has to work much harder, but clever design, careful planning and a considered approach will allow it to run smoothly without compromising an inch of your own personal style.
Clever solutions for compact living spaces
Clever planning can often compensate for a shortage of square footage. Knocking two rooms into one can provide a multifunctional area that will instantly feel bigger. You can then define zones with flooring or furniture. And bringing in more light wherever possible will also open up a room.
o Good storage is key to keeping things uncluttered, and a wall of floor-to-ceiling cupboards will provide lots of space while requiring a relatively small footprint.
o ‘Built-in benches can be crafted to include a surprising amount of hidden storage,’ says Guy Morgan Harris.
o Make the most of hidden space by removing the partition wall between studs to create display storage, building shelving in the eaves, or even by using the void under your floorboards. ‘Install a ring-pull latch and make ply boxes to store stuff in,’ says Guy. Great for wine or toys.
o ‘In double-height properties, a mezzanine or platform can be a good way to separate living and sleeping areas,’ says Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Small Spaces. (Consult building regs first.)
o Wall-mount your TV and conceal your DVD and hi-fi.
o Use a chest instead of a coffee table for extra storage.
Clever solutions for compact kitchens
With so much emphasis these days on huge kitchen/living areas, it’s easy to feel hard done by if your home is small. But, as Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Small Spaces, points out, ‘Professional cooks prefer a more compact kitchen as they are easier to work in.’ If in doubt, get some professional design input and keep things streamlined; a smaller space will benefit from being as fuss-free as possible. Choose fitted units, which are the best option for making a small space work efficiently.
Many units finish short of the ceiling, which is a waste of valuable inches. Choose full-height storage and keep lesser-used items in the higher cupboards. Alternatively, install wine racks into any spare space.
o If necessary, compress the kitchen along one wall. ‘2.8m is the minimum width you can fit a compact but very useable kitchen in to,’ says architect Mark Dyson. ‘This will accommodate an under-counter fridge, oven, hob, sink with a concealed bin, a slimline dishwasher and storage while still providing the minimum distance requirement between the sink and hob.’
o No utility room? ‘House your washing machine and a dryer in a deep cupboard,’ says architect Paul McAneary. ‘Hide the appliances behind a folding door.’
o Keep cleaning materials, chopping boards and spices to hand with some custom-made splashback storage. All you need is 15cm at the back of the work surface to create super-slim storage for these everyday essentials.
o Mechanisms such as drawer dividers and magic corners keep things neat and utilise awkward spaces. ‘Don’t forget low-level storage,’ says Graeme MacLaren of Dinwiddie MacLaren Architects. ‘Plinth drawers are perfect for storing flat items such as baking trays or tea towels.’
o Max the feeling of light in a space-starved kitchen with reflective surfaces, such as high-gloss lacquer, a glass worktop, chrome or even a mirrored splashback.
Clever solutions for compact bathrooms
‘The majority of bathroom brochures show spaces the size of a ballroom,’ says Robin Levien of Ideal Standard. ‘In reality, the average bathroom in the UK is around the size of a king-size bed, so it’s essential to make the most of every inch.’ Compact ceramics ranges can be a real boon. ‘Basins that are wider than they are deep can solve all kinds of problems,’ continues Robin. ‘And a corner toilet cistern can allow you to have a mini en-suite in the corner of a bedroom, with a shower, basin and toilet all in the space of a regular corner bath. Or choose a compact tub, which can free up room for something else.’ Check out the Space and Concept ranges by Ideal Standard.
o ‘Built-in bathroom cabinets don’t need to be any more than 4in deep,’ says architect Mark Dyson. ‘It’s possible to dismantle a stud wall and replace it with structural MDF carcases to create storage without devouring precious floor space.’
o ‘Lift units off the floor,’ says Guy Morgan Harris. ‘A room looks bigger if you can see the whole floor up to the walls.’
o ‘Mirrors can be used to great effect, but too much can look kitsch,’ says Mark Dyson. ‘An L-shaped mirror [that goes round a corner] can quadruple the feeling of volume.’
o Boxed-in cisterns provide the opportunity to create extra storage, and why not reclaim the area under a built-in bath with bespoke drawers for towels or bath toys?
o ‘We installed a raised walk-in shower where the floor lifts up to reveal a bath,’ says architect Paul McAneary. ‘It also turns into a steam cabin, so it’s multifunctional and compact.’
Clever solutions for compact bedrooms
In order to create a peaceful retreat, a bedroom needs to be as clutter-free as possible. Most people have a considerable amount of clothing, so first-class storage is essential. Built-in storage systems eat up less floor space than freestanding furniture. ‘When planning your hanging space, measure the length of your clothes rail, then add 20 per cent,’ advises Peter Friend of Hülsta.
o Recoup valuable space by forgoing bedside tables. Instead, install a shelf on the wall behind the bed that can be used for bedtime reading material and an alarm clock.
o You can’t compromise on the size of your bed, but you can try to make it work harder. Underbed boxes or beds with built-in drawers or shelves utilise the redundant area underneath. Flip-up beds also ensure space is put to good use. Remember, too, that low-level beds are less visually dominating than lofty princess-and-the-pea style ones.
o Fold-down beds used to be cumbersome and ugly, but now there are some really well-designed models. They can be expensive, but if you have a studio and are going to be using it every day rather than in a guest room, then it’s essential to invest. A pull-down bed combined with a pull-down desk can make a small spare room a really multifunctional space.
o ‘A sleeping space doesn’t necessarily need to be fully enclosed,’ says Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Small Spaces. ‘Screening a space with a partition or sliding doors can provide privacy without blocking light. Or, in an open-plan area, a mezzanine or raised platform divides things up.’
Clever solutions for hidden spaces
Hallways and staircases can take up a disproportionate amount of space, especially in older properties. Don’t let precious square footage go to waste – instead reclaim every nook with some clever adaptations.
o Understair cupboards can become a dumping ground for unwanted items, so clear out the clutter and transform the cubby under the stairs into an extra cloakroom.
o Taking down a wall that encloses a staircase can really open things up. If you’re installing a new staircase, think about incorporating big, deep drawers with push-click catches, or even create drawers in the risers of the steps. What better place to store slippers and shoes?
o ‘In stairwells, remove the balustrades and fill the gap with book shelves. You can also use landings or even half landings (where stairs turn) to house a condensed work station or mini library,’ says architect Mark Dyson.
o A compact office can be hidden in a cupboard, so it’s instantly tidied away at the end of the day.
o A window ledge can be widened to create a cosy seat.
o Spiral stairs can be a great space saver, as can alternate-tread ones that allow staircases to rise at a steeper angle.