7 ways to create more usable space without extending

From creating an open-plan kitchen-diner to adding a bathroom, here’s how to redesign your interior so every space is used to its full potential

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There are many ways to make your living space feel bigger and brighter without extending. The most obvious is to remove internal walls, turning small or dark rooms into open-plan spaces. Popular options include knocking through between a kitchen and dining room to create an open-plan kitchen or kitchen-diner. You could also add dividing walls – for instance, to create a utility room or add an en suite.

To see what might work, make a scale drawing of your house without the internal walls, then think about the layout that would work best if you were starting from scratch. You can do this yourself, or you can use the services of an architect or architectural designer.

1. Create an open-plan kitchen-living-diner

One of the most popular home transformation projects is knocking through between an existing kitchen, dining and living room to create an open-plan space.

Knocking through creates open-plan space

Knocking through between a kitchen and dining room costs just £400-£600 if the wall is non-load-bearing and can create a more modern, sociable feel
  • Expect to pay £400-£600 for a stud wall to be removed and made good.
  • If the wall is load bearing, you’ll need to speak to a structural engineer, who will advise on installation of supporting steels, this is likely to cost upwards of £2,000.
  • Be aware that relocating your kitchen sink, dishwasher or washing machine will incur extra plumbing costs.
  • And factor in a new kitchen, which will cost upwards of £5,000.

Make sure that your new kitchen is accessed directly from the hallway, as you don’t want to have to walk through other rooms to get to it. Also consider putting the kitchen itself in the darkest part of the room, as this is where you will spend the least time. It makes far more sense to put the dining or living areas closest to the windows where you can sit and enjoy the views.

Internal slidings doors create open-plan living on demand

Pocket sliding doors give the flexibility of either open-plan living or separate rooms

If you don’t want to go completely open-plan, consider installing sliding pocket or bi-fold doors between rooms, which will enable you to open the space up or close it off as and when required. Sliding pocket doors typically cost from a couple of hundred pounds for a single door kit, up to thousands for glazed bi-folds.

Take a look at our guide to cutting the cost of a new kitchen

2. Convert your garage

Is your garage a dumping ground that you’ve never actually used for your car? Converting a garage will give you a generous new living space, which could be knocked through into an adjoining kitchen or living room.

Expect to pay from £850 to £1,150 per square metre for a basic conversion. 

Kitchen created by knocking through from a garage conversion

This stylish kitchen-diner was created by combining an unused garage with the existing kitchen and dining rooms. It cost £49,000

3. Find space for a utility room

New stud walls cost between £400 and £600 to install and can section off an unused area of your kitchen to create a utility. Although it’s usually best to have direct access to the outside from for muddy boots and coats, you don’t technically need any doors or windows in a utility room, although you will need to factor in ventilation.

If the under-stairs cupboard is used as a dumping ground, measure it up and consider stacking your washing machine and dryer. Installing a worktop in a storage cupboard can create a handy work station. If there is potential to add plug sockets, you could free up kitchen worktop space by moving appliances.

If you are fitting out a utility room to match the kitchen, expect to pay from £2,000, including plumbing and wiring

Design tips for adding a sense of space

  • Incorporate better storage. In a living or dining room, for example, consider floor-to-ceiling shelving to create a home library and display space.
  • Do you have a ground-floor room with a pitched roof? Removing the ceiling to roof height will make the room feel instantly bigger and brighter, as will adding roof windows or installing a large wall of glazed doors linking to your garden.
  • Consider repurposing rooms. If you’re a keen cook, and don’t spend much time in your living room but it has the best views of your garden, then consider turning it into a kitchen-diner and having a smaller living room with poorer views in the old kitchen.

4. Add an extra bathroom or en suite

Add an en suite or extra bathroom, and you’ll boost your home’s value and practicality. As long as you are able to run water and waste to and from the newly added bathroom, any house will benefit. However, it’s vital not to compromise the shape and proportions of existing rooms too much.

blue bathroom with checkerboard floortiles creates a sense of space

Stretch space by using visual tricks, such as chequerboard floor tiles, or a roll-top bath that makes the room feel bigger than a conventional one. Cooke & Lewis Victoria acrylic bath, £297, B&Q

It can be possible to squeeze an en suite or bathroom into an existing bedroom, and still have a workable room where a bed can be placed. If you are doing this in a loft room, use the space where headroom is slightly lower for the foot end of a bath or for bathroom storage.On the ground floor, you may be able to make use of the area under the staircase for a toilet. There might also be room on a large landing to squeeze in a shower or extra cloakroom.

  • New stud walls cost between £400 and £600 to install.
  • You’ll need to factor in plumbing costs, which are around £500 each for a new sink, WC and shower.

Bathroom design tips

Shower or bath?

If you are planning on staying put, your family’s needs are foremost. However, if you are considering moving, aim to create a feeling of balance in the house. So, if it has five bedrooms but a tiny bathroom, it makes sense to convert a bedroom into a larger bathroom, and use the original as a shower room. If the current bathroom has no separate shower, ensure the new room does.

Get the look right

The fixtures and fittings should complement the style of the rest of the house, and if it is an en suite, the design of the bedroom. ‘To unify the space between bedroom and en suite, use the same hard floor-covering throughout, with rugs at the bedside,’ says interior designer Nicola Steer. ‘Choose neutral tiles and a white suite, so you will only have to update towels if you redecorate your bedroom.'

Find out how to choose bathroom tiles

5. Introduce a new master suite

A master suite that combines sleeping, bathing and dressing areas is the ultimate must-have in a busy family home. Master suites are not only highly desirable, they’re also the perfect solution for repurposing an awkward set of rooms that don’t quite work as separate spaces. You needn’t combine three rooms into one, either – a cleverly planned dressing room, bathroom and bedroom within two existing rooms can work just as well

If yours is a period property, it is likely that there’s already a bedroom next to the master bedroom that you can knock through to, and use as the en suite/dressing room. Or, if you have a large landing, you may be able to erect a partition and doorway to make a small lobby leading to both rooms.

  • Expect to pay between £400 and £600 for a new partition wall.
  • An installed bathroom suite will cost upwards of £3,000.
  • Budget around £2,000 for fitted furniture.

creating a dressing room out of excess space

If a dressing room doesn’t get any natural light, aim to have good task and ambient lighting. Feature doors can also add character. Metro burr walnut book-matched veneer doors, from £5,000, Roundhouse

6. Repurpose a spare bedroom

Give an underused spare bedroom a definite purpose – whether as a games room or home office – to create a useful space. Designing a home office will require careful planning: you'll need plenty of sockets, a phone line and an internet connection, as you will if you're planning a hobby room. 

How to create a home gym? For starters, you'll need sockets for equipment, perhaps a TV and sound system, plus good ventilation.

creating a home gym in a spare room

It is easy to set up a home gym – assuming you’ve checked any suspended floors are strong enough to take the weight of the equipment. Prices for a basic gym that includes a rowing machine, Swiss ball, TRX, two kettlebells, and a mat, start from £2,700, Motive8

Creating a home cinema room, setting up a crash pad for teenagers or a games room will have to accommodate anything from a simple TV and sound system to a Blu-ray player, film server, DVD player, games console, projector and speakers. If noise is an issue, it may be worth lining the room with acoustic-grade plasterboard or wall panels, and fitting sound-proofing strips to doors.

Electricians charge from around £50 to change a light switch for a dimmer, and from around £120 to fit extra double sockets. Acoustic carpet underlay costs from around £120 for a W137xL1100cm roll; acoustic mineral wool for cavity insulation costs from £3.50 for a W60xL120cm slab, both by Sound Service.

7. Convert your loft

If you’re in desperate need of extra bedrooms and bathrooms and your existing rooms aren’t big enough to divide, consider converting your loft. A simple roof light conversion could create space for a bedroom or two with an eaves bathroom. Almost all lofts are suitable for conversion and you’re unlikely to need planning permission. Expect to pay between £20,000 and £30,000 for a roof light conversion.

  • Use our handy quiz to find out instantly whether you can convert your loft without planning permission.

Rules and regulations

Planning permission isn’t usually required for removing or altering internal walls, unless your home is listed. However, you must adhere to building regulations to ensure that any supporting structures are up to the job, so you’ll need to ask your local building control department or an independent building control inspector to issue a completion certificate.

Bear in mind, too, that some internal walls, such as those in the hallway, offer protection from fire, and building control may not approve their removal. Find out more at planningportal.co.uk.

If you live in an attached property, you should also talk to a Party Wall surveyor. The Party Wall Act means you must notify your neighbour if the remodelling of the downstairs of your home involves removing walls on the boundary line, or doing any work to a shared wall between your homes. Party Wall surveyors cost from £300 – and you must pay for your neighbour’s surveyor, too.

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