Make the most of your space

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Hugo Tugman, Architectural designer

The costs associated with moving house and the price of property are some of the reasons why many homeowners are deciding to stay put in their homes. Instead of moving, they’re exploring ways to make their existing space work better for them. The good news is that there are plenty of ways that space, light and storage can help make the most of small houses.



Use the available space

There are two principle methods for making the most of any room.

Firstly, access any spaces that can be better used. For example, there may be opportunities to extend into corridors, hallways, under-stair spaces, porches, lobbies and alcoves. Think about where they are positioned in your home and how they could be re-worked to make the maximum contribution to a room. Very often, the removal of internal walls will bring previously redundant spaces into use.

An under-stair cupboard can provide extra space if a staircase is redesigned to allow for an open-plan area beneath it that can form part of the living space. It can be zoned off to house an office, or be used as open storage, such as bookcases. Changing a staircase can cost as little as £2,000-£3,000, including installation. However, taking into account the likely knock-on work that may be involved, including moving radiators and re-doing your flooring, it’s a good idea to budget an amount between £5,000 and £6,000.

You may be able to create an en suite in a bedroom by reclaiming space from an airing cupboard, which you can do by replacing a copper tank with a combi boiler that’s relocated to the kitchen (see Jennifer Newton’s advice on boilers, and Michael Holmes’ expert advice on installing an en suite). Hotels sometimes use a giant headboard as a wall between a bed and an en suite. The bed backs on to the headboard and the en suite is tucked discreetly behind it.

Another technique for making the most of available room is ‘overlapping space’. In a house with a separate kitchen, dining room and sitting room, with walls and doors dividing them, each function is confined and defined within four walls. Open up the spaces by partially or entirely removing the dividing walls so that the kitchen can be extended into the dining area, with an elongated worktop and cupboard units. The dining area will be larger having gained floor space from the kitchen and will be able to accommodate a bigger table and more chairs – both spaces are larger but with no additional sq ft.



Integrate suitable lighting

The most common mistake that people make when choosing lighting is to think more about the appearance of the light fitting than the effect of the lighting. Quality of light varies with different forms of artificial lighting, so you need to consider the purpose for which you need the lighting before making your choice. For example, a compact fluorescent lamp will provide a good, even light that’s perfect for a clean effect. A halogen down-spot will give focus, warmth and a softer quality of light, ideal for areas where you entertain.

Consider how you bring daylight into your home – simply using as much glass as possible can backfire. Sunlight can sometimes overpower a room – I have seen plenty of glass roofs that have required complex blind systems to shield the space beneath from the glare of the sun.

The intensity of daylight varies throughout the day. If you can imagine a bright but evenly overcast day, the most intense daylight will be coming down vertically from above with the least intensity emitting from the horizons. It is therefore not surprising that daylight coming from a roof window has a different quality from that entering through an ordinary window in an external wall. Similarly, the top of a window is generally the most important area for bringing light into a room, so consider how you dress a window as the heavy or elaborate cloth pelmets used to conceal curtain rails can restrict natural light (read Julia Kendell’s advice on windows).

In a terraced house, think about drawing daylight downward from the roof through a stairwell to the heart of the ground floor. Positioning roof windows as near to the main part of the house as possible can help to draw daylight deep into the centre of it.



Maximise storage space

Making a small house feel spacious involves more than redesigning the open spaces in a home. It’s also about storage and having adequate places where you can put your possessions.

As well as integrating statement furniture such as dressers, chests and sideboards, which can be used to store things, you can subtly include storage in the design of a room. For example, bench seats that run the length of one wall in a living or dining area can provide dual or multipurpose functions. Perfect for storing DVDs, books and home entertainment gadgets, low cupboards with a bench-top at the right height to sit on will create additional seating too.