Small is beautiful: How to make the most of a compact property
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Ever since a dilapidated shoebox of a house in Chelsea sparked a bidding war which saw its price rocket to over £700,000 – a massive £2,461 for each of its 290 sq ft – the property world has been buzzing with ideas on what to do with the tiniest spaces.
The buyer, pharmaceuticals executive Robin Swailes, won’t be moving in any time soon as he bought the one-up, one-down as an investment to supplement his pension, cannily getting in on the rising mini-market as prices at the top end were slipping.
But for many others, including growing families looking for homes in the most sought-after areas of Hertfordshire, space can be a real issue.
Developers know that and have long found ways of cramming more rooms into less space on ever-shrinking plots, often by incorporating attic rooms or basements into the plan. Or, more inventively, jig-sawing rooms together to create subtle spaces for additions such as en-suite bathrooms or presenting large box rooms as studies by adding small desks to show homes.
And tricks of the eye are something interiors experts know all about.
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I once told one I met at one of the homes shows at Olympia my problem was that I amassed clutter. “We all do,” she said. “Just make sure you keep it in one place.”
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Ever since we started placing our otherwise sizeable TVs flat against walls rather than on heavy units, putting blinds in windows rather than thick curtains and home-working from slim laptops rather than TV-size PCs, we’ve been unwittingly saving space anyway.
Many experts promote the “floating furniture” concept of moving chairs and tables and the like away from walls and into the room to give the impression of space beyond. And others will talk of making less do more – an office desk, for example, doubling as a dining table for entertaining.
One of the best space-savers I’ve seen for a while involved turning the risers of a wooden staircase into drawers. Just stairs on the face of it, but beneath every tread was storage space equivalent to a decent-sized wardrobe.
Mirrors are something of a staple as space creators; either placed in a central position to create a focal point or just to reflect light. But positioned opposite a window, it will not only reflect the view but give the illusion of a second window, usefully drawing the eye elsewhere.
Many of us remember our parents’ trestle tables coming out when the neighbours came round and being tucked discreetly away again. Well, what about those glass-fronted bookcases? There are those who say that putting anything behind glass immediately de-clutters it.
But working with smaller spaces can in itself be an excuse to declutter. Ask anyone who’s been forced to downsize. The important thing is to have a plan.
Hertford-based interior designer Tracey Andrews agrees: “Floor plans are a must - and drawn to scale. You can position the furniture, decide flow and see if the proportions are correct. This is the first course of action I take when designing a room; way, way before I actually put thought to fabric of furniture or flooring.”
Tracey, who has designed rooms for many houses throughout Hertfordshire, says home owners tend to panic a little when faced with small-room challenges. “They can be a challenge but also a delight,” she says. “The trick is to keep it simple, light and consider every detail in the room carefully, particularly in terms of proportion and scale.
“Small rooms command extra attention because one needs to think extra carefully to grapple for space. They often say to me, ‘come on feed me, just what can you do? I am small and dark but full of giving under this unloved and misunderstood space!’
Tracey adds: “When trying to fit furniture into a small space it is always clever to keep it to a smaller scale than you would normally choose. And being able to see through and under always helps. No heavy colours, keep it light and neutral and one brilliant tip - place big blocky furniture behind the door so it cannot be seen until you enter the room and turn round.
“To get it right you have to be prepared to think out of the box a little, be sensitive to the proportion, and acutely aware of the focal points you are creating. You only get one chance as the eye has to focus then quickly dart to four small corners in a split second and then land back at the focal point. The entire vision is registered in an instant.”
And what impresses her most? “One of the best space saving applications I see a lot is under-stairs storage which can range from shaker-styled openings to shelves that roll out as if in the kitchen on runners,” she said.
“The second I love is the desk-under-stairs. Done stylishly, this can provide a nifty area to work on a day out of the office or a grabbed space to finish that last piece of homework.
“If you are really stuck and you can’t see a way forward, the best action to take is to paint the walls and ceilings white or off-white to create a blank canvas. This helps because there are no distractions, highlight the space you have and opening up dark corners, and you never know you just may leave it white!”
Seven to ponder
All interior designers have their favourite techniques for dealing with space issues. Here are seven of Tracey’s
*Keep colours neutral
*Use vertical stripes to give height to a room, or horizontal ones to add depth
*Place shelves near the ceiling so the eye is drawn upwards.
*Pull furniture away from walls to give a feeling of more space.
*Create storage out of items not usually used as such, ie: coffee tables
*Use minimal window dressings such as blinds to reduce bulk into the room.
*Choose open leg furniture so that you can see through and under rather than bulky items that block the space.