SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL But you have to learn to use your space well
HOME STYLE With Chris Read
When I travel abroad I often marvel at how much space standard houses seem to have. I suppose, historically, our small houses are a reflection that we have an awful lot of people on a small island.
We new- build the smallest houses in Europe and the political arguments about why that is the case are not to be found in an interiors column! But this is the case, and we have to manage our space to do lots of things.
Mind you, space isn’t always the best thing to have – very large rooms need careful planning so they don’t feel non- human in scale, and we all have a tendency to fill it if we have it.
On the whole, space is a good thing to have. The problem of a small space is compounded by builders’ seeming inability to design built- in storage – how many British houses have a cupboard by the door for coats? Yet every household needs one.
Free standing wardrobes are probably the least attractive item of furniture ( I hope I’m not hurting their feelings), and take up more space than built- in ones that have been intelligently designed, especially at the build stage.
We need to consider storage as a priority when looking at how we use small spaces, and I would recommend looking at as much built- in as possible, to give clean unfussy lines and maximise the stow- able space.
You will often see seemingly contradictory advice on how to make the most of a small space. You need to consider both function and how to make it appear bigger than it is. Some will say use small items of furniture, and this makes sense because you need to fulfil the same functions as a larger space.
However, you will also see the opposite advice, based on the appearance – use large scale pieces to avoid a feeling of meanness that can arise from lots of small pieces.
There is no doubt that one of the keys to successful design is a feeling of generosity, it provides a relaxing setting and can make a simple space feel luxurious.
But how to do this without compromising on function? You have to live in this space after all.
The key of course is balance. At least one large, even over- scale, piece will not only provide a feeling of generosity but can also deceive the eye. Where we see a large item, we tend to assume that the proportions around it are to scale.
The trick is to choose wisely: make sure the large item is something to catch the eye. It can be an item that doesn’t use space needed for something else, such as a pendant light over a table or island. Or a large picture, preferably one with little detail, such as the one shown here.
Or seating – always useful to have a couple more seats than you need for everyday life, and who doesn’t lie on the sofa occasionally?
Avoid sofas with huge arms – so many have them – this reduces the seating area considerably. Or go for no arms at all: I love the look of this sofa by Delightfull, which also adds to the feeling of space by being low to the floor. Just make sure your visitors are all young and nimble...
A classic trick for small spaces is to use mirrors. A full mirrored wall will extend the visual space by 100%, but I’m not too keen. It makes me feel seasick, not knowing where the room ends. They’re also a pig to keep clean.
The trick here is to give an allusion of extra space, not an illusion.
You can place mirrors to reflect light too, low levels of natural light being another classic of our housing stock.
I like the circular coloured ones from April and the Bear, especially the rose one at 110cm diameter – more reflection and overscale too!
Purchasing dual purpose furniture is a bit of a minefield, as it inevitably means compromise, at the worst, performing neither function well, so real care is needed when choosing.
Some dual purpose pieces have improved recently, such as washerdryers. But a sofa bed is often going to be a hard sofa and an uncomfortable bed – try as both before buying.
Extending and folding dining tables are great, but plan where to put the extra ( folding or otherwise) chairs first – consider upholstered stools instead, or look at ingenious furniture solutions like the one from Go Modern Furniture.
Round tables are often more useful in a small space, as the lack of angles makes them easier to negotiate.
Technology is an area that is really helping to reduce clutter, hidden or otherwise, music being the obvious example. No stacked stereo sets, no more CD towers ( a pet hate of mine). I’ve thrown away all my photo albums – I look at my photos more now they are in a beautiful luminous quality on a backlit screen than I ever did before. But if someone tried to replace my books entirely with an e- reader I’d be the first at the barricades ( apart from those trashy novels that I don’t want anyone else to know I read of course). I’m running out of space on this article, dang it, I wanted to write about how to use lighting and the importance of the ‘ spaces in between’…