9 Ways to Maximise Space in a Small Period Flat
Check out these pro suggestions for slotting in all of your possessions and creating an airy mood
“Don’t sacrifice period features or start removing them or cutting them in half to make an ill-thought-out idea work,” Nigel Buckie of Object Architecture says. “Even if you think a ceiling rose or cornice can easily be adapted, consider carefully first, or contact a qualified professional designer or architect for a consultation.” Here, three experts share their tips for maximising space in a period flat to make it work for a contemporary lifestyle.
Professional advice from: Nigel Buckie of Object Architecture; Cat Hoad of Absolute Project Management; Marek Schubert of Studio Schubert
What a period apartment lacks in floor space, it’s likely to make up for in height, unlike its new-build equivalents. Use it to your best advantage with custom-made cupboards or shelves that stretch to the ceiling.
Designate top shelves to stuff you don’t need every day. “Use a foldable stepladder in an attractive colour or finish to access these as needed,” says Cat Hoad of Absolute Project Management says.
The beauty of custom-made storage is that it can adapt to the quirks of the space, so it won’t matter if your rooms are an awkward shape. If you’re commissioning cupboards, think about whether you have bulky or functional but unattractive items to store; the interiors of your cupboards can be tailored to fit these, so you can keep them on hand but out of sight.
Once you have your new storage, you may need to get into the habit of using it, especially if you’ve moved from a larger property. Where objects previously added personality to your home, now they may simply add to the clutter.
“Put things away!” says Marek Schubert of Studio Schubert, who believes this is particularly important in a small period property where the original features should be the centre of attention. “Be sensitive about adding too much visual clutter to the space,” he says. “Enhance original features, but don’t overwhelm them.”
Keen to commission some built-in storage? Find a carpenter or joiner in your area.
Less is more in small spaces, so go for one or two larger pieces of furniture rather than multiple ones. “Use size-appropriate items,” Cat says. “Many clients look online at big spaces and want to replicate exactly what they see – remember to scale it down for the size of your flat. Choose furniture and fittings in smallish sizes or a smaller number of larger-sized pieces, so the space doesn’t appear crowded.”
An old fireplace adds visual appeal and value to a period flat. But if the fireplace is in bad condition or you want to remove it, think about using the remaining cavity for storage. You could even consider adding shelves for small items or small people’s possessions. “A child’s ‘library’ works well here,” Cat suggests. This works especially well if the chimney breast is in their bedroom, as seen here.
Instead, make the most of space around a fireplace by adding custom-made cabinetry in the alcoves. Alternatively, use the space for bench-style seating with storage underneath. Don’t let the space above the seating go to waste, either: invest in floating shelves to keep the floor clutter-free.
With a small flat, you need to make the most of light. “A tip that most forget is to clean your windows frequently to maximise the amount of light coming into the room,” Nigel Buckie says. “You might not think this matters, but you’ll be amazed at the difference simply cleaning them can make.”
The position of your windows can give you a handy guide to the practical layout of your flat. “I would always recommend a seating area, dining area or the place where you spend the most time to be close to windows,” Marek says.
Another good spot for LED strips is just above a newly installed cornice. “The trick is to install a cornice at least 50mm away from the ceiling, so there’s a gap between the ceiling and cornice, leaving a space in which to install the LED strip,” Marek continues.
You can make your rooms feel airier by using LEDs that mimic natural light. “Make sure the strip is 5500–6500 Kelvins to give a similar effect to sunlight,” Marek says.
If you have an apartment with a high ceiling or loft space above, a mezzanine is a great way to create additional floor space without sacrificing existing square metres.
Generally, Planning Permission isn’t required unless your property is listed. However, all work must comply with Building Regulations, and if your new structure is attached to a wall that divides yours and your neighbour’s home, you’ll need a Party Wall Agreement. Learn more about party walls at the Government’s Planning Portal.
Safety is essential, so the edge of the mezzanine will need a balustrade. It also needs to be easily accessed; a spiral staircase or a space-saver staircase with alternating treads can work very well in compact spaces.
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A bay window is a blessing and a curse: it lets in lots of lovely light, but it may be tricky to dress because of its shape.
If your room is small, a Roman blind will look less crowded than curtains. Alternatively, keep it simple with made-to-measure shutters that can be tailored to the shape of the bay.
Once you’ve decided how to dress your bay window, consider how to maximise the floor space. Think practical: “Install a window seat with cupboards, drawers or shelves built in,” Cat suggests. “This not only creates additional seating, but extra storage – crucial in small flats.” Alternatively, it can be a good position for dining: choose a circular table to make the most of the space.
In the bathroom, a bay window is the perfect place for a freestanding tub, which will always look luxurious. On a budget? Opt for a fitted bath and use the surround for built-in storage.
If you’re thinking of ripping down a wall to create a feeling of space or introduce light to a dark room, first consider what you stand to gain and lose. An open-plan kitchen-living room looks great, but if it’s always messy and smelly from cooking, you may be better off keeping the spaces separate and finding other ways to create the illusion of more space.
Remember, too, that removing walls will affect the layout of your home. “Walls provide a surface area for arranging furniture,” Marek says. Without them, you will need to carefully map out an open-plan scheme to create a clearly defined feel and function for the new space.
If you do decide to take down an internal wall, the next step is to work out whether the wall is load bearing or non-load bearing. A load-bearing wall supports the weight of other elements of the house, such as the roof or a wall above, so removing it isn’t a decision that can be taken lightly.
A structural engineer will determine if a wall is load bearing. If it is, your engineer will calculate the correct load needed for a rolled steel joist (RSJ) that will support the upper floor when the wall is removed. These calculations are then given to a builder, who will liaise with a steel fabricator to manufacture the steel joist and deliver it to your home.
Generally, you don’t need to apply for Planning Permission when removing internal walls (but you will need to get Building Regulations approval for the work done). The exception is if you live in a listed building, in which case you’ll need listed building consent for any significant works.
Having established that the wall you intend to rip down is non-load bearing, there are a few more questions to ask yourself. Firstly, do you own your flat’s freehold? “If not, you’ll need to consult the freeholder for permission to remove it,” Nigel says. “You might also need to consult with the owners of flats above and below you and to the side.”
Another regulatory issue to think about is fire safety. “Consider whether removing the internal wall affects this,” Cat says. “A building inspector can advise. There are usually ways to remove a wall that was working as a fire break by installing a sprinkler or misting system.”
If the wall connects to a neighbour’s flat or forms part of a next-door property, you’ll need to take advice about the legal implications of this: there are laws relating to party walls that could affect your plans.
Coving, cornices, picture rails and skirting boards add character, but they can make spaces feel cluttered, so you may feel tempted to remove them. However, there’s a third way: keep them and work with them, so retaining the original character of the property but bringing it up to date.
“I would always use colour and light to minimise the impact,” Marek says. “For example, I would paint cornices and coving the same colour as the ceiling, which will make the space feel bigger and look wider. Then I would paint picture rails and skirting boards in the wall colour to help minimise the visual impact.”
What space saving ideas have you integrated into your small period flat? And would you try any of these? Share your tips in the Comments.