How to Create More Useable Space Without Extending or Converting
Inspired layouts, uplifting décor and practical storage make for homes that are easy to use and a pleasure to live in
Professional advice from: Eva Byrne of Houseology; Kia Stanford of Kia Designs; Denise O’Connor of Optimise Home
There are probably a few areas of your home that could be used for storage, say our experts.
“Assess whether the storage you have is functioning well,” Denise O’Connor advises. “If you’re refurbishing, look for clever ways of incorporating more.” She suggests creating alcoves or recessed shelving in non-structural walls, and fitting a cubbyhole cabinet at the end of your bath.
“The area under the stairs is often poorly utilised and there are some good companies that provide excellent bespoke solutions for maximising this space,” she adds.
“Ideally, every centimetre of a home should be put to use,” Eva Byrne says. “An unused dark corner could make for a very useful storage space, perhaps with a full-height, built-in cupboard.”
Kia also points to how vertical space is often ignored or misused. “You may want a sleek look, but you’re not going to achieve it if you’ve left a 60cm gap above your wardrobe and stacked a box into it,” she says.
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“A well-functioning home is one that can easily adapt to the ever-changing needs of life – and family life in particular,” Denise says. “Flexibility is important, whether that’s creating a space for children to do homework to free up your kitchen, or designating an area for older kids to hang out with their friends, so you can reclaim the living room.
“Having rooms that are multifunctional makes the layout of a property more flexible,” she says, “and that’s the key to making your home work well.”
Kia recommends you stick to two functions for each room to avoid compromising on every feature. “If you want a spare bedroom that also functions as a study, that works,” she says. “But if you want a spare bedroom that’s a guest room, but also a study, gym, meditation space and secondary wardrobe, the room is only ever going to be 20 percent functional as any of those things.”
Our experts suggest you look at where rooms are located and adapt them to your needs, even if that means doing something different. “First floors are excellent for sitting rooms, for example,” Eva says. “Natural light levels tend to improve the higher up a property you go.”
“Look for under-used or poorly utilised areas,” Denise adds. “If the larger rooms in your home are the least used, you may be able to rework them to create more space elsewhere.”
A clever way to extend a room is to borrow space from the adjacent one. “If your kitchen isn’t big enough, but you have a dining room, steal some space from the dining area to create a larger kitchen,” Denise says. “Or, if you never use the dining room, consider knocking down the wall to create an open-plan kitchen-diner.”
Eva also suggests removing walls. “Many households crave an open-plan space where they can cook, eat and relax,” she says, “and removing the wall between a kitchen and dining room will help make this possible.”
Kia points to how a room without walls can limit storage options, but says it’s possible to be clever about this. “Using storage to divide up sections works well,” she explains. “Positioning a sideboard along the back of a sofa, for instance, creates a visual distinction between living and dining spaces without a wall, while also adding storage.”
More: 6 Ways to Open Up a Kitchen Without Extending
“Creating a zone within a room can help the whole room to function more effectively, even when the space is limited physically,” Kia says. “This can be done with furniture or floor coverings, which help to define function, allowing the space to be used more effectively.”
“Play around with different configurations of furniture and furnishings to see what works best,” Eva advises. “For example, in a long, narrow bedroom, a chest of drawers positioned at the foot of the bed, close to wardrobes, can create an instant dressing area.”
Putting a lot of functions into one space is not always straightforward, though. “It’s important to think about how the spaces relate to each other, not just in terms of storage and distinction, but in terms of sound,” Kia says. “If you don’t have any kind of soft furniture to absorb sound, an open-plan space can feel empty, no matter how much other furniture you put into it.”
“Really assess your home and don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little,” Denise says. “The extra space you crave might be right under your nose – or over your head.
“Often, there isn’t enough headroom to convert an attic, but you could consider opening it up to create a mezzanine level over a living space for an additional seating area or den,” she continues. “This works well in children’s bedrooms, too, where the beds can go on the higher level, freeing up valuable play and storage space below.”
“Make sure the space being created is well used,” Kia says. “This applies as much to a low mezzanine with a few steps up, where you have a bed or storage below, as it does to a more conventional mezzanine that splits a double-height room in two. Whenever we create a low mezzanine, we build in storage or a desk. Don’t waste any space.”
“Consider sliding or pocket doors for interconnecting rooms,” Eva says. “There are some great off-the-shelf pocket systems with aluminium frames that allow you to work with existing openings to fit hidden, streamlined doors.”
“Sliding and pocket doors create more visual space,” Kia agrees. “They feel more open than a standard hinged door. They don’t necessarily give you more space, but they do help to open up a room, because you don’t need to allow for door leaves swinging out into the floor space.
“Also,” she continues, “with sliding or pocket doors, you can have furniture right up to a door frame [as long as you allow wall space behind for a sliding door to open] in a way that would feel too cramped with a hinged door.”
“A built-in bench is a great way to extend your seating options,” Eva says. “Correctly positioned, it can function as an extra sofa. A window seat can combine storage as well and offers a way to extend a room without any great fuss or outlay.
“Look for coffee tables that convert to dining tables – a great solution for small spaces,” she continues. “Hang folding chairs on walls when they’re not being used, so you can extend your seating options without permanently taking up valuable floor space. Under-bed storage is a must for tiny homes, but bear in mind that storage drawers do get dusty.”
“Benches are a better option for dining tables than chairs,” Denise adds, “because you can push them fully under the table and out of the way.”
Be aware that buying small pieces for your room might not help free up space. “In general, using smaller furniture can end up making a place look more cluttered,” Kia says. “You’re better off going with [just a couple of] pieces that are proportionally correct for the room, even if they seem large. If you have bigger pieces, such as a sofa and sideboard, you’re not looking to have much more in the room. Two pieces will do, with some smaller ones to balance them out.”
Are you looking for more space in your home? Will you be using any of these ideas? Share your thoughts in the Comments.