Design solutions for small interiors


Natalie Sparkes

August 7th, 2020
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As urban areas look to increase housing numbers throughout their districts, individual living space is decreasing. Designing for small spaces may seem daunting to many, but they can allow the designer to think more creatively to get the most use out of the space. Schemes for small areas need to consider how they can be made to feel bigger within themselves. How can the interior space be utilised to maximum effect?



Image credit – Mirrors, House Beautiful

It’s well known that the easiest way to create a feeling of space within an interior is the creative use of lighting, ideally natural light. Interiors that are lighter and airier, automatically give the feeling of being spacious. Large windows are the best way to achieve this, but these aren’t always practical in closely packed urban areas. Whilst more window space to allow natural light in is the most desirable option, designers must consider the resident’s privacy as well.

At this point, many designers turn to the age-old solution of using mirrors to direct light around the space. It’s an approach that is proven to work! Strategically placed mirrors allow light to bounce off walls and each other, to create a brighter interior, giving the illusion of more space. With so many mirror designs in every shape, size, and frame colour you can think of on the market, there will always be a perfect mirror for every design scheme.

Wall-mounted light sconces are another fantastic way of bringing light into a room. Small interior spaces can create dark corners, especially if there is a lack of natural lighting. Creatively placed wall lights can brighten up these areas, making them feel open but not cluttered.

Pocket door

Image credit – Pocket Door, Eclisse

Another way to allow light to flow throughout the space is to use pocket doors. These are sliding doors that disappear into a steel pocket within the wall cavity, which is space-saving in itself. However, many pocket doors are also either fully or partially glazed. So even when separating part of the overall residence, light can continue to reach other areas, creating the illusion of space.

As well as allowing light to flow through the interior, the use of even, neutral tones will also give the illusion of space. We all know that darker colours can make a room feel small and enclosed, almost claustrophobic at times. Neutral tones can brighten up an interior, making it feel light and spacious. However, the only thing to be aware of is to not make the room feel flat. Adding texture, such as artwork or textiles, will bring the room to life without encroaching on the usable space.

Creating spatial zones can make the overall interior feel larger than it actually is. Using flexible partitions, which could be as simple as a curtain, can easily separate the individual living areas without taking up space. They can also make areas, such as the sleeping space, feel more intimate, closing them off from the more public zones in the residence. By creating flexible public and private areas, the resident has more control over their living space, something very desirable for clients when looking at smaller homes.

Creative Storage Solutions

One thing many potential clients look for in smaller residences is how much storage space is available. They want to be able to live in the space, with their possessions, without it feeling cluttered. Many manufacturers have created innovative storage solutions that don’t encroach on the limited space.

Wall mounted shelving

Image credit: Wall-mounted shelving, ES Shelf

Something as simple as keeping the floor free from clutter can make a room feel bigger than it actually is. Using wall-mounted storage pieces are the best way to achieve this. Not only are they practical, but they can also be used to create a design statement, like this arrangement from Esshelf. Suitable for any room in the home, these circular units are incredibly versatile and fully customisable to suit any scheme. They are strong enough to store possessions, whilst also allowing a creative display space for ornaments and plants.

Cupertino desk

Image credit: BoConcept

Wall-mounted solutions are not limited to shelving. This Cupertino desk by BoConcept is not only wall-mounted but also foldable, relinquishing space when not being used. It allows a practical work area that can then be completely closed off when finished with, not only allowing the user to have more space, but to also switch off at the end of the working day. The Cupertino can also incorporate Bluetooth speakers, creating an entertainment unit as well as a workspace. Desks such as this are becoming increasingly popular, especially as more people are finding themselves working from home rather than in an office environment.

Storage solutions for small spaces are not limited to wall-mounted options. A lot of furniture can now be multi-functional, with hidden storage incorporated in the design. For example, many beds now have an ottoman option in the base, along with shelving hidden in the headboards. These allow residents to hide away bulky items without losing living space.

Sliding bed

Image credit: House in a flat, Arch Daily

As well as providing storage solutions, beds can be hidden away to allow more usable space. There is a growing trend of furniture designers creating sliding beds for small space apartments. Rather than folding up into a wall, which can be bulky and difficult to manoeuvre, sliding beds are hidden within a timber frame and utilise caster wheels, making them easy to move. In this example by Nitton Architects, not only can the ‘drawer’ frame be used as shelf storage, but also the bed being so close to the floor can create a padded area for small children. This picture shows a sliding bed in conjunction with a fold-up bed in a guest bedroom, giving maximum flexibility to the space.

Some designers go in the opposite direction, sourcing larger pieces of furniture that take up much of a room. Whilst this may seem counterintuitive to most, by going for larger, but fewer furniture items, the interior can be made to feel grander. Also, leaving space around the furniture rather than pushing it up against a wall, can make the room feel wider than it actually is.

Look to the Third Dimension

With the length and widths of homes becoming limited, interior designers are looking to a third dimension – height. Many smaller homes go up with storage rather than out, taking up usable space. However, this needs to be done well, without affecting the feel of the room. Building wall to ceiling shelving units, stuffed with possessions, can make a space feel claustrophobic.

One of the most popular ways to use the height of a room is to create a mezzanine sleeping area. Beds can be quite bulky, so raising them up off of the floor not only creates a cosy, restful nook but also allows for the space underneath to be utilised in a practical way.

Mezzanine Bed

Image credit: Mezzanine bedroom ideas, House & Garden

In this example of a small apartment in Edinburgh, the bedroom and office areas have been raised up into the arched roof. Underneath is not only the kitchen area, but also practical storage. By taking advantage of the high ceilings, the resident has plenty of living space and storage in a small apartment. And the interior still feels light and spacious.

Whilst raising bedroom areas is the most popular way to use the height of a home, most interior spaces could be situated in this way. Examples proven to work include office areas, reading nooks, child-friendly play areas. More consideration would be required if the bathroom or kitchen were to be raised above a regularly used space. Obvious issues would be plumbing and waste, but it’s not impossible to do. However, these areas are more likely to be situated below the raised living space rather than the other way around.

Taiwan apartment

Image credit: A Little Design, Arch Daily

One creative use of height is this apartment by A Little Design, in Taipei, Taiwan. The interior measures merely twenty-two square meters in floor space, so the architects built up, utilising the 3.3-meter elevation. Taipei is an incredibly built-up area, with actual living space being very limited. It means that many apartments have a large turnover of tenants. A Little Design had the aim to make this apartment into a long-term living space that suited the user, ensuring the resident had sufficient storage along with necessary amenities. Here you can see the full use of the height, with the kitchen and bathroom areas located below an elevated sleeping area. Tall hidden cupboards topped by shelving allows plenty of storage without the space feeling claustrophobic.

Minimalist Living – Embracing Space Rather Than Possessions

Another way to live in a smaller home is to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. Reducing possessions and embracing minimalism has taken the world by storm over the past year. Lifestyle consultants such as Marie Kondo have become incredibly popular, encouraging people to judge whether or not they actually need ‘stuff’. Whilst you may think this can make designing for limited space easier, designers actually have more to consider in their schemes. By having limited possessions, the client may need very specific, customised storage in their home. Bespoke built-in furniture is easy to find and can fit into almost any room. Also, generally being wall-mounted, they don’t take up any of the usable interior space. However, whilst bespoke storage may be the best solution, it can cause a steep increase in cost to the client. Getting it all just right is desirable, but as to be expected, the more unique and customised a piece, the more expensive it will be. Negotiation skills will be important.

So, whilst it may be daunting initially, designing for smaller spaces is actually an opportunity for the designer to get creative. There are numerous ways to make the most of the space, the key is to take into consideration the end-user. Not every resident is going to need the same storage or usable space. Whilst it may mean more work on the part of the designer, putting in these considerations means that clients are likely to remain in the property on a long-term basis. And they are an excellent test of the designer’s creativity.

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About Natalie Sparkes

Natalie has studied both architecture and interior design at university, and now combines her passion for design with her love of writing.

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