This second part of the guide reveals the essential qualities that help owners of existing and new small homes make the most out of their internal spaces.

If you’re just starting out and are interested in the initial stage of creating the perfect small home from scratch (or working on a small home renovation project), then please refer to the first part of the guide here.



Whether you’re starting from scratch, renovating an existing home, or just dealing with space that feels cramped; this is the guide for you. Below you will find the essential qualities and techniques that designers use to maximise space.

Multifunctionality


A few years ago when I was working at an architecture firm, I was tasked to come up with the design for a one-bedroom loft within an existing attic. The attic was only 45m2 (480sf2), and the design brief called for a separate, dedicated bathroom and bedroom. Suffice to say, there were numerous challenges, but the only way in which I successfully accomplished the brief was because I designed-in several multifunctional spaces.

How was this achieved? The bedhead was designed to include a bespoke storage unit, the kitchen included a standing desk, and the lounge also doubled as a dining area.

Multifunctionality is key in the design of small homes because it allows for a particular area to be used in numerous ways.

Simply put, when one space serves two functions, it eliminates the need for one of those dedicated spaces to be located somewhere else, thus freeing up that area for another use.

Multifunctionality is also something that can be easily configured into existing small homes without much hassle by rethinking how you use your furniture and how it can be used in multiple ways.

A good example of this might be placing your TV on your desk – allowing your lounge to be used for both work and play. Or a dining table that moves up and down so that it can also act as a kitchen island for extra cooking space. Or a bench seat built into a window nook, which can also be used for storage underneath.

The possibilities are endless – try to imagine how you can create a space that can be used in multiple ways.

Quality Over Quantity


Philippe Starck's famous juicer is as beautiful as it is functional

‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

–  William Morris (the famous textile designer), 1880.

When read aloud this first topic may seem abundantly obvious, and yet to everyone’s misfortune, including my own, it is one of the most difficult things to get right.

Throughout your life you will have accumulated numerous things. Perhaps these things consist of fridge magnets you bought from a small town while travelling abroad, or lavender bath soap gifted from a relative.

But to live in a small home, we are required to do a complete reappraisal of our belongings.

The fact that we are fortunate enough to have this problem in the first place, that having such a such degree of prosperity that getting rid of items is more of an issue than acquiring them in the first place, does not lessen the burden.

This is not to say that we should throw out every second item that we own in an effort to declutter our lives. We should, however, be aiming to remove, recycle or repurpose those items which we never use or do not bring us pleasure.

For most of us, these objects exist behind closed cupboard doors or the bottom ‘miscellaneous’ drawer of your kitchen. As the saying goes – “the best way to increase space in your cupboard is to put less in it.”

As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to keeping an object, ask yourself:

Have I used this in the last 18 months?

If the answer is no, then ask yourself:

Does this item bring me pleasure?

If the answer is still no, remove, repurpose, or recycle that object.

I add that second question, because for most of us there are numerous objects that we never (or hardly ever) use, that still bring us immense pleasure.

For my partner and me, one such collection of items are our books. Collectively, we own hundreds of books which for 99% of their life sit on a shelf, but just having them there in plain sight brings us both happiness and nostalgia.

I too suggest you hold on to the things which you feel a similar way about, but not if they are sitting in the bottom of a box in your basement or garage.

For a small home to evoke style and a sense of spaciousness, try to own less things that are made of higher quality and will last a lifetime – things that you would be proud to hand down to future generations of your family.

Consistency


Archier's 'Five Yards' house has a floor plan in which every single room is constantly engaging with the garden

While consistency in itself does not help to make small homes appear larger, it is an essential part of making a home appear as a whole.

Think of consistency as the thread that weaves the various fabrics of the home together. What is this thread made of? How can a small home appear consistent and whole?

The answer to this is colour, pattern and texture, and they must be addressed simultaneously.

A piecemeal approach to decoration and materiality, by looking at rooms individually, will result in a small home that lacks a collective harmony. This is not to say that every room within your home should be treated in exactly the same way, but rather that there should be an underlying theme which ties everything together.

Conceiving a house as a whole will allow you to perceive the home as a series of planes which connect various spaces together. When I say ‘planes’, I refer to the vertical and horizontal surfaces of a home.

The floor, for example, is one of the largest and most overlooked planes in a house, and yet its impact on a home of any size is significant. Utilising the same type of floor throughout different spaces, or flooring of a similar tone is an easy technique that will enhance an overall sense of space and consistency.

While walls, ceilings and floors can be viewed as a series of interconnecting planes, they can be interrupted by structural elements, changes in level, or blocks of colour to signal a change in activity.

I personally opt to avoid the overuse of pale and white tones, since an overabundance of these presents a sterile and inhuman purity. As an alternative, I recommend slight variations, contrasting and complimentary colours, patterns and textures.

This is not to say that white should be avoided altogether. White walls, when paired with decorative or rococo elements can create an interesting, often enveloping interplay of light and shadow.

Texture should also be addressed in a similar fashion. It is best to generally avoid the overuse of strong textural materials on different planes throughout small homes, and instead offer contrasting and complementary textural finishes with the shifting of planes.

Because small homes have a concentrated amount of space, the dialogue between colours, patterns, and textures is paramount to the overall living pleasure for the inhabitants.

Fortunately, small homes provide a unique opportunity to capitalise on a higher quality of materials since the home itself and quantities required to build them are significantly less than that of a larger home.

Open Plan


Owen Architecture's Ranley Grove House has a linear, open plan that provides visibility to the backyard

While open plan layouts do not necessarily work with the existing character of all homes, they almost always help to increase a home’s sense of spaciousness. The general rule is if you can see more, you can sense more.

Open plans provide flexible, interchangeable spaces, particularly when paired with clever furniture that stores easily, or can be used in a number of ways.

Small homes with open plans tend to be more exhilarating and unpretentious when compared with houses which are comprised of many distinct rooms and divided spaces.

There is one thing I come across quite often in older houses and something that most people can modify with professional help (such as a trade) and minimal financial input.

I am referring to under-utilised entranceways and passages. These existing houses tend to have circulation corridors that are devoted solely for the purpose of allowing people to get from point A to point B.

These spaces are often bland because they are only used for transitory purposes. One of the most popular and effective methods of dealing with such spaces, as well as other rooms in general, is to remove any non-structural partition walls to “open the space up.”

By removing the walls to a partitioned-off hallway that are adjacent to living areas, you can easily gain an immense amount of space. Most likely, some space will still be left to the original hallway (allowing for movement through the room), but the perceived space of the room will become much bigger as a result.

The other added advantage of this is that larger spaces can be used in more ways than smaller ones, which also increases the flexibility and adaptability of the room with future uses, especially when paired with the techniques revealed under Multifunctionality.

Zones & The Broken Plan


Some small homes with open plans are exciting, but they can also be psychologically taxing unless there are specific areas that offer more privacy, peace and quiet. This is particularly important for families with children.

Even in a small home where every inch of space is critical, providing getaway areas is a huge benefit to members of a household regardless of how introverted or extroverted they are.

One technique currently employed by many designers and architects to tackle this problem is the implementation of sliding or operable partitions.

For example, a home office might be part of an open plan living area, but someone would have trouble concentrating and using this space if there were other people watching a movie. If that same home office could utilise a retractable curtain, moveable wall or partition, then it would be more flexible and functional in a variety of different circumstances.

This same technique can be used for all sorts of existing areas within a small home. It may even be used to divide the space between the dining area and lounge in half to provide even more adjustability.

Just in the same way that moveable partitions or curtains help to define zones more clearly, a change in level can also be used to delineate two different existing spaces within the one room. This term, coined a “broken plan,” is anything but broken, and many believe it is an evolution of the open plan design.

A change in level signifies a change in use for the inhabitants of a space (particularly on a subconscious level).

While that same space effectively belongs to the one collective larger room, it helps to make that space feel even larger. Even one step down into a sunken lounge, for example, will make someone think “okay, I’m in the lounge now,” rather than being in the kitchen/living/lounge all at the same time.

It is amazing how well this technique works, actually, and how with relative ease it can be implemented in an existing house or new design.

What now?


Have you read the first part of the essential guide? It reveals 5 other critical things related to the first stage of a small home project.

Or if you want to learn more about the advantages of small home living, click here.

Perhaps you feel like I have left something out? Let me know by posting a comment below.