small space design

Working on small spaces is always interesting because it challenges the designer to become creative, to think outside the box and to adapt ideas from grand proportions, all with the aim of appearing effortless. We can learn a lot from the tiny house movement, from its adaptabillity, to its multi-purpose space saving design ideas, and a whole lot more.

We can learn a lot from the growing tiny house movement that has blossomed globally over the last few years. We can also learn a lot from those parts of the world that characteristically have lived ‘tiny’ for centuries. Tiny homes are nothing new, but in Australia our thirst for ever-increasing oversized homes means we’ve turned a blind eye to the benefits of small spaces. Whilst they have their challenges, living in a small space doesn’t mean you miss out. In fact, it means less cleaning and can also contribute to a more considered way of life. 

It seems that the tiny house movement that came to the attention of countries that traditionally embraced the ethos that ‘more is more’ is here to stay. As someone who has been working within this industry for the last 8 years I’ve watched the ‘more is more’ suburbs spring up and have been quietly dismayed by what I’ve seen. Homes that have space for the sake of space; rooms for the sake of rooms. Let’s just build a great big house on the entire block without relief for the surrounding outdoor environment. I had a conversation with my sister the other day about these very homes and it dawned on me that media rooms, a second living space, or other rooms with preposterous names, should become a thing of the past. One can only hope! Although not a parent myself, I do come from a very large family – there are 9 of us in total – and I have more nieces and nephews to count on all fingers, so being around kids and seeing how they behave doesn’t escape my notice. Kids don’t sit down in front of the TV anymore, because they’re used to consuming media on their devices. They’re mobile, they watch on demand and they watch wherever they want within the home. For the foreseeable future, this way of living is likely to remain and naturally adapt as it moves from generation to generation.

We can learn a lot from the growing tiny house movement that has blossomed globally over the last few years. We can also learn a lot from those parts of the world that characteristically have lived ‘tiny’ for centuries. Tiny homes are nothing new, but in Australia our thirst for ever-increasing oversized homes means we’ve turned a blind eye to the benefits of small spaces. Whilst they have their challenges, living in a small space doesn’t mean you miss out. In fact, it means less cleaning and can also contribute to a more considered way of life. 

The elements and principles of designing a small space are exactly the same as those for larger spaces. Whilst larger spaces can be forgiving, if you get these wrong in a small space it becomes obvious very quickly. Spend time on setting out the traffic flow and clearances on paper first so that you can make mistakes on paper rather than in real life. Wondering how to do this? Check out my article on traffic flow and clearances here.  

Built-in multifunctional furniture and storage is critical when designing for a small space as these will be the building blocks of your design. A great example would be built-in bench seating that can be used with a dining table, doubles as storage, could have a flip-up lid and act as a pet bed, or it can work as a step-ladder to access overhead cabinets. Although on face value the custom built-in pieces may appear to be expensive, make them work hard for you and the investment will be worth it. 

Storage should be given a high priority in small spaces because clutter will make the space appear smaller than it actually is.  Look for every opportunity possible and think outside the traditional way of storing things. Under the stairs, within existing cavity walls, within a bay window, there are countless opportunities for storage; you just have to be looking for it. Building in storage through custom cabinetry or carpentry work is going to give you the best look. Let me give you an example for a bathroom space. Using the existing cavity wall, recess the shaving cabinet so that it protrudes less into the space and gives the wall a cleaner line. Include a shower niche recessed into the stud to store your hair and body products and once again the space will have clean lines, reducing the visual clutter. In other words, it’s going to look much neater and the bonus is you won’t have to include an over the shower caddy.  

Building in as many elements of the design as possible is going to visually make the space look bigger because you’ll have reduced the clutter on the eye. Give high priority to your lighting options in a small space and have these as fixed elements rather than loose items. Choose lighting that is either wall or ceiling hung and don’t be tempted by a floor or table lamp; this will take up valuable floor or table space that are required for other purposes. In a small space, traditional lighting used in a large room such as recessed LED lighting may become redundant as the mood lighting could be sufficient to do everything you need it to. Choose the material and colour palette wisely and plan this completely before you begin the project, right down to the decorative accessories.

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