Small homes are big right now. Statistics New Zealand predicts that couples without children will be the most common household type by 2011. Without the need for multiple living zones and plenty of bedrooms, empty-nesters are able to downsize their living arrangements accordingly. There’s also been a shift in attitudes. Large and ostentatious houses have fallen out of favour as more and more of us are motivated, at least in part, by a desire to conserve resources and a realisation that bigger is not necessarily better. But, of course, sheer pragmatism comes into play too. Apartments and other smaller homes are easier (and cheaper) to heat, cool, clean, maintain and furnish. But creating rooms that are both pleasing to the eye and meet all your needs, despite space constraints, takes discipline and more than a little cleverness. Here, we reveal how to maximise your space with a minimum of fuss.
A bit of lateral thinking goes a long way towards getting the most out of a compact abode. Dual-purpose rooms are becoming increasingly common. Home offices that convert to guest bedrooms are old news but what about a book-lined dining area that’s used as a library or study by day? Or take your cue from international design magazines and daringly incorporate a freestanding bath into the bedroom.
Consider how to get two separate functions from a single item of furniture: shelving units double as room dividers and footstools and chests serve simultaneously as occasional tables and storage units. Or sink a few balls after dinner on a Barton McGill dining table that handily converts into a pool table.
Dedon’s Obelisk set, available from Domo, consists of four chairs and a table which stack vertically to form a striking sculpture when not in use. Then there are the Pick chairs, invented by New York-based Studio Dror, which hang flat on the wall when they’re not needed. The ultimate ingenious 21st century solution, however, is surely the Japanese-designed Kenchikukagu “apartment in a box” system, which consists of compact mobile cabinets that open out to reveal a kitchen, office and guest room – theoretically enabling us to live in a single room.
Successful downsizing is all about editing. Every piece of furniture and every object must be there for a good reason. Anything that doesn’t please you or won’t work in your new habitat has to go. Garage sales, TradeMe and the Salvation Army are just a few ways to dispose of the clutter.
Exercise restraint in the items you display. If you’re unable to show off all your treasures at once, consider rotating them so they all take a turn.
Visual detail is most effective at eye level; the floor should be kept as free as possible – choose wall-hung fittings and sofas and sideboards on legs. The judicious repetition of colours, textures and materials ensures a cohesive effect. Avoid dark and heavy fabrics.
An open-plan layout gives a flow and fluidity that a series of box-like rooms usually lacks. French doors opening out to the garden lend a sense of spaciousness to even tiny quarters. Internal sliding doors that don’t encroach on the room when open are an effective space-saving device. Savvy height changes, such as mezzanine floors, allow you to squeeze in extra elements, like an elevated bed. Try not to squander even a square centimetre of floor area. Hallways and the awkward space beneath the stairs can always be used for additional storage.
Having recognised the trend towards downsizing, the kitchen and bathroom industries now offer a plethora of modestly sized yet fully featured appliances and fittings. A single Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer may have sufficient dishwashing capacity for small households. Or, if width is the issue, Miele offer an especially slender model – just 45cm across.
Fisher & Paykel’s new IZONA CoolDrawer means your kitchen need not be dominated by a refrigerator/freezer. These revolutionary drawers – which have five different operating temperatures: freeze, chill, fridge, pantry and wine – fit conveniently beneath your bench. The dual-tasking Zenith Hydro Tap delivers boiling or chilled water from a single tap.
For kitchen sinks to fit tight spots, see Clark’s corner unit or their extra-narrow option. Similarly, Caroma offer vitreous china corner wall-hung basins or a compact model that projects just 23cm from the wall. For a space-saving shower unit with internal sliding doors, try VCBC for Bathrooms. In the laundry, the Miele combination washer-dryer is touted as the “two-in-one small-footprint solution”.
Experts recommend that walls be kept pale (consider ‘Daydream’ or ‘Thorndon Cream’ by Resene) and ceilings painted white to give the illusion of more space. Cool colours, such as Resene’s ‘Carefree’ or ‘Quarter Tasman’, can make walls appear to recede.
Laying flooring such as wood or tiles in a diagonal pattern also gives the impression of more generous proportions, as the eye is drawn towards the corners of the room. Installing curtain rods as high above the window frame as possible will suggest a raised ceiling height. Sight lines through from one room into another – whether via an open door or even an interior “window” – will help avert feelings of claustrophobia in smaller spaces.
Wall mirrors reflect light and increase the visual depth of a room, especially when objects are placed in front of them; fresh flowers suggest abundance and flickering candles add atmosphere. Look for lacquered accessories and gleaming stainless-steel items that also distribute light around the room. A transparent coffee table in glass or perspex takes up virtually no “visual space” when compared to a hefty wooden one. Similarly, Philippe Starck’s famous ‘Louis Ghost’ polycarbonate chair has an unobtrusive presence. A transparent glass basin and even a (strictly not for the modest) glass bath can be sympathetic elements in small bathrooms.
Story: Shelley Bridgeman
Photographs: Melanie Jenkins
Stylist: Claudia Kozub