30th August 2019

Laura and Edward discuss the merits of compact living and reveal their top tips on how to make small spaces work hard and feel light and spacious

How important is it to live and work in places that have a feeling of space? Is bigger better?

Edward. “It’s a human tendency to want more space, but bigger is not necessarily better. If people have more space than they need, they tend to fill it any way, which results in a more cluttered, less organised space. And bigger homes are less sustainable, with bigger household bills.

Laura. “How much space you need also varies according to which phase of your life you are in. A young, single, itinerant professional needs far less space than a growing family putting down roots.”

Edward. “And the availability of space is reducing as the population expands and people head to cities. Increasing urbanisation means increasing densification, and densification means people living closer together. Many people think densifying means an increasingly harsh and concrete environment, but with the right quality of space - with light, green space and local amenities - densifying can give you a better quality of life.”

You both travel a great deal, where have you seen the smallest apartments, and the largest? What does this tell us?

Laura. “We visit the US regularly, where many people have huge apartments. It sounds wonderful but lots of room can be antagonistic to great space. In Texas, where everything is famously bigger, the perception of space is different to ours in the UK. Their base minimum is three times what it is in the UK. But as Edward explained, big isn’t necessarily best, plus all these big spaces are heavily air-conditioned which is not good for our health or the environment.

Edward. “Hong Kong and Singapore have the smallest flats we have seen. Land is scarce and demand is high in these global cities.The fact that both cities are on islands means they can only expand upwards. Some of these flats are much too small, but others are extremely well designed and the occupants make the best out of city-living by using the parks and green spaces, and dining out which can be relatively inexpensive in Asia. “

What are your top tips for making small spaces feel more spacious?

Laura. “In London, we live in 50 sqm and we love it. We need to be organised in the flat, but it’s a great size and the space works hard for us. It helps us organise our life. There are lots of things you can do to make a small flat work well and feel as comfortable and convenient as a larger apartment.

“Here is our list”

 Create a well organised plan that minimises circulation space and maximises useable space, right down to where the furniture is positioned.
 Invest in clever lighting that can be adjusted to change the mood across the day without needing to move to another room. Lighting can help to make a room feel bright and lively, cosy and intimate and many things in-between.
Be imaginative with storage. For instance, use the space under a bed. A hydraulic bedbase can lift to provide an enormous amount of accessible storage beneath. A good storage system hides everyday items so that you create a blank canvas to display your precious things.
Pay close attention to colour and light. The amount of light and shade in a room is very important. So light floors will brighten dark spaces, while a dark floor will add drama and depth to light spaces. White paint comes in a wide spectrum of ‘whites’ and each gives a different effect. Use colour and light to emphasise the planes around you to give a feeling of space and depth.
 Touch plays an important part in our appreciation of a living space. In a small space, good quality finishes and materials -and natural materials - become more important as you are close to them.
Our auditory sense also tells about the size of a room and affects our level of comfort. It’s tempting to layer soft furnishing on every surface to reduce noise, but this deadening of sound results in a stuffy, claustrophobic environment. It’s important to have some hard surfaces to amplify sounds and enliven the auditory environment.
 Think laterally and be adventurous. For instance, bathtubs can move to the bedroom, kitchen islands can become libraries, and adding height can make a small floorplate feel bigger below. 

And a few don’ts

• Don’t use curtains. They take up too much space.
• Don’t allow structure and finishes to clutter up the space. For instance, shadow gaps instead of skirting boards give a crisp, unfussy finish.
• Don’t fragment the space. Make it feel like a whole, for example by using the same flooring or paint colour throughout, and using the least number of dividing walls.
• Don’t put mirrors everywhere. Contrary to popular belief unless mirrors are carefully placed they can actually make a room feel smaller.
• Don’t ignore the stairs. Steeper stairs take up less space, and by making the stairs open plan you reveal more of the room. The underneath of stair treads can double as storage. We designed a boutique office base for a family company and created an extra desk by extending the stair tread backwards, into the open plan understair area.

Edward Williams Architects designs many types of buildings, not just housing. Is a feeling of spaciousness universally important?

Edward. “Overall, yes. We design schools and hospitals where a feeling of wellbeing is important to improving performance and outcomes. In NHS hospitals, where wards and private rooms are often quite small, views are very important to imparting a sense of space, as is daylight and greenery. For this reason, we have created a spectacular winter garden for Midland Metropolitan Hospital. This space brings daylight into all areas of the hospital, provides views from the wards and corridors into the winter garden, and out across the countryside. Plants and trees will line the garden, with places for patients, visitors and medics to sit and relax.

Laura. “We all want a feeling of comfort and room to breathe. Our point is that with careful planning and creative thought, you can do this in a small space as as easily as you can in a bigger one.”

Laura and Edward discuss the merits of compact living and reveal their top tips on how to make small spaces work hard and feel light and spacious

This cabinet works hard as a desk, bookcase, casual eating and food preparation area

Laura and Edward discuss the merits of compact living and reveal their top tips on how to make small spaces work hard and feel light and spacious

Dark flooring adds drama to a light space and white walls

Laura and Edward discuss the merits of compact living and reveal their top tips on how to make small spaces work hard and feel light and spacious

The oak stair tread has been extended to form a sculptural desk using did space under the stairs