Ten ways to maximise space in small areas of your home

We show you how to easily create more space in even the smallest of homes

Smaller homes and apartments need to be more ordered than larger family homes. If your home isn’t feeling as functional as it should, there are plenty of ways to utilise every last centimetre of space. From reflective surfaces to using dead space, these space-saving hacks will change things for the better.

1.  Back to basics
Look at your space as if there is no furniture there – how best could you utilise it, ensuring it serves you well? Are there any awkward features you can remove? What little flow you do have, ensure it is smooth and easy. “When dealing with a small home, you need to look at it as a blank canvas and reflect on whether your existing furniture is right for the space,” says Laura Heynike, director of Pocketspace Interiors. “Some items might be too large, too short or too small. Getting your balance right is a key priority, and your small space requires you to curate it with care.”

2.  Smart storage
Innovative storage is vital for making a home feel uncluttered and open. Katie Scott, director of Sticks and Stones Design, says it allows for less clutter, plus the rooms will feel bigger: “Storage units and cabinetry that reach to the ceiling will use dead space sometimes left with standard-height cabinetry.” If you have an attic space, utilise it, adding a ladder for easy access for items you use rarely. Laura suggests adding a built-in wall storage system to your lounge wall. “If the TV is wall-mounted, it will free up space,” she says. “Use spare wall space to store concealed items in drawers, balanced with exposed shelving for decor. Keep an eye out for space above door frames or behind beds that you can utilise too.”





3.  Listen to your heart
Accommodating practical space solutions doesn’t mean you need to forgo your favourite tastes and aesthetics. Your home still needs to bring joy and reflect who you are. “If you are in a small space, then it might as well be a space you love, right?” says Laura. “You might have to rework how you express yourself in your furniture and decor selection. Ease off on the darker tones and incorporate your favourite style using pattern, texture and multi-functional pieces of furniture. You can bring in subtle embellishments through artwork and frames, instead of using large pieces to tell the story.” Stamp your individuality with cupboards painted in your favourite hue or made from rattan or pale timber, with brass or vintage handles.

4.  The only way is up
Keep your furniture and fittings elevated, freeing up the floor from clutter, Meg Freeman, designer at JKW Interior Architecture & Design, says: “Get things up off the floor. It gives you more room to move. Use open shelving, wall-mount your TV and lights and never underestimate the power of a hook. A bag hung on the wall, rather than dumped on the floor will always make a space feel tidier and more spacious.” When it comes to your hot water cylinder, question whether you really need it. Katie suggests that if you’re upgrading it, replace it with one that attaches to the home’s exterior wall: “This will give you extra room or storage inside, as cylinders tend to use up a lot of space.”

5.  Double duty
Let your layout multitask for you, Meg says, as many spaces can do ’double duty’. Bring a table into your lounge so it works as a dining space too, or set up a desk in your bedroom so it also exists as an office. “Delineate these zones with lighting and rugs,” Meg says. “Use multi-purpose furniture such as a wall-hung desk for a bedside table or a stool as a coffee table to give you more options.” Katie says an open-plan living area allows for multiple uses, making it feel larger: “Remove a partition wall between the kitchen and dining, providing more options for furniture placement. Make an spare bedroom multi-use with a fold-out couch or a fold-down bed built into storage cabinetry.” This double act applies to furniture too; consider an ottoman or bedroom window seat that can store items within, or a kitchen island that includes storage below its bench.

6.  Bring dead space to life
Use recesses you would otherwise typically not utilise, such as under the stairs for storage, bookshelf or a desk nook. Being creative with your home is one way to a successful small home. “The key to making your space work for you is by utilising every square inch of it,” Laura says. “Look at how your entrance can be more useful than just a thoroughfare, seek out gaps above kitchen cabinetry. Use a wall for a pull-down table instead of a fixed table – perfect for an office nook or dining table. Get crafty with identifying every space you can find, then work backwards to see what on the list would be beneficial to execute in your small space design.” Consider cavity sliding doors for entries into ensuites, which can be particularly tight, as they take up less floor space.

7.  Bathroom recesses
If you have enough depth in your walls, free up your bathroom vanity by recessing the mirror cabinet. Katie says, “This creates good storage and can be as big as you like. With a good-sized mirror cabinet, reduce the size and bulk of your vanity or simplify down to the basin only. Keep your vanity wall- hung, as this will give you a greater sense of open space. Walls in bathrooms are hugely under-used, so use vertical heated towel rails instead of ladder versions.” Think twice whether you need a bath or just a luxuriously large shower, she says. “A shower-only will make the room feel more open. Keep the glass simple with a single panel and walk-in, rather than using doors.”

8.  Use reflective surfaces
Get used to seeing yourself within the home because surfaces that offer a hint of reflection will create illusions of depths to enhance illumination. “Have a few reflecting surfaces in the space to make it seem larger,” Laura says. “Try adding in a mirror, gloss-front artwork and a wooden floor, instead of carpet, as well as ceramics or glass decor to bounce around the light. You might want to take the opportunity to enhance the standard lighting scheme to minimise vignette corners in your space.” Think glass light fittings and even a shiny marble-look benchtop next to a polished stainless steel fridge or surface in your kitchen.

9.  Kitchen service
Master storage in small kitchens while allowing access to the essential must-haves and allow what flow you do have to run smoothly. “Cooktop, oven, sink, fridge – these need to function well overall and not feel crammed in,” Katie says. “Rangehoods integrated into high cupboards above cooktops, instead of a canopy unit, can add storage and keep the space simple.” Think laterally when it comes to where you store your food: “Pull-out pantry units can maximise storage and access. Use high wall cabinets, taking them to the ceiling where you can, as wall space can be overlooked and turn into dead space.” Use this as a decorative solution, drawing the eye to pretty jugs and bowls, tying in with your room’s colour palette. Katie says keep lighting subtle, with LED lights under high units, bar fronts, and in-toe kicks. There are also stylish little wall sconces that bring personality to a small wall without dominating it. “Appliances such as a two-drawer dishwashers will keep dirty dishes off benchtops as you can load one while a wash cycle is being run on the other.” Reduce the need for a kettle and power point by using an instant hot water tap, she says. Omit a food waste disposer too, she suggests, freeing the space below the sink that could be used for bins or storage.

10.  Flooring options
It’s not just what’s at eye level that will impact the sense of space in a room, your flooring will too. “In a small space, the use of one kind of flooring will give the sense of a larger space by linking multiple areas well,” says Katie. “Timber flooring boards are great for this and, when they run all one way, the long boards give a linear feel, adding length to rooms.” Consider the overall feel, too, as a dark carpet in a small room will give a cave-like feel, Katie says. This will make it feel closed in and it tends to be something she would avoid unless you want this feeling. “If you have a good heating system and a warm home, a nice light flooring timber in bedrooms with rugs added for some softness and warmth will keep the rooms linked and feeling open and light.”

Ultimately, strive for a balance of positive space (where an object exists) and negative space (the area around the object) to achieve a free-flowing small space, Laura says. “It’s a fine balance of not having too much large furniture, but also not getting too bitsy in your collection. Keep good space around your artwork and floor objects, and you will be well on your way to a small space that you love.”

Jalcon Homes development manager Jacob Aitken knows what it’s like living small. Here’s what he learned

What did you find most challenging about living in a small apartment? The reduction of storage space was the biggest challenge. You have to adapt to that and get better organised. It forces you to review what stuff is important and what is just stuff. It’s good to make tough decisions and to ask yourself “will I ever use this?” If the answer is no, get rid of it.

What are the advantages? Interestingly, while less storage is a challenge, having less stuff and having smaller spaces to take care of is also liberating. It creates time to focus on things that are more important than maintenance, like family time or other leisure or lifestyle activities.

Your advice for someone about to move into a compact apartment? Focus on decluttering before you move and get organised. Think strategically about storage systems and options, such as how you might fit-out a cupboard. Examine how you use your stuff and plan accordingly such as daily, monthly or not at all. Get a good barbecue.

You’re working on a lot of these developments. When we say compact, what size are we talking specifically? Small is relative depending on where you have come from, but typically our developments for a one bedroom can be around 50sqm and 70sqm for a two bedroom.  A traditional Auckland three-bedroom villa might be 90sqm, but there is typically a massive amount of wasted space. It’s all about efficient use of the area you have, including the integration and utilisation of small outdoor spaces as opposed to gardens.

How is the design and layout impacted to give occupants what they need? Design plays a huge role. From the integration of outdoor and indoor spaces so that space can be used in all seasons, along with things like the positioning of windows and creation of viewpoints. The combination of living and cooking areas and the clever use of open plan really enhance the liveability and utilisation of smaller homes. As mentioned above, technology like storage systems and even combined washer/dryers add to the ability to make small work.

Words by: Catherine Steel

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