houses, small spaces

Small Spaces Tips

The two main principles in a small space are to elongate and expand, creating the illusion of volume and area, and to de-segment the space. Naturally, open-plan living is ideal and removes the vertical intrusion of walls, and lighting a space from two sides immediately creates a feeling of space and fluidity. However this isn’t always possible so I’ve looked at some other basic furnishing and finishing principles that emulate and touch on these ideals without blowing the budget. Reflection & Transparency

  • We all know the tired old advice of using mirrors. This can go horribly wrong, though, if taken quite so literally, and does NOT mean cover an entire wall in a gaudy silver mirror! The principle of transparency and reflection can be introduced in many elegant and subtle ways.
  • Look at incorporating reflective high-gloss vertical surfaces, like high-gloss duco cupboard doors, and use glass, especially in panels in inter-leading doors, again letting the light through and opening up some visual expanse. Other reflective surfaces are polished stone, tiles, lacquered/duco-sprayed cabinetry, smoke glass, glasskote, stainless steel, brass and chrome.
  • Large mirrors are fantastic by all means, but please, frame them! You can also group mirrors, i.e. three beautiful, tall, narrow mirrors along a wall create a window-like effect.
  • If you have a long, narrow space, you want to avoid the corridor or tunnel effect by using repetitive finishes or furnishing principles on both sides, i.e. have a high unit (floor to ceiling) on one side and a low unit/no furnishings on the opposite wall.
  • Use reflective finishes on your cupboards on one side, and matte on the opposite wall.
  • Similarly with light and dark tones, opposites work very well, or accentuate a feature wall, provided at least one shade stays consistent with your floor tone.
  • Floors are best kept as seamless and continuous as your finish will allow. You want to avoid segmenting the horizontal floor plain up too much as it is a very visually dominant part of a space.
  • There are some beautiful seamless floor finishes from cement coatings, polished concrete and quartzcarpet to terrazzo and epoxy coatings.
  • As for tiles and timber, when it comes to looking luxurious, classy and spacious, size does matter! Always use large tiles - minimum 600x600mm - with matching grout to get the ‘continuous’ look. Small tiles will segment your floor plain and look dated.
  • Timber looks great with a wider plank in a small space, too. If your floor material is continuous from room to room, space to space, it is much more forgiving than broken-up or compartmentalised floor materials, so rather use rugs in areas where needed and avoid the door threshold break.
Indoor / Outdoor
  • I always think the most under-utilised space in small, freestanding homes are the lateral boundary setbacks (usually about 1.5m), which are usually unused dark little alleys that run down the side of your house. When renovating an old home this is the first place I look to ‘open up’.
  • You can use this space to create a beautiful little courtyard, small gardens, water features, feature walls and indoor-outdoor extensions to a room.
  • By opening up with big, glass sliding doors to a contained little green area, you turn your property’s boundary wall into the visual extent of your room, and add the feeling of an extra metre or two.
  • Look for other opportunities to open up entire walls to the outside so that you create this indoor-outdoor flow.
  • Don’t be afraid of black or dark hues. Yes, white does have an air of spaciousness, but can also create a startling visual barrier. Dark finishes actually seemingly disappear.
  • The big principle with colour in a small space is to ‘wrap’ shades from wall to floor to ceiling to keep the continuity.
  • A feature wall should be a focal point or visual destination - everything else around it should merge seamlessly into one another so that there is no added visual disturbance or break-up of the space. (Our bedroom floor has a black carpet, which ‘folds’ into high-gloss black cupboard doors, and the bed is in charcoal hues – everything else is white around that. Our main living space features a pale grey floor, ceiling and main wall unit – opposite a charcoal feature wall that ‘folds’ into the black staircase).
  • Full height, floor-to-ceiling curtains are great to elongate and accentuate height and volume.
  • Sheer fabrics keep the principle of light and transparency consistent.
  • Large and central furnishings need to melt into your floor plan and create a void of volume above them.
  • Wall furnishings need to accentuate height. I like low furniture in similar shades or part of the same 'family of colour' as the rug or floor finishing to keep it homogenous, balanced by one or two delicate vertical elements to draw your eye up, such as floor standing lamps or a wall standing furnishing piece or cabinet.
  • Declutter and keep accessories simple, minimal and grouped into one or two focal points so as not to overwhelm and distract all over the room.
  • An over-sized pot or sculpture to dominate or a cluster of vases and objets, all seamless in the same shade, create specific focal points as opposed to a bitty scattering throughout the room. Colour-coded books grouped together look great on bookshelves in small spaces.
  • Wallpaper is great way to use pattern, colour and scale to accentuate space. Bold, bright patterns work well on a feature wall. Continuous, repetitive and horizontal patterns work well as an all-over application, provided their dominant hue stays consistent with the floor and/or ceiling.