Small but perfectly formed

Urging the family to diet, declutter or just breathe in simultaneously are some of the ways to cope with a home that’s bursting at the seams.

Urging the family to diet, declutter or just breathe in simultaneously are some of the ways to cope with a home that’s bursting at the seams.

It may be a small comfort to know that it’s not just your growing children, possessions and pets which are making even the largest space feel claustrophobic - homes have actually shrunk!

A new report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), has revealed that new houses are generally smaller than they were 30 years ago. On average, a new three-bedroom house in Ireland and the UK is 8% smaller than the recommended minimum size.

“Our new research confirms thousands of cramped houses - shameful shoebox homes - are being churned out all over the country,” says Harry Rich, chief executive of RIBA.

Nationally, the organisation found that the missing space was equivalent to a single bedroom capable of taking a single bed, bedside table, wardrobe, desk and chair. But instead of despairing or considering an expensive house move, it could be time to consider whether you’re using your current space wisely and if its layout suits the way you want to live.

“If your home is small, or not as large as you’d like, every bit of it has to work for its keep,” says Elizabeth Wilhide, whose inspiring book Small Spaces is packed with clever ideas.

“You may be able to discover hidden space in homes that’s been overlooked, as well as using space more effectively. A spare room could double as an office, a breakfast bar might improve a kitchen and a large bedroom could be divided.

“Storage can work wonders, too. Space under the stairs could provide an additional seating area, or be a utility cupboard. Stair treads can be transformed into drawers and a landing could be utilised for storage or a fitted desk.”

Designers, recognising the growing need for compact or multi-functional pieces, have used their talents to create excellent furniture and ingenious products for the space-starved.

“Small space living is something to celebrate. It doesn’t have to mean settling for second best,” insists Wilhide. “Focus on the benefits rather than the frustrations. Smaller spaces are easy to clean and cheaper to heat and run. With a more flexible approach to arranging your living space, you may find it suits you after all.”

Follow our space-savvy advice from the experts and check out a selection of smart solutions to help you squeeze every last inch from your home.

:: Cook up space

“Make the most of every inch of space with integral storage solutions, such as pan drawers, curved corner units and cantilever carousels,” advises Jude Keenan, kitchen planner at John Lewis’s.

“Choose units in a neutral colour that will stand the test of time and create a feeling of space, and introduce colour on worktops and appliances for a more individual look.

“Opt for slimline appliances or integral models which can be hidden away. Reflect more light and create an illusion of more space with a white matt ceiling and light coloured upper walls.”

:: Live large

“To make the most of small spaces, it’s important to consider the place as a whole,” says Eleanor Davies, group buyer for The Conran Shop. “Instead of thinking of conventional rooms devoted to separate functions, arrange whatever space you have in a flexible way.

“Screens, room dividers and furniture which folds can be invaluable,” she says. “Above all, focus on acquiring only what you will use, love or need. That way your home will be functional as well as beautiful.”

:: Snug snoozing

“Living in a compact space doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live uncomfortably,” says Zoe Shields, country manager at BoConcept, a furniture company which specialises in contemporary ranges.

“Good storage always helps - whether it’s a bed allowing you hide away bedding or seasonal duvets, or a mobile cabinet, with deep drawers and extension leaves, which can double as a work station. Sofa beds are also shedding their old image of being bulky and large, and can now be sleek and sophisticated.”

:: Step into space

“Don’t neglect the potential of hallways and between-spaces, such as landings or corridors,” says Elizabeth Wilhide.

“Fit them out with cupboards and shelves so you can decant clutter from other areas, or simply make them practical working areas.”