4 Big Ideas For Small Spaces

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our homes need to be as functional and streamlined as possible. And if your place is on the smaller side, you might be feeling like the walls are closing in (Melbourne readers – we feel you!) But while optimisation is the name of the game, functionality does not need to come at the expense of aesthetics. Not around here!

We asked four people who’ve maximised every inch of their beautiful tiny spaces – Sophie Bowers of Strutt Studios, Alex Kennedy, Lynda Gardener and Lisa Marie Corso – for their tips and tricks for making the most of a tight spot!

Sally Tabart

Sophie Bowers of Strutt Studios has made brilliant use of inbuilt banquette seating to maximise space in her tiny Kensington, Sydney apartment. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Making the most of wall space in the bathroom. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Sophie Bowers, founder of Strutt Studios Interior Architecture, fashion stylist Josh Climpson and their mini dachshunds Billie and Remi, at home in Kensington, Sydney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Sophie has customised just about everything in her apartment to really let her design aesthetic and personality shine through. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Storage below the banquette seating – genius! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Tailor-made furniture, With Sophie Bowers of Strutt Studios

In small spaces, a functionally driven, permanent piece of furniture is often the best solution to address the lack of space and lack of storage, and avoid an enclosed feeling.

There are three commonly used inbuilt furniture pieces. These include banquette seats or plinth lounges, fireplace and shelving units, and TV credenzas.

In small space design, you need to maximise the use of the walls. Therefore building in a joinery unit that can incorporate some or many of these seating, storing and displaying functions is a seamless way to get more from a minimal footprint.

Simple ideas like building storage to the ceiling will increase the perception of height in any room. Also consider incorporating feature handles or feet/legs to your inbuilt seating, this customisation is a great way to showcase your personality whilst allowing the bulk of the joinery design to remain simple, and thus not overwhelm a small room. Wall mounted shelving as a stand-alone feature or incorporated into a fireplace or TV storage unit is another way to draw the eye upwards, as nothing makes a space feel more enclosed than a cluttered benchtop or table.

The success of my own small apartment heavily relied on the spaces being dual purpose, and in the kitchen zone, an inbuilt banquette seat was the perfect way to achieve this. To create a minimal look, the junction at the kitchen and dining area is a very subtle detail with the waterfall stone seamlessly continuing from benchtop to banquette seat. This created a highly functional merge for us between the kitchen and dining, which often becomes the heart of the home, especially when entertaining. The inclusion of drawers below the banquette seat added significant storage, and by mounting the backrest cushion to the wall, a light and clean look was attained.

Considered and clever inbuilt furniture solutions prove bigger isn’t always better when it comes to a room’s footprint size.

See Sophie‘s home tour on TDF here

Alex Kennedy, who works in international development, lives in a tiny self-contained studio apartment in Carlton, designed by her friend interior architect Sarah Trotter of Hearth Studio. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

The kitchen area in Alex’s apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

These days, Alex has a fold-out table where she’s had up 10 people over for dinner (which can be cleared away to make way for a mini dancefloor!). Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

Bits and bobs in Alex’s home. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

Alex credits having a step-up bed space as essential to finding space in her studio apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

The bathroom area is divided from the living space by a division containing a sink, shelving + storage, offering a little more privacy. Photo – Eve Wilson. Production – Lucy Feagins.

Living Large In A Studio Apartment, With Alex Kennedy

Despite being an open studio plan, this apartment also has clearly defined spaces. For example, having a step up to the bedroom makes it feel cosy and separate from the rest of the house.

In terms of tips and tricks to make living in a small space work… don’t have lots of tall friends. Just kidding, I have lots of tall friends who at times have had to do a bit of limbo around the lights.

But on a serious note, I suggest not to over-design a space. Small spaces need generous storage, but I see a lot of houses are almost over-designed, and don’t allow you to grow into them organically, or allow for flexibility of use. I think it’s important to think about all of the different ways you might inhabit a space over time – it might go from being your home, to an Airbnb, to a studio. So, I think flexibility is key. For example, I have a dining table that folds out, so I’ve been able to have up to 10 people for dinner and then fold it back and move to the side to make way for a mini dance floor after dinner!

Over the last few years I have fixed up the garden and changed some of my furniture and household items that I know I will have for the rest of my life. I have a rule of not owning anything I can see in my space that I don’t find visually pleasing. This has meant I have had to implement a pretty strong policy with my family of not giving me household items for Christmas or my birthday!

See Alex’s home tour on TDF here

Melbourne-based stylist Lynda Gardener is an expert at styling small spaces, as evidenced by her boutique accommodation Room + Board! Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Stylist extraordinaire Lynda Gardener. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Lynda advises hanging lighting low next to the bed as a way to warm up a room, without compromising on floor space. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Lynda’s styling is proof that you don’t need to be a minimalist to successfully style a tiny space. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Lynda’s WOW furniture in this project is this round table, which she uses as a showpiece for her collections (as well as a dining table!). Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Styling a Small Space, With Lynda Gardener

I have always enjoyed working on small places, as they can be a challenge at the best of times! I always start with painting the space white. It creates a blank canvas and always gives an instant feeling of space and light. Always consider the entire feel from the moment you walk in the door and the flow of the space. Keep it to a few simple tones and colours – a natural/neutral or earthy palette does not date.

That being said, you don’t need to be a minimalist just because your space is small! Collections can still be included – they just need to be considered. I love to create walls of art, and feature a mix of old and new as it does not take up any floor space, and there is always a great feature wall to work on.  Or if you can have shelves, use lots of them to create a library to house not only your books, but also make displays for art and object collections! Get creative and hang functional items like brooms, and baskets from hooks on the wall – again, no floor space is sacrificed.

If the space lends itself, create a centerpiece that is the WOW in the room….for example in Room + Board, I used a large round table as a showpiece for my collections… foliage, books and so on as well as a table to eat around.

For a striking way to warm up a room, get creative and hang something special low (next to the bed, for example).

See Lynda’s accommodation Room + Board on TDF here

As a freelance writer working from a small apartment, Lisa Marie Corso has had this working from home thing down pat way before the rest of us! Photo – Eve Wilson for the Design Files.

Freelance writer Lisa Marie Corso with her treasured collection of objects, collected since childhood! Photo – Eve Wilson for the Design Files.

The living, dining and kitchen areas of Lisa’s apartment. Photo – Eve Wilson for the Design Files.

Lisa suggests whacking a tablecloth on the table for dinner to change up the vibe after computers go away at the end of the day! Photo – Eve Wilson for the Design Files.

In an apartment, I like having distinct ‘zones’, even if the dining and living area is open plan’, says Lisa. Photo – Eve Wilson for the Design Files.

Get in The Zone, with Lisa Marie Corso

In an apartment, I like having distinct ‘zones’, even if the dining and living area is open plan. The easiest way to do this is to shove a rug under a coffee table, and there you have, it: a living room. When your foot touches the rug, know you’re in the couch zone.

Working from home, aka the three words petitioning for a joint place in the 2020 dictionary, in a small space can be tricky. If you have a spare room, try your best to work there during work hours, and when you clock off, shut the door! It’s very easy to feel like you’re working where you sleep, so again, making some ‘zones’ might help you.

If your dinner table has pivoted to become your desk, clear it in the morning when you start work, and remove your work stuff from it when you finish. No, sliding your laptop across table does not count! I think throwing a table cloth on for dinner can really make you feel like it’s a new part of the day, and help you forget you just spent 8 hours Zooming on the same table.

See Lisa’s home tour on TDF here

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