If there’s one thing the UK could do with more of it’s space. We’re a fraction of the size of the US yet we still pack in 64 million people. That’s more than the entire population of California, Nevada, Utah and the State of New York on a land mass that is half the size of just California.
This naturally equates to much smaller living spaces with the average new house size in the UK being 818 feet squared (the US is 2,164 for comparison) and they’re actually shrinking as time goes on.
Of course, having such small living spaces can be of benefit, especially when taking the lessons learned to create the appearance of a larger environment. If you have a small room that you want to take advantage of then I have some helpful advice that can make them feel much more expansive, all from a limey across the pond.
Tip One: Let There Be Light!
It’s impossible to overstate how important effective light sources are in making a small room feel larger. If you have a window then make sure it’s large and as clear as possible. Decorative frames may look gorgeous but if we’re dealing with a small room then they can pull focus and decrease the amount of light you have to play with. Heavy curtains and blinds can have a similar effect, plus they tend to pull focus from furniture.
I’d advise getting light and airy curtains or forgoing them at all if you want to. Large, clear windows can work miracles and, if the room has door access to outside to your garden or balcony then consider the types of door you use. A small room can feel fantastically large when it’s backed up by the great outdoors via bifolding or wall-sized door (pictured).
Conversely, consider the door that takes you into this room. If you can, I’d advise getting rid of it all together or mount a mirror on it (more on that later) to give you more space or at least the appearance of more space.
Tip Two: Colour Schemes and Decoration
It’s well known that a light room will feel larger than one in a darker pallet. If you do nothing else, ensure that the ceiling is a fresh white colour and take the time to top it up regularly. This one simple step can have an immediate effect on the way a room feels.
I’d also advise against heavily detailed decorations. This can be wallpaper or even a runner around the wall, you need to have a focused room.. Because you have less space to work with, it’s imperative that you take more time to reduce unnecessary details. A small room can easily feel muddled and you need to control what the centrepiece is! Keep paint muted, so your furniture has time to shine
Tip Three: Get Furniture that Fits Precisely and Works Well
If I have learnt anything from my 26 years living in the UK, it’s to always take a tape measure when I’m looking at furniture for a small abode. We have a lot of oddly shaped rooms here in the UK thanks to ancient chimneys and not-entirely-thought-through building construction When getting larger furniture that needs to fit in a corner or alcove measure up the space and work from that FIRST.
Weed out the items that will fit perfectly and then choose what you find attractive from what’s left. It makes such a difference than something that’s too big (dominates the room) or too small (excess space which must be filled by other distracting items). I remember being at an independent furniture shop that refused to sell wardrobes unless they had proof measurements had been taken; they’d been burned too many times by homeowners’ false perceptions.
When you work from measurements first it’s amazing the space saving items that you can discover. I have a desk from the Futon Company that fits perfectly in an alcove in my long, thin living room. This is an effective use of limited space not only because it’s unobtrusive but also because the desk also comes with built in shelves (pictured).
Tip Four: Don’t Get What The Room Doesn’t Need
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a gorgeous item of furniture I’ve desperately wanted and then had to shrug and move on. The realities of a small room can’t be ignored and you must carefully assess what works best. Frankly, you might have to be brutal in getting rid of unnecessary lamps, coffee tables, stands and other decorative tit-bits that usually look to quaint in other rooms.
Instead of multiple small rugs, get a large rug that takes up two thirds of the room to give it an expansive look. One large piece is going to look better than several smaller ones (which feeds into the previous point) so only get the basics of what your room needs and make them as large as possible and/or multifunctional.
I’m a massive fan of murphy beds for tiny guest bedrooms but you can also get classy L shaped sofas that turn into double beds and even come with built-in storage. Three items for the price and space of one? That’s a win in my book.
You can also give items multiple uses. Instead of using a traditional television stand, maybe use a chest of drawers for better storage? Get creative!
Tip Five: Get Storage But Keep It High or Out of Sight
Getting multifunctional furniture can do most of the work when it comes to your storage needs. But if you need a bit extra then get it high and off the floor. This can also be helpful for things like flat screen televisions: get them onto the wall and you’ve got more floor space to play with.
Many how-to’s for space saving suggest moving your furniture a foot away from the wall and creating storage space behind but I can tell you that would be a foot you don’t have in a British apartment. Shelves are fantastic for keeping clutter together and you can even get wall-mounted boxes that allow for a more private way of storing items against the wall. Overhead bookshelves look incredibly classy and are still accessible if you get a small step-ladder (or a very tall housemate).
Tip Six: Mirrors and Glass Are Great Tricks!
For small bathrooms I’d always recommend renovating with glass and mirrors wherever possible. Entire walls covered in mirrors really do make a huge difference to how large a room feels, plus getting glass shower cubicles or a clear shower curtain stops you from segmenting what is already a small room. If your bathroom has no access to natural light then ensure that your lamps are giving off bright, white light. This may take some experimenting but I can guarantee that a white bathroom really sings when it’s got excellent light to back it up (as mentioned previously).
For rooms other than bathrooms, glass bricks are also great for dividing off alcoves in houses for privacy without sacrificing light or making areas feel closed off. They can also be used in the construction of a home for added light and a really cool effect. Mirrors are also fantastic for expanding a room simply by adding one to the back of a door, behind a sofa or (if you can manage it) across an entire wall. You might try to go halfway with a smaller mirror but I find that these have the opposite effect. Think about it this way: does a porthole in a submarine make you feel more or less enclosed?
And there you have it! My tips and tricks from living in shoeboxes my entire life! If you have any others then please give me a nudge in the comments below, I’m always looking for better ways to use space (with the size of my homes, I really need it!).
Kayleigh Herbertson is a professional copywriter for Vufold, creator of bifolding glass doors. She currently lives with her partner in what is actually a nice-sized flat in England but you couldn’t stand four people side-by-side in the width of her den.
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