Thursday, 10 March 2011

Making the most of what you have!

This is often the time of year when people get a little restless and decide they need to move home because of a lack of space. In the current economic climate it makes sense to re-assess your current living space before making any rash moves.

Most of us quickly settle on specific uses for locations throughout our home and live with these until we relocate. However, they are not always logical and can mean that a fair degree of our property is left under-utilised.

When clients engage us to develop their home, we undertake a lifestyle interview that helps indicate what they really need from their environment (which may well initially differ from what they think they want). Having an objective set of eyes upon the problem can help you break away from your tried and tested regime to really see how you should be using your available space.

You should begin by ignoring the existing layout and use of your rooms and considering exactly what facilities you need.  You need to do this as an objective academic exercise - literally list down all uses and how often this use will occur. It is important to be realistic, not idealistic.  It is incredibly useful to have an unbiased third party to help, so why not invite a friend around and do this over coffee (not a glass of wine as the end results can be very different!!) 

Try to think ahead for the next couple of years to ensure that you take into consideration any changes likely to arise (for instance, a playroom may well be superseded by the need for a study as children move from Primary to Secondary School).

Once you understand your most important needs, take a close look at how you use your home currently and objectively assess whether you are should re-define some of your rooms.

Three of the most common issues in UK homes are:

 *  rarely used dining rooms
 *  empty guest rooms
 *  crowded box rooms

The separate dining room harks back to times when we were more formal about our dining requirements. I never advocate removing a dining area altogether as I think it is important that families have a space within which to eat and commune together. However, in the current age of informal entertaining this function is better situated within the kitchen to create a heart of the home. Regaining the use of an idle dining room can add a considerable additional day to day living space to incorporate as a children’s TV area or home study.

We also often see teenage children crammed into a small single room, whilst the house possesses a perfectly decent double bedroom which is kept for guests. Unless you are accommodating visitors for the majority of the year this is not an effective use of a room. Teenagers have the need for additional space for study (as well as the plethora of games consoles and other media equipment), so it makes sense to re-assign the use of the rooms and consider mattresses).

Similarly, Box Rooms often become dumping grounds for rarely needed general rubbish. Start by careful culling the contents (ruthlessly assess the real cost to you in lifestyle space to hold onto items). Then consider how often you will actually need instant access to the remaining items and find more appropriate storage locations (i.e. if you will rarely need it store in an attic or shed). Re-claiming a Box Room and carefully fitting it out can provide you with space for a small study, play room, dressing room or even a home gym.

If your needs are a little more complex you really should also consider ices of a good interior designer and/or architect.  This is what we do everyday for a living and you would be surprised at the solutions we have had to come up with over the years.  If you have an issue, chances are we have a way of solving it.

Re-working the division of interior spaces can drastically reduce under used space (particularly when considering redefining hallways or corridors which can add significant square footage to even the smallest home). Areas such as under the stairs are also often ideal spaces to install an additional WC or small home office area.

I would always advise any you carefully consider any "Open plan" living designs, as ideal as it sounds there are still often needs for privacy in family homes and heating costs have to be taken into account.   

Where you are combining rooms (such as knocking through separate dining and living rooms) consider including recessed sliding doors that disappear into the wall to allow you to use the area more flexibly and to reclaim some solitude when necessary.

Depending on the construction of your home you may also be able to move internal walls to “steal” space from low usage rooms to create larger actual living areas.

A final vital point to consider if you are making interior changes is the impact it will have on the value of your home (especially if you only plan to live there in the short or medium term). Before embarking on any major structural change seek advice from a property professional to avoid inadvertently reducing the value of your home (for instance, by sacrificing bedrooms to bathrooms in a property with less than 4 bedrooms) or over-developing your home for the area that you live in.

Jamie Hempsall is an award winning interior designer and member of the British Institute of Interior Design. Contact him on 0800 0321 180 or visit his website

You can also follow Jamie on Twitter @jamiehempsall.

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