Your grand design doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. These 10 solutions show you how to make a bold statement in a compact space.

10 ways to make the most of compact space

Poteet Architects (+1 210 281 9818;

1. Create a walk-through dressing room

If you don’t have space for a dedicated dressing room, consider creating a semi-private area behind the bed, using a wardrobe as a space divider. ‘The room needs to be at least four metres long to do this,’ advises furniture designer Barbara Genda (020 7978 2349; ‘A wardrobe takes up 55cm depth, then you need 70cm to walk around it, two metres for the bed, and space to walk around the foot of the bed.’

You want to avoid the design looking like the back of a wardrobe, so think about adding bedside tables or shelves, so it’s more like a tall headboard. Alternatively, you could cover it with contrasting colours or materials so it feels more like a room divider. Poteet Architects (+1 210 281 9818; used yellow and white plastic laminate in this American house. Genda estimates that a similar structure would cost around £4,800.

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Nook Architects (+34 931 255 112;

2. Introduce flush flooring

The best way to make indoor compact spaces and outdoor compact spaces feel connected is to create a level floor. Barcelona practice Nook Architects (+34 931 255 112; added a seating platform that doubles as storage to bring this apartment’s living room to the same level as its terrace. A narrow door has also been replaced with a wider glazed opening, and the flooring in ipe – a durable Brazilian hardwood – is continuous, so the two spaces feel more like one.

‘Having the flooring at the same level creates the sensation of living outside when the doors are open, and also makes the apartment feel bigger,’ says architect Joan G Cortés. ‘The terrace is an active part of the interior.’ He says the new terrace, sliding door and platform cost €6,000- €7,000 (approximately £4,800-£5,600).

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Studio Four (+61 3 9827 2774;

3. Build a wall of shelves

Concentrating shelves on one wall will free up compact space in the rest of the room, while extending them around the door makes use of a redundant area near the ceiling. A shelving wall can also help to mark a transition in the home. In this Australian house by Studio Four (+61 3 9827 2774;, it’s a gateway between the living room and a new kitchen extension, which has a lower ceiling.

Take thorough stock of exactly what you need to store before you start, and be sure to incorporate some closed storage to hide things such as DVDs and work-related books or files. Use glass shelves or pale timber for a lighter appearance, or dark timber or metal for a more striking look.

‘You need to decide if the shelf is making the statement, or its contents,’ advises furniture designer Roger Hynam of Rogeroger (020 7254 7706; He estimates that a similar wall of bespoke shelves would cost around £7,500.

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Inglis Architects (+61 3 9421 1441;

4. Incorporate a study nook

A desk area that is built into the hall or living room can transform how your home works. This is especially useful if you have young children, allowing you to catch up on work while keeping an eye on them, or for them to use the computer in a supervised environment. Try to make the desk feel like part of the existing room by building up around it, or using similar materials. Australian practice Inglis Architects (+61 3 9421 1441; covered all surfaces of this study nook in American oak to give it a uniform appearance, then built storage around the sides and top so it feels more enclosed. If you don’t want to build up around your study, you could extend a desk such as this along the length of the hallway, so it doubles as a display surface.

‘You want a minimum width of 1.6 metres in a hall to accommodate a desk and chair,’ says Barbara Genda (020 7978 2349;, who estimates that a nook similar to this one would cost around £5,400.

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Alma-nac (020 7928 2092;

5. Be creative with tiles

One of the easiest, least expensive ways to create a bespoke look in your home is to arrange standard bathroom tiles in a creative manner. This apartment by London architect Alma-nac (020 7928 2092; features yellow and white tiles in a lightning-bolt pattern. For a more pared-back look, stick to one colour but combine large and small tiles, or opt for brick-shaped designs in an alternating horizontal and vertical arrangement. Different sizes also make it easier to incorporate off-cuts, which will save you money.

‘Be bold, but keep it simple – one big feature is better than lots of little ones,’ advises architect Chris Bryant of Alma-nac, who sourced the tiles for this bathroom from London’s Material Lab (020 7436 8629;

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Robert Dye Architects (020 7267 9388;

6. Upgrade to a sleek zone

Shower rooms are spaces that book-end the day, so a luxurious one can make your home much more enjoyable. The challenge is to hide the plumbing and fixtures to create clear surfaces, as in this London house by Robert Dye Architects (020 7267 9388; It is designed to replicate the sensation of showering under a waterfall, with clear views of sky on top and porcelain tiles with a rocky surface on the walls. ‘Often, if you want to make a room simpler, you have to make it smaller, to hide services in the walls,’ says Dye. ‘It’s like building a box within a box.’

Small details reinforce this room’s seamless look, such as a frameless glass shower screen, a slot drain that sits flush with the floor, and large porcelain floor tiles that are laid at the same level inside and outside the shower. Dye estimates it would cost £4,000-£5,000 for something similar, minus the skylight.

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Macdonald Wright Architects (020 7249 0791;

7. Make your doors taller

Bringing a door up to the top of the ceiling can help to make a room feel taller, lighter, and more connected with the rest of the house, as seen in this New York apartment by Archi-Tectonics (+1 212 226 0303; The sliding wooden door has been milled with wood patterns on both sides for added interest. ‘Allowing the ceiling to flow from one space to another improves the sense of openness,’ says James Wright of Macdonald Wright Architects (020 7249 0791;, who used this detail in his own home. ‘Two rooms can be opened to feel like one.’

A standard job could take a contractor two days, but the work may take longer if detailed drawings and specialist manufacturing are required. Wright advises budgeting £1,800 for a flush lacquered door that’s 2.4 metres tall and 90 centimetres wide, and says it’s worth consulting a professional beforehand.

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Deborah Berke Partners (+1 212 229 9211;

8. Be flexible with moveable furniture

Mobile pieces will pack more function into a small, compact space, and also work well in a big open zone. All the furniture in this New York loft by Deborah Berke Partners (+1 212 229 9211; is moveable, so the owner can reconfigure the space whenever he wants. It includes a bed that doubles as a sofa, a dining table that can be wheeled to the side, and a library, study and storage area that can be folded into a neat box when not in use. ‘The client uses the loft as a private home, an office and a place to entertain, so flexibility was a must,’ explains Berke.

Think about how you use your space before you commission a design – and be realistic about which pieces you are actually going to move. Expect to pay around £10,000 for a multipurpose study, storage and library unit, advises Roger Hynam (020 7254 7706;

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Waind Gohil Architects (020 8735 5367;

9. Plan for clever under the stairs storage

If you have a redundant area under your staircase, consider adding storage. Covering the space with doors will just create a dumping ground, so make it specific and plan in cupboards, drawers and shelves for different uses – such as a hanging area for coats at the taller end and drawers for shoes at the shorter end. Waind Gohil Architects (020 8735 5367; designed these stairs in a lower-ground-floor extension with a mixture of open shelves for books and closed storage for audiovisual equipment, games and charger points.

‘The key is simplicity,’ explains architect John Ashton. ‘Don’t try to articulate the stepped form of the stairs and have open storage below – this often looks cluttered and clumsy, because the height of one step clashes with the height of the shelves. And think carefully about extending the joinery up so it acts as a balustrade for the stairs – this will make the passage feel enclosed.’ The storage here cost £3,000-£5,000.

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Jean-Louis Deniot (+33 1 4544 0465;

10. Give your cloakroom a bold makeover

It might be the smallest room in the house, but the downstairs WC is the space that designers get most excited about. Its size and seclusion from other rooms make it a great place in which to create an adventurous, all-encompassing scheme. ‘Cloakrooms are an opportunity to be daring, so have fun and leave guests with something to talk about,’ says designer Bunny Turner of Turner Pocock (020 3463 2390;

This luxe WC by French interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot (+33 1 4544 0465; features stripes of different coloured stone on the walls, but one colour or wallpaper can make just as much of a statement. Embrace a lack of natural light by using moody colours. If the room is really tiny, or an awkward shape, smaller patterns will be easier to work with. ‘If you’re going to have a patterned wall, it’s best to go calm on the floor,’ says Turner. ‘Unless you’re tiling the walls and floors – then it’s fun to carry the floor finish onto the walls.’


Words: Luke Tebbutt

Kevins Column

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