Architect's Clinic: Six tips to making better use of your living spaces
Q We recently bought a 1980s two-bedroom apartment. While it's a good size, there is very little storage and the layout just doesn't work. There is a separate kitchen but it is not big enough to eat in. The bathroom is large, but with three adults (a couple and college-going daughter), we need a roster to use the shower in the morning. What changes can we make to improve storage, make better use of living spaces and ease pressure on the bathroom?
A Getting the layout right is key to any project. With an apartment, you'll have to make every single centimetre work hard.
ADD HOOKS IN THE HALL
The hall in your apartment is probably too narrow to fit storage cupboards of any useful depth. Hooks at a height of 120cm above floor level will be below eye level but can usefully accommodate most coats and jackets. Add a shelf or picture ledge above the hooks to create a spot for welcoming candles, plants or pictures. A mirror or artwork overhead will increase the sense of welcome and create a pleasing focal point.
EXPAND YOUR LIVING SPACE
Removing the wall between the kitchen and living areas will allow you to create an open-plan space for cooking, eating and living. Check with a registered architect whether this work will require a fire safety certificate.
Make sure each of the three zones of kitchen, dining and living are not just happy in their own right but work well together to create a calm, harmonious whole. Maximise storage in the kitchen with wall cupboards that reach to the ceiling, as well as adjustable shelves which allow you to tailor the storage to meet your precise needs.
A round table with a single, central leg works well in most apartments, while low-backed chairs will add character to the dining area without overwhelming the overall space. A long, low TV bench in the living area can provide both useful storage and additional seating when a crowd gathers.
BREAK OUT A SHOWER
Investigate the possibility of re-configuring the large bathroom to provide a shower room accessed off the hall and an en suite off the master bedroom. Choose fittings cunningly to make best use of every centimetre. A space measuring just 120cm x 190cm can fit a (generous) 70cm by 120cm shower, a compact toilet and a modest basin with pull-out storage beneath. Add slim, mirrored cupboards over the toilet and basin for more storage as well as a greatly enhanced sense of space. Well-placed hooks (back of the door or wall by the shower) will enhance the usability of even the tiniest of shower rooms.
FIND A SEPARATE UTILITY SPACE
It's worth finding space for the washing machine outside the kitchen, perhaps adjacent to the shower or bathroom. The open-plan living area will thank you for this. A cupboard just 65cm deep x 90cm wide will fit a washer/dryer alongside a useful slot for the ironing board, vacuum cleaner and other utility items.
You'll want to maximise space for wardrobes, which are normally 60cm deep, although shallower wardrobes, typically 45cm deep, are a useful option where space is constricted. It may be worth re-locating the bedroom door to increase the run of wall space available for this purpose.
Add full-height doors to off-the-peg wardrobes to achieve extra storage at a high level. Sliding doors are a good choice in a narrow room, while under-bed storage will provide a useful spot for spare linen or out-of-season clothes. A picture ledge above the bed will form a pleasant focal point and a place to fit reading lights if there is no room for a bedside table on either side of the bed.
A knowledge of dimensions is key to finding the optimal layout and to making the most of your space. Small changes, such as re-locating doors or radiators, can be transformative and allow you achieve the fullest potential for your new apartment. Larger works, such as re-locating walls, may require a fire safety certificate. Your architect will advise.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Find one on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
Eva Byrne, MRIAI, is a registered architect and house consultant with a passion to help homeowners maximise the potential of their homes; houseology.ie; facebook.com/houseology