Room to Improve's Dermot Bannon: How to reorganise your living space to get the most out of our house
The architect and TV star answers your home improvement questions.
Question: How can we reorganise our live space
Our house (pictured) is on four floors, with small rooms: two living rooms, three bedrooms, a kitchen and one bathroom. My husband and I live here with our two girls, aged two and four, and we have very little open or storage space.
Our two concerns are :
1 Our bedroom has a mezzanine with a view from the window overlooking the mountains. We use the mezzanine as a storage area, but would it be worth extending it and moving the bed up to make the most of the view out front? We think it would open up more floor space and room for storage underneath.
2 Our living room and kitchen are on different levels - the living room is on the lower one, and it's very small with no light, whereas the kitchen gets the morning light. We are planning to extend the lower level across the length of the house, and we're thinking of swapping the two rooms. We would move the kitchen to the upper level at the back, and use the extended area as the living space to get more light in.
Thank you for your letter. From your photos I can guess that this could be an extremely frustrating house to live in. There seems to be level changes everywhere and none of the rooms seem to work. You say the house is laid out over four floors. This was quite commonplace during the boom when land was expensive and taller narrower housing was a more economical way of building, or duplexes with one building on top of another. While this can be a very space-efficient way to build, unless the houses are laid out right they can be very difficult to make work as you end up with a lot of space on the upper floors and a compact living space on the ground floor. This problem is then compounded by the fact that many of these developments' rooms that are adjacent to each other are sometimes on different levels and therefore cannot be connected as you would in a regular house by just knocking through. To connect rooms in your house may mean introducing steps between rooms which will eat up valuable space. Duplexes and multi-level houses can make great homes when you can spread your family living over a number of floors, for example, when children are a bit older or teenagers, but with young children it can be frustrating as you want them to be close by and on the same level - it's when they are small you need a big living space.
I am going to make a couple of assumptions with regards to your house - firstly, that your main sitting room is on another level so cannot be accessed from the kitchen space. Secondly, that the rear of the house is east facing as it gets the morning sun so the side of the house faces south, this is clearly lit up in the photos. The living space in your kitchen area seems very long and narrow and up a level from the kitchen and garden space. This room must feel like Grand Central Station when family life is in full swing, not a space to relax. Any connection that you may have with the garden is cut off with the string of kitchen units around the walls.
You have more or less answered your problem in the letter in the fact that you should most definitely swap your living and kitchen spaces around, putting the kitchen on the upper level and the living on the lower garden level. Placing the seating down in this space will create a cosier more usable space by the fact that it is no longer a walk-through, it will be far more relaxing and a big advantage is that you can now open it up to the garden with a glazed screen to the east and south. A kitchen is naturally a busier spot with lots of traffic through the space so will be perfect on the upper level. Try then to get the dining space on the upper level overlooking the living space if you can.
If the budget would allow, you could wrap the existing kitchen (to become the living space) over to the side to create a large space overlooking the garden. This space could be divided into 2/3 living space with the other 1/3 used as a dining space on the lower level opening to the outside space. Again, budget dependant, it would be great to lift up the roof of this space to allow a greater feeling of space, more light and a better connection from the upper level kitchen space to the garden. You could also place a roof light over the new space to make the most of the south light.
With regards to your bedroom, it looks like one of the most awkward layouts I have seen in a long time. It's a long narrow room with a really big step up to what you call the mezzanine. The height difference is significant enough to be dangerous. I think you need to sort out this room, not only from a functional point of view but also from an aesthetic point of view - it cannot be the most relaxing room in the world.
The key to long and narrow rooms is to break them up into smaller more square sections using furniture, this makes the space feel wider. In your case, as you mentioned, you could stretch out the mezzanine to create a bed platform and have your clothes storage on a lower level. Before you start any work there are a couple of things to be aware of though, in order to comply with the building regulations. You are essentially raising the floor level in the room by extending the mezzanine to take the bed. You need to ensure that at least half of your floor-to-ceiling height in the room needs to be greater than 2.4m or 8 foot in height - this is to allow the room to be properly ventilated. Secondly, due to the height of the mezzanine, you will need to provide a proper stairs up to the space with a handrail if you go above three steps. If this can be achieved it would really resolve a difficult room.
You will lose some space to the new floor but, as you said, you can use the space beneath to provide some clever pullout storage and drawers, but get these made up properly by a good joiner.
4 inspirational ideas
Living on the level
Put an end to walk-throughs
Stop constant traffic and create a relaxing and more usable zone by placing your seating on the lower garden level. Another advantage is being able to open it up to the garden with glazing.
Be aware of building regulations when changing levels
When raising floor levels you need to ensure that at least half of your floor-to-ceiling height is greater than 2.4m or 8 foot in height. This allows the room to be properly ventilated.
Through the looking glass
Room with a view
Make the most of morning sunshine with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors. A roof light over the new space will make the most of light from the south.
Raise the roof
Achieve a greater feeling of space
Raised ceilings will allow more light in and a better connection to other areas in the house.