Life Home & Garden

Tuesday 25 June 2019

How do we make the most of our tiny home without extending?

A custom-made kitchen may help you make best use of every cubic centimetre and allow you to explore options like full-height wall cabinets
A custom-made kitchen may help you make best use of every cubic centimetre and allow you to explore options like full-height wall cabinets

Architect's Clinic: Eva Byrne

Query: We are living in a small cottage, the location is great but myself and my partner need more space and can't afford to move. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Size should never be a barrier to creating a great home. Small spaces simply require extra ingenuity to realise their potential.

As with any home, it's a matter of optimising the fundamental elements of house design - space, light and storage - to meet your needs in the best possible way. Give some thought to the life stage(s) of the occupants of your home and their corresponding needs. Whilst a single, open-plan space combining kitchen, dining and living areas may seem a simple way to increase the feeling of space, a home with children, teenagers or young adults will need a stronger definition between the spaces and the ability to close off a sitting area from the kitchen/dining room.

Be open to how each space in the house is used, including, for example, giving the largest bedroom to a child or teen as the bedroom can double as a play or retreat space. This will relieve pressure on the main living areas.

Optimising light

Aim to capture as much light as possible from the outside, and then to reflect it about your space by all means possible. How you lay out your space is important here. Keeping kitchen units away from the wall to your garden will allow you to install expansive windows and glass doors to the outside. This will have the added bonus of enhancing the sense of space. If any part of the house is single storey, think about inserting skylights, always a powerful source of light. Internal glass doors will allow light to flow throughout the interior of the house. Use opal glass where privacy is a consideration.

Optimising storage

Be a space accountant and make every last centimetre count. Maximise access to all storage cupboards with doors that are the same width and same height as the interior of the cupboard they give access to. Adjustable, as opposed to fixed, shelving will let you maximise your storage. Make it multi-task: a built-in bench, 40cm high and 40cm deep, can double as extra seating with drawers for useful storage under. Know your dimensions - a wardrobe 30cm deep will work well in a restricted bedroom; wardrobes just 120cm high can be custom-made to fit the eaves of an awkward attic.

Mini kitchens

A custom-made kitchen may help you make best use of every cubic centimetre and allow you to explore options like full-height wall cabinets and a higher than normal countertop. A counter 10cm higher than standard means you can add a row of shallow drawers between your appliances and your worktop. Think creatively about your appliances, too. A single drawer dishwasher is an alternative to a slim dishwasher or your oven could include a microwave function. Try to find an alternative location for the washing machine. A cupboard 60cm wide, by 70cm deep, will suffice. Balance aesthetics with functionality: an integrated fridge will have reduced capacity but will be easier on the eye.

Small bathrooms

Simple fittings, a light colour palette and an abundance of mirrors will magnify even the tiniest of bathrooms. Maximise storage with under-sink drawers and mirror-fronted wall cabinets. Devoted to your bath? Squeeze in a half bath, 150cm in length, or even a mini bath, 135cm long.

Decor tips

Keep it simple. Maximise space with a neutral wall tone, adding colour by means of art, accessories and rugs. Use single panel doors for elegance and versatility, choosing between solid panels, clear or opaque glass as appropriate to each room. Repetition lends calm. The handle you choose for you kitchen will also work well for your wardrobes and other cupboard.

  • Eva Byrne, FRAIA, provides consultancy by the hour to maximise your home's potential;
  • If considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Find one near you on, the registration body for architects in Ireland.

Do you have a design dilemma? Email your problem to

Advice is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.

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