Interiors... Thinking inside the box
Eleanor Flegg with the best in design and decoration for your home
Multi-functional furnishings and clever storage are your best friends when it comes to compact homes.
My friend lives in a tiny terraced cottage off Cork Street. It was built by the Dublin Artisans’ Dwelling Company and, according to the 1911 census, once accommodated a family of eight. But at 39 square metres, it’s smaller than the regulatory minimum size for new apartments so you’d struggle to swing even a Manx kitten in any part of it. Because she’s not in a position to sell, she often dreams of redesigning the interior for better use of space. “I have been tempted to put a mezzanine in, perhaps as a work space,” she says, “but one of the things that makes the front room seem bigger is the almost double-height ceiling. If money truly was no object, I would dig down to get more height and then put that mezzanine in.”
But here’s the cold hard truth about small living spaces. You can’t actually ‘create’ space — no matter what the designers say — the only option is to allocate it differently. And anything that you choose to change will always be at the expense of something else. Another issue is the expense. “People think that a small interior will be cheaper to design than a larger one,” says Dana Kallo of Black Fox Interiors. “Actually, it’s not. The smaller the space, the more money it’s going to cost.” When space is limited, it’s important to use every corner efficiently. That’s not cheap and it’s not easy. Black Fox Interiors has recently finished a design for a very small city centre apartment. At 40 sq m, it’s very slightly larger than my friend’s cottage, but still smaller than the current minimum size for new apartments (45 sq m). Kallo and her team decided to put in a mezzanine, but only in the bedroom area. The mezzanine is large enough to accommodate a double bed, with room for a home office below, but she also put a lot of thought into how to use the space around it.
Most Irish apartments are lacking in storage and this one was no exception. Cutting down on personal possessions and being neat in your habits will only get you so far. “It doesn’t matter how tidy you are,” Kallo explains. “If you don’t have anywhere for your things, the apartment will look cluttered. You need to have somewhere to put them away.” Her solution was to turn the space under the staircase into a wardrobe and to build a drawer into each individual stair. All such projects are priced individually, but it’s safe to say that this type of bespoke design doesn’t come cheap. “The smaller the space, the more creative you need to be with it and, for very small spaces, we often have to look beyond what we can find in the shops.”
Different interior designers have different priorities (that’s why it’s important to find someone who shares yours). For Kallo, it’s all about functionality.
“We like to design spaces that look good, but we’re always more focused on the functional side of things.” When it comes to budget, she recommends that you prioritise the working aspects of the interior — kitchen, bathroom and storage — over the decoration.
Multifunctional furniture can help a lot. The apartment just has one bedroom, but the Innovation Living sofa (€1,400 from D40 Studio) opens out to become a double bed. You’d have to pull the bespoke storage unit out from under the TV to make this happen, but it’s good to have the option of accommodating guests.
The strapped-for-cash might consider the Ekebol sofa (€395) as a cheaper option. It has storage below and to the sides of the sofa.
If you have money to spend on multifunctional furniture, the Italian brand Ozzio has a table that converts, using gas powered telescopic mechanisms, from coffee tables to dining tables. The Newood transforming table costs €2,629 from Go Modern Furniture in the UK (check the delivery charge before you commit). Ozzio also offers a self-standing TV unit with built-in storage that houses a pull-out dining table to seat eight people. You can also store up to six folding dining chairs behind the TV screen. Mad stuff. Expect to pay around €3,760, also from Go Modern Furniture. That’s a big outlay but, before you baulk at the price, calculate the cost of buying the component parts as separate pieces of furniture. Then consider the amount of space they’d take up.
For small spaces, it’s best to keep the materials as simple as possible. “When the storage units are the same colour as the walls they blend with the shape of the room and become less visible,” Kallo says.
In the Dublin apartment she went with a relaxed colour scheme that was also playful. “The client is very fond of blue tones, so we used a blue on the walls, but we also discovered that she loved bright orange.” Hence the Swan retro fridge/freezer (€830 from Littlewoods) and the banging orange kitchen splashback. The kitchen is white (better safe than sorry) and cost €7,000 from Kube. The patchwork tiles come from the Vodevil collection from Vives. “People like their bathrooms and kitchens fully tiled but I would recommend keeping the tiling to a minimum in small spaces,” says Kallo.
“Use tiles on the floor and in the shower, but don’t fill a room with them.” In a room where every millimetre counts, a layer of tiling takes up a surprising amount of space.
After all those sensible choices, the apartment needed a finishing flourish. “We went through all kinds of wallpaper options and the client was thinking of using decals. Then we thought — what if we worked with a talented artist and asked him to design something based on the palette we’d chosen for the apartment?” Kallo had worked with the Dublin-based artist Stephen O’Raw before and commissioned him paint a hummingbird mural (this one cost €300 but prices vary depending on the complexity of the drawing). “It’s a way of bringing a little bit of nature into the apartment,” Kallow says. “That’s important when you live in the city.”
See blackfoxinteriors.com, d40studio.com, littlewoodsireland.com, ikea.ie, gomodern.co.uk, vivesceramica.com, stephenoraw.ie