Tuesday 12 December 2017

Small but perfectly formed - clever storage and furniture

As homes shrink, it's time to get the measure on clever storage and furniture with extra features

A place for everything: Swedish designers Johan Dalin and Pia Kriisin kitted out a 15 sq m apartment with IKEA furnishings
A place for everything: Swedish designers Johan Dalin and Pia Kriisin kitted out a 15 sq m apartment with IKEA furnishings
Interior designer Róisín Lafferty
Dining solutions from DFS at the Marianella show apartment
The lark armchair with footstool - also from DFS
A sofa and chair from the DFS Capsule Collection
The multifunctional Ekebol three-seat sofa (€395) from IKEA
Wall storage from a selection at IKEA

Eleanor Flegg

I once got a new sofa stuck in the stairwell. I had measured - of course - but I got it wrong. That sofa was totally jammed. There was no way it was getting in the door. Since we live in a terraced house with no rear entrance, the only option was to send the sofa back. Disaster! Once I'd got over the trauma, I ordered a smaller sofa from a different company.

Six weeks later, the second sofa arrived. Only it wasn't the modest two-seater that I had ordered - it was a lovely big three-seater, upholstered in my fabric of choice. Somewhere along the line, a mistake had been made. This was the right sofa - but the wrong size. I decided to stay quiet about the mistake until we discovered if it would make it through the stairwell.

"Would you give me a hand downstairs with that?" I asked the delivery men.

Miraculously, the sofa fitted through the door. I decided to say nothing to anyone, especially as I had paid for a cheaper sofa than the one that was delivered. I'm not defending the ethics of my actions, but it was a salutary lesson. If you live in a small space, be careful that the furniture that you buy is the correct size.

Interior designer Róisín Lafferty
Interior designer Róisín Lafferty

Irish living spaces are getting smaller. In 2015, the updated guidelines for apartment development reduced the minimum size of a single-bedroom apartment from 55sq m to 45sq m; a two-bedroom apartment from 90sq m to 73sq m; and a three-bedroom apartment from 100sq m to 90sq m.

In London, the minimum size of new apartments is calculated slightly differently. Their standards require at least 37sq m for one person; 50sq m for two people sharing a bedroom; and 61sq m for three people in two bedrooms. By global standards, this isn't exactly cramped. In Hong Kong, the average person has only 15sq m of floor space. That's tiny!

This summer, the Swedish designers Johan Dalin and Pia Kriisin took on the challenge of equipping a 15sq m apartment using products from Ikea. Multipurpose furniture played a starring role. "The kitchen table is foldable and doubles up as a place to work. The sofa has storage underneath and behind it, just right for books and magazines. And you can even take a nap on it," the designers explained. That's the Ekebol three-seat sofa (€395). The wire coffee table also doubles as a storage unit and the pouffe hangs on the wall when not in use. In short, almost everything in the apartment is designed to do more than one job. If you didn't keep it tidy it would be chaos.

Tiny as it was, the apartment had one big advantage. The duplex arrangement with a loft-style sleeping space allowed for a very high ceiling in the living room. The designers made use of the height to free up floor space, with a row of Ivar cabinets (€53) high on the wall. You can reach them with a lightweight ladder, which is also used to access the loft. History doesn't relate where the toilet is.

The kitchen is a riff on Ikea's Sunnersta mini-kitchen (€148) which is basically a sink on a trolley with various add-ons and the Lixhult kitchen cabinets (€35) have blackboard doors. These are called Uddevalla (€22) and will work best if the person who uses them is artistic or has neat handwriting.

Overall, it's a low cost ensemble, cleverly photographed to appear bigger than it is. In general it's not a great idea to furnish an entire room from just one shop - however handy. There's a sameness about the look that soon becomes wearisome. But, if you look at the apartment as an exercise of what can be done cheaply in a small space, it includes plenty of useful ideas.

The lark armchair with footstool - also from DFS
The lark armchair with footstool - also from DFS

"One of the main issues that apartment dwellers have is storage - or the lack of it," says the interior designer Róisín Lafferty.

"A lot of apartments are designed so that storage is overlooked. Then it has to be brought in, and that can be bulky." The solution varies. Renters can often do very little to an apartment but owner-occupiers are in a stronger position. "The first thing that you need to do is look at the circulation and the flow," she says. "Less is more in terms of the finishes. A small space painted a single colour, with a single floor finish, will look like a considered continuous space rather than several bitty sections."

Lafferty also recommends space-saving pocket doors, which retreat into the wall, and suggests replacing some of the interior walls with storage units that also serve as partitions.

Lafferty's company, KLD, has just finished work on a number of show apartments at Róisín Lafferty Marianella, Dublin 6. The complex was built by Cairns Development and the photographs are by Ruth Maria Murphy.

In the three-bedroom apartment, she made a small bedroom seem larger by mirroring an entire wall. "It's a simple thing that you can do yourself and it makes a room much nicer to be in," she explains.

In several of the apartments, Lafferty used sofas and chairs from the DFS Capsule Collection, which is specifically designed for smaller spaces. "There's an elegance about the furniture," she says. "All the pieces have raised legs so you can see the flooring underneath them, and that creates the illusion of space." Her favourite is the Lark (€545), a neat little tub chair with pretty tapered legs. The Capsule Collection is affordable - sofa prices start at €589 - and fully customisable in terms of materials. Stylistically, they range from the unobtrusive Bask and Truth sofas, to the mid-century Laze and the slightly Scandi Lull. There's also an accompanying suite of footstools.

A sofa and chair from the DFS Capsule Collection
A sofa and chair from the DFS Capsule Collection

Crucially, all the sofas come with compact arm widths and bolt-off removable arms to make sure that they fit through narrow stairways or small doorframes.

If you live in a small space, it's important to consider the shape of the furniture and whether it fits in the door. I learnt that one the hard way.

See dfs.ie, kingstonlaffertydesign.com, and ikea.ie.

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