With trends toward higher density living gaining momentum both nationally and internationally, there is a constant challenge for designers to develop creative solutions for flexible and efficient living spaces which respond to increasingly tight spatial constraints. As construction costs rise, flexible design will continue to become more valuable. A home with two spaces that can facilitate five functions is obviously more efficient than one that has a separate space for each function.
At Base, we generally have a number of multi-residential projects on the drawing board, and we are increasingly being asked to get involved in projects for residential dwellings on tight sites. We enjoy the challenge, and find it extremely satisfying to achieve a great result for our clients by designing flexible and functional spaces which are a joy to live in!
‘Multiplicity’ of spaces is a design ambition that our Director, Shawn, believes is key to a comfortable and efficient home. Whether you’re thinking of building a new home, or you’re just looking to get the most out of your existing house, seeking to achieve spaces which can adapt to multiple functions (in particular over a long period of time as the occupants of the home grow and change) will enable larger spaces which can be used more often and hence enable a more “value-for-money” result!
There are a number of simple design techniques which can be employed to ensure a space can be optimised to perform very differently from one moment to the next – for this article, we’re sharing some of the key design techniques we use at Base to optimise any space we design, and ensure our clients get the best outcome!
Well-Planned, Open Plan Living Spaces
Something that has become very much a staple of modern residential design is the integration of the separate kitchen, dining, and living rooms to into one larger, open plan space. In traditional Queenslanders, these rooms were formalized spaced disconnected from each other. Natalie, our Senior Interior Designer notes that, “the way spaces in a house are used [has also] evolved over time, and the kitchen is now much more than just a place where food is prepared. It is the technology hub, homework table, filing area, gadget charging station and social hub.” By designing larger open plan spaces, less of the floor area is lost to circulation corridors and unnecessary walls, and this space can then be used elsewhere.
Breaking Down the Barriers Between “Inside” and “Out”
At Base – we love to introduce an ‘Outdoor Room’ in every project we can! It is a common practice in areas with mild climates, like Queensland, to promote a connection between the inside and outside of the house. Creating an indoor – outdoor connection in your home is a great way to bring the outside in and essentially increase the size of the house. Seamless connections with large openings, flush thresholds and continuous floor finishes, all combine to make the outdoor space feel as though it is actually a part of the house. Since the combined indoor-outdoor space is large, the connecting internal spaces can be smaller than would be required if they needed to operate in isolation.
Built-in Furniture and Joinery
Many of our clients lead busy lifestyles, and as such, require their homes to be as practical as possible, with readily accessible and well-designed integrated storage. Spaces that are intended for multiple uses can benefit greatly from in-built joinery or furniture that is designed into the space – this eliminates the need for other loose furniture or storage cupboards to be introduced into the room and take-up valuable space. Cluttered spaces feel tight and busy, whilst tidy spaces (with any mess concealed behind closed doors!) will feel more spacious, and are easier to live within! High shelving takes advantage of wall space, rather than cabinets for storage on the floor. The aim is to always challenge typical design solutions, and tailor storage and built-in furniture to your lifestyle. For example, if the kitchen island bench can be designed to also perform as the dining table or a work desk then you can save space on a study or separate area for a dining table. In-built benches and seating can double as storage areas if built to do so, and a generous day bed under a window in a hallway can often achieve the same result as a second living room, while also making the hallway feel larger.
Ceiling Heights and Voids
The ceiling height has a great impact on how spacious a room feels. If there are restrictions on the available floor area of a room, incorporating a higher ceiling can help to make the whole space feel larger. This can also create opportunities to utilise the space in ways that are not possible with a low ceiling (consider raised bed platforms with storage or study spaces below as an example). As a rule of thumb, 2700mm is a good minimum height for living spaces and bedrooms in houses, rather than the more commonly used 2400mm. Voids and double-height volumes are another great way of simultaneously making a number of spaces feel spacious and generously sized. While some floor area on the upper level will be ‘donated’ to the void, the spaces adjacent to the void on the lower and upper levels will be able to ‘borrow’ this space from one another and ultimately feel much larger. Voids also allow spaces on different levels to have a visual connection, which would not be afforded otherwise.
Glazing and Daylight
While glazing is widely recognised as an expensive element in construction, careful consideration of the sizing and locations of openings can have potential to add a lot of value to the space. Expansive views out of a room can help to make a space feel much larger than it is, while the benefits of natural light and breeze will also help to make the space much more comfortable to occupy. Floor to ceiling glazing can make a room feel limitless and much more open than it would otherwise, while high level windows can bring daylight into a space that might otherwise feel cave-like. Similarly to glazing, mirrors are a well-used technique for helping a space “look” larger than it is, as well as having the ability to reflect views beyond. A well-placed mirror will capitalise on natural light, bouncing it around the room.
Operable Windows and Doors
Being able to reconfigure a space easily, is another key aspect to consider in designing a multi-use space. Using bi-fold or sliding doors that easily stack away effectively joins two spaces to create one larger, connected space when required, while still allowing for the spaces to be used as separate discrete rooms when the doors are closed. Leaving wall openings between rooms where a door may not be required is also a quick trick to allow rooms to feel larger, while introducing sliding doors instead of swinging doors can save room in tight spaces where a swinging door might get in the way!
Light colours will make a room feel bigger and brighter, whilst dark colours can make a space feel smaller than it is. More light will reflect off lighter coloured walls, which will maximise the effect of natural light in the space. The precise composition of colour shades of different elements in the room (ceilings, skirtings, cornices, door & window trims) can also optimise how big the room will feel – darker shades will naturally recede, lighter shades will pop-out.
Flooring can play a large part in make rooms feel larger and more connected. Continuous floor finishes that flow from one space to the next, and from inside through to the outside will help to blur the boundaries between spaces. In addition, selecting larger and wider floor boards and tiles which are “less busy” will contribute to a more expansive feeling space.