Small can be beautiful
There has been a lot of debate in the British housing industry over the last few years about the size of the new homes we are building and the concern that the rooms within those new homes are becoming unbearably small. It is a fascinating debate as there is no question that that to build larger homes costs more money and with house prices becoming increasingly unaffordable there is an argument to say that if we build smaller homes then we would be building more affordable ones. The counter argument could be that with there being such a demand for homes, the house builders will achieve a good sale price irrespective of how small the house feels.
Obviously if a new home is built and it is ridiculously small and claustrophobic then it can have a detrimental effect on the family that lives there, so there needs to be a sensible balance struck between comfort, functionality and affordability.
In the 1960’s we had minimum space standards as developed by Parker Morris report for the construction of new publicly funded homes, but unfortunately these standards were gradually phased out between 1981 and 1993. The only remaining Authority in England to have minimum space standards is The Greater London Authority. The rest have gone, which is a national scandal.
The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) recently released a report called ‘The Case for Space’, which did show that our homes are certainly getting smaller and it does annoy me when I visit so many new build homes that have woeful lack of storage and spaces planned in a poor way. I recently saw a bedroom where, once you installed a standard sized double bed there was no room whatsoever for a wardrobe!
I have to point out that there is also a major problem with how UK estate agents communicate information about a property. If I asked you how many square feet or square metres of usable space you had in your home I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell me. You’d be able to tell me the number of rooms you have but you would have no idea about the gross floor area. Throughout Europe and in the United States people know the area of floor areas of their homes off by heart. And so they should because the construction cost of a home is based on the amount floor area, the sales cost is broadly based on the usable floor area and it also defines how much space you have available to live in. The usable floor area of every home should be made clear on all sales particulars and more importantly there should be comprehensive floor plans of the home showing all furniture. Have you ever noticed how estate agent’s floor plans never have furniture on them? It drives me mad! If there were furniture on the plans even the untrained eye would soon be able to see if a space works or not.
But size isn’t everything. My biggest criticism of the house building industry is that the way rooms are planned and designed just isn’t creative enough. Most spec built properties are dumb boxes linked together with a few corridors. As you might have seen on ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ we work really hard to make even the smallest spaces do so many different things. It is about innovative and creative design that doesn’t have to cost much money. Small can be beautiful.
If you have a small room you could think about creating more fully height integrated storage rather than wasting space with freestanding units. You could be really clever with fold out or pull down furniture to make a space multi-functional and allow a small room to be used for many different things. Mutli-functional design is a great way of getting more out of a small room. I always try to design in high-level storage as so often the space above your head is wasted. I’ve also designed minimal sleeping pods in rooms pushed for space to avoid wasting space around the sides of a standard bed. Fold out beds, bunk beds and even raised beds to allow lots of storage beneath is so standard these days, but they are brilliant. I saw a staircase recently where each step doubles up as a pull out drawer for storing small, but important items such as kids shoes. Genius!
Creative and innovative design is everything when it comes to new and affordable homes, but the industry just isn’t doing it. As the old saying goes “its not the size that matters, its what you do with it”.