Everybody is familiar with the dramatic change that can come about from simply changing the color on your walls. But how many people have actually considered changing the shape of the space itself? Sometimes we’re presented with problematic spaces that demand solutions. A very narrow room with a high ceiling looks out of proportion – maybe installing a false ceiling with recessed down lighters is the answer. A bathroom next to a WC practically instructs you to remove the dividing wall. Try applying this principle to an ordinary space as well, one which doesn’t have particular problems of size or proportion, but which might benefit from a re-think of the space and how it is to be used.
The past shows us examples of space dividing which may or may not be desirable solutions for the way we live today. The 1960s and 1970s gave us plastic and metal shelving units, open on both sides and jutting out across our living rooms. The style has moved on but the principle is still useable, except today we would use fabric panels, glass bricks, chrome retail shelving, or folding bamboo screens to achieve the same result. Straightforward square spaces can be given added interest and the illusion of greater length by incorporating a pair of screens that mirror each other across the room. These needn’t be large, they needn’t jut out into the room too far. Their mere presence is enough to create a space-changing illusion. If the room is high enough, you might consider building a platform over one end – for sleeping, reading, watching television. This is an especially effective way of increasing living space in a small studio or one-bedroom flat.
False ceilings needn’t be permanent. Swathes of fabric can create snug areas in an otherwise large and clinical room. Or, you might consider altering your space by changing the floor level. The character of a large dining/living room can be made intimate and distinct by raising the level of the dining room. This also offers the opportunity of using the newly created under floor space for storage – even as a wine cellar. One clever architect recently tucked a full-sized bathtub under the bedroom floor in a tiny flat!
All of these changes (except for the bathtub under the floor) have been made without changing your structural walls and are usually limited to one room. Redesigning an entire floor (or whole house) is an altogether larger project. Cramped and muddled rooms on a single floor can often be rearranged to create the feeling of more space. The basic principles of this can be seen in good garden design. A diagonal line of vision across a square space makes the space feel bigger. If re-sitting a door or incorporating an archway achieves a diagonal line of sight through two or more rooms, the effect will be the same. Gardens also use vistas, looking through and beyond the space you inhabit to an object or space beyond. Creating an enfilade – a progression of rooms linked together by a succession of doorways or archways in perfect alignment – was one of the ways the architects of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries achieved this vista effect in their design of stately homes and palaces. You might consider borrowing this idea for your own home.
Don’t forget about mirrors and glass. The early 19th century architect Sir John Soane adored mirrors and the space-expanding effect they had on his interiors. His house in London was been preserved, complete with all its architectural quirks, mirrored ceilings and walls, and interior porthole windows. Large Victorian mirrors, bereft of the huge mantles and sideboards over which they used to hang, create an elegant illusion of doubled space simply by being propped up against an empty wall. Sand-blasted glass panels, glass bricks, and etched glass are all being used in creative new ways to help increase light and a sense of space and airiness in today’s homes. Today’s glass designers can create everything from glass staircases to glass fireplaces. And this glass isn’t fragile! It’s tough, strong and beautiful.
If you have a garden next to your room, try to incorporate that space both visually and aesthetically. Install French or sliding doors to bring the garden into your home. Increase that effect by using the same floor covering inside and outside – sandstone, terracotta tiles or slate would work well and look great. Even if you can’t install French doors to make the room flow into the garden, a simple expedient of sympathetically planted window boxes will help make the garden flow into the room, especially if the boxes are planted in colors which co-ordinate with your room’s decor.
Be brave! Make your living space work for you.