So understandably, when interior designer Daniel Hopwood was asked to revamp a mansion flat there, his brief was to make the most of every inch — especially important given that the flat covered only 367sq ft.
Making such a modest space feel larger, while also making sure it has plenty of storage and works both as a home and as a place to entertain, requires a special architectural expertise. It is the sort of project that Hopwood (danielhopwood.com), who is also a trained architect, relishes.
Extending the property was not an option so, working with colleagues in his practice, Hopwood swapped rooms around, moved walls, and employed every professional trick in the book to turn the one-bedroom flat into a potential two-bedroom property. The work, including furnishings, cost £160,000, but that can be money well spent when the thinking of many Londoners today is to live centrally, save on the drudge and expense of commuting, and invest in intelligent design.
The techniques employed by Hopwood could just as easily apply, on a scaleddown basis, to a young person's starter flat, and make great sense in London, where the average square foot of residential space costs £665.
The mansion-block flat had a small kitchen, a good-size double-height living room and — on a mezzanine floor above — a bedroom and bathroom. So all pretty open plan. "But the main living room was not pleasant," Hopwood explains. "The noise echoed around, which is one of the problems with open-plan living. And having the kitchen in a back room didn't reflect modern living. Today, people cook and entertain in the same space."
So the kitchen was incorporated into the main room and tucked under the mezzanine to make it as unobtrusive as possible, with the eye then being attracted to the main living area as a dining and entertaining space, and to its vast showpiece industrial chandelier by Serge Mouille, priced at about £5,800 (sergemouille.com).
The predominant colour is white, the floors are oak, and a newly built long window seat has been topped with olive-green leather cushions, with a matching rug to zone kitchen and dining areas. Along a second wall, a low unit has been built and fitted with drawers that are more efficient storage than cupboards, with a top that is intended as a storage shelf. Most of the built-in furniture, like the seating and drawer units, does not quite reach the ground, which makes the floorspace appear larger.
Another area of interest, and an opportunity to add character and colour, is one of the double-height walls, where a series of 16 paintings have been hung in simple black frames.
Don't go kitchen mad
The kitchen was built from MDF, sprayed ice-white, with white, hard-wearing and good-looking Corian work surfaces and a glass splashback. All the kitchen gadgetry — microwave, coffee machine, juicer et al — is in an alcove covered by roll-up aluminium doors.
"I have never understood why people want to spend very large sums of money on brand-name kitchens," says Hopwood. "They are mad. It is all just chipboard. This kitchen is solid and simple, and will last a lifetime, and it has also been totally tailored to the space. It is the only way. None of the drawer sizes are standard because we wanted to maximise the space." Hopwood used a joiner to build the kitchen at a cost of £20,000 (excluding white goods).
"To relieve the monotony of too much whiteness, the joiner built a floor-to-ceiling installation, using strips of beech to create a 'waterfall' of wood," he says. Wiring for the flat is hidden behind this feature wall.
The original kitchen then became a sophisticated little sitting room. Here, the colour scheme is completely reversed, with dark charcoal on the walls and a deep orange ceiling — which, lit with non-LED bulbs, gives a wonderfully warm glow to the room.
The furnishing is all mid-century modern, which is still being made by Knoll and which was sourced from Material Life (material-life.co.uk). A wall has been lined with extra-deep shelves so that books can be double layered.
Hopwood says good design involves attention to detail — including plug sockets from Forbes & Lomax (forbesandlomax.com) which can be painted over so that they fade into the background. The upstairs level of the flat is reached via a set of super-lightweight aluminium stairs and on the mezzanine's edge, instead of a traditional guard rail, Hopwood commissioned another MDF unit that gives additional storage space. It slightly overhangs the mezzanine to maximise floor space.
The layout on this upper level has been carefully thought through. By moving the wall of the bedroom inward a couple of feet, Hopwood found room for a compact office with a floating desk and two work stations. The bedroom itself is simple, with a "floating" bed and bedside tables, and lights wired into the walls. A wall of wardrobes — with double rails to optimise hanging space — is used to divide the bedroom and en suite bathroom, for yet more storage.
To squeeze in a second bathroom upstairs, Hopwood decided on walk-in showers. "It is very rare that we put in a bath. There is really no demand. When people say they want to keep their bath, we ask them when they last used it. They say, 'Not for years'. By doing this, we had two bathrooms, which means you could — if you wanted — turn the TV room into a second bedroom and then you've got a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat which is always the easiest thing to sell."
Tricks for making the most of space
* Wardrobes, window seats and even the bed are built so they "float", not quite touching the floor. This makes floor space seem more expansive.
* The flat's dominant colour is white, relieved by pictures and a "waterfall of wood" in the living space that hides new wiring. The TV room/second bedroom, by contrast, is charcoal-coloured with an orange ceiling, thus better defining the limited space.
* To avoid clutter, even the flat's plug sockets (from Forbes & Lomax), are a type that can be painted over so they "disappear" into walls.
* Extra-deep shelving allows books to be double-layered.
* Forget about installing baths, which often go unused. Here, removal of the bath made space for two shower rooms, substantially boosting the flat's value.
Pictures by Jake Fitzjones