Forget the clichés. Making the most of a small space is not as simple as white walls and bare rooms, otherwise known as minimalism. Having worked on small, central London apartments, where every square inch has to work hard, I've come up with a few ideas for small homes: here are my top eight.
Use less furniture and one oversized piece — for example, a large, deep sofa — preferably on legs to make it look lighter. Do you really need a coffee table? They are impractical. As an alternative, have some small pieces of low furniture that can double up as a stool or flat surface for books or glasses.
Do you need a full-size dining table? Replace it with a console table or a fold-down table that can be pushed against the wall when not in use. Take away the dining chairs and spread them in useful locations around the flat so that they double up their use — one in the hallway, another in the bedroom for dumping clothes. Bring the chairs together when people come to eat.
Art should be large scale, too. One big impressive painting, not a poster — be imaginative. An oil painting, preferably on a stretched canvas, hung low and centred on the wall will create a super focal point and create the right mood.
3. Spacial layouts
Spatial layouts. It is crucial to locate doors strategically so that you can see the full stretch of the apartment from certain points. For example, you should be able to lean back on the wall from the living room and see through to the bedroom. By stretching out the space you won't feel confined. Where possible, widen a space and fit small double doors rather than single. Think hard about which way they open. When I have a chance, I often install sliding doors, especially into bathrooms.
4. Clever use of paint
Use dramatic effect, which is easily done by being brave with paint colours. Paint the hallway and ceiling a dark colour so that when you enter the bedroom or living room it will feel bigger, higher, lighter. When painting the main rooms, try to avoid contrast, paint the skirting and other woodwork the same colour. Avoid white walls. In this country, they always look cold. Paint Library has a clever range of paints which are tonal variations of the same colour. You could use them around the flat, slightly altering the shades for effect, adding depth and interest. Shades of one colour throughout give continuity and flow.
5. Lighting and mirrors
Good lighting is money well spent. It can enhance the rooms, create the mood, highlight important art or furniture. What if a ceiling is a bit low, and maybe made of concrete, making it impossible to install spots? Then coffer the ceiling. That means creating a boxing around the perimeter. Backlight and install spots into the boxing. Silly as it seems, it makes a room feel higher because of the backlighting and also helps to define the room.
For backlighting, I use LED tape. It is inexpensive, slim and easy to conceal and it is flexible enough to wrap around corners. If you have a favourite piece of furniture, backlight it with the tape and it will feel even more special. Make lamps slim and table-top lamps rectangular, and do away with bedside lamps by dropping individual ceiling lights over bedside tables.
Mirrors help to bring more light into a space. Use them in a narrow hallway to create the illusion of space. Do not overdo mirrors or you will be looking at yourself all the time.
Decent and discreet storage is crucial. This does need to be built in to make the best use of every inch, so splash out on bespoke joinery. Keep it simple, though — avoid too many details or flashy finishes, instead integrate it into a room's colour scheme and even try to make the units feel as if they are floating. It is easily done — either just set the kickplates as far back as you can so that they almost disappear, or use mirror as a kickplate.
7. Underfloor heating
If you are lucky enough to be doing a complete refurbishment, fit underfloor heating and get rid of all those ungainly radiators. People often fear losing ceiling height by installing underfloor heating, but there are slimline products on the market.
8. Curtains versus voiles
Curtains are expensive and not very trendy. Instead, I like to use voiles because they pull even more light into a room. Don't hang meanly around the window — they don't cost much, so be generous. Fill the entire window wall, it will make the room feel bigger and you can pretend you have Manhattan-style, full-length windows behind.