No one wants to live in a grotty bedsit for life — but small, affordable, well-designed and space-efficient flats could help to house young Londoners.
Interior designer Olga Alexeeva, 33, understands small spaces more than most. In Russia small is normal. “We’re used to it,”she says, sitting in a bright, cleverly used 275sq ft studio flat off Fleet Street.
She has turned this place into a sleek city pad with a surprisingly big bathroom and thoughtfully kitted-out, sunny kitchen. On entering, rather than saying to yourself: “This is tiny,” you say: “Wow, this is nice.” Even a couple could live here — and Olga and her husband, Anatoly, did just that.
On the top floor of a Victorian block of small flats originally intended for workers and clerks near the Inns of Court, it looked very different when Olga bought it in January 2014.
WHAT IT COST
The 275sq ft studio in 2014: £340,000
Expenditure on total refurb and furnishings: £70,000
Value now: £650,000 (estimate)
The flat had belonged to an elderly man and appeared very small indeed. A hall turned off round a corner to a grim, tiny bathroom with an old bath. The main room — the only other room — had walls and ceiling of anaglypta painted glossy beige. An old brown carpet completed the look. Furnishings included a bed in one corner and chunky fitted shelving around an electric fire. There was no kitchen: an alcove held a sink and a kettle. That was it. “It was all absolutely disgusting,” Olga says.
She was born in Russia and had known Anatoly, 34, an IT expert, since she was 16. Though she had a degree in computer sciences, she’d always wanted to be an architect, and in Russia did interior design for friends. After marrying, the couple came to London in 2007, as Olga had enrolled on a three-year design degree at Chelsea College of Arts.
They didn’t know London, didn’t have a flat and had a tight budget, but after graduating, while Olga was working for a developer, she found this small flat. Now she runs her own business.
Having won the sealed bids for the flat, she got going. The alterations are about as total as they could be. The stud walls came out and the space-gobbling hall was swept away. Engineered oak floors went down throughout. Now, you walk into one square room.
To the right, through a pocket sliding door, a surprisingly big bathroom has a glass corner shower with a niche for shower kit. The walls are in large porcelain tiles, the roomy modern sink and unit are Duravit and over them, mirrored cabinets are built into the wall void — a sensible trick.
Also off the main room, through a wider door opening, is a full kitchen where once there was nothing. The same size as the bathroom, it has all you need. Olga says she was determined to pack in everything necessary, all at standard widths, so they cost normal prices and are easy to replace.
There’s a fridge with freezer; dishwasher; washing machine; combi-oven and hob, and plentiful storage. The walls are good porcelain imitation marble. This sunny little room can be open to the main room or closed off.
The main room is a bag of tricks. On the left wall, five mirrored full-height cupboards double the space. One pair opens to reveal an office with wifi, desk, and a leather cube seat. The cube also comes apart to make five leather-topped stools, ready for dinner parties.
Along the adjacent wall there’s a large sofa, with a smart TV opposite. One part of the sofa pulls out to make an L shape when required, and it has lift-up storage. The sofa becomes a double bed that can be folded back easily, and all the bedding can stay on, quickly strapped down with two luggage-type straps. The aluminium bed base looks modern and clean.
Life here isn’t all sad tray suppers either — a dinner party for eight is no problem. Against the window wall a smart console table pulls neatly apart and extends, then three extra leaves stored on top of the mirrored cupboards turn it speedily into a long table. A modernist stool provides the final seating.
Everything here is high quality. The metamorphic furniture comes apart and goes together again fast, which is crucial. Since every millimetre matters, under a little key shelf by the front door even the pegs fold up. Cute.
The couple moved out when they had their daughter and now they live in Hampstead and rent out their compact first flat. Olga says that knowing first hand the importance of using small spaces efficiently — and at the same time making them look fabulous — was a crucial learning curve in her interior design career.
OLGA ALEXEEVA’S DESIGN TIPS
- Olga has just launched a furniture website at decotick.com
- A tiny space should be luxurious, like accommodation in a five-star hotel.
- In a small space floors get more traffic, so use good-quality flooring.
- It costs the same to fit good- or poor-quality goods — so use the best.
- Today there are great websites for multifunctional furniture such as “Murphy” beds (folding beds) and you can use them in bigger homes, too. Good folding beds are great for guest bedrooms.
- Don’t waste the space in the middle of stud walls, make slim cupboards and niches. And pocket doors are a must.
- Every millimetre counts so make finishes perfect. If something is in the wrong place, like a light switch, move it.
GET THE LOOK
- Olga Alexeeva: at Black & Milk
- Engineered oak floor throughout: from Havwoods
- Clei wall bed-and-sofa system: from small space specialists Bonbon
- Extending console: Resource Furniture — another space-saving specialist
- Nesting leather five-seat cube: from Bonbon
- Geometric rug: from Habitat
- Velvet cushions: Ikea
- Four-seater bench: from Made.com
- Corner shower unit: Matki
- Taps: Hansgrohe
- Slim porcelain tiles in bathroom: from London Tile and Mosaic
- Faux marble in kitchen: from London Tile and Mosaic
- Umbra flip-up five-hook bar: from John Lewis
- Walls are painted in Skimming Stone: from Farrow & Ball
Visit houzz.co.uk for more home inspiration and design advice.