Space - or the lack of it - is always an issue for London homebuyers. The Government’s design watchdog, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has hit out at developers for producing "rabbit hutch" homes that are too small for modern living. Even Mayor Boris Johnson has piled into the debate, deploring "rabbit-hutch housing".
According to CABE’s research, 57 per cent of people living in homes built between 2003 and 2006 in London and the South-East complain of a lack of storage space; 47 per cent do not have enough room for their furniture, and a third have kitchens that are too small for appliances as small as toasters and mircrowaves. The self storage business has boomed as fast as room sizes have shrunk.
At 828sq ft, average British homes are the smallest in western Europe and half Denmark’s 1,493 sq ft. Yet the survey of 2,249 householders fails to tell the whole story.
'New "super-rooms" where families can cook, eat and relax, have become part of mainstream design'
Many developers have got the message that they now need to build for owner-occupiers rather than boxy homes for buy-to-let investors. Boris Johnson is set to impose space standards for affordable new homes in London; one-bedroom flats would not be smaller than 550sq ft. Alex Ely, the architect who wrote the Mayor’s guidelines, believes similar standards should be extended to private housing.
The Mayor is also promoting better family friendly housing to help stop the exodus of middle-class parents from London. During the property boom, about 95 per cent of new-build homes in London were flats. This could drop to less than 70 per cent by 2014.
Barratt, lambasted by CABE for its 370sq ft "Manhattan Pods" in Harlow, Essex, is building one-bedroom apartments of up to 832sq ft at Dalston Square in East London. This excludes a 150sq ft winter garden, an enclosed balcony with windows that can be folded back in summer. Prices start at £256,000. Other apartments rise to 1,500sq ft. Call 020 7241 1883.
Though new homes are in general smaller than Victorian or Edwardian ones, they have other advantages: low-maintenance, better security, energy-efficiency, structural guarantees, the latest fixtures and fittings. New homes are also more likely to reflect modern lifestyles with interesting interiors, too. "Super-rooms" - big open-plan spaces where families can cook, eat and relax have entered mainstream new-house design.
For some time, forward-thinking developers have been challenging the idea of rigidly-defined room uses. Space is always a precious commodity and wall-less rooms that integrate with each other and the garden or terrace are a welcome innovation.
Developers argue that they have to balance producing a home that people like to live in and one they can afford. The average number of new homes per hectare in England has risen from 22 in 2002 to 44 last year, according to official figures. The quandary is that "everybody wants more space but without more land becoming available the cost will go up," says Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation.
Some developers use good room planning to maximise limited space. “Rooms should be sized according to their usage," says Sean Ellis, managing director of St James Homes. "Often it’s better to have a big combined kitchen and family room because that’s the place where everyone congregates."
Space has an important psychological impact, too, he adds. Cramped spaces deflate the spirits whereas open, light spaces are uplifting.
"You feel better walking into a house with a big hall that has a glimpse of the garden. We also use glazed internal doors to borrow light from other rooms." Basements and "bonus rooms" in the attic space are other added-value extras.
Separate storage lockers and cage storage - about the same size as a garden shed - are a useful extra, particularly with flats.
Well-designed small studios can be pleasant living spaces. The best-designed studios. such as those at Pan Peninsula in Docklands have sliding walls, pull-down beds and foldaway kitchens, while marble-lined bathrooms provide a sense of luxury despite the confined space.
At Frobisher Crescent, a new scheme of 69 apartments at the Barbican, developer United House has eliminated corridors to create useful extra living space. Prices are from £375,000. Call on 020 7606 8000.
ROOM TO SPARE
Chenies Place, Arkley, Hertfordshire comprises six houses notable for their space and smart specification. Ranging from 3,400 to 4,000 sq ft, each house has well-planned family accommodation extending right into the roof and comes with a tastefully landscaped garden and a package of extras normally available as pay-as-you-go items. The latter includes fitted-out garage, air conditioning, multi-room audio-visual system and plasma televisions. Prices from £1,650,000. Call developer Fusion on 020 8440 0451.
Houses at Thomas More Gardens, Esher, range from 2,000 to 3,100 sq ft and have up to six bedrooms plus a generous-size garage. A large kitchen and family room has a conservatory-style extension on to the garden. Prices are from £875,000 to £1.495 million. Call the developer Consero on 01372 475 945.
‘A studio apartment doesn’t have to be claustrophobic’
Zsuzsi Judd (pictured), a 20-year-old student and low-budget first-time buyer, chose a new studio over larger apartments in her price bracket because she loved its great design.
"Though compact, it’s not at all claustrophobic," she says. "The kitchen worktops have covers that fold down and conceal the sink and hob, which provides a clean living space.
"The double bed also folds away to allow room for an integrated dining table. Along one wall there’s a full-length wardrobe unit that has beside tables and even they fold away as well. I have dust allergies but my health has improved since I moved in."
Lacquered louvre screens divide sleeping and living areas. Underfloor heating avoids the need for space-consuming radiators on the walls. Push-operated and hidden handles enhance the minimalist look.
Studios at Great West Quarter, Brentford, where she lives, are priced from £149,995 to £230,000 and range up to 478 sq ft in size. For more information, call 020 8326 7277.