Making the most of space in small units

PHOTO: Making the most of space in small units
Above photo is a Trilight unit's master bathroom, by locating the vanity over the bay window to save space, one can shower, shave and bathe while looking out.

Apartments and houses may be getting smaller in size these days but homeowners don't have to let this cramp their style, not if they know how to take advantage of the hidden spaces in their homes.

Call it one of the marks of being a global city: With the increase in density comes an increasing premium on space.

One result of this is that homes are getting smaller as well.

If the size of today's shoebox apartments and landed properties is any indication, one thing is clear: Small is in.

The shrinking size of homes has also seen a corresponding change in consumer tastes.

Split-level condominium units, once a popular housing trend, are a rare breed in today's local residential market with homeowners preferring large open spaces, says interior design consultant Eugene Ooi of Vantage Design.

As a result, more Singaporeans are opting for design concepts such as open plan kitchens, which entail removing the walls separating the kitchen from the living and dining rooms to create the effect of a fluid seamless space.

Living in a compact space has also made more homeowners aware of the need for space efficiency - as well as smarter space-saving solutions.

Storage space in particular, notes Jerlyn Poh of JP Concept, is a challenge for many living in compact apartment units due to the space constraints that they face.

"Clients want their compact units to look spacious while retaining their practicality and functionality."

As it turns out, one of the keys to this lies not in buying more storage accessories but in making full use of the space in the unit.

For starters, this means utilising often overlooked spaces such as bay windows and the areas under staircases, says Terri Tan of Designworx Interior Consultant.

Apart from providing an additional seating area, bay windows can also double up as study tables, dressers, storage drawers and display shelves while the space under staircases can be used as book shelves, wardrobe and display cabinets.

According to Mr Ooi of Vantage Design, another overlooked spot in the home is the air-conditioner ledge which, depending on on its location as well as whether its compressors are combined, can be used as a green planter area.

Those living in older split-level properties can also build a bridge to connect the staggered levels.

The space under the bridge can then be used as additional storage space, he adds.

Feature walls with concealed storage is also another popular method of reducing clutter while adding to the home's aesthetic attributes.

Mr Poh cites a project where the owner of a condominium unit that was served by a private lift commissioned the concrete wall of his lobby entrance to be replaced with a feature wall that incorporated a fish tank so that he could see who was using the lift.

The wall also included storage space for the tank's pumps and a built-in shoe cabinet in its design, thus helping to minimise clutter in the home.

Apart from being more efficient with the use of space, there is also the matter of understanding how scale and proportion works.

Window treatments such as curtains, for example, can serve more than a practical function. "A lot of people think they are only for privacy and light.

They're not," says Cameron Woo of interior design firm Cameron Woo Design. In the case of homes with small or regular-sized windows, hanging one's curtains higher can elongate and amplify the visual space, thus giving the effect that it is higher than it actually is."

"The way colour is applied to ceilings and cornices can also serve to create the illusion of extra height."

"While the popular practice is to paint the cornices in the same colour as the ceiling, Mr Woo says that this has the effect of making it look as if the lid of the ceiling is dropping down on top of the occupants."

 "On the other hand, painting them in the same colour as the walls increases their height "by an extra four to six inches immediately".

Mr Poh of JP Concept also suggests that homeowners take advantage of high ceilings by installing chandeliers, ceiling fans or vertical striped design panels so as to "trick the eye upwards".

The amount of light that enters a home, which often affects one's spatial perception, can also dramatically increase depending on the kind of window fixture that one installs.

"Don't underestimate the amount of light blocked by windows and window frames even though they might not seem to take up a lot of space. The effect is very different when you remove them," says Mr Ooi.

In high-rise properties where homeowners have to take care not to alter the façade of the building, one option is to swap sliding windows for an accordion one.

Not only does this result in a larger opening, it also lets homeowners "bring the outside in" and enjoy unobstructed views.

When all is said and done, some designers such as Mr Woo also advise homeowners to consider the experience they want to create in their homes instead of focusing solely on the physical size of their homes.

"One of the things that people don't really do is work with the space that they have," he observes.

What a room lacks in size, it can make up for with the experience that it offers.

"A hole-in-the-wall restaurant can be dense, crowded and noisy but it can also create the atmosphere that you want for that period of time."

Hence while the trend may be towards having a large contiguous space, one should not forget about the intimate areas in the home either.

A study is an example of such a space and while the consensus would be to use a palette of light colours to make it appear larger, Mr Woo prefers to take the contrarian route and use darker shades instead.

"These spaces tend to be small and what we want to create is a very moody atmosphere. When you go light, you create reflectance. When you go dark and matte, those perimeters disappear and corners blur out so you concentrate on the experience rather than its confines," he explains.

"It becomes a sanctuary."