Home truths: making the most of awkward spaces

PUBLISHED: 16:26 03 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:26 03 February 2016

3D Interior rendering of a modern tiny loft

3D Interior rendering of a modern tiny loft

Enrico Lapponi

Nicholas Kirk knows plenty about how to make the most of awkward spaces. Founder and director of Nicholas Kirk Architects, a practice that specialises in bringing challenging spaces to life, here he gives his tips for making the most of your home space

Nicholas Kirk Architects was commissioned to build a spacious home on a tiny plot just 4.8m wide at ground level. The project, featured on the BBC’s The House That £100k Built, is between a Victorian and a Georgian terrace in the London borough of Islington. The actual width of the self-supporting structure had to be limited to 4.5m due to deflections in the flank walls of the older properties either side. The challenges didn’t stop there. The sensitive location of the project meant it was put under intense scrutiny by the local community, requiring not just architectural skill but some serious diplomacy skills during the planning process.

And we expect to see an increasing number of these challenging builds over the next few years. With leading figures calculating a demand of around 200,000 new homes each year in the UK, space, particularly in larger towns and cities, is at a premium. The result is that plot locations are going to become more varied, plot sizes will become smaller, and plot shapes are likely to become more irregular as we try to build on what might originally have been thought unusable land.

The real skill for architects, particularly in the residential sector, is to think small. Multi-functional living spaces will become the mainstay of the future home. The challenge will be to create genuinely-comfortable living spaces on smaller plot sizes, without compromising on the utilitarian value of the home.

Applying architect principles at home

Think about what you really need from a home. The basic list of rooms we expect to see in a dwelling has remained the same for years, yet our lifestyles have changed completely. Ask yourself what’s the best way to live in this space and don’t let yourself be influenced by traditional expectations.

My top tips to maximise the amount of internal space your plot can deliver are:

1. Dig down. Creating a basement level can increase the internal space by a considerable amount.

2. Reduce clutter on the wall and floor surfaces, for example install underfloor heating rather than wall-hung radiators.

3. Embed services such as switches, pipework and cabling into the building fabric. Cross-laminated timber is a useful modern method of construction that can be designed to conceal services in the depth of the wall.

4. For self-builders: orientate the building and window openings to maximise views out. Larger openings will help to flood the interior with light to help to increase the sense of space.

5. Plan in efficient construction details to reduce wasted space in the building fabric.

Above all, the key message for budding self-builders and renovators is don’t leave anything to chance. Every millimetre counts on a small plot and planning meticulously will save you endless headaches and achieve an amazing design that will fit into the street and be an asset to the local community.

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