Small space living: be stylish and eco friendly

Small space living: be stylish and eco friendly

We Brits have some of the smallest homes in the EU, as builders and developers give us tiny rooms, invariably with no built-in storage. And as buying property remains unaffordable for many so we're going back to being a nation of renters. In which case don't deny yourself good furniture, just make sure it's easy to pack up and take with you when you move.

By Coco Piras
Concept kitchen by German brand Naber is easy to assemble and disassemble without tools

Whether you've got onto the property ladder by buying a studio flat, or you're renting, make the kitchen work for you by buying versatile freestanding units. The Red Dot award-winning Concept Kitchen by Germany's Naber (pictured aboveoffers quality lightweight open units made from powder coated sheet steel. Configure them as you want and they can be put together by hand and without tools! Or consider an inexpensive compact module kitchen, such as the recyclable steel or aluminium kitchens from West Yorks based Gallery Kitchen Design. Prices from around £1,000. The key to small space living is to have multi-purpose furniture -and if you're renting, freestanding storage you can take with you easily when you move.

*Click on images to see in larger format with caption info

It may be fun to play with dolls' houses, but living in a small flat or house can get people down for obvious reasons. Which may be that you bang your head on the ceiling if you're a tall bloke, or that it's a pain having to crawl over the bed to get into it, or that not having anywhere to put up guests overnight makes for loneliness.

But London contemporary interior designer Paul Warren says what really makes life hard for people is having nowhere to put your stuff - 'so you pile up clothes on the backs of chairs, books and magazines on the floor, and suddenly you're living like a hoarder even though you're not one really.'

Prioritise storage

'So few properties have built-in storage these days, which is outrageous,' he says. 'You buy or rent an expensive house and there are no wardrobes, bookshelves, or cupboards. So the key to living in a small space is to prioritise storage.'

If you own rather than rent your home, he advocates finding a local carpenter to make built-in storage if you can afford it. 'A slim wardrobe in an alcove.. shelving either side of a fireplace with cupboards underneath. Many older properties, certainly, will have areas where built-in storage is possible. 

When you move into a small property, he says, be rigorous in taking only what you need. 'Make a list. We all need a bed, a sofa, a few chairs and a table.

'Get those things in place and see what space is left. There might be room for a coffee table in the sitting room. You might be able to fit a blanket box at the end of the bed, in which you can store bedlinen and sit and do your shoelaces up.'

Top tip: look out for pieces of furniture you can store things in as well as sit on. And with beds, choose a base that's raised off the floor so you can store stuff in boxes under it.

End of bed drawer unit in oak is super useful as a seat, drawer and shoe rack. From The Natural Bed Company's Black Lotus collection, £520
Modern compact 1m2 stainless steel staircase from Eestairs in Holland, £3,480. Choose in any RAL colour. Can be used by competent self-builders. Ideal for garage conversions or for access to loft spaces. www.eestairs.com
John Osborn's scaffold plank table comes apart and folds flat for easy storage
Revo steel framed table by small space living experts Furl can be a low coffee table, a desk or an 8-seater dining table..From £995. furl.co.uk
Paling lightweight acoustic space divider is made Echopanel, itself made from 60% post consumer recycled PET plastic by Sydney-based Woven Image. Available in UK. wovenimage.com
Loft mirror with shelving from Mirror Deco is a very useful piece. The frame is metal and the two middle shelves are MDF. £245, www.mirrordeco.com
Argentinian designer Natalia Geci launched her Butterfly legs made from wood at this year's Milan. Use them to make any sort of table ...
Geci's Butterfly table legs fold up flat so you can take them with you easily when you move. Top with a piece of wood or glass and voila, a table. nataliageci.com
Brunel lean against the wall full size mirror with a hanging shelf and wood storage box, £249 at Heal's, heals.com
Brick Box by Barcelona's Kazam!, plywood modular storage boxes. Build a bookcase, or a room divider..and you can use the units as containers when you move. Large box 54x27x36cms, small 27x27x36cms. from 36 euros a box www.brickbox.es
Choose an extendable table. Oak and oak veneer Lyon extendable table from John Lewis, £349. www.johnlewis.com
Nubo wall mounted space saving fold-up desk by GamFratesi for Ligne Roset is pricey at £1245, but similar versions available from less prestigious brands
Muffin small oak table and felt-covered stools from Stone Designs of Madrid. They designed it so people in small spaces can have a civilised coffee with a friend or two. www.stone-dsgns.es
UK brand ByAlex offers Playwell wooden storage units which can be configured in various ways. Units come with a shelf or with a drawer. £100/£175. byalex.co.uk

Cards on the table

There are many small space scenarios. You might have bought your first home - a flat or studio - and be in the enviable position of having some cash spare to buy some good pieces of furniture. Obviously once you've got your built-in wardrobe and shelves, you need to think about eating and how to entertain friends...so you need a table.

Extendable tables made from sustainable wood are readily available.. try John Lewis, West Elm and Ikea, while for more designer pieces visit Heal's or Conran shops. Or how about a low coffee table that can rise to become a desk or an eight-seater dining table? The Revo table by small space living experts Furl is just the ticket. Made in Italy, priced at under £1,000, it does offer good value if you think it's a sturdy piece of Italian engineering that will last for decades. Furl also offer pull down wall beds in units with integral shelving and hanging space which are perfect for studio flats. And while they're not exactly hand luggage, they can move house with you...

If your budget is small, Ikea's PS limited edition of range of pieces designed for small space living has some excellent products, so don't miss out. The PS range is updated each year.

Keeping with tables, if you like reclaimed timber you could talk to eco-friendly furniture designer John Osborn, who makes dining tables using scaffold planks that he upcycles by hand. He knows not everyone has room to have a large table up all the time, so his scaffold tables are collapsible and foldable and so can be slid under a bed or behind a sofa until needed.

'I've always loved the texture of scaffold boards found on building sites,' says Osborn. 'I treat the wood carefully to maintain its natural look and feel before transforming the planks into stylish dining tables or desks. Using tension cables, the boards are mounted on recyclable acrylic sheets to create a floating illusion to enhance floor space.'
 
Not for dining, but fantastically use are very slim console tables which can sit behind a sofa or along a wall taking up barely any space. Here at Deco we're a huge fan of the Strut wood and metal console by US brand Blu Dot. It comes in five colours, it's 5ft long but crucially it's just 11.5 inches wide. Find Blu Dot at Heal's
 
Collapsibility
 
You don't normally want your furniture to collapse, but folks in small flats need to be able to get things out when needed and put them away when not. 
 
Look out for foldable chairs you can store flat against a wall - those thin aluminium bistro chairs by French outdoor furniture maker Fermob are useful for impromptu guests. Or choose pieces that can be dismantled quickly and easily such as the digitally-printed plywood flat-pack coffee table from Rude Limited. Components slot together - no screwdriver is needed - and you can take the table apart and store the parts in a bag if you don't want it up all the time. 
 
Space dividers
 
Screens are things we're not that used to using in the UK but they're very sensible in small spaces if you want to delineate an area, say, as a corner for work. A wall-mounted pull down desk is great here (Ligne Roset do one, albeit rather an expensive one) and you can mark the territory with a screen made from Echopanel by Woven Image, which also has acoustic properties so if people are chatting noisily on the other side, well the din will be reduced. The Paling screen is made to the size required using Echopanels which themselves are made from 100 per cent PET plastic, 60 per cent of which is post-consumer PET; so this product is very eco friendly too. Oh and you can use Echopanel as a pinboard...
 
Wall beds and desk beds
The Study Bed is excellent for small rooms. It's a wooden desk that quickly converts to a comfortable bed. www.studybed.co.uk
The Study Bed converts from a desk to a bed in three seconds. Wood veneer on MDF frame. From £1,680. www.studybed.co.uk
Linea oak wall bed folded away. Available in 90/140/160cms widths. POA. www.wallbed.co.uk
Linea bed ready for use. Wall beds are well worth considering in small flats
A bed with storage is essential in a small room. Isabella oak framed bed with oak veered panels, £599 at Dreams
A very very slim console table is perfect for small rooms..the lacquered wood and steel Strut by US brand Blu Do is just 11.5 inches wide but 5ft long. Put it behind a sofa.. find Blu Dot at Heal's. Around £455
Moheli chair has a drawer under the seat, ideal for storing keys or valuables. www.horm.it
If you have a tiny balcony, why not enjoy eating outside thanks to this fold flat balcony table for two by French outdoor furniture maker Fermob, £294

Look into buying a wall bed or a desk bed. Wall beds fold up into a box frame, mattress and bedding as well, in the morning, so your bedroom becomes instantly more spacious. 

Good quality wooden wall beds can run into thousands of pounds, but wall bed experts, such as the London Wallbed Company, will advise you. If you're likely to be staying in your small dwelling for a long time, a wall bed could greatly improve your quality of life by freeing up space.

Another versatile, useful product that's won admiration from many architects and designers is the British-designed Study Bed. It takes just a few seconds to turn the desk into a bed and back again - the mechanism means you don't have to clear your desk before pulling the bed down.

Made from MDF and wood veneer, It's ideal for a small bedroom or a home office - so much easier than having to blow up a lilo for that imprompu overnight guest. Prices from £1,680.

Alternatively, if you have the ceiling height, find a carpenter to make you a platform bed, and have your home office underneath it. Again, a good option for a studio room. And don't forget beds with deep storage under the mattress. Dreams and Warren Evans offer wood framed beds with ottoman storage.

For end of bed units for storage and seating, The Natural Bed Company has high quality wood products such as its Black Lotus collection. The oak/walnut end of bed drawer unit is very handy, offering a seat, a large drawer for storage and a shelf for shoes. 

 

Franke Largo Workcenter stainless steel sink, £749, has two integral bins, one for cleaning materials, the other for food prep waste and collection. 50 year guarantee. www.franke.com
Expensive, stylish, compact. Elica's 35 CC low energy extractor with LEDs is perfect for small kitchens and it adds a splash of colour. Around £1,300
Small kitchen yet you desire a range cooker? Stoves' UK-made dinky 55cm Richmond electric range cooker is the answer. A-rated, £685 www.stoves.co.uk
Choose very slim cabinets for small bathrooms such as these wooden units from Roman At Home. Tall unit £92, H172xW30xD24cms.
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If you like to have books, you can make your own bookcase, which can grow as required, using cleverly designed modular plywood boxes from Barcelona's Kazam! They've called their product BrickBox and it comprises boxes (with carrying slots) that fit on top of each other. You can make the configuration you want, and when you come to move house, you just carry the boxes full of books out to your removal van. Use the boxes to build a room divider too. Choose large (57x27x36cms)or small (27x27x36cms) boxes, which you can order online

UK furniture maker ByAlex offers a similar product, Playwell, which are wooden boxes with a shelf or drawer that can be slotted together to make whatever you need - a chest of drawer or a bookcase.

Mirrors

Full length mirrors that lean against the wall are great and ones with some storage behind are even better. The Brunel lean to mirror from Heal's has a wood storage box and a small rail for hanging clothes. And for a mirror with shelving, the Loft mirror from Mirror Deco is a good piece, ideal for a bathroom or hall as it has three shelves for things such as cosmetics, keys or tiny pot plants.

Super slender stairs

For self-builders with narrow access points, say to a loft or a roof terrace for example, the 1m2 spiral steel staircase from Dutch company EEstairs is perfect, as it occupies the area it's named after. It's very eye-catching and can be finished in any RAL colour you want. Around £2,900 ex VAT.

Kitchens

For kitchens, either try a modular compact module kitchen, or choose freestanding pieces, such as wooden trolleys which you can use to prepare food and keep things on.

If you're an owner and want a range cooker, look at the A rated electric Richmond model from British maker Stoves, which is just 55cms wide. Around £685.

You can keep things tidy with the Franke Largo Workcenter stainless steel sink which has two integrated bins, a small one to keep your cleaning things in, the other for food prep waste..so chop and tip.

And if you love Italian styling and can afford it, the Elica compact 35CC extractor would a welcome addition to your wall, offering a splash of colour. It's meant for small rooms, being a 35cm cube of steel with four powerful LED lights. It does its job very effectively while looking stunning. Around £1,300.

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