Why small can be beautiful with good design

Multi-functional rooms make smaller homes workable. Sofa bed by Loaf.
Multi-functional rooms make smaller homes workable. Sofa bed by Loaf.
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Ric Blenkharn

C0-founder of Bramhall Blenkharn Architects


The phrase “Small is Beautiful” refers to a collection of essays written in 1973 by the German born economist EF Scumacher. The works are often used to champion small scale technologies, believed to empower people, in contrast with the idea that “bigger is better.”

The phrase is equally relevant to the world of architecture when designers carefully craft small buildings and spaces with a high degree of detail often lacking in large buildings. It is particularly relevant in the design

of new buildings, where the economics of both land and buildings become increasingly costly.

When approached by clients to redesign their homes with a new extension, my first question, is do you use your current home to its maximum potential? Frequently, homes have large, underused bedrooms; dining rooms that are no longer used and garages used for storage.

Another issue with extending existing homes is a lack of cohesion and the fact that adding onto a building could create dark spaces and badly configured circulation in the centre of the home.

I would urge anyone thinking of either moving to a new, larger home or considering extending their existing one to appraise their existing assets. The garage used for storage clearly indicates that the house itself lacks storage, which could be solved by creative design. Look for those underused spaces within the home to purpose design extra storage. Think too about what you have stored in the garage or loft and ask: “Is it really necessary?” I think you’ll find that we all have too much clutter.

Think too about the design of each room. Could spaces have a multi-purpose use? Study spaces can become occasional bedrooms with the use of transformer furniture. Additional bedrooms can be created with drop down wall beds, which generally appear as shelving units but become extra space for guests.

Clients often say that they require five or six bedrooms with ensuites but only have a family of three or four. They say they need the extra space for visitors but how often do you have visitors and could they be accommodated in other ways?

When you consider that build costs are in the region of £2,000 per square metre, the expense of creating new space is not insignificant and perhaps a repacking of the space you already have might be a sensible consideration.

In thinking about redefining space, then design becomes increasingly important. Consider the scale, texture and colour of all objects and finishes so that they all read harmoniously. This will create a quality of calm in a room.

These ideas are pertinent to the design of new homes so that no awkward spaces are created by poor circulation and movement through the house. The current trend for bi-fold doors champions the notion of indoor-outdoor space. Visually this means that internal spaces seem larger because of the connection to outdoors. This concept can be applied to the positioning of a window to maximise a view.

Placing a window in the corner of a room leads you to view a space diagonally, thereby appreciating the largest dimension of a rectangular space. Using height and rooflights within smaller spaces can make them feel larger.

There are real opportunities both in existing housing stock and in the design of new homes to create small spaces that are beautiful to inhabit.