Space Planning: The Step Beyond Interior Decoration
The easiest way to create a dramatic change in a room is to simply change the colour on your walls. But have you ever considered changing the shape of the space itself? Sometimes we have to live in problematic spaces that demand creative solutions. A very narrow room with a high ceiling looks out of proportion - maybe installing a false ceiling with recessed downlighters is the answer. A bathroom next to a WC practically begs you to remove the dividing wall. These are fairly obvious examples that can also be applied to a more ordinary space, one which doesn't have particular problems of size or proportion, but which might benefit from a re-think of the space and how we use that space.
The history of interior design has many examples of space dividing solutions which may or may not be applicable to the way we live today. The 1960s and 1970s gave us plastic and metal shelving units, open on both sides and placed end on against a wall so they jutted out across the living room. The visual styling has moved on but the basic principle is still useable. However today we would use fabric panels, glass bricks, chrome retail shelving or folding screens to achieve the same result.
Straightforward square spaces can be given added interest and the illusion of greater length by incorporating a pair of screens that mirror each other across the room. These needn't be large, they needn't jut out into the room too far. Their mere presence is enough to create a space-changing illusion. If the room is high enough you might consider building a platform over one end - for sleeping, reading, watching television. This is an especially effective way of increasing living space in a small studio or one-bedroom flat.
False ceilings needn't be permanent. Swathes of fabric can create snug areas in an otherwise large and clinical room. Or, you might consider altering your space by changing the floor level. The character of a large combined dining and living room can be made intimate and distinct by raising the level of the dining area. This also offers the opportunity of using the newly created underfloor space for storage - even as a wine cellar.
All of these changes can be made without changing your structural walls and are usually limited to one room. Redesigning an entire floor (or whole house) is an altogether larger project. Cramped and muddled rooms on a single floor can often be rearranged to create the feeling of more space.
The basic principles of this can be seen in good garden design. A diagonal line of vision across a square space makes the space feel bigger. If re-siting a door or incorporating an archway achieves a diagonal line of sight through two or more rooms, the effect will be the same. Gardens also use vistas, looking through and beyond the space you inhabit to an object or space beyond. Creating an enfilade - a progression of rooms linked together by a succession of doorways or archways in perfect alignment - was one of the ways the architects of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries achieved this vista effect in their design of stately homes and palaces. You might consider borrowing this idea for your own home.
Don't forget about mirrors and glass. The early 19th century architect Sir John Soane adored mirrors and the space-expanding effect they had on his interiors. His house in London was been preserved, complete with all its architectural quirks, mirrored ceilings and walls, and interior porthole windows. Large Victorian mirrors, bereft of the huge mantlepieces and sideboards over which they used to hang, create an elegant illusion of doubled space simply by being propped up against an empty wall.
Sand-blasted glass panels, glass bricks, and etched glass are all being used in creative new ways to help increase light and a sense of space and airiness in today's homes. Modern glass designers can create everything from glass staircases to glass fireplaces. And this glass isn't fragile! It's tough, strong and beautiful.
If you have a garden next to your room, try to incorporate that space both visually and aesthetically. Install French or sliding doors to bring the garden into your home. Increase that effect by using the same hard flooring inside and outside - sandstone, terracotta tiles or slate would work well and look beautiful. Even if you can't install French doors to make the room flow into the garden, the simple expedient of sympathetically planted window boxes will help make the garden flow into the room, especially if the boxes are planted in colours which co-ordinate with your room's decoration.
Be brave and be positive and make your living space work for you in the best way that the space allows.
© Adrienne Chinn - London