Little by little

In today's frenzied property market, the lowly bedsit is being revamped into a sought-after studio. Kate Worsley discovers how to maximise your space
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It's a name game, really. With the property market spiralling you chi-chi up a shoebox by calling it a "studio". Of course it used to be a "bedsit", where you slept inches away from the washing up, the fridge rumbled all night long and you washed your tights in the sink.

It's a name game, really. With the property market spiralling you chi-chi up a shoebox by calling it a "studio". Of course it used to be a "bedsit", where you slept inches away from the washing up, the fridge rumbled all night long and you washed your tights in the sink.

These days, if you're rich enough to buy a studio flat, you'll be eating out and be on first-name terms with your dry cleaners. One-space living is positively fashionable, however limited your square footage. "People want open-plan living and if the location is right it doesn't matter how much actual space there is," says estate agent Alex Oliver of Urban Spaces.

At the top end of the market, walls are being knocked down or omitted altogether to give a small flat the allure of a loft. "Often a studio is more sought after than a one or two-bedroom flat," says developer Berkeley Homes. "One thousand square feet of floor space if it is all open-plan is visually much more appealing than when it's carved up."

Crucially, however, while "studios" aren't inexpensive, they're still a lot cheaper than one-bedroom flats. They can get you a pied-á-terre in a posh part of town, or even just a toe on the property ladder. In Notting Hill, west London, studios go for £90-130,000 while one-beds start at £190,000. Even in Streatham, south London, there's a £15,000 gap between studios (£48-60k) and one-beds (£100-200k).

"In today's market, studios make an ideal rental investment, and an excellent opportunity to get a foothold on the property ladder," confirms Louise Egerton-Warburton of Cluttons estate agents. "This is reflected in the prices, one example we sold recently achieving £1,000 per square foot."

But once you've bought your box, how are you going to banish any malodour of bedsitland (apart from, obviously, installing a stonkingly good extractor hood)? Essentially, you have three options: you can zone, you can overlap, or you can cluster.

Estelle Shepherd, a headhunter, who lives in a 600sqft studio in Clerkenwell's Ziggurat building, went for zoning. Her's is a spectacular "space", with floor-to-ceiling windows and a decked terrace on two sides. But it is basically a small square box with a dog-leg kitchen and a bathroom and utility cupboard off a stubby hallway. Her zones have been dictated by two huge concrete beams that cross at the centre of the ceiling: bed, study, lounging, eating. "Zone your mess, too," she warns. "You can make a mess but it has to stay in the right zone. Once you stop doing that it feels like you're living in a bedsit."

The low ceiling would make a standard raised bed arrangement too claustrophobic, so Estelle and a designer friend made a 4ft-high bed in white sprayed MDF with four rails of pull-out clothes and shoe storage underneath. And a pop-out ironing board, and deep cupboards for duvets. "It's cool, it's like a little nest up there. I've got really drunk and still not fallen out."

"Light is a big, big thing in a small space," she says. "All the lighting is zoned, too. I took out the industrial uplighters and have small floor lamps everywhere."

"I really love being here," she enthuses. "This is the smallest flat I've ever lived in. Previously I was in a two-bed flat in Hampton Court. But this place has turned me into a homing pigeon."

Hugo Tugman, an architect for Jigsaw Menswear, shakes his head at the mention of zoning. He spent eight years in a 4m by 6m studio in Kew, five of those with his wife and two starting their business from home. His big thing is overlapping. "I don't want to sound pretentious about this, but if you merge your kitchen space into your dining into your living into your sleeping area you open up your space. Each area feels bigger because it flows into the next. You don't have to cross a line, and the space reads more simply."

In his case this meant replacing the boxed-off kitchen corner by the window with a tapering island kitchen unit, custom built with three electric rings, "It's all I needed", and adding a wall of multipurpose pigeonhole storage that flows into the rest of the room.

He advises that studio buyers should look for the simplest, most boxy space and forget about tricksy little stepped areas and zoned flooring materials. He especially hates morphic furniture - "cupboards that become tables that become beds. Simplicity is king. Go the other way and you end up living in a caravan, celebrating the fold-out quality of everything: really tiresome." (Although he did fit a pop-out ironing board).

And finally, clusters. If your ceilings are high enough, build an island unit of kitchen and bathroom with bed on the top, as architect Robert Dye did, turning a house-full of bedsits in west London into a cool studio building much sought after by the design conscious. A bathroom unit opens off a small lobby area, and a steel ladder leads to a sleeping platform above a miniature kitchen, this time with two rings. "They're really mini lofts," he says.

A word of warning, however, don't over- design your studio, or you may price it out of the market. A 572sqft Kelly Hoppen-designed studio flat owned by her mother in the posh Panoramic building in SW1 - all pale carpets, suede cubes and mirrored closets - has failed to shift at £285,000 and has just been reduced by £20,000.