The more our island becomes developed, and the higher our property prices shoot up, the more we'll need to look for ingenious ways to use the space we do have in our homes. It may sound a little extreme at first (and, in the latter case, pretty unappealing), but boat and caravan interiors have led the way for decades in their clever use of foldaway tables and pull-out bunks. They might be lightweight for use at home, but they show what can be achieved.
At a flat in central London, my firm recently converted a dusty loft space into a lovely child's bedroom and en-suite shower room. A very common way of gaining usable space in a house is to convert the loft into a bedroom. But there is often the conundrum of what to do with the low part of the roof, in the eaves, which is much too low to stand in. The tricky bit is knowing where to build the vertical wall: near the low point of the eaves and you maximise the sense of space in the room, further up the slope and you gain useful storage space behind the wall. It's tricky to get it just right, but there are solutions, such as putting the wall in where the sloping ceiling is between 1m to 1.6m above the floor.
With that London flat, we staggered the line of the vertical wall. In the bedroom, the wall was built at a point very low to the eaves where the space was below 1m high, giving the greatest sense of space to the room. In the adjoining shower room, the vertical wall was set at 1.6m. This allowed us to use the space behind the shower-room wall to create a pair of sliding wardrobes that opened, like giant drawers, into the bedroom.
Another place to look for storage space is under the floor. In Victorian and Edwardian houses (which form a huge part of Britain's housing stock), the norm was for the ground floor to be constructed as a raised, joisted floor with a void below the floorboards. In many cases, there is up to a meter of height down there doing nothing.
If you are going to try to use this space well, there are a couple of very important things to bear in mind. First, this void needs to be ventilated, usually to the front and back of the property via air bricks. Without this ventilation, you run the risk of condensation and damp, which can lead to all sorts of problems, including dry rot, so don't do anything to block the air-flow. The other thing to bear in mind is that, as a ventilated space, any storage area you build down there should be insulated – again, to fend off the evil of condensation.
Having successfully created storage "pits" beneath flush trap doors for a number of customers, I was presented with a sizeable storage issue in my own home that the floor void was able to accommodate. Each morning, I used to fight the flab by spending half an hour heaving away on a rowing machine. Rowing machines are annoyingly large and our kitchen was not the most convenient place for it. Forming an insulated pit within the floor void, deep enough for the machine, and concealing it with three flush trap doors allowed me to rise early, prop the doors open and jump in. Rowing chest high to the floor takes a little getting used to, but actually worked brilliantly, and as soon as I was done, the trap doors meant that the demon machine was hidden away until the next morning.
Great storage needs to be both extensive (as we all seem to have so much stuff these days) and if it cannot be invisible, it must feel right in the geography of the interior. A very useful trick for living-room storage is to form a seat-high plinth unit along one whole wall. The TV can sit on the unit, and with cushions it can be pressed into action as an additional seat when visitors are there and all the DVD players, hi-fi gear and CDs and DVDs can be stored neatly below, accessed from cupboard doors to the front.
Hugo Tugman runs the design service Architect Your Home: www.architectyourhome.com
Project: Creating space, adding storage
How much will it cost?
Forming clever storage while you are undertaking other building works should not add significantly to the overall cost. The sliding wardrobes that we did cost approximately £1,600. To form a storage pit beneath a raised floor can also be quite simple if the space is suitable and the carpentry straightforward. Around £800 to £1,000 should cover such a project using a skilled joiner.
How much hassle is it?
Projects such as the storage pits or sliding wardrobes can be achieved within a few days on-site and should not cause too much disruption. This will obviously depend upon where the work has to take place. Forming a storage pit in the busiest part of a house while a family is in occupation can be a nightmare, so plan the work to coincide with a short break to the in-laws!
What's the first step?
Start by working out what it is you want to store. I know it might sound obvious, but if you have lots of long dresses to hang, a plinth unit with drawers will not help much. Think also how frequently you need to access the contents. Suitcases that come out twice a year can afford to be less easily accessible than clothes or files that might need daily access.