How can I live and work in my tiny, cluttered flat?
The problem: Aya Sekine, a photographer, lives in a tiny, 326sq ft open-plan studio flat in central London, with an 18ft by 12ft main space, a separate bathroom and kitchen and little storage capacity.
"Previously, I lived in a two-bedroom, two-floor maisonette, so I had lots of space. But this flat was so cheap and I love the details, such as the flooring. But there is hardly anywhere to put anything. I'm constantly throwing things away, recycling or taking items to charity shops. It's really tough if I'm out shopping; whenever I'm looking to buy CDs, books or films, I have to think to myself, do I actually have the space for this?
When I wake up in the morning I'll fold up the bed and try to hide the duvet by the doorway to get it away from my field of view. It's such an eyesore, but there is nowhere else to put it. My magazines are becoming an issue. They're my portfolio as my work is featured in them, but the only place to store them is on top of the fold-down bed. But it looks quite messy.
"Another problem that I have is that the flat lacks a divide between my workspace and living space. Sometimes I'll spend all day working at my desk, then try to relax on the sofa or eat at the table – but they're just opposite the desk, so it's hard to zone out. Sometimes I'll keep working through the night just because I can still see my desk and I can't get out of work mode! And I've never had more then four friends round at one time, and even then it's quite crowded – they have to sit on the floor with my cushions." www.ayasekine.com '
The solution: Tina Jesson is the managing director of an interiors styling company, Home Stagers Ltd, and frequently has to work with confined living spaces.
"The first thing that I noticed in Aya's flat was a common mistake in open-plan living space. People think that if they put furniture around the edges of the room, as Aya has done, it makes more space. But this loses the definition between living zones. You need a well-defined living area, dining area and office space, which makes a much more comfortable environment. The other thing people tend to do is not deal with the clutter that builds up in their homes. With Aya, it wasn't just a question of storage space, but how she organised her things, which looked higgledy-piggledy. For instance, you can tidy a shelf up by reordering books according to size, or put those odds and ends you collect into storage boxes to get rid of clutter. Storage boxes can also be a simple way to bring some colour in.
The big white duvet was one of the first things that I noticed in the flat, so we brought the trunk in (£199, www.next.co.uk). It's wooden, so we added cushions and now Aya has extra seating. While you want to avoid increasing the footprint of furniture in a small flat if possible, multifunctional pieces such as this maximise the use of available space. (The trunk could double as a coffee table in another environment.)
I wanted to throw Aya's magazines away, but she needs to keep them for work. I looked for an existing unit to store them – you should reuse where possible. We decided to upend Aya's white, hand-built shelving unit, and moved it next to the doorway, where it looks very discreet; you can't even see it when the door's open. We then relocated most of her magazines to this unit, with shelving space to spare. By ordering and stacking the magazines, you could see they were there for a purpose.
We then brought in a stand-alone shelving unit (Expedit bookcase, £49, www.ikea.com) to take books and other magazines that she had stored around the apartment. Next, a green filing cabinet (Erik drawer unit, £49, Ikea) to provide additional storage for her DVD collection: it's also the right size for the TV and brings a splash of colour, making the apartment look less utilitarian. Finally, we added some storage boxes – four on top of the bed unit (Ikea Kassett DVD box, £3.99 for two) and a couple on top of the new shelving unit (Strikt CD Box, £2.59, Ikea) – for Aya to store everything from paperback books to general bric-a-brac, along with a faux-leather magazine rack (£10, www.argos.co.uk). (Storage boxes can be used on top of wardrobes in bedrooms, or added to the shelving you already have in place.)
To make the most of Aya's wonderful window box filled with herb pots, we moved the little dining table away from the wall, to the window. When Aya's at the table, she'll get the most from her window, and the move also creates a more defined dining area. Then, by moving the two chairs to make way for the chest, we've created a separate seating area that feels cosy – chairs against a wall can look like a doctor's waiting room. By bringing these chairs into the centre of the room, we delineate a clear living space, eating space and office space."
Home Stagers, 0800 542 8 952; www.homestagers.co.uk
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