Making Your Space Work

There aren’t many first time buyers who decide to completely reconfigure their flats – but then there aren’t many first time buyers that take on a property being sold at auction. My current clients have done exactly that. The owners knew the area and when this property came up for auction, they knew that there was a margin for profit after the work had been done. But having a canny understanding of the market isn’t the only thing you need to consider when you decide to reconfigure the layout of your home.

bedroom to the left, living space straight ahead

bedroom to the left, living space straight ahead

When you start with a blank canvas, it’s unbelievably easy to think that you will be able to have whatever you want. It’s not quite as simple as that. The single biggest restriction to having what you want is the size of the property. And the the next biggest is the target market you want to attract when you decide to sell. These two facts need to be held in the back of your mind with every decision you make for that fit out. Why? Because its very easy to overspend on areas that won’t add to the value of your property – don’t confuse improvements with conversions. Moving walls and taking out chimney breasts will gain you extra space, but they have cost implications in the same way that deciding to replace doors and windows will have – every property has these things. They aren’t therefore considered to be adding value and while a lot of agents will alert you to the fact that a property is double glazed, it won’t increase the valuation of the property by the amount you spent on them.

creating the ensuite

creating the ensuite

Planning the layout of a property is like doing a jigsaw puzzle – there are certain things that can’t be put anywhere else: the external soil stack (the waste pipe that the WC, bathroom and kitchen pipework feeds to) needs direct access from the kitchen and bathroom, without any twists or turns. Boilers and extractors need to be on exterior walls and bedrooms will need to have fire rated doors if they open onto a stair well, as will the door between the kitchen and the hall/stairs.

And then there are the environmental limitations. Is it on a busy road, does a bus route come past the property? Is it overlooked by neighbouring buildings? Does the sun blast into the front room or the rear of the building? Are you a night owl or do you need a full eight hours? Does the access from the street involve numerous stairs, or come directly off the front hall? All of these issues will help you decide on the practical aspects of your layout and will narrow the choices open to you. For example, if you need your sleep and your home is on a busy road, there’s no point putting the bedroom at the front of the house.

one bedroom flat

one bedroom flat

Pretty soon you’ll see that the layout of the building will dictate a natural flow to the way you want to use the property – the puzzle pieces will find their proper places. This flat started out as a studio with separate kitchen and bathroom, but creating a separate bedroom is a smarter use of the space – bedrooms add value. I did my space planning with the bedroom at the rear (busy road) with an ensuite bathroom and leaving the wall that ran the width of the flat (the spine wall) in place and keeping the chimney breast intact for an open plan kitchen living space. This was largely to keep costs down because the flat needed an RSJ installed to support the roof. But the clients had two layouts they wanted to see drawn up which involved removing the chimney breast and the spine wall. So that was our starting point. I also drew a couple of others to explore how the space could be better utilised and in the end we combined aspects of both. The chimney breast did come out and the wall did move. I also then expanded on the idea of placing the kitchen at the stair end of the flat, something that the contractor had initially said he didn’t want to do because of the pipework. We talked about the possibility of running the kitchen pipes to the bathroom and linking up with the soil stack from there. That was agreed as doable and so the kitchen was then located in the narrowest part of the flat that would otherwise have made a very awkward space for the sofa.

insulating stud walls

insulating stud walls

Because the clients had quite fixed ideas of what they wanted – a bath, a chef’s kitchen, a massage table – there was a lot more drawing done than I would normally do on a project. But what I lost in preparation (the time I would normally spend pulling a scheme together) I gained from client input. As a collaborative process it worked, but it’s taken a great deal longer than my usual working style. And here is the point of this situation, we still haven’t got the final design agreed and the spec for the builders keeps changing – the clients now want to reconstruct a chimney breast! If you aren’t good at visualising the end result, having too much choice will make the process more difficult and much slower. You need to discuss the fall back options and the deal breakers because at some point you HAVE to make a decision and you have to stick to it. Otherwise your workforce have will have nothing to do – and if something has been costed, the price will likely alter if you change your mind.

creating a fireplace opening

creating a fireplace opening

When you’re faced with a space that is challenging you, spend some time thinking about how you will use it. This is about keeping an open mind because small spaces have to work hard to be really functional. Take your pencil and on the floor plan, mark out the furniture and trace the movements you will repeat continuously within your home. What are your main activities? As you trace your pencil around the floor plan, you’ll see if there are areas that cause a ‘sticking point’ in the circulation space; (this is the ergonomic area required to move without hinderance as you go about your activities.) Carving up a space that is challenging will create areas that essentially do nothing more than allow access, the key is to find the way to use your space without creating ‘dead zones.’ Hallways and corridors only get used to allow access and in a small space could create rooms that feel cell-like. Each home is different but in this situation, better to have more generous rooms because when people buy a property they’re looking at room size and functional space. And in that sense getting your layout right will have a direct influence on resale value.

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