Planning a Space

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to have your interior space work for you. Not only does it have to house all your belongings, it has to accommodate you, your family and visitors too and if you live in a period property the way it functions now will be very different to how it functioned when it was built.

A house I’m working on at the moment had a raft of alterations done to it about 16 years ago that modernised the property. The clients signed off on the plans and liked the work, but considering my brief, I’m not sure they were ever particularly happy with the function of the space afterwards. So it’s been an interesting task because what those improvements did has actually created problems that in rectifying, I’ve had to decide not to do anything with. I know, that sounds mad, but where steels have been put in, I’m leaving them; where windows have been fitted, I’m leaving them; where ceiling heights have been reduced, I’m leaving them and where soil stacks have been installed, I’m leaving them too.

Yes, I am actually planning on doing things to the house – in fact we’ve finished the first two phases and the final, most invasive scheme was kicked off at the end of January. The clients gave me the go-ahead to radically update the downstairs by putting back in a wall – a glazed wall – early in December. But more on that another time, the space just finished is a master bedroom suite and so far, it seems to be a success.

miranda bedroom

We started out with two adjacent rooms – the bedroom which was the full width of the house and overlooked the street and the ensuite which had been created by borrowing from and reconfiguring the bedroom behind it. The ensuite was also able to be accessed from the bedroom behind and I think when the family first moved in would have been a practical nursery for their new born son. But times have changed, the rear room is now a study and both parents have said how they wanted to have their room back – privacy was definitely a motivating factor in this redesign.

existing layout

At first I approached the layout in a very conventional way, left the ensuite where it was and just closed in the door to the rear bedroom/study, but the issues surrounding this were largely of storage and whichever way I looked at it, I couldn’t get enough wardrobe space by leaving it in the bedroom. It just didn’t feel very exciting, the bedroom would still be long and dominated by a wall of wardrobes. Yes, I do put together schemes that are simple and don’t involve a lot of building work – but they usually happen when the space is good to start with – and when the client wants a lot from a space, sometimes there is no choice but to spin it on its head.

refurb

That’s when I started to think about this annoying soil stack that had been installed from the upper floor and came down on the party wall through the master bedroom and the front entrance way! It wasn’t at all noticeable but it couldn’t be moved, so why not use it?? Why not spin the layout round and put the ensuite at the far end of the bedroom? That’d mean the old ensuite would become the dressing room and we could double the amount of wardrobe space, the mess would be out of the bedroom and the whole space would have a more intimate and enclosed feel to it.

new layout

I re-drew the space to see if it worked and it really did!

Usually there’s a point where all the thinking and the drawing comes to a natural conclusion – and I know I’ve got it right because I get all excited about it – I can see it in my mind. In this case, I wouldn’t have suggested putting in a new soil stack but because it was already there, I was able to take advantage of the location it was in – and in making that decision the whole scheme fit together like puzzle pieces.

creating the ensuite

creating the ensuite

creating the dressing room

creating the dressing room

Yes, it has created a smaller bedroom, but it is one that is focused solely on sleep and relaxation. It has a serenity to it; a sense of calmness. There used to be two entrances to the bedroom before, now there is only one. It’s become a destination instead of a corridor and each piece of furniture in there enhances that feeling of peace. The ensuite has that same sense of tranquility too – and this really is a small space. These are all issues to consider when you’re planning a bedroom suite. How much time do you really spend in your bedroom as an adult? In your own home, not that much! So the important function is to promote rest and allow you to start the new day refreshed. It’s worth considering the surrounding rooms if you want to get the space right, but most importantly, take advantage of what you already have. Don’t make something that can’t be moved a negative, instead make the things you can’t change a ‘feature’ or at the very least the pivot for changing the way you think about the room.

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard


ensuite

miranda's bedroom

Three Favourite Gadgets – for the Bedroom

No, I haven’t finally lost it! I’m currently working on a master bedroom suite and in changing the layout of the rooms we’ve had time to look at ways of improving the space for both people using it. We started with a conventional loft space – ensuite bathroom at the rear and the bedroom the full depth of the house – with the sloping ceiling creating an area of wasted space. The clients had spoken to a fitted wardrobe company and were disappointed with the amount of space that putting cupboards into the sloping ceiling actually gave them. I went out on a limb and suggested that we investigate the plumbing and structural support to the loft to see if we could move the bathroom to the space under the eaves – after all you don’t need full head height when you’re in the bath do you? Interestingly the clients had also had this idea, but had ruled it out because they thought it was likely to be too difficult to achieve.

loft bathroom

We were lucky, in this case the steel support had a nice big void below it that would enable us to run new pipework for the ensuite. As soon as we knew that, all of our attention was placed on reversing the space so that the dressing area had the head height needed for wardrobes and storage. And it was at this stage that we started talking about gadgets. I know you’re all shaking your heads, but think about the hotels you’ve stayed in that have clever lighting and curtains – gadgets in the bedroom are the touch of luxury that we otherwise take for granted in the kitchen. We think nothing of spending money on ‘toys’ used for food preparation, but unarguably more time is spent in the bedroom when asleep. Why are gadgets designed to enhance that fundamental activity considered extravagant? Why shouldn’t you pamper yourself in the space that is responsible for providing you with a good nights sleep?

Being comfortable at bedtime is about more than just your mattress. Temperature, lighting and noise levels all play their part. And when two people share a space, one is bound to be a lighter sleeper than the other. Add all these variables together and you can see why getting a scheme to suit both people is often difficult. But what if you could block the light from the velux window over the stairs? What if you could light the wardrobes but not have the light fall on the bed? What if you could have a bathroom extractor that didn’t come on with the main lights and wake the whole house? These are all small ‘first world problems’ as my daughter is so fond of saying, but they all contribute to our levels of irritation at a time of day when we are trying to relax, wind down and recharge for the day ahead. Removing these little frustrations actually takes away a far bigger problem – the issues of not being able to sleep. For someone who regularly sleeps badly, it takes very little to get into bad sleep habits and those are often triggered by things that wind you up. My pet hate is the bathroom light, right through the wall from my bed. It pings on and I ping awake. I wake so suddenly that my heart is pounding and I’m then awake for hours. Right now there’s nothing I can do about it, but believe me, as soon as I can that bathroom is being refurbished – and the light will be switched from outside the door.

the window wall

This is why I’m so keen to help clients improve their space. If simple ideas like this can improve the quality of their lives, then the effort is worth it. So – let’s talk about gadgets, shall we?

Who wants to get out of bed just because they’ve forgotten to switch a light off? Two way switching is my first must have in a bedroom that has both ceiling and wall lights. And every hotel worth its cocktail bar has adopted this in their accommodation. This is something to borrow – it costs no more to wire or to fit out – but in levels of comfort and convenience, it is streets ahead of the neighbours. This little luxury is right up there with saying ‘good night.’

Next on my list are motorised velux windows. In loft rooms – or houses with roof lights over the stairs – having a window that will close itself when it feels rain (yes it has inbuilt sensors) and has an integrated blind that closes at night is one of my favourite things to suggest to clients. No more wet carpet in a downpour because the velux was left open, no more light pouring into your bedroom through the open door from the landing. It operates with a remote and has solar panels to power the mechanism. Totally brilliant.

shower wall

And finally the noiseless extractor fan. Seriously, the sound they create is so quiet you can’t hear it over conversation. For people who don’t bounce out of bed in the mornings, the drone of the fan can be too much; it’s a less than pleasant start to the day. The noiseless fans operate on a vacuum concept with the moisture being removed by air transference – its a bit too technical for me to get my head around, but the results are brilliant. I also like to put the extractor and main bathroom lights on a separate circuit so that when you need to light the bathroom at night, the light levels are lower and less invasive. It creates a more ambient atmosphere in the bathroom which makes it more compatible to a bedroom environment, something I’ve always felt ensuite bathrooms lack.

So, when you start to plan your master bedroom give some thought to how this space is going to enhance your sleep and what irritations you really want to eliminate. I promise it will be money well spent.

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.