An architect has revealed how to make your small spaces look bigger – without a huge renovation budget.
Lizzie Fraher, who appears on BBC’s Your Home Made Perfect, explains that expensive outhouse extensions and open-plan living aren’t always the answer.
The architect, co-founder of South London-based practice Fraher & Findlay, said the very first task for homeowners looking to redecorate their property is to diagnose the areas they believe are a problem.
“It’s like when you go to the doctor and try to figure out what the disease is, you look for all the symptoms. And by doing that, you can diagnose whether you can do something about the existing space to make it feel better,” she said.
‘For example, are there certain rooms that give you terrible anxiety because you know you can’t pass each other without wriggling through a doorway and causing friction, or are the windows too small?
“And all that makes a room very, very small, because there is a lot of shadow and darkness and it would be much better if it was lighter.”
Lizzie said identifying these minor issues and fixing them “will inherently make the space much more pleasant, without necessarily expanding the space, which is obviously very important when working on a budget.”
Here, the architect reveals her top tips to make your rooms look bigger.
Extending is NOT always the solution
More space doesn’t mean better space: Architect Lizzie Fraher, who appears on BBC’s Your Home Made Perfect, explained that popular back-of-the-house extensions and an open-plan living room aren’t always the answer when you feel like you need more need space. stock image
“I would never suggest that expanding is the first remedy, it often isn’t, often it can make your existing spaces worse,” the architect insisted.
“There’s no point in expanding and putting a big box on the outside of your building [if you haven’t fixed inside] – and then that can certainly deprive your existing rooms of a lot of natural light.
‘So I always look at your existing floor plan, your existing building and see what can still change. This way you can reconfigure without expanding first.’
Lizzie added: “An extension will always be expensive. So if you can reconfigure internally, it’s always a little more cost effective.’
Invest in natural lighting
Let the light in: Pay attention to where you get the light and work around it. In the absence of natural light, ‘ladies and loads’ artificial light can also work. stock image
“Light is a really big one,” Lizzie said. ‘Think about where you get your light from, what light quality is it? Is it light at a certain time of the day because you may have really great lights in the morning but terrible lights in the afternoon.
“And that could be fine or you could say, ‘I’d really like to have some more of the afternoon lights’ and in doing that you can think, ‘well, because the sun is coming up in the back of my house, that’s why I have to open those spaces”.
Lizzie said it’s always better to use natural light—by choosing more windows in each room—but there’s a balance “because too much glass overheats a room.”
“It’s always best to try and design to increase natural light because we as humans respond better to it, but there are a lot of artificial lights that can reflect natural light as well.”
Be smart with storage space to clean up clutter
Use the dead space: Built-in storage under the stairs or a sloping roof makes the room work harder for you and gives you more places to store your clutter. stock image
Lizzie said to avoid too much “visual noise,” explaining that if “just too much is happening, there are tons of bits and pieces,” it will make a room seem smaller.
‘Look where the clutter is, why is that clutter, how can you deal with clutter better, how can you deal with it better, how can we design for that clutter?’
She continued, “I always try to have storage space in spaces that aren’t really used, that’s already compromised, so under the stairs is the classic example, where it’s great to put storage space underneath.
‘Under roofs, a roof slopes downwards, which is really great storage space. Think about kinks and indentations in your existing building, and those kinks and indentations and natural crevices to take up extra storage space, so I would always look for those because you won’t be using them much else.”
Why open plan DOES NOT always work
False logic: Open living spaces like the one above don’t always make a room seem bigger. stock image
Although the “general premise,” Lizzie said, is that if you have an open layout, you’ll have rooms that appear larger, but the architect insisted that’s not always the case.
“You have to be able to control spaces,” she explained. “It’s like having an unruly child, you know you want to control them so they can do the best they can.
Expert advice: Lizzie Fraher, from BBC renovation program Your Home Made Perfect
“If you have a space that is completely open and you have a noise or distraction in one of the spaces, that can completely affect the rest of the space, it can completely disrupt and antagonize someone and how they feel in another part of the House.
‘So open space doesn’t always make spaces bigger. You can have a broken plan, which is kind of zoning and zoning, but they do have a bit of separation, there’s also a kind of connection to each other.
“That connection will make the spaces seem even bigger, because it’s the intrigue of ‘oh look, there’s a space, it leads to something’ and that immediately makes me think that my space is bigger because it leads to something else.”
Think about the circulation of the room
“So I’m thinking circulation,” Lizzie said. ‘So can you move through space, and how do you move through space? Are there certain areas where there is a collision?
‘For example, if you have to get in and out of the room, or are there places where you can’t sit comfortably or watch TV because people are constantly in front of the screen?
“Circulation is a big one — thinking about how you move through space,” the designer insisted, explaining that the more you collide, the smaller the room feels.
“Or even as something as simple as furniture — making sure that doesn’t take over completely,” she said.
Your Home Made Perfect airs Wednesdays on BBC2 and is available on iPlayer