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Small room ideas

Ruth Sleightholme shares her insight on decorating small rooms and small space design

By House & Garden | January 18, 2022 | Small Spaces

There is something about small room ideas that tends to send people into a panic. Granted, a small room does require more thought than bigger rooms and finding the right solution for the space can take a little know-how and a lot of research to find that you may not have considered before. Luckily, House & Garden UK Decoration Editor Ruth Sleightholme is full of knowledge for small room ideas.

'Eliminate awkward gaps with purposeful joinery,' she advises. 'Furniture floats more in a small room because any gap between it and the wall is awkward and small. Instead, think about using built-in furniture to fit everything in properly. For example, make a dining nook with banquette seating (with storage underneath) that goes the width of a room, or build a box bed into the length of the room, making space for niches and cupboards.'

With this kind of approach – of which there are many stylish examples in the gallery below – Ruth advises you have to 'lose space to gain space. You may lose a few centimetres of floor space to create a panel behind a built-in bed but you gain space when you’re using it and have a bedside table built-in, rather than one taking up floor space'. In compact bathrooms and bedrooms, in particular, Ruth's advice is to keep as much off the floor as possible. Instead, consider, for example, a wall-mounted basin and towel rail and bedside tables that are built into a headboard.

'Look at all the different surfaces in the room and think about using spaces that you don’t often notice,' says Ruth. 'It's something Beata Heuman does so well, building little shelves on top of radiators, or you can consider the inside walls of a window or the inside edge of a dividing wall and sides of a chimney breast and see if there’s something you can use them for, like a little shelf all the way up the chimney breast, a shelf and cupboard underneath a windowsill, or little shelves along the inside edge of a thick wall.

Picture: A design by Beata Heuman that maximises storage. Photo by Simon Brown.

See things not as they look at first but in raw volumes and where you can access things from – look beyond it as it is now and be ambitious about what’s possible and where you might be able to add storage or make what you have more practical. A good example is a small Paris flat by Marianne Evennou, who installed a washing machine into a corner cupboard in the kitchen, but the door is in the hallway. That way, the corner unit is used but in an effective way, so there is no dead space. It's not something you immediately think of, so you need to take time to look at all those possibilities.'

Picture: The Marianne Evennou designed small Paris flat. Photo by Stephan Julliard.

'You have to solve the issue first and then apply your taste when you have the solution you need,' continues Ruth, who suggests building a bank of references about how to work with a chimney breast or bay window in a small space, for example, and rather than discounting something for its style, instead look past that at the tricks used to maximise space. Once you land on something that works for your small room, then go into the styling. 'One great thing is that you can fill a room with a single idea done confidently,' according to Ruth. 'For example, a small bathroom has far less space to decorate so you can afford to tile all the way up to the ceiling and it will look great.'

'Whenever you’re dividing up between different rooms, don’t interrupt the sightline from room to room - critall windows or glass doors will help both spaces feel a bit more large,' says Ruth. 'Try walls that can be moved in various different ways - curtain off areas, look at partitions that slide open and close between rooms and bifold doors that open out so can have one or two rooms. Small considerations go a long way in creating space, such as installing a sliding or pocket door that doesn't open into a room.' Ruth's final piece of advice on the structure of a room is to 'keep the woodwork the same colour as walls to dissolve the boundaries of the space.'

As for furniture, Ruth's words of wisdom extend to folding furniture and perhaps more surprisingly, antiques. Look to 'little folding chairs, stacking stools, tilt top tables and steps that fold into stools – things you can easily push out the way when you mop' for useful pieces, but don't think it just has to be mid-century and IKEA. Ruth's top tip? 'A surprising amount of antiques work well in small spaces - and a lot of antiques have folding elements so search for ‘folding’ on antique websites. Hunt around too for slimline things; for example, Georgian sofas are generally good in small spaces as they have upright backs rather than something deep that projects further.' On that note, Ruth's last piece of advice for small rooms is to 'think about how far things project from the walls, not just with the furniture but also wall lights. No one wants to hit their head on one, so look for slimline lights as well as furniture.'

Written by Ruth Sleightholme.

This article originally appeared on House & Garden UK.