Specialism
Project type
Insights
Tools

Think big in a small house: Maximising space in small UK houses

Feeling like you are being overwhelmed by your belongings but don’t want to throw everything out? We explore clever ways to make your home feel bigger

23 January 2024
4 minutes read
Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling

With living costs rising – and house prices doing the same – it’s not exactly the best time for many UK homeowners to up-size. You might find yourself staying for more years in a property than you had previously imagined, perhaps while your family is growing. Or maybe the space that you fell in love with while living alone now feels a bit tight alongside a new housemate or partner. 

At Urbanist Architecture, we believe that a well-designed living space should allow you and your life to grow within it. Especially in the current climate, investing in good interior design can be a far more preferable alternative to investing in a new property. And on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all learned how important it is for our mental and physical health to have a comfortable, functional home base. 

Whatever your reason for an interior redesign may be, if you’re looking for ways to maximise space in a small house, you’re definitely not alone. So in this blog, we’ll share some of our design experts’ trusted strategies for turning a cramped space into a well-thought-out place that you and your loved ones can truly enjoy.  (And you might be able to keep your collectables or old frocks in the bargain!)

Interior painter crouching on her knees to paint the wooden stairs balustrade white whilst her colleague is standing on the side of her showing what further alterations can be done to the property

Easy fixes

Some ways to maximise space in a small house are simple and don’t require any structural changes that would, for instance, need to pass through the planning system. These include interior design decisions around colour, materials and furniture choice.

Storage solutions

Sometimes a space feels small, not because it actually is, but because of the unending clutter and surfaces laden with objects. Mess and clutter are normal and show-home-style interiors are thoroughly unrealistic for most of us. 

Instead, purpose-built storage solutions can not only help maximise your space, making it feel more spacious as objects are organised and tidied away, but also enhance the interior style of your home.

Custom shelves can help make use of the corners and spaces that you can’t fit in any furniture. Filling spaces such as underneath the stairs with storage makes more room in other areas of your home for living.

Whether you opt for prefabricated storage solutions or bespoke joinery, utilising the expertise of a designer can help take the awkward niches and bends of your home and optimise them for busy modern living. They will be able to help you reduce clutter without you having to purge your precious belongings. 

Architectural drawings printed in a booklet and opened to display the detailed floor plan with labelts as welll as internal elevations with roof head height and dimensions of the furnishings

Furniture types

Multi-purpose furniture, whether freestanding or fixed, can enrich your spaces while minimising the space they take up. For example, a library-style bookcase with a built-in desk or sideboard that doubles as a breakfast bar. 

Focusing on furniture that can make your space feel bigger is important. Choosing furniture that is too small is a common mistake. Choosing small furniture can accentuate the size of the room - opting instead for full-sized furniture that leans into the cosy feeling of a small space not only makes your space more livable but can make the space seem larger as well. 

Additionally, finding furniture that sits off the ground can make the space seem bigger and airier. The ability to see the floor underneath furniture can minimise the bulking effect of any piece.

Colour palettes

Finding the right colour palette for your spaces is tough, and engaging with a specialist will really help you step back and define the vision for your home. 

The answer to a bright and spacious home isn’t always to paint the whole space white. Using bold, coordinating colours that harmonise with your furniture and fixtures is crucial in creating an inviting space. 

Take a classic box room, for example. Unless you make structural changes, you’re unlikely to get away from the tight proportions. So, instead of painting the whole space white and creating a stark, clinical space, you can use a refined colour palette, complementary textures and lighting - and lean into its scale to design a petite, cosy oasis.

Accentuating height where possible 

Reversing the visual effect of your low ceiling height comes down to optical illusion

When a space feels too short, you can introduce long, vertical wall materials such as slatted wood or panelling to subconsciously draw your eyes up. Or tall joinery and furniture. And vice versa, if your space feels too tall and lofty, you can introduce horizontal banding of textures and colours. 

And if you are feeling extra creative, you can use paint to create interesting vertical moments, such as painted sections that blend the wall and ceiling together or only painting two-thirds of your wall.

Contractor in coveralls, white hard hat and steel toe boots working on recemeting slabs on a staircase

Internal structural alterations

Beyond furniture and material choice, there are some interior design approaches to maximising space in a small house that have more structural implications. These could include removing internal walls, altering the floor finishes or adding certain types of cladding. 

Removing walls can make a space bigger and often draw in more light. Please note, though, if you think these might be load-bearing, you should always contact a structural engineer for an assessment before you start the changes. 

Refurbishing windows can bring in more light while improving your thermal and energy efficiency.

With rising costs and a stagnant property market, we are seeing an increase in clients that want to engage with an architect who can reimagine their existing home, with minimal or smaller extensions and external changes. And introducing just a few interior design or layout changes will start to maximise your home and breathe new life into your space.

How to use a small extension to make the most of your space

Sometimes, the space in your home at the moment just isn’t enough. At which point, the question is: can you add an extension?

But small houses often have small gardens, and you don’t want to lose your precious outdoor space.

Sometimes, though, the answer is the combination of a small extension with a thoughtful reworking of the existing interior.

Contemporary and minimalist study room with a brown leather chair, white desk for a computer, storage drawers, muted grey mounted bookshelf. rectangular armchair and additonal wall mounted storage units

Case study: Reimagining the ground floor of a narrow house

The house we want to talk about is the home to two generations of the same family, so they both wanted a sense of being able to have their own space, including – an increasingly crucial factor – being able to work from home. 

The existing ground floor had a guest room, a study and a shower room. Our clients still wanted to have the study – now more of a home office – and somewhere guests could sleep, but also a new kitchen/living room. They felt an extension would help, and hired us to both get planning permission for the extension and for interior design of the whole of the ground floor.

That was important because it gave us the opportunity to really get into how the extension would work with the rest of the house. That’s something we always try to do, of course, but understandably someone who is mostly interested in an extension won’t want to pay an architectural firm to spend a lot of time figuring out the details of how to rework the existing parts of the house. 

Interior view of an organic and natural living room space with a forest green sofa, muted grey walls and accented with natural wood slatted room divider, wooden bar stools and natural wooden shelf in the kitchen

The extension was modest but not tiny  – 10.6 square metres. It gained an interesting shape for practical reasons – in order to meet the 45-degree rule, the back wall couldn’t go straight across the full width of the garden, but we embraced that as a design asset, giving it a bit more character. Although we were making what had been the study deeper, the new glass doors, plus a new full-height window and a large skylight meant we were radically increasing the amount of light coming in.  

Cosy yet contemporary office space with adequate wall mounted storage for books and documents, earthy toned rug lying underneath a leather swivel desk chair which accentuates the bright sunlight coming in through the three-panelled wide white windows.

With the extra space and extra light, what had been the study could now become a relaxing open-plan kitchen/living room. The guest room, meanwhile, now became the home office, although it is still available for guests to use. How? We replaced the standard bed with a pull-down bed, freeing up much of the floor space. That meant that a decent-sized desk and a comfy armchair could also fit in. 

Thoughtful design of a small kitchen with natural wood accented backsplash, all-around shelf space, narrow barstools and u-shaped countertop with the added bonus of integrated storage space in the cupboards and kitchen island for maximum use of the space

Meanwhile, we substantially increased the amount of storage space, including by adding storage under the stairs, plus creating large cupboards in the kitchen area and adding bookshelves above the desk. We used a mixture of fully bespoke joinery with retail products, plus the increasingly popular combination of big-brand cabinets fronted by custom doors. 

Finally, both to divide the living room from the kitchen and for the staircase, we used floor-to-ceiling timber slat partitions to keep the spaces distinct yet open at the same time. 

RIBA chartered architect and interior designer working closely together making sure the material samples are of high-quality and matches the drawings printed out and layed in front of them on the marble table

What kind of permission do you need for interior changes to your home?

For much of what we talk about in this article, you generally don't need any paperwork at all.

If you are making structural changes, you most likely will need building regulations approval.

If you live in a listed building, you might need listed building consent if anything you are doing is likely to affect the "historic fabric" of the building. If you are doing a substantial refurbishment but are fairly sure that what you are doing won't have an impact on the character of the building, you can use the simpler option of a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Works to a Listed Building instead.

Depending on your house and where you live, you may need planning permission to replace your windows.

And if you are a leaseholder, it's quite likely that for anything that amounts to more than just redecorating, you will need a licence to alter from your landlord or the management company.

How Urbanist Architecture can help you

Urbanist Architecture is a London-based architecture and planning practice with offices in Greenwich and Belgravia. If you would like us to help you rethink your home to make it feel bigger, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Sky Moore-Clube, Architectural Designer at Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Sky Moore-Clube

A key member of our architectural team, Sky has a passion for heritage homes and interior design, as well as a great instinct for ultra-creative extensions. Sky brings a fresh yet thorough approach to everything she designs.

Send me a message
Or call me on
020 3793 7878

Write us a message

We look forward to learning how we can help you. Simply fill in the form below and someone on our team will respond to you at the earliest opportunity.

Have you considered how much the construction will cost?

Urbanist Architecture is committed to protecting your privacy, and we'll only use your information to deliver the services you requested. For more information, please review our privacy policy.

Some fields are incorrect.

Read next

The latest news, updates and expert views for ambitious, high-achieving and purpose-driven homeowners and property entrepreneurs.

Read next

The latest news, updates and expert views for ambitious, high-achieving and purpose-driven homeowners and property entrepreneurs.

Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
Applying for planning permission: Learn about everything involved
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
6 simple steps to design a Gatsby house with art deco design principles
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
How to buy land or property at auction in London [2024 Edition]
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
How to convert offices into homes without planning permission [2024 update]
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
How to get planning permission on agricultural land [2024 update]
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
RIBA Stage 5: An architect’s guide to construction
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
4 year rule and 10 year transition explained [Post-25 April update]
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
Why we are obsessed with pre-applications and you should be too
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
RIBA Stage 1: An architect’s guide to the preparation and brief stage
Read more
Image cover for the article: Solo worker from a small contractor company in London working on the interior renovation of a small property in the city standing on work platform with a tool belt working on sanding the white ceiling
How to get planning permission for building on Green Belt land in the UK [2024 edition]
Read more

Ready to unlock the potential of your project?

We specialise in crafting creative design and planning strategies to unlock the hidden potential of developments, secure planning permission and deliver imaginative projects on tricky sites

Write us a message
Decorative image of an architect working
Call Message