Small apartment living leaves some people feeling cramped, or worse, claustrophobic. Whether it be kitchen supplies spilling into the living room or a build-up of boxes in your bedroom, the constraints of space can be frustrating. Don’t worry! Through appropriate small apartment design you can create an environment that offers both comfort and privacy. This article will serve as your comprehensive guide to interior design for your “spatially-challenged” home, covering everything from the drafting process to the perfect finishing pieces.
What is a “Small Apartment?”
Just like how “tall” or “short” carries different connotations depending on where you live (if you ask someone from Ireland to provide a minimum absolute measurement for a tall person, you can bet the response will be different than someone from Iceland), the “small” in “small apartment” is in many ways entirely relative to the housing characteristics of your community! Small for someone living in the Sai Kung might be a little different than someone in Mong Kok – and that’s okay! For our purposes, we’ll imagine a small apartment to be one where space is a significant limiting factor in your daily life – one which requires various work-arounds and innovations in order to maximize your living quality that a larger apartment might not need. (For those who like hard numbers, we’ll say that 400 square feet or less is a small apartment in Hong Kong – just remember that this figure is arbitrary!)
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Okay, I Have a Small Apartment. Now What?
The first step to maximizing your small apartment is to take a full account of the space available to you in your home. After all, how can know what to change if you don’t know what you have now? You’ll need a map to figure out how big each room is, where the walls are (and whether you can remove them or not!), and the locations of big pieces of furniture, countertops, and utilities – what we in the business call a floor plan (okay, maybe you don’t need to be “in the business” to know what a floorplan is.) If your apartment is new, or hasn’t been significantly altered since its construction, the building company might have a copy of the original floorplan. You can also check with neighbors within the same complex, real estate agencies, or with the Building Department’s records office. Floor plans for flats in public housing estates can be found at the Hong Kong Housing Authority website, or at their physical office in Kowloon. Once these sources are exhausted, consider hiring a professional to conduct a survey, or doing it yourself! Even if the floor plan isn’t perfect it will still give you an idea of what you have to work with (NOTE: never make alterations to walls if you are unsure as to whether they are load-bearing!)
Being a renovator is about more than just making a floorplan, learn more about the archiparti skill set.
Make a Small Apartment Design Plan
Now that you’ve got your hands on a floor plan, it’s time to be creative!
While the sky’s the limit (figuratively speaking, the literal limit is the ceiling), we suggest three overlapping strategies to guide your decision-making.
- Optimizing the interior layout and flow of your home
- Using multifunctional furniture
- Using outside areas
Bringing in outside help for your design project? Here’s what you need to know.
Optimizing the Layout and Flow of your Small Apartment Design
The first step to maximizing space is to implement a smart layout that complements your home design. Just like in boats, airplanes, or caravans, no area can be wasted by poor planning. Redundant rooms, too-big bathtubs, and that oddly shaped sofa set you inherited from an old roommate are all on the chopping block! Of course, it is best to entrust this reorganizing process to the professionals. However, if you want to do it yourself, there are several tips and tricks which you can implement in pursuit of a cohesive small apartment interior design.
Shrink Your Stuff
Unfortunately, leaps in the field of quantum physics haven’t progressed to extent that the purveyors of shrink ray guns would have us believe. The fact is, no matter what you do, your small apartment simply cannot hold as much stuff as a “normal” or “large” sized apartment – and no small apartment design can change that. Now that you’ve taken account of the space available to you, it’s time to reclaim it. That dressing cabinet full of unworn holiday sweaters? Or the broken aquarium you haven’t gotten around to fixing this year… or last year? They’ve got to go. Whether that means to your mother’s house, an off-site storage unit, or your local charity is up you. Now that you’ve reduced your clutter, the next (and decidedly more fun) step is to go…
A general rule for all small apartment design is the fewer walls the better. When every inch matters, the space taken up by walls and other permanent dividers can add up. Instead of having several tiny rooms, for instance, it may be better to have one large multipurpose room. Within this larger room, there are lots of ways to fluidly divide the space into different areas. For example, movable screens or wooden room dividers, available in a variety of colors and textures to suit many tastes, offer a quick and stylish way to separate space in a small apartment. For a cheaper, but no less effective touch, you can also use curtains to distinguish, say, the sleeping area from the rest of the room. If you still prefer a more permanent segregation of space, consider using transparent glass walls and sliding doors instead of traditional opaque walls and doors. The glass helps to create different areas without interrupting line of sight – which can make a small space feel larger – and the sliding doors themselves help to save space. Semi-opaque materials can also be used to let light into the rooms without sacrificing privacy.
Just like walls, conventional storage solutions (like dressers, standing bookcases, and filing cabinets) can occupy a lot of valuable floor area in an already small apartment. Instead of relying on these traditional options, think outside the box (both figuratively and literally) and you’ll be sure to find nooks and crannies in your home which can be converted into storage space! Here are a few ideas to get you started.
If your apartment has stairs, you can use the space underneath as storage. This can consist of a few shelves for keeping shoes or a full-fledged wardrobe with lots of drawers and lockers. Here, everything depends on your imagination and, of course, the usable area available.
Similar to using the space below stairs, you can create additional storage by building elevated floor platforms. These platforms, typically made of wood, are topped by beds, tables, chairs, or other other furniture, with cubby holes and trap doors providing access to the now empty area between the actual floor and the false floor.
Loft Space and Ceiling Storage
If you have high ceilings, you can take advantage of this otherwise unused area by creating loft space. These elevated platforms are perfect for functions that require an extra bit of privacy and coziness – such as a bedroom or reading room. They can also serve the less glamorous function of an impromptu attic.
In addition to loft space, you can use your apartment’s vertical area to your advantage with ceiling-mounted storage, typically in the form of hanging racks. This kind of storage is perfect for bulky or little used items, but keep in mind you’ll likely need a ladder to access it.
For many cooking enthusiasts, the kitchen is a home within the home. Living in a small apartment, however, can mean limited storage and surface area for everything from pots and pans to more eclectic items like cheese graters and fondue ovens. Instead of throwing away your kitchen accessories, look to make use of the underutilized space found in many small home designs. Various nooks, corners, and crannies can be used for functional purposes, and vertical hanging cubbies can be used for storage. Here, the constraints of a small kitchen can be turned to your advantage – since, unlike a large kitchen, you can reach everything you need from one spot!
Want to go in-depth about kitchen design? Check out the archiparti blog series.
Color and Light
There are no universal rules concerning the application of color in a small apartment design. As your small apartment is likely to be one room with several different areas, it might be beneficial to use different color and textures for zoning. A general guideline, however, is that light colors create the feeling of spaciousness, while dark colors provide intimacy and coziness. How to apply this to your apartment is up to you.
Lighting also plays an important role in how a space is perceived. Central lighting, while perhaps the most efficient way to illuminate a room, can also highlight its small size. Using lighting from a variety of sources, such as in each corner of a room, can be both visually interesting and gives the illusion of more space. Natural lighting, especially when combined with light colors and hues, can amplify this effect!
Another trick to increase the feeling of spaciousness is to use large or wall-sized mirrors -as the reflection of the mirror can make it seem like the room continues to extend beyond its actual confines.
Using Multifunctional Furniture
No matter how many superfluous appliances and fixtures you can eliminate, there will always be some core pieces of furniture which can’t be removed (unless, of course, the ascetic lifestyle of sitting, eating, and sleeping on the floor appeals to you.) Recently, however, there has been a growing movement for furniture solutions which combine various functions into modular designs, specifically for small apartment design and use. Here are a variety of examples and ideas to inspire you.
The principle behind extendable beds is simple: as your children grow, the bed grows with them. This way, your children can keep the same bed for many years and you don’t have to buy a new one.
Many platform beds come with storage drawers built under the mattress platform. Captain beds have drawers down one or both long sides of the bed.
Sofa and Bunkbed
This sofa-turned-bunkbed is a great solution for kids to sleep, relax, and play.
Wall Bed and Fold-Down Desk
You don’t need desk space when you’re sleeping, and you don’t need to use the bed while working at your desk. This convertible piece of furniture allows you to save space by prioritizing one task at a time. Good small apartment design requires sacrifices, but only temporary ones!
Ironing Board and Mirror
This flip-able iron and mirror is perfect for any fashionable man or woman.
Window Blinds and Rack
This wooden blind set can also be used as a linen-drying rack.
DIY Wall Plate Rack
This simple wall-mounted rack can be an attractive storage solution for over-sized items like platters and cutting boards, freeing up space in other areas. It’s also easy to build, making it great for a do-it-yourself project to compliment your small apartment design.
Living and Dining Room
Dining Set Bookcase
This modular piece of furniture that can be used to free up space in a common living and dining area.
Chairs Fitting into Dining Table
This simple small apartment design uses specially made table sets to minimize space wastage from chairs.
Sofa and Table
This sofa can be transformed into a sleek wooden coffee table, with the low-sitting furniture creating the feeling of higher ceilings.
Fold Down Table
This small wall-mounted table can be unfolded for dinner, work, or whenever it’s needed. The rest of the time it is just a painting, mirror, or cabinet on the wall.
Stacked Chairs and Table
This stack-able outdoor table and chair set is a perfect solution for a small porch, balcony, or rooftop.
Storage, Stepladder, and Seat
This unique storage solution combines drawer space, a small staircase, and sitting area.
Using the Outdoor Space
Since indoor space is at a premium, use outside space to compensate for missing functionality. For most small apartment in Hong Kong, this will consists of a balcony and/or common shared hallways, sitting areas, and other facilities. Larger balconies can be used as dining or living areas with the addition of comfortable seating and tables. Smaller balconies can include a small coffee table and a couple of chairs to provide a space to relax, eat, and energize in the morning and evening. Utilizing shared areas is more difficult, but still possible. Talk to your neighbors (as well as consult health and safety codes) to see what uses are permitted (such as using a common patio area to eat meals.)
As you can see, small apartment design requires a combination of no-nonsense analysis and creativity. Irrespective of the space you have available, you have to ability, with proper small home design, to live comfortably and in style. While for most, small apartments are characteristic of a certain period of one’s life (typically when you’re young, unmarried or recently married), they don’t have to be source of anxiety of frustration. By applying some of these techniques, you could even transform your small apartment into a valuable investment that will yield dividends for years to come.