Space it out: The challenge of designing small rooms

Multi-function defines the Multi coffee table which rises to the occasion when guests come round, transforming into a full height dining table for eight (from €2,292)

Designing small rooms doesn’t mean have to mean compromising on style and personal taste, but practical needs and planning are essential to success, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

The first commandment of space planning is, thou shalt not enter a furniture shop without a tape measure, unless you want to risk unhinged doors and chipped paintwork from trying to negotiate an unexpectedly monstrous sofa into the living room, there to sit in splendid isolation.

Sometimes it’s the fault of a surge of excitement, wanting everything to complete a room without deferment.

Other times it’s the temptation of a trip to the shops and succumbing to the charms of a most luxurious bed without first checking if it might be too big to allow for must-have bedfellows like nightstands and wardrobes.

When buying furniture for a compact room, let multi-function be a guiding principle, accompanied by the tape measure which is first deployed to determine size of space available for the new purchase. I have a particular fondness for the elegant pouffe which provides an extra seat and a place to park a tray.

Look out for sofas elevated on slim legs which help to make a room feel more spacious. The Paipai series offers this, plus comfort and a modern design (from €2,500 at Ligne-Roset).

Coffee tables, if there’s room for one, can have shelves underneath. Boxy versions come with lift-up lids to provide instant storage inside. So, too, do ottomans, offering three-way multi-function — casual seating, a surface for books, phone and tray, and a roomy box for putting things out of sight. Err on the side of versions which are as lightweight as possible for picking up and moving around.

Small dining areas offer the particular challenge of finding room for space-hogging chairs and the unwelcome potential of residents colliding with the sharp corners of an angular table while walking through to the kitchen.

Drop-leaf and extendable tables free up a huge amount of space when not in use, although I’m a convert to the idea of having a bench along one side of a table, backed up to the wall for supporting the sitter.

A pouffes' versatility makes it ideal for extra seating and as a side table to hold a tray (Hamptons velvet from MADE.COM €129).

The bench can also be tucked away beneath the table when not in use.

Supplement the bench with stools, and have them earn their keep by double jobbing in the living room as occasional tables, before doing overtime as bedside tables for reading lamps and other night-time necessities.

Stools are less likely to encourage lingering at the dining table when friends come round for a bite, so if the lure of a set of chairs is irresistible, edit your options to low-backed versions simply designed. These are the way to go to combine comfort with space efficiency rather than solid high-backed chairs which can dwarf the table, hide it from view and hog precious room space in the process.

The La Forma Teamy side table can double up as storage for newspapers, magazines and winter throws, and comes in a choice of pastels or white (from €95 at

The main focus of attention, and even expenditure, ought to be the living room, to maximise its potential for relaxation and socialising.

Choose well, and the simpler the better, without skimping on comfort. With retro styles trending and being uncomplicated in design, 1950s inspired sofas on angled legs are easy to find and look lighter in a room than an overstuffed version which sits directly on the floor.

The urge to fill every metre of available floor space can be tempered by considering the vertical space as an alternative.

This includes wall-mounted shelves for books, pictures and decorative objects, rather than floor standing bookcases.

Chunky stoneware includes mugs, plates and bowls for every- day use, finished in a textured surface in fashionable grey (from €1.39 p/piece).

The more floor area that is left visible, the larger the room will look, something which can be more challenging when tackling a tiny hall.

It’s an area easily dismissed as impossible to do anything with — except serve as a way of separating living quarters from the stairs and shielding it from the effects of bad weather coming through the front door.

Let the hall earn its keep with a wall-mounted shelf to accommodate scarves and gloves. Coats can hang from the space underneath, which eliminates the pile-up of outdoor wear on the bannister.

If it’s not much of a squeeze, a little bench with storage underneath offers another spot for storing items. Adding a wall mirror helps create an optical illusion of more space where every centimetre counts.

Above all, plan a room, the entire home, for you, not the possibility of who might come to visit on occasion. This is particularly important when space is compromised, as is keeping the day to day detritus of living in some kind of order.

It just takes a few rogue envelopes, newspapers and a scattering of devices to make a small space look cluttered.

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