Rod Maharg’s guide to making spaces seem bigger, without extending!
When asked why people extend, or what they feel is missing from their home, the answer is usually space. This seems to be what everyone is after, often because the layout of the house doesn’t suit them, or because it feels undersized for the needs of a modern lifestyle.
The simplest solution is, when building, to go big. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, due to restrictions in budget or available space. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks which you can employ to make spaces seem and feel larger, without breaking the bank!
Long and Thin Spaces
When you are constrained by a small building area, long and thin spaces feel the most spacious. This might seem counterintuitive, as thinness usually implies confinement. But one of the most important preceptors of size is depth, and long thin spaces create the greatest possible distance from one point to another, as opposed to more standard square shapes. They also have the advantage that you can actually remove yourself physically from annoyances in one part, and benefit from the increased acoustic privacy this gives you. How thin can you go? Certainly you can do a lot in a three meter width, but anything below that is going to reduce the useability. Remember though, that long and thin spaces will seem bigger but will usually require more circulation areas.
Windows and Light
A room with large and dramatic windows will always feel bigger than one with smaller openings. This will be both because of the views to the outside, and by the daylight brought into a room, which always makes spaces feel wider. Natural light will also draw the eye, first to the room that has it, and then to the outside.
In particular, windows that go up to meet the ceiling will maximize the sense of space and view of the sky, and make the ceiling appear to hover over the room. This trick can be especially useful in suburban areas where a view of the sky can be elusive. However, as usual, there is a balance between getting the benefits of expansive windows, versus creating a glass box that is an energy drain on the house as a whole and has no feeling of enclosure or cosiness.
Grouping traditionally separate rooms into one large space is perhaps the easiest and most obvious way of getting a spacious feeling. This is commonly done by grouping kitchen, dining, and living functions together, often in a new rear extension. This arrangement needs to be considered carefully though. There are possible compatibly issues between the zones in terms of noises and odours. Often an “articulated” space, which for instance gives some seclusion of the kitchen from the living area can work, but it does depend on your lifestyle. It should ideally connect to the garden, as a way of further increasing the visual space.
If the house is small, then you can cheat to a certain extent by adding an extra outdoor ‘room’ in your garden. This means creating a space in the garden that in good weather serves as a useful open air living/dining room but in any weather can be seen clearly from the adjacent parts of the house. It should ideally share similar flooring or other details with the interior so that if feels like a continuation of the rooms of the house. Easy access to this space in good weather will be another plus in making both the garden and house feel larger and more integrated.
While high ceilings can help to add a sense of spaciousness, this is not always the case. It is largely a matter of proportion. If a small room has a very high ceiling, the floor space will feel smaller in relation to the height of the walls. A larger room with the same ceiling height will not feel as constrained and can be very dramatic. So, if you have a large space, go for higher ceilings. But if not, a low or standard ceiling will usually make a room feel more spacious.