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Maximise living space on a small block of land

In this blog, I answer a UA Community member’s question and provide architectural design tips on how to maximise living space in a small or compact home, or on a small lot or block of land.

Are you wondering how to maximise your living space when your home is small and compact, or your land size is small?
I had a question like this from someone in the UA Community this week. They asked:

“Are there any architect insider tips when planning on new build (and renovations) to maximise living space on a site for single level frontage house of 10 metres?”

There are – and I share them with you in this video (or scroll below to read the transcript!)

Here’s the transcript …

Hi, it’s Amelia here, the Undercover Architect.

I’ve had a question from a member of the UA community. I’ll just read it now. His name is Colin and he’s asking, “Is there any Architect insider tips when planning our new build and renovations to maximise living space on a site for single level frontage house of 10.06 meters?”

Colin, what I’m taking from your question is that you’re wanting to create a single level house. You’ve got a site frontage of 10 meters. I can see from the area of Sydney that you’re in that it’s likely to be quite a compact size lot as well.

I’m thinking that from your question, you’re asking, “How can you maximise your living space whilst being able to create a compact home?”

I have a few tips for you and for the rest of the UA community when trying to create a home that feels spacious and generous whilst being compact in size and working really well.

Tip Number 1: Get your spaces working harder for you

My first tip would be that in creating a compact floor plan, you need to get your spaces working harder for you.

You need to think about not having a room for every function, but getting one room to do a lot of jobs.

It might be that you can’t have two living spaces, for example. You can’t have the lounge room and the rumpus room or family room, but that you need to have one space that does both jobs and it has the ability to have storage in it and to be able to be furnished in a way … Potentially closed off or opened up so that it can do a few jobs.

You might not have a dedicated study, but you might have a study nook or a space that you can shut the doors on so you can tuck away a chair and have a desk, but that’s not a dedicated room.

In terms of looking at your bedrooms, they’re going to be compactly sized for what they need to be. Just build in really great storage into those spaces.

I generally recommend a minimum size bedroom of 3m by 3m. For secondary bedrooms, that will fit a single bed and a desk or a double sized bed.

For the master bedroom, I recommend 3.5 meter width. You need that to fit a queen size with bedside tables. Then generally 3.2 to 3.6m plus your robes. These aren’t total room sizes, these are clear room sizes then plus your robes.

Tip Number 2: Create spaciousness

The next thing that you need to do, besides getting your design to be cleverly and compactly and efficiently planned, is to look at how you then can make the spaces in it still feel spacious and generous.

I have three main tips for creating spaciousness.

The first thing is I really want you to look at the orientation of your site.

I need you to understand where north is. You’re in the southern hemisphere, so you need to have a look at where north is and how the sun is moving through the sky for your site.

Getting your living areas oriented to the north or north-east will make a radical difference in the quality of light that they experience and how they feel internally.

Doing things to shade from high level summer sun, so that you don’t get those heat loads in your spaces in summer, using awnings and external shading devices.

Understand how your sun moves across your site and design for it.

The second thing that I would recommend that you look at doing is looking at how you create the volume of those spaces.

Not only looking at the light, but looking at the volume. By volume I mean what are your ceiling heights and how is that ceiling potentially shaped in order to make the space feel more generous than its floor plan makes it.

I recommend a minimum ceiling height, particularly in single level houses, of 2.7m. That’s nine feet. That will help you then have 2.4m high glazing, which is your maximum height for all residential aluminium framed glazing.

That will help you get the most out of conventional domestic construction methodology and building materials to really then still get generosity and spaciousness in your floor plan.

So – 2.7m high ceilings, 2.4m high glazing. To me, on a single story house, they’re kind of base minimums that you should be looking for.

Then, if you want to, you look at actually pushing the roof up on certain parts of the plan if you wanted to. Just be careful that it doesn’t start eating into your budget to do that. When you start to do that, sometimes you can trip over into needing extra scaffolding, and other extra bits and pieces. It can start to add up.

The third thing is your indoor/outdoor relationship.

On a compact site, and a compact home, your ability to borrow as much space from outside – not just from your lot, but from the views beyond your lot – make a massive difference in how spacious your home can feel.

Look at what your indoor/outdoor connections are. How can you make them work so that your internal spaces flow really easily to you outdoor spaces? That you get really long, clean views of sight into your garden and your outdoor spaces. Really good physical connections into you outdoor spaces so that you feel like the home sort of flows into your garden and that those indoor spaces are connected to your garden as much as possible.

Then overlay that with how do you maintain privacy and overlooking from your neighbours and not being looking into your neighbours as well. Combining those things is really important for you to feel that you’ve got private space and privacy in your spaces to make the most of those connections.

I would also think about what your views are past your neighbours. Views of sky and views out to the street, so that you get that really great sense of spaciousness and openness but borrowing from what’s outside of your home to bring it inside.

They’re my tips for how you really maximise your living space.

  1. You’re going to have to get your rooms to do more than one job. Make sure that they’re really functional and flexible as spaces to be in so they can still be compact in size, but perform lots of different functions to get the most out of them.
  2. Then you want to have a look at your natural light and make sure that you’re designing for the orientation of your site and making the most of the northern sunlight in your home.
  3. Then you want to look at the volume. Make sure that you’re maximising that as much as possible, but keeping it within the confines of residential construction so that you can manager your budget.
  4. Then you want to look at your indoor/outdoor connections to make sure that you’re making the most of the relationship between your internal spaces and the outside so that your internal spaces feel more spacious as a result.

That’s my answer to your question, Colin. I hope that you found that hopeful. I hope that the rest of the UA community finds it helpful, too.

It’s Amelia the Undercover Architect. I look forward to see you soon. Bye.

Further reading you may find helpful …

If your best view or outlook isn’t to the north, this will help you with some design tricks >> CLICK HERE

Here’s how to design a family home that works now and always >> CLICK HERE

And here’s my tips on how to design a compact kitchen >> CLICK HERE

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