A designer house... judicious use of space
IN URBAN settings, thanks to planning restrictions, space is often limited in apartments and small residential properties. This presents its own set of challenges for owners, design professionals and builders.
One important reason people want larger homes is that they would like to have separate rooms for different purposes. But if you look carefully at how you really use space in your house, you will find that much of it goes unused.
A house need not be too big if it is composed of adaptable spaces, each designed to cater for various functions every day.
The theme of a new small urban home shall be "a house with inter-connected living, dining, cooking and sleeping functions, which are physically and visibly open to each other; which are shared by family and friends."
Generally, the living or the drawing room is conceived as a large open hall, with many formal sofas. More often than not, it will have large windows, which will be closed with thick, heavy screens, not allowing light and air to come in. There will be huge shelves filled with assorted `art' objects, unused encyclopaedias and bound books.
These superfluous large areas can be replaced by tangible and more meaningful aspects of design that are about beauty and self-expression. We can create a light and well-ventilated informal living space where it is comfortable to watch the TV in a relaxed manner (without having to worry about dirtying the formal sofas), a place to enjoy interaction with family and friends, a place for children to do home work, a place to browse the computer, a place to play chess or scrabble.
All these can be achieved by re-thinking the whole concept of living room design and the use of furniture. A series of alcoves or smaller spaces, each offering a shelter around an activity, and surrounding a central sitting area may be a good model instead of the seating arrangement around periphery walls and the need to focus from there towards the `idiot' box.
The concept of creating a `multi-functional dining room and kitchen' can enhance the family's togetherness. The modern dining can have a low diwan, a computer table for children to do home work and browse under the supervision of the mother, a television which can be watched from the dining room as well as from the kitchen, a prayer shelf, a dining table, and chairs so designed and located to allow for eating and homework and to act as an informal `friends-meet' corner.
`Open kitchen' is also a welcome concept.
The home office attached to the master bedroom or the guest bedroom; or the home office and the children's study room combined with family dining spaces can also be tried out to save space and allow for better family interaction.
The bathroom has undergone its own evolution — from water closet to luxury sites. New age homes are associated with at least one bathroom attached to every bedroom. Yet, bathrooms are one of the most expensive areas in the house per square foot. If you eliminate unnecessary bathrooms, you will save money and space.
While storage in many houses takes the form of a closet or a cabinet, in a small house it is a strategic defence against clutter.
"Do not keep anything in the house that is not useful or beautiful," is the principle behind storage in small houses.
Drawers in window seats and benches are a more practical solution than a lift-up lid, which is difficult to raise when cushions are set on top.
As against the earlier system of construction, the modern techniques using a column and beam structure enables thinner walls and an opportunity to explore newer materials that not only serves the purpose of space separators, but also adds aesthetic appeal.
Space could additionally be generated by utilising unexplored areas such as the attics and the space below the stairs.
In smaller plots, vertical space could be generated by having higher ceilings, giving a sense of large voluminous space. Using lighter colours in an imaginative way can also enhance the living spaces.
A clear and planned design of every element in the house could fill the void between a `concrete mass' and a comfortable living space.
(The writer is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai.)