British homes are now smaller than ever, as developers squeeze as many units as possible from each piece of land, and people are forced to accept ever-smaller properties as their only opportunity to get onto the housing ladder. But while the situation may seem desperate for couples forced to live cheek by jowl in shoeboxes, TV architect George Clarke points out that not all small spaces have to be hell.
A study by the Royal Institute of British Architects found that the average home in the UK is roughly half as big as the average in 1920. This is largely as a result of cramped and dark new-builds crowding onto developments, to maximise the number of properties the developer can get on the space - and therefore the available profit. Overall Britain now has the smallest homes in Europe.
Clarke says that the abolition of minimum space standards through the 1980 Local Government Planning and Land Act is partly to blame, because it means that outside of London there's no minimum size that developers have to conform to. He says a long term solution should include a return to minimum space standards.
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He suggests five secrets to living successfully in a shoebox:
1. Pick the right shoebox
Clarke says: "The problem with some of these properties is that the developers haven't thought creatively about the space." It means that rather than building a liveable space, they have a traditional house on a smaller scale. There's nothing wrong with buying a small property, but buying one where you can't get a dining table in the stand-alone dining room or a wardrobe in the bedroom is going to be a nightmare.
Clarke says: "Often people only discover they have a problem when they move in with their boxes of stuff and realise that they don't have enough space for it. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The first step of any move is to declutter, because you will find you have boxes and boxes of stuff you haven't looked at for ten years, which you really don't need.
3. Invest in space-saving products
Clarke points out that there are ingenious products on the market nowadays which do some of the work for you, such as beds which pull down from the wall and still function as comfortable beds. Alternatively there are multifunctional pieces, such as the desk that transforms into a bed in one single movement.
4. Make full use of the space
Clarke adds that making spaces multi-functional is often the answer. He says: "We had a tree house project on the last series of Amazing Spaces which had a single multifunctional room. There was a dining table that pulled out from the wall, and chairs that hung flat on the wall with magnets, then there was a sofa that came out of the wall and a bed that folded into the wall. That single room became a space where you could do everything that you needed."
5. Think creatively
No couple is the same, and no property is the same. Clarke points out that while there are certain tricks of the trade, for each person the answer will be different. He says: "We find that people who buy studios can be inspired by some of the things they see on Amazing Spaces, and any number of TV property programmes." He suggests doing your research, working out what is important to you, and then finding the best solution for your lifestyle. It's no guarantee that you and your other half will learn to love life on a small scale, but the right approach should stop it becoming a nightmare.
The next series of Amazing Spaces starts on Thursday 23rd October at 8pm on Channel 4
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