Planning Structural Changes to Your Home
Faced with an empty room or rooms which you want to change, what is your first step? Most people are generally so relieved to have found somewhere to live that is reasonably affordable, reasonably convenient and reasonably cheap to heat, cool and light, that they just accept and adapt to whatever space they have, however awkward it might be, without too much question. All too often they start on the basic decoration and furnishing without pausing to consider seriously the shape of the space and how it could be manipulated to its best advantage. Yet rooms can often be rethought, changed around and vastly improved at a surprisingly low cost.
Do not be afraid of taking down partition walls. This costs very little by comparison with building new ones, and usually makes a profound difference. However, even if you are certain that you are dealing with a non-load-bearing partition wall, check with an expert before you risk starting to demolish it. You should, of course, be wary of walls that contain water orpipes, electrical conduits, and so on. Professional house or apartment plans may show whether things like these are present but, if you have come new to a home and have no means of knowing, common sense and a little detective work reveal their whereabouts. For example, be cautious of walls with electric switches and sockets (outlets), walls below or next door to a bathroom or lavatory or to the sink or appliance wall of a kitchen, and obviously walls with radiators, ducts, vents or air-conditioning units.
Walls can have an archway cut through them, or be cut halfway down or at either side so that they form divisions rather than solid masses. Or, if you have totally removed a partition wall, you can form your own flexible room dividers using bookcases, shelving units, screens or screen-like structures. A particularly graceful effect can be achieved using pillars, or pillars and pilasters; these can be picked up either from places selling architectural remnants and details or from one of the many companies who are now reproducing such architectural merchandise.
Do you need all the hall, gallery or corridor space you have at present? It may well be that you can slice off bits of these to add to your living areas, or to make a kitchen big enough to eat in.
You might consider making internal ‘windows’ or openings in a dividing wall to provide more light and airiness. These could be conventionally square or oblong, arched, or in the shape of long slits, like clerestory windows, so that the adjoining space (and its light) shows through and gives more perspective to the room. New doorways, too, can be situated in more convenient positions, and old ones can be closed up in order to provide more wall space. If you find old or antique doors which you would like to work into your scheme you can make the openings to fit them. However, always consult an expert before knocking through a wall; you can never be too cautious when it comes to altering structural elements.
New windows can often be added to rooms. These make an enormous difference to the feeling of light and space, especially if French doors or long windows can be added (or substituted for smaller varieties). There is a large choice of ready-made windows in all shapes and sizes, including storm windows with fly-screens for the summer, and you can have infinitely more varieties made. But it is, of course, important always to think of what the windows will look like from the outside of the building before you enthusiastically cut out new apertures. Moreover, new windows should match existing windows as closely as possible, and should comply with any local building or planning regulations. Putting in new windows is difficult structural work, however, and certainly you should not tackle it without expert advice.
If you definitely need more rooms in your house, think carefully about reorganizing the space you already have. Could you, for example. Make a large kitchen/dining room out of the basement in order to free valuable space on the ground or first floor? Or, if the attic is big enough, what about making a pair of bedrooms and another bathroom up there? Again, you could think of converting the attic into a playroom, studio, games room, family room or media room/den. Built-in (integral) garages are often successfully converted into additional rooms. If you are fortunate enough to live in a detached house, you may be able to make more sense and space out of a house simply by reorienting it, so that the main entrance is on another side.
If it is not possible to conjure more rooms from the existing space you will have to think of adding on an extension. This means you will certainly have to hire an architect in order to achieve the best possible blend, but first you must find out the cost of building per square foot in your area and make sure that you can get from any relevant authorities the permission to go ahead and build. Also, look up the costs of adding on a prefabricated building, such as aor sun room, before you make a final decision to build an extension from scratch. Remember that, if a prefabricated building contains the kind of space that will suit you, it may be possible to effectively disguise its origins by putting some sort of fence around its foundations, painting it to match the main structure and growing climbing plants up the side. Whatever the alterations you decide to make, remember to first check with your local authorities.
In a small studio or one-room apartment you can help create the feeling of space by building in multifunctional furniture. For example, you could build a platform big enough to put a mattress on and serve as a desk top with storage space underneath. Other options include a dining-table—desk, built-in bench-seating with lift-up seats and storage underneath, and window seats built along the same lines. Where no window seats exist, or if there is no natural place for them, a little ingenuity can help you out — providing extra seating that does not take up too much space, while incidentally helping make a characterless room look much more interesting. You can frame a window down to the floor with lengths of timber (lumber) some 60cm/ 2ft deep which can be painted in with either the walls or the woodwork. You can then build a ledge across at seat height and make it comfortable with fabric-covered foam and with pillows or cushions at the back. Instead of draperies or curtains, use a shade of some sort which matches the window-seat cover.
Different levels, even if the differences are only very slight, can often segregate the various areas of a single room, whether it is too small and has to serve as both a living and a sleeping room or — as in the case of aor a renovated country barn — is too big. In a small studio apartment, differentiating, say, dining—working, sitting and sleeping areas, or even one step up at one end or around the perimeter of the room, can make an extraordinary difference to the way a given space looks and works. This might sound a complicated solution, but in fact it is not as expensive as it sounds. However, such alterations must be considered at the beginning of your decorating schedule.
* Hinged window seats provide extra storage space
* Shelving is cheap, easy to install and provides an excellent opportunity for-display
* Use hooks and wire grids to hang kitchen utensils, tools and clothing
* Tailor-made beds raised off the floor can incorporate cupboards and drawers
* Simple drapes or curtains can turn a recess into a useful space for hanging clothes
* Brightly coloured stacking systems are ideal for children’s rooms — but they are just as useful fortools and cleaning equipment
* Old chests and deep wooden boxes — either stripped or painted — make attractive side tables and provide extra storage
* Painting a room in plain light colours can make it feel more airy and spacious
* Fold-up chairs and tables, which can be stored out of the way, are practical and convenient
* Mirrors, in the form of sheets or tiles, reflect light and can have the effect of doubling the apparent proportions of a room
* See-through furniture is unobtrusive in a room that is short of space
* Choose furniture for flexibility — a piece of furniture that can be moved around a room easily is invaluable
* Buy low-level furniture for small rooms. Towering units and bulky cupboards will overcrowd the space
* Use simple window dressings and keep windows clear of clutter