Every house has at least one awkward place. Most have more than one.
The area under the stairs is a common culprit, but many homes have corners that never seem to work no matter what you do with them.
For example, the recesses on either side of a chimney breast can be difficult to use and difficult to style. These awkward spots can become a source of minor irritation.
It’s hard to know what to do with it, and because the solution isn’t obvious, we tend to live with the problem.
This leads to a buildup of frustration that can make you feel negative about the entire house. Conversely, successfully tackling a difficult area – no matter how small – is deeply empowering.
If you have the resources, hiring an interior designer for a one-time consultation session can be money well spent (visit the Interiors Association website for a list of accredited professionals).
The first step is to be realistic about the space you have and how you intend to use it. Three years ago, interior designers Jenny Coughlan and Deirdre Coleman founded Collab Design Studio, a Dublin-based practice specializing in interior design and space planning.
“A lot of people lack spatial awareness and think their homes are bigger than they actually are,” says Coughlan. “This poses real challenges for designers. Sometimes the specification for the needs of a space is actually unattainable.”
No designer can create more space without tearing down walls, but they can help you make better use of what you have.
In many homes, the area under the stairs is wasted space. “It has the potential to become a storage room, an extra toilet, or a play area for kids,” says Coughlan.
“The challenge is that you are dealing with limited space where angle and height constraints also come into play.
“When the goal is to create storage, an intricately detailed cabinetry can include pull-out drawers at the lowest point and full-height hanging space at the highest point, freeing the hallway from the burden of shoes and coats.”
The space can also serve as a small home office that can be tucked away behind closed doors after work. “It’s something we’re increasingly asking for clients with hybrid working arrangements,” she says.
“In compact living spaces, spaces must be used to the maximum, utilizing every inch, including corners and alcoves.”
These unused spaces can be an opportunity for open shelving, a reading nook with the occasional chair and lamp, or a curated nook with top-lit art and a plant. It’s important to keep the furniture in scale with the building. In a smaller space, less is more.
In Coughlan’s experience, awkward spaces come in many different forms, and larger homes bring their own challenges.
“Sometimes people build an extension without considering the scale. They get really big just because they can. Then they move in their existing standard size furniture and it looks lost.”
In this case, she would recommend a space planning exercise to consider the functions of the space and its zoning.
“Zoning the living and dining area can be achieved with area rugs, appropriately sized furniture and a thoughtful lighting plan with spatial architectural ceiling lights and moody occasional lamps to give the space just the right feel.”
Increasingly, she sees new builds where the electrical system has been installed in a hurry and with little regard to where the end user may want their lighting.
The result is that the whole house becomes an awkward space, and unfortunately the best solution is rewiring.
Kyra Blades is a home designer at Neptune, a UK furniture retailer with stores in Ireland including Dublin, Navan and Kilkenny.
She finds that blocking off the bottom of the stairs isn’t always the best plan. On the one hand, it creates more storage space, but it can also leave a dark narrow corridor. Instead, she suggests opening up the area and giving it meaning.
A desk works well under the stairs, but an empty space can also be used for occasional seating. Neptune’s Aldwych desk (from €1,090) has a pared-down aesthetic that looks great in an understairs.
If your staircase is near the kitchen, an under-stair pantry can provide storage for non-perishable items and appliances. Again it’s a balancing act. A built-in closet offers more storage space, but a freestanding closet takes up less floor space and creates more visible space around it.
Likewise, filling alcoves with built-in appliances can make a room appear smaller. Old houses have niches in odd places, but that’s also part of their charm.
Our own sitting room, formerly the kitchen, has a deep alcove in the chimney breast which used to be a hearth. Too low for seating or artwork, it was the epitome of an awkward, unusable space until we found a mirror at the back of the shed.
Thankfully, it fitted perfectly, bringing light and a sense of movement to what was previously a dead space.
“For small spaces it’s nice to have a tall piece that stands alone,” says Joy Thorpe, owner of Joy Thorpe Antiques in Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. “I like furniture on legs. The more ground you can see the better.”
In her shop, she has lined an alcove with Portuguese tiles, which convey a sense of interest and tradition, and used them to showcase a tall cabinet.
“It’s tall but not that deep, with a marble top and brass handles that reflect light back into the room,” she says. “All you need is a planter or ceramic piece (from €45) or maybe a tall, slender lamp.”
In another, slightly more spacious area, she has installed a 20th-century drawer bench from a mechanic’s workshop (€2,400). “It’s the most expensive piece in the whole store,” she says. “It’s deep green with multiple drawers and speaks for itself.”
The drawers are meant for storage, but if you don’t label them, you can look forward to remembering where you put things. Industrial-style chests of drawers are all the rage right now and usually cost around 1,200 euros.
In this case, Thorpe has juxtaposed the chest of drawers with a large modern bird painting by Irish artist Jane Willoughby (from €1,200 for this size).
“Often when people see her paintings, they think they’re too big for their room, but sometimes it’s nice to go with one big piece that takes up the entire wall.” The trick is to go easy on the accessories .
See theinteriorsassociation.ie, collabstudio.ie, neptune.com, joythorpeantiques.com.
https://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/stylish-solutions-for-awkward-home-spaces-41937618.html Stylish solutions for uncomfortable living spaces