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Space Planning Part 1: How to make the best use of your Space


  • Make the most efficient and workable use of the available space
  • Ensure it makes the best use of the natural architecture, light and outlook.
  • Design in flexibility to allow for a variety of uses if needed
  • The Design should reflect your character and personality
  • Create a feeling of homeliness and a perfect retreat for the occupants

So, how do we achieve this and what is ‘Space Planning’? 

In simple terms, your interior must be efficient, work with any architectural or decorative features that exist, including the natural light and outlook.

Embrace your decorative ideas and make your home a home. It is important to achieve a personal and individual look – one that you are proud of and can act as your safe retreat.

This means it doesn’t have to be ‘highly fashionable’ but simply work for you.

This is not too difficult, especially if you are working with a space that you know well.

However, things you need to consider are:

  • Do you really know every inch of your space or are you disorganised and lack storage?
  • Can you be certain that the space, which may be on the tight side, could not be made larger?
  • Has your lifestyle changed and you have further and different demands from your home?
  • Does budget restrain your imagination – don’t let it – you can do lots with a Tiny Budget.

Good space planning can make your usable space twice as efficient so that it really works for you.

You need to research and take time to learn some basic technical drawing skills either with a pencil or on computer – whichever you are more comfortable with. You can also employ a professional, but there will be a cost.


“Many extensions are built unnecessarily, just because the existing space has not been fully developed and utilised properly.”

Space planning can be about totally redesigning the whole house and altering the traditional use of rooms to suit today’s lifestyle, or it can be just about a new furniture layout for your living room. Therefore analysing how you live and what activities you need to accommodate has a big influence on your space planning.

“The most expensive thing about space planning is the time you need to devote to achieve the goals and be successful.”


Whether you are DIYing or bringing in the trades, you need a ‘plan of action’ and a ‘plan of the space’ – they are two totally different things, but joined at the hip. The Design ALWAYS comes first and space planning is an essential part of the design.

Once you have decided on the alterations, which could be structural, just adding new storage, or a new extension, there needs to be something down on paper. A ‘plan to scale’ will say a lot more than a rough sketchy drawing.

From a scaled drawing you can make a list of the work you need to carry out. This then allows you to obtain comparative costing’s for the work and set a budget. It makes shopping more focused because you know exactly what will fit.

A simple plan; A CAD drawing – with tracing paper over, using a scale ruler and templates



Make a simple list of all the activities you need to provide for and as you find a solution, tick them of – it’s very satisfying. Interior Designers often work from the inside out. This means an extension is done on the basis of ‘we need this amount of extra space to accommodate our needs’. Not by adding a 4 metre box on the back of your house and hoping everything fits in.

An extra 300mms may make all the difference to your plan. Your list may be split into two, ‘absolutely must have’s’ and ‘really hope we can have’ – we call it the needs list and the wish list – all dependant on budget.


If you want to make structural alterations or additions, this may involve a planning application and building control. Don’t ask a builder. Always use professional surveyors or engineers and engage the builder to do the building – that is his expertise and you will need professional reports to be submitted with your plans to your Local Authority.

They will advise you of alternative solutions you may not have thought of as this is their area of expertise, although they are NOT designers. It may sound like a more expensive route, but it keeps things professional and you’ll work with guaranteed professional and impartial advice. Most importantly, you are not being sold to!


1.   Survey the space and draw it up to scale very simply showing door swings and all fitted items that must stay, eg cupboards, radiators etc…. You can use some squared paper, a pencil and rubber.

Using a scale rule will make it far more accurate. Accuracy is everything in space planning and here is an example of a survey and what it should show, and yes it’s messy!

Survey of one room transferred into a simple plan drawn to scale – see the finished plan further on.     


(Design Help has video’s and Relevant Fact Sheets, on how to survey, how to draw up your survey, using a scale rule and planning the space – all in easy to follow instructions for the non-professional. Sign up to get access)


2.    Measure up the items you want to keep – so you plan these into your scheme eg. Existing desk and chair.

3.     With your list of your personal lifestyle activities give yourself a brief for example: “You work from home and in this room you have to accommodate everything you need without it looking like an office. You have a desk and chair from Ikea.

It’s also your second ‘living space’ so has to double up with storage and bookshelves. New storage, possibly bespoke. Plus you want soft seating around the existing feature fireplace (which becomes a focal point).

A gas log fire for convenience: new lighting, technology, no TV but Audio, new wood floor and rug, blinds for privacy and a decorative idea to the windows. You want it to function like an office for yourself with provision for meetings, but also as a 2nd ‘sitting’ room.”

Space is beautiful and you don’t have to fill it with furniture, but when faced with a brief and a list like this you need to plan the space carefully.

Bespoke fittings are always more expensive than ‘off the shelf ready-made’ but if you have difficult angles to consider it is the best solution, as the design can be manipulated to take in all the odd spaces and make them useful.



Do your research first.

  • Decide on your Concept – this dictates the ‘style’ of the interior
  • Measure up exactly how much storage you need for
  1. Your office items
  2. Books – check carefully all the different sizes – what is the maximum
  3. Other items eg photo albums, personal items
  4. Any display pieces eg family heirlooms or photos in frames
  • Be honest – does your Ikea desk and chair work or should you change it to fit in aesthetically
  • Research Storage and Bookcases that might accommodate your items – or seek out a local carpenter and to scale, draw up what you want
  • Work out how often you have meetings versus how often you will use it as sitting room and find flexible furniture that will work for both but suits the majority of use.
  • For flexibility, choose chairs rather than large sofas as they are difficult to move. (Always collect the dimensions of every piece of furniture when resourcing).
  • Consider accessories eg. plants, artwork, decorative lighting, side tables……
  • Put a budget together based on your findings.


A frequent question I get asked is: “how much space should I allow for?”

The simple answer to this questions is “Use your tape measure and work it out”. Don’t be over optimistic as you need to allow space for the installation of items. When you first start planning you will think you have more space than you actually have- it’s a common illusion. A good tip is not to be over optimistic as you will need to allow space for the installation of items.

In part 2 of this blog we have a great list of the most used essential space dimensions and how much space to leave between areas and furniture.

The thickness of walls will depend on what they are built of. In general an internal stud partitioned non load bearing wall is about 120-150 cms depending on how it is made and the insulation and external gypsum board and plaster finish – this is the norm. Why not build a wall that’s also a bookcase floor to ceiling and tied to the structural walls with a door in the centre? It’s a great use of space, bespoke and simple to make. Don’t just think in plan but consider the walls and heights of everything.

For structural walls – look at your existing building and measure and copy or ask your engineer or surveyor for advice as to what you should allow for. Different loads demand different types of walls. (Always check with your professional before removing internal walls, chimney breasts and solid walls).

Furniture layouts are less complex. An excellent book by Francis Ching, Interior Design Illustrated, is a very well worth investment if you want to learn more. A trip to the RIBA’s bookshop is inspirational.

Experiment with different layouts as there is always more than one solution (make templates or use the Design Help set of Templates for quick and easy planning)

  • Plan a layout of the furniture to scale (1:50). Give the desk an outlook if possible. (eg window) The seating arrangement could fit around the fireplace as the focal point with additional side tables. A mirror or piece of Art above the fireplace is not a distraction and adds to the focal point.


  • Find new wood flooring and a rug and using your scale rule work out what size your rug needs to be sitting at least 30cms underneath the seating arrangement. Choose a design that sits well in front of the fire place, adding to the feature fireplace but giving an appearance of lots of open space, not cluttered and a small side table with two chairs may give you that extra meeting table and double as a works space.


  • Once you have a final layout, see where you need to put the sockets, lighting, and Audio unit plus the supplies for a telephone and internet. Check switching positions.

A simple plan using templates to Scale on squared paper


Add the position of the services to a photocopy of your plan and you can use symbols and colours (there is a comprehensive guide to designing a lighting plan with symbols in the Design Help Video Library with Fact Sheets).

Once you have designed the space and planned it properly to scale you can write a simple schedule of the works – some that you may do and other parts that you may need help with. Add this to your new purchases, you can confirm your budget and the design part is done, now it’s onto the operational bit.   Putting it all into practice.


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