Spatially Challenged - Design Bureau

PLAN Design

PLAN Design

PLAN Design

PLAN Design

Spatially Challenged

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Design seldom comes without constraints, whether it’s size, space or budget, but such limitations often bring about the most innovative and unconventional solutions. Finding these solutions, however, presents its own set of challenges—challenges that Plan principal George Berry is well-versed in handling. Here’s a list of top tips based on some of Berry’s past design predicaments.

Tip #1: Get creative with your budget It’s not always necessary to spend a lot when creating a new look. “As a design principle, if you’re trying to be efficient in terms of cost, always start with what you have,” says Berry. By taking stock of existing elements, you’ll likely learn that you have more to use than you first thought. Then you can save your dollars to buy the things you actually need, rather than needlessly spending on items you already own.

Tip #2: Play up your best assets They say if you've got it, flaunt it, and design is no exception. “Figure out what your assets are and maximize those,” says Berry. He used this trick when working on a building for The New Teacher Project in Brooklyn. He took away part of the ceiling, exposing the original, and floated a ceiling in some places. “The bones of the building are quite interesting to see, but if you eliminate the ceiling entirely, you have acoustic issues. So we did a series of floating ceilings that allow you to install lighting, somewhat hiding the mechanical systems [without] feeling squashed.” Have original crown moldings? Paint them in a unique shade to make them stand out. Does your place have a historic tin ceiling? Restore it to its original brilliance. Highlighting what’s already there will save you from hiring somebody to add more to it.

Tip #3: Create more room with dividers Although open areas make any place feel more inviting, they may not always be a practical use of your space. By installing sliding doors or by inserting room dividers you can create an entirely new room without costly construction and design work. Thus was the case when Berry was tasked with building out the Teach for America offices across the country. For the non-profit organization's Chicago office, Berry and his team designed it so that the reception area could be combined with conference rooms if they hosted an in-office event. A coat closet was also cleverly tucked away behind the Teach for America logo wall to maximize space without having to build out more costly areas.

Tip #4: Reconfigure your floor plan You can make a big change in your home by reworking the layout. By turning a second bedroom into the master bedroom or an office into the dining room, you can completely alter the flow your home, making it instantly more spacious and inviting. Berry was brought in to redesign a three room, 500-square-foot apartment in New York. With a front door in the bedroom, a kitchen in the middle and a living room and bathroom at the back, the space proved itself to be functionally inept, and the size constraints made a solution seem near impossible. Berry decided to turn the entire floor plan upside down, moving the living room to the front and the bedroom to the back. He also employed some unexpected visual tricks to help make the space feel less constricting. “In the 1920s, the larger Parisian apartments tended to line up all the doors in this way, so you can see from one end to the other. [With the new layout], you see all the way from one space to another.”

Tip #5: Keep the interior design at the same scale as your place Oversized furnishings can swallow up a small apartment, so remember to keep decorative elements at a small scale. “We kept everything low to make it feel bigger, more friendly and more casual,” says Berry of the same small New York apartment. “Instead of doing bookshelves on the wall, we put lamps on the floor on stacks of books.”

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