A partial-height wall can be a spatial amplifier: Placed between living and dining areas, it makes both spaces feel larger. Or lose some walls altogether: A divider made of storage units can eliminate a closet or two.
Think in terms of cubic inches, not square feet. Seemingly wee spaces are often over‑flowing with underutilized volume—little stem cells of air that are brimming with potential. Learn to identify them and recruit them to your noble cause.1 The dead area underneath your stairs can be transformed into a collection of storage niches, for instance—and your cool-looking pots and pans can be hung from cool-looking hooks above the kitchen sink.2
Remember that flexibility from day to night and season to season is key. In addition to clever built-ins that you invent, there is some great furniture that can multitask for you: beds with hidden drawers below deck; ottomans with hinged cushions that lift up to reveal storage space; pegboard beefy enough to temporarily hang a chair, Shaker style.3
1. Handcrafting the space around you to respond to your own body and use patterns is the most satisfying part of the process. Splicing in little hinged compartments, popping in sliding partitions, squeezing in display niches—your fort-making skills from days gone by will be put to good use.
2. While we’re in the kitchen, scrap your collection of mismatched Tupperware and invest in a new set of storage containers.
3. Every ten years, Shaker design is rediscovered, and, looking at my calendar, we’re about due. Those resourceful folks and their hyperefficient structures have had a huge influence on modern design.
Dan Maginn is an AIA-member architect who lives and carpools to work with his wife, Keri, in Kansas City. Although he and his partners at El Dorado Inc. are extremely interested in promoting sustainable design on all scales, he does not consider himself to be an "eco-warrior." Instead he prefers the term "eco-tainment specialist"