House design and refurbishment guide — internal alterations for more space

The most obvious way to improve your home and solve frustrating house design problems is just to add extra space. This preconception may lead you to believe that you need a loft conversion or house extension. But before launching into major building works we advise clients to take a step back and ask an important question. Can you get what you need without major structural alterations or additions?

This article will be useful to anyone undertaking house design and refurbishment alterations throughout England. If you are in Cambridge, St Albans or anywhere in East Anglia and London areas then we are local architects who can provide specific hands on help with house design and refurbishment work. You can contact us here.

Not extending and instead, remodelling your existing house design to add space internally is usually a more cost effective and time saving solution. It is generally possible to find unknown, unused or underutilised space that can be rearranged into a house design and layout that is much more efficient and effective. The added bonus is that generally, there is no need for planning permission for internal works (unless you live in a listed building or in a conservation area). However, you will still need to follow building regulations.

You may be surprised how working with an architect on your house design and layout can help you find useful space within the existing footprint of your home.

It is worth investing in the architectural design of internal alterations because the potential savings on build costs compared to going the traditional route of an extension will dwarf this design spend, and will result in a more successful living space. An additional benefit is by avoiding the higher cost of an extension you’ll have more budget for quality finishes and visually interesting features and furniture. Read on for 7 tips on how to find space in your existing house design and 7 tips on how to create the illusion of space. 


7 ways to find space in your existing house design

1. Rearrange the rooms and spaces within the existing walls of the property

This can have a dramatic positive impact on your house design. Large rooms can be split into two and small rooms can be knocked into one. Sometimes a few inches can mean a big difference. You may not mind a smaller study if a larger living room is more important to you. You can also open up the gloomy space of a small kitchen, dining and living room by removing the internal walls. The result is an open space that overlaps the dining, kitchen and living spaces, shares light and draws the eye through, thus creating more space with no additional footage.

2. Get rid of internal walls in your house design in exchange for a level change

One way to achieve a marked difference in ‘rooms’ without the space chomping and light limiting traditional wall is to introduce a level change. The effect of ‘zoning’ in your new house design can be achieved even with a single step. Add a change in flooring to set off the living room for relaxing against the kitchen for the hive of daily family activity. If an area of flooring is raised high enough, the void underneath can also be used as integrated storage.

3. Consider circulation in your house design

Circulation refers to how occupants move through the space. Rooms can be reconfigured so that the living space is transformed to work better for its occupants. For example, narrow spaces, awkward room design and knocking out or making openings in internal walls can be architecturally redesigned to create a completely different living experience.

On a room plan, draw out the circulation lines of how members of your family use a room. Use heavier lines for more frequent movements. After analysing how your family uses a space you can solve common problems, like traffic created by the misplacement of doors or from people using the kitchen table and being in the way of people using the kitchen work stations.

4. Staircase relocation

Sometimes the poor layout of an old house design can be dramatically improved by relocating or redesigning the staircase, hallway and landing. For example, adding a landing can help stairs to be set less steeply and create useful storage space beneath.


Getting rid of traditional radiators and changing to underfloor heating can free up wall space and liberate furniture layouts. Underfloor heating is no longer as expensive as it used to be and should be considered as a design enhancing, space creating option.

6. Integrated storage is key to successful house design

Most people will tell you they want open, light and clutter free spaces. Suitable storage space is often the key to clutter free living. (As well as the ability to get rid of all the things you do not need or use)! It is important that storage is part of the architectural design of your home. To design your storage you need to think about your storage needs:

  • What do you need to store? Clothes, shoes, white goods, clothes drying space, mops, ironing boards, filing…
  • What size storage do you need?
  • How often will you need access to it and where should it be for easy access?
  • Will you need scope for growth?

Successful storage either plays a starring role or blends in and does not obviously attract the eye. Lose storage can contribute to that lack of space feeling so ideally replace it with integrated storage whenever possible. You can also source clever dual function furniture.

7. Value the ancillary spaces in your home

Space that was previously considered as secondary can be redesigned to significantly enhance your living space and overall house design. Consider using every odd corner, recess and dead space in your property and think about this during the design stage.

  • Beside chimney breasts
  • In cellars
  • Below and within staircases
  • Storage within furniture like footstools and beds
  • Ends of odd shaped rooms

You can also use larger unused spaces which can become larger building projects that add real footage to your home.

  • Parts of your roof can be turned into a roof terrace
  • Roof space can be used in a loft conversion
  • Unused space under the floor can result in exciting basement spaces
  • Underused garages can be converted. And if you don’t want a long and narrow space, retain the garage door and the first 1.5m of the garage as storage (e.g for bikes or buggies) and convert the rest into habitable space.


Create the illusion of more space with these 7 house design tips


When you use pale and reflective surfaces more light will bounce around the room. For example, using cream, pattern free tiles and shiny units helps create a light and bright room.

2. Raise ceilings to roof line in first floor bedrooms and bathrooms

By raising the ceilings you can create more head height, space and drama. 

3. Use double height spaces and balconies in your house design

This can create the illusion of large areas of space without adding any additional footage to your home. For example, you could use unused space in your loft to create double height glass walls and a balcony that would create space and drama.


Today you can use high performance glazing to achieve energy saving benefits as well as bring in swathes of natural light. Glass walls and doors, windows, roof lights and light wells over stairs make internal spaces feel much larger than they are.


Another clever way of creating the illusion of space is to introduce large windows and sliding or folding glass doors that drenches the internal space in natural light and draws the eye through to the outside space.


Mirrors can be used to make things disappear. Roof lights and mirrors used together can bring in reflections of the sky. Such minor changes can make a massive difference to your overall house design.


Use folding doors and multi function furniture that pull in and out — clever ways to create a versatile and clutter free space. Such design is often used for desk spaces for home working and homework supervision.



House design case study — simple remodelling scheme for a Victorian terraced house


The kitchen is small and the layout is further restricted by the back door. The solid wall between the dining and living rooms mean that the dining room receives hardly any light.


Rather than extending the house, the ground floor layout has simply been remodeled.

  • The living and dining rooms have been opened up to one another, meaning that the dining room now receives far more natural light — plus linking these rooms with the kitchen brings even more light and space
  • To give the sensation of more width and reduce the feeling of a cramped dark corridor on arrival through the front door, large sliding doors have been created in the lounge and dining walls
  • To provide more working space in the kitchen / family room, the chimney breast has been removed, the back door has been blocked up and access to the outside is now through new folding sliding doors which also open up views onto the garden, over the new breakfast bar through the new family zone — once the old privy and store  
  • A new downstairs WC and utility is proposed under the stairs together with integrated new storage created under remaining treads 
  • Built in media centers, bookshelves and integrated storage have been created on the wall adjacent to the chimney breasts.

On the first floor

  • The old separate WC and bathroom have been joined to create a large family bathroom and a new en-suite is created in the front bedroom behind a new full height headboard wall
  • New cupboard space has also been created in the bedrooms
  • In the third bedroom the roof has been lifted to the roof line allowing a sleeping platform to be created with fitted cupboards below. A desk under the window allows this room to be used as a home office with view out over the garden. A new Velux style roof light in the roof is also proposed.


How to get started with changing your internal house design

It is important to first look at the current property plans. An experienced architect will be able to spot what internal changes could make a positive impact. A good architect will ask a lot of questions about how you use the property, the challenges you have with it and what you really want from the refurbished and remodelled property. Listening to the clients needs helps an architect work out how solutions that solve the old house design problems can be achieved. 

Assessing the implications of making the suggested changes is the next step. The extent of building works, potential budget and structural implications should be carefully considered. You want to be working with an architect who looks at problems with a view to solve them and turn the problem into something inspiring. Finally, new plans can be drawn up and a full service architect like Harvey Norman Architects can help you find the right builders, project manage the project and provide guidance on interior design.

Considering remodelling your current house design and refurbishing your property? book your Kick Start Consultation Today

This consultation will help you get started right with expert advice early on in the project — quickly get to grips with design, costs and planning, and minimise the likelihood of stress, time wasting and escalating costs. We mainly work with clients in Cambridge, St Albans, and throughout East Anglia and London

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