In the last 30 years, UK home ownership has doubled. Whilst those in Parliament may be cooing at this statistic, living and functioning in 21st century homes, which are being built 40% smaller than those of 80 years ago, presents one major dilemma for architects: how to use that space – or lack of space – effectively.
Those in Whitehall may have to shoulder some of the responsibility for our cramped living conditions with planning policy insisting on more densely packed housing, but property owners must also take some of the blame. Consumers are acquiring more and more possessions compared to previous generations, for whom the must-have bargain was secondary to the functional necessities in the home.
Smaller spaces are a real challenge for architects, but the answer may be simpler than it seems. Consumers are actively seeking flexible, timesaving storage solutions, but, in light of the ongoing credit crunch, at an affordable price. As a result, there is, in fact, a rare opportunity for architects to easily and cheaply deliver the storage solutions that clients want. There are a growing number of brands in the home storage and de-cluttering arena, developing interesting products to solve the storage / clutter and space dilemma.
The growth trends in the storage market are no longer in the products aimed at solving a simple issue, such as where to store an umbrella or bunch of keys. Instead, the demand is for more comprehensive, whole room solutions.
Wardrobes and compact dressing rooms are important to the future of the sector, as is an organised utility room or effective boot room storage – straightforward ideas that few architects are currently incorporating into their designs.
Gone are the days of satisfying a client with a simple clothes rod and shelf inside their wardrobe. Modern wardrobe storage systems have to be flexible and adapt to the customer’s ever changing needs – for example, the most desirable wardrobes have innovative and efficient storage spaces for shoe storage, clothes rails and accessories, while remaining compact and maintaining the ability to add or change the space whenever this is required.
Increasingly, value buying is at the top of the consumer agenda. The savvy consumer is now demanding more for their money – everything they buy must have a real use and worth. Despite, or perhaps because of, the pressures of the current economic climate, the ‘throwaway’ culture for cheap goods is in decline – homeowners are now looking for products that combine good quality with reasonable prices and, in terms of homeware in particular, that will stand the test of time.
Home storage solutions have to work harder, be multifunctional, and be cleverly utilised in all available space, yet they must still look great. The market leaders in the affordable and attractive home furnishings sector are, as might be expected, the ever innovative Scandinavians, who continue to produce a plethora of good quality, well engineered modular storage ranges such as elfa shelving that satisfy not only this need, but also the requirement for a stylish yet cost effective solution at the same time.
Midway between the ‘cheap and cheerful’ and exclusive high-end design, sit the ‘middle shelf’ brands, which offer quality, simple yet stylish storage solutions at an affordable price – ideal in the current property market, which is forcing architects and developers to make homes look fantastic on a tighter budget than ever, given that price rises are no longer guaranteed, or even expected. Among these are one or two real gems, offering great modular products that look equally at home dressed-up inside a fitted wardrobe or dressing rooms or in a raw functional state within a utility room, pantry or garage.
However, whatever the state of their finances, it will be difficult for consumers to let go entirely of the aspirational look that has dominated home makeover and property development programmes for so long. The key ingredients demanded by the current market are flexibility and value, but style will always have a part to play, particularly to get optimum prices when the time comes to sell. To impress developers and end users alike, effective storage solutions are something to be considered as an integral element of any project – and not just an afterthought.
This article was first published by Simon Glanville in the Architects DataFile Magazine, September 2009. Simon Glanville is the Managing Director of Förvara Ltd, Elfa® distributor UK. Förvara Ltd is a group company of STORE, specialists in home storage and organisational products.