The best big ideas for making the most of small homes

Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective to help us see how we can improve our homes. We all tend to do things on autopilot just because we’re used to doing them.

We design furniture and put things away in ways that seem ordinary and familiar to us.

Every culture has its own unique standards and traditions, and what may seem completely ordinary to someone around the world may spark a new idea about how to maximize space in our homes here in Ireland. Here are some interesting ways other countries are using to create extra space and storage in their homes.

Aim high in Japan

I could easily devote an entire other article to all the clever space-maximizing ideas that come out of Japan. As a nation, they are the source of countless cleverly designed pieces of furniture that transform and multiply for maximum use. Densely populated cities have created a need for small apartments – in fact, some of them, known as “three tatami rooms,” are as small as three tatami mats, which translates to nine square metres. Seriously small!

One clever way the Japanese use to maximize space is to take advantage of vertical storage. Stackable bins are often used to maximize space and clear items from floor level. We tend to overlook this in Ireland – you’ll often see kitchen cabinets that don’t quite reach the ceiling, for example.

The Japanese are big fans of built-in furniture, and one of the pieces you will see in many Japanese homes is the “tenbukuro.” Tenbukuro translates to a storage unit built above eye level. Although you may need a ladder for access, it is a concept that can add a lot of extra storage space to your home.

Look through pictures of tenbukuro and see if you can find some inspiration for where there might be space on the rise that you can use to clear out some clutter.

Most bike storage in the Netherlands is outdoors, like these canal-view homes in Westhaven in the historic town of Gouda.

Go Dutch

Cycling is the most popular way to get around in the Netherlands, and it’s no surprise that the Dutch have some clever bike storage ideas. What may be surprising is that most of these places are actually outdoors. The Netherlands is a densely populated country, so living in an apartment is common.

Multi-bike locker in the neighborhood.  Photo: David Hawgood
Multi-bike locker in the neighborhood. Photo: David Hawgood

Since the 1950s, Dutch building regulations have mandated bike storage rooms with street access for most residential buildings, which is good news because cycling up and down stairs (especially steep Dutch stairs!) is not an attractive option. Many people also simply attach their bikes to one of the many street bike racks.

In Ireland, we have none of these mandates, and bike theft is a concern, as is rain and rust. However, we still have to consider external storage options for our bikes. Installing a permanent locking point, such as the Kryptonite Stronghold Ground Anchor, and investing in good locks and a rust-prevention cover is a great way to free up interior space (and keep your floors clean!).

Dublin City Council has begun rolling out a scheme of secure bike storage lockers for city residents. Visit or and consider talking to your neighbors about investing in shared bike storage units for your area.


A-frame homes are those cute homes that look like little triangles. They experienced a major revival in the USA in the 1950s, and remain very popular as an affordable building style. They are low cost, the pointed triangle shape creates a sense of space through the height of the ceiling, and they are very popular as vacation homes in the USA. However, their sloping walls present a design challenge, and there are many creative solutions we can learn from.

If you have unused space in the attic or under the eaves because you’re having trouble dealing with a sloping wall, look to A-frame homes for inspiration. You can install angled wall-mounted shelves to store books and other items just like on a straight wall.

There are some very clever clothes rails with little pegs or hooks that keep the clothes hanger from sliding down the sloped angle.

Frame house.  Photo: Jonathan Borba
Frame house. Photo: Jonathan Borba

You can use modular furniture such as cube shelves to follow the slope of the wall.

Finally, many A-frame residents take advantage of hanging storage, such as baskets, to maximize space on sloping walls.

Look down

There is a town in central Australia called Coober Pedy where the majority of people live underground. This makes sense in a place where the temperature regularly exceeds 50 degrees Celsius. It’s also not the only example of underground dwelling – even here in Ireland, our ancestors dug pits to serve as early refrigerators to keep food fresh. Lots of homes around the world have cellars and wine cellars, and although this isn’t common here, we can still look below for storage inspiration.

If you have high ceilings but low floor space, consider raising the floor slightly and adding trap doors to store items underneath. I’m thinking of doing this in the entryway of my small house – I have some space between the joists under the tiled floor and would like to add a hinged trap door and put storage boxes in there for shoes. If you’re strapped for space, consider creating a platform in part of your room where you can store items underneath.

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(tags for translation)#Home – Improvements

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