Singapore is known for its home sizes, in the same way rock musicians are known for clean living. I think if you show pictures of our two room units to European architects, they will conclude we have nice Shih Tzu kennels. So if we’re going on a national drive to have more babies, we’d better learn to make the most of our tiny spaces:
(Note: For this article, I spoke to an early childhood educator instead of an interior designer. Some of the concepts here may contradict traditional notions of interior space planning. But I feel it’s more accurate to talk to an expert on children for this.)
1. Create a specific play area
The size of the play area doesn’t have to be huge. It’s more important that your child recognises a specific space as “their own.” I guess we’re territorial from a young age, which come to think of it, explains a lot about road rage.
You can use playpens, but you don’t actually need partitions, fences, etc. to mark the space – the room is small enough without adding any of that. You can mark the zone just by using a different coloured floor mat, or putting a low ring of magazines around it, etc.
2. You don’t need to put all the toys within reach at once
If you attempt to put every toy within reach of your child, all the time, you’ll have a serious clutter problem.
In reality, children use toys the same way you use smartphone apps: you have a gazillion of the things, but you really just use three or four of them on a regular basis.
So don’t worry if you have to pack some toys out of your child’s reach – go ahead and put most of them in a container bed, or a top cupboard. Just leave a few out on the floor. Rotate the toys every few weeks.
This is how small preschools can have hundreds of toys, but still keep the floor relatively clutter-free.
Toddlers have as much fun playing with a plastic bowl as they do with a two-metre-long rocking horse. Bigger toys do not mean more fun, that’s greedy grown-up thinking. So reconsider buying giant toys, if the apartment is already cramped.
3. Use enclosed vertical storage
To maximise floor space for your children, you’ll need to use a lot of vertical storage. This just refers to containers that are mounted on walls, rather than placed on the floor. Floating shelves are a good example of this.
For safety reasons however, you should consider enclosed storage – especially if you are putting their toys and books in them. You don’t want your child reaching for them, and toppling something on their fragile heads.
4. Don’t use a lot of white furniture
I think this one is self-explanatory. Note that, according to some interior designers, small spaces need brighter furniture. Dark coloured sofas and carpets can make the area seem smaller.
Maybe, but the interior designer won’t be the one cleaning Milo stains off white leather. You decide.
5. Consider letting the children have the biggest room
You can live with a lot less stuff than your children (and if you can’t, then oh boy did you make a wrong decision.) Your children will need room for their toys, play spaces, and rainforest-endangering number of textbooks come Primary school.
You may find it less stressful to just give them the biggest room, as opposed to finding their stuff scattered in exotic locations all over the house.
6. Skip the TV
This is a common option among younger couples. If you just use Netflix and YouTube, why do you need a space hogging TV? Just use your laptop, like you always do at work.
Even a wall mount TV is wasteful – you can use that vertical space for something better (e.g. toy storage, educational posters, the classic novels you pretend to read.)
Also, you may have heard all the arguments about the negative impact of TV on brain development by now. If not, it should be obvious from the number of Donald Trump voters. Don’t expose your children to the idiot box.
7. Ideally, look at the community outside
There’s only so much you can do to maximise a small space. The penultimate asset will be the community that surrounds the home.
Are the corridors lively and safe for the children to play in? Are the neighbours close knit and welcoming to them? Even better, are there a lot of other children in the immediate vicinity for them to play with?
If there’s a vibrant community outside the apartment, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one or two room flat. Your children will still be in a great place to live.
So before you buy, if you know children are a factor, press the property agent for details on community events, how active the grass roots scene is, etc.
8. Allow as much natural light as possible
Take a tip from schools, which are designed to rely on natural light as much as possible. This means no propping cupboards up against windows, or building extra partitions. The areas with the most natural light should be reserved as the study and play zones.
This is a structural issue (the interior layout of the apartment controls it), so it can be hard to change. Take it into consideration when you first buy the unit. You can browse a wide range of apartments – including shoeboxes – on 99.co.
Note: This may run contrary to some schools of thought, which argue that having windows facing the sun are uncomfortable and hot.