Of course flats are a reflection of urban living and it is unsurprising that they now comprise about half of all accommodation in London compared with slightly less than 20% for the rest of the country.
Living in a flat brings both advantages and disadvantages compared with life in a detached house or even a semi. Getting along with the neighbours can become more challenging in a flat where what constitutes noise or a stink is another's music or cooking. Despite any disputes there is also the need to pull together to deal with communal hallways, entrances and gardens. Meanwhile the Englishman in his detached property relaxes like a king!
Research into house building suggests that homes are getting smaller. According to RIBA (The Case for Space) the average home (85sq m and 5.2 rooms) compares favourably with new builds (76sq m and 4.8 rooms). Compared with our European neighbours the situation looks worse. The average home in Ireland is 88sq m, Germany 116sq m and Denmark 137sq m. Even the Netherlands is building larger homes despite a population density of 456 persons per sq km compared to the UK’s 243 persons per sq km.
The London Housing Design Guide recommends a minimum of 50sq m for a 1 bed, two-person flat which is 10% more than the average for new builds of 46sq m. An extra 4sq m may not sound much but it could make quite a difference. It could be a single bed and bedside table or a work desk and a new sofa.
Overcrowding has potential health and well-being issues too. Shelter has estimated that 77% of overcrowded homes directly affected the health of their occupants. More arguments and a lack of privacy were two constant themes that emerged form their research. Not surprising as we all like our own space and a place for retreat.
When William Heath Robinson collaborated with KRG Browne on the book entitled How to Live in a Flat he identified these difficulties. The second chapter of the book is entitled Economy of Space and the penultimate chapter is The Darker Side of Flat Life!
However between them they dwelt mostly on the means to overcome the difficulties of life in a flat and suggested many improvements to make and benefits that that could be drawn. Heath Robinson’s imagination struck new heights as he provided wonderful drawings for space saving, comfort and enjoyment. It was all summed up thus by KRG Browne who provided the lyrics to heath Robinson's art:
Be it ever so small, be it ever so humble,
You’ll still hear me cry or more truthfully mumble:
“If you’ll buy me a ticket, why, just watch me roam!
But otherwise, frankly, there’s no place like home.”
How to Live in a Flat is one of five Heath Robinson titles we have reproduced as ebooks. Replete with all his drawings these remain as relevant and amusing today as they were back in the 1930's. Have a look here.