Dead Space: Pros and Cons

Dead space — although it can seem like a waste — is often a necessary design feature in many houses. Dead space is what we call a space that exists only to create a desired geometrical shape, and is therefore “dead” in that it cannot be used for any other practical function such as storage space etc. (Note that we’re not talking about interstitial space that is used for wiring, plumbing, and other mechanical apparatus, typically located between the first and second floor and/or attic space.)

I’ll list some common examples of dead space to give you a better idea of what we’re talking about here:

– The area under a counter or shelf where a wall is built a small distance inside the front edge so as to create a solid, “built-in” surface as opposed to a counter that is open underneath. This is mainly a matter of preference, as leaving it open allows that area to be used for storage etc, whereas incorporating a dead space might give it a cleaner or neater look. This shouldn’t be confused with desk tops, where leaving it open is necessary to provide leg room and allow parking of the chair.

– Thickening an interior wall for the purpose of building a wall niche (the otherwise unnecessary thickening of the wall creates dead space; the exception to this is if the wall niche is small and shallow enough to fit between the wall studs without the need for thickening). Wall niches are stylish additions that can be used to place picture frames, ornaments, and other decorative trinkets. Hallways, staircases, and bathrooms are typical places where you might have a wall niche.

Bathroom Niche

– Attics, lofts, and similar top-floor rooms that intersect with a sloped roof. By virtue of their location, these rooms are inevitably triangular in shape, but can be geometrically optimized for more practical usage. The closer you bring the room to square, the more space you lose. Being that triangular shaped areas are impractical for normal use anyway, it’s usually best to have at least 600 millimeters of vertical wall along the perimeter of your room.

Attic Loft

Gable roofs provide 2 vertical sides and 2 sloped sides, allowing larger windows on the gable ends without the need to create large dead spaces. Hipped roofs still allow windows, but are generally limited to skylights or possibly dormers — if it can be integrated into the design.

– The area underneath the staircase. Depending on the width of your staircase, you might have either a bathroom, closet, or work station. If your staircase is wide enough to accommodate a bathroom, this is probably the best use of the space. But if not, you can use it for either of the other options. However, as with the point above, some dead space is inevitable due to the geometry.

Substair Work Station

– A portion of an interior wall that is built out so as to conceal plumbing, large structural components (beams, concrete foundation protrusions, etc), and other unforeseen irregularities in the primary floors of the house. If the resultant geometry created by the dead space looks awkward or unnatural, as an idea, you can build shelving into the corners to add more visible purpose.

When all is said and done, I feel there is a balance to be achieved when it comes to the desire to effectively utilize every crack and cranny in the house for storage space. As they say, the more money you make, the more you spend (whether this is true for you or not). The same can be said for storage space. The more you have, the more junk you tend to stuff into them — and subsequently forget about.

This can result in a generally disorganized and confusing home environment where it’s hard to remember where things are. The solution is to offset this phenomenon by the effective use of dead space, creating a more stylish and dare I say, modern home interior. I would generally avoid the creation of small cupboards and shelves that are inconvenient to access, or look unnatural.


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