Feeling frustrated by a spatially challenged apartment? Is it tight and cramped? If the walls are closing in on you, try thinking beyond the square by pushing the boundaries of the offending four walls. Room dividers are an effective way to redefine space. They may not actually increase the size of the liveable area, but can certainly make it more functional. Cleverly used, dividers can make a room do double-duty. They can provide handy storage and perform useful functions such as imparting privacy or absorbing sound. They are also versatile. A room divider can be as permanent as a three-quarter height wall, or as temporary as a free-standing screen. Moveable dividers retain the option of changing a room's focus at short notice. They can screen a sofa bed to create an instant 'guest room' or conceal the clutter of a working home office if you suddenly need more entertaining space. Room dividers can be anything you want them to be - from a flimsy wisp of fabric, a la Philippe Starck's sheer, flowing 'walls' in his suites at Causeway Bay boutique hotel Jia, to a solid structure. With little effort or expense, screens can also enrich a space: they may be decorated to suit the character of the room, and easily changed to match a new interior theme. It's not a new concept. The Chinese are generally credited with inventing the room divider, with some of the first hand-carved wooden models dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Japanese came up with a lighter version, created from lattice wood and rice paper. Beautifully decorated, these early dividers offered elegance and functionality to any space. The western world cottoned on to this, and room dividers have long become universal. For some true out-of-the-box thinking, there are always bespoke designs. Among these, glass is emerging as a versatile material of choice. William Lim Ooi-lee, managing director of CL3 Architects, uses transparent glass as dividers for a show flat in Chengdu. The space is small - about 1,000 sq ft - and he felt that conventional, solid walls would make it feel too boxy. 'I thought it would be nice to have a flexible, transparent space where the rooms flow into each other, rather than being too compartmentalised.' Such transparency also makes the area look bigger, which is why the theme is continued as the material of choice for the bedroom closet. This time, the glass is frosted - because no one wants to show off their smalls, no matter how neatly arranged. At the back, a double layer of glass allows for a lightbox to give the space a seductive glow. In another clever use of space, the dining table and study desk are one long, continuous surface divided in the middle by a swivel television. Although glass is a great way to create fluidity, Lim says there are many other ways room dividers can make a space more contiguous. He has used sliding or pivot doors to make walls that 'disappear', bookshelf dividers that contain copious storage, and heavy velvet drapery that softens a space and also acts as a sound-absorber. His advice is to 'think beyond the normal four walls', and as long as removing them won't compromise your building structurally, replace them with more interesting alternatives. Virginia Lung Wai-ki and Ajax Law Ling-kit, founders of One Plus Partnership, replaced the dividing walls in a Shenzhen show flat with wooden louvres that can be opened or closed. By providing a visual link, the design makes the flat appear bigger. It also creates a homey feel and enables parents to keep a close eye on their children. At night, the divider closes like a Venetian blind giving privacy to the master bedroom. They also installed a decorative wine display unit that doubles as a room divider between the kitchen and dining area. In another project, the dividing wall between a bedroom and bathroom was fitted with an opening window, which Lung and Law utilised to install a one-way mirror. This formed part of a larger mirror wall in the bedroom, creating a visual link when wanted and privacy when needed. For a Hung Hom flat, One Plus created a moveable wardrobe that doubles as a room divider, creating a visual connection between the master bedroom and study room. Made of timber and suspended from tracks on the ceiling, this unit also functions as an emergency guest bedroom when the wardrobe is closed. Joey Ho Tzung-hsien, director of Joey Ho Design, agrees that modern living habits where activities and spaces overlap call for a fresh approach to spatial layout. While solid walls lock rooms in, 'new division methods' can serve dual functions, to both separate and integrate. One interesting project involved replacing solid walls with sliding panels in a small Quarry Bay apartment. This allows for lots of changes to the space, which can be open or enclosed as required. 'Each sliding panel also has its own function,' Ho says. 'The one that separates the master bedroom and living room is actually a TV wall and the one that separates the bathroom and kid's room has a mirror on one side facing the sink.' Another interesting option is to divide a bathroom and bedroom using Umu glass, which changes from clear to translucent at the touch of a button. This innovative product uses electrical current to activate a liquid crystal interlayer between two sheets of glass, providing a 'privacy screen' when you need it. As Umu is a laminated glass product, it also helps reduce noise in interior spaces. Simpler designs are also effective. In children's bedrooms, room dividers made from whiteboards can double as an activity centre where the youngsters can write and draw. If you're short on wall space, a photo frame room divider is a practical way to display your memories. Hyundai has even produced a room divider made of digital picture frames: four interlinked LCD screens display super-sized images. For the innovative, fabric room dividers are easy to make. This can be as simple as a length of cloth and a curtain rod, or for longer lengths and to go around corners, a curtain track fixed to the ceiling will do the trick. When space is tight, the most practical room divider is one that doubles as a storage unit. In his new book My 32m2 Apartment - A 30-year Transformation Gary Chang Chee-keung, founder of Edge Design Institute, explains their role in the latest interior makeover of the tiny flat he has occupied since childhood. In this design, which he calls 'M2007', Chang replaced the walls with a series of sliding wooden panels, hung from metal tracks fixed to the ceiling, that can be moved about 'like an abacus' to form any configuration desired. The panels also house some ingenious storage solutions, including drawers for clothes, racks for Chang's extensive CD and DVD collections, and - on the bathroom side - shelves for his spa products. Another panel has the television on one side, and a folding tabletop facing the kitchen behind it, concealing a mini-bar. Chang is living proof that space - or lack of it - is no reason not to be creative. Imagination, he has shown, can indeed conquer the great divide.