written by:
photos by:
November 20, 2012
Originally published in Small World
as
Pole Position

To maximize their small Warsaw loft, transatlantic designers Aleksander Novak-Zemplinski and Becky Nix handcrafted a fleet of double-duty furnishings.

  • 
  Nix and Novak-Zemplinski, founders of the design firm BioLINIA, in their 1,000-square-foot apartment’s open-plan kitchen, dining, and living space. They had the decorative cabinets and ceiling panels CNC-milled by a Polish subsidiary of the Finnish company Koskisen.  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    Nix and Novak-Zemplinski, founders of the design firm BioLINIA, in their 1,000-square-foot apartment’s open-plan kitchen, dining, and living space. They had the decorative cabinets and ceiling panels CNC-milled by a Polish subsidiary of the Finnish company Koskisen.

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  Nix and Novak-Zemplinski designed the black-steel bookshelves and had them fabricated at a local metal shop.  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    Nix and Novak-Zemplinski designed the black-steel bookshelves and had them fabricated at a local metal shop.

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  Ornate concrete blocks screen a storage area in the kitchen while letting light through. The effect is “romantic—romantyczny,” says Nix.  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    Ornate concrete blocks screen a storage area in the kitchen while letting light through. The effect is “romantic—romantyczny,” says Nix.

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  Caster wheels on the bottom allow the shelves to be stored under the kitchen island or rolled elsewhere to create a library anywhere in the apartment.  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    Caster wheels on the bottom allow the shelves to be stored under the kitchen island or rolled elsewhere to create a library anywhere in the apartment.

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  By lowering the custom Murphy bed and rolling a sliding plywood door, Novak-Zemplinski creates an insta-guestroom.  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    By lowering the custom Murphy bed and rolling a sliding plywood door, Novak-Zemplinski creates an insta-guestroom.

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  The couple designed and built every piece of furniture in the apartment except for the Mezzo sofa from BoConcept. The coffee table can be flipped on its side to serve as a barstool. How did they test it to make sure it would support a person’s weight? “Olek jumped and sat on it,” says Nix, before adding, “He graduated from an engineering program.”  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.

    The couple designed and built every piece of furniture in the apartment except for the Mezzo sofa from BoConcept. The coffee table can be flipped on its side to serve as a barstool. How did they test it to make sure it would support a person’s weight? “Olek jumped and sat on it,” says Nix, before adding, “He graduated from an engineering program.”

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  In the Spotlight“I’m a huge proponent of lighting as architecture,” says Nix, who suggests illuminating objects instead of empty space. “Light on an object creates ambiance.” In their apartment, they’ve trained track lights from the Polish company LightArt on the Cube, as well as on the handmade cabinetry. The fixtures, which Novak-Zemplinski describes as “good quality and inexpensive in comparison to more well-known brands,” are also installed at the MoMA in New York.lightart.plPractical DecorationOne of the secrets to living neatly in a small apartment, says Nix, is lots of storage space. To that end, the couple built big cabinets along the walls. To create a sense of visual unity throughout the eclectic but compact space, the couple hand-carved the tree pattern from the kitchen into these cabinet doors (from a template) using an electric router. It’s more than ornament: The cutouts eliminate the need for jutting cabinet pulls.biolinia.com  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
    In the Spotlight

    “I’m a huge proponent of lighting as architecture,” says Nix, who suggests illuminating objects instead of empty space. “Light on an object creates ambiance.” In their apartment, they’ve trained track lights from the Polish company LightArt on the Cube, as well as on the handmade cabinetry. The fixtures, which Novak-Zemplinski describes as “good quality and inexpensive in comparison to more well-known brands,” are also installed at the MoMA in New York.lightart.pl

    Practical Decoration

    One of the secrets to living neatly in a small apartment, says Nix, is lots of storage space. To that end, the couple built big cabinets along the walls. To create a sense of visual unity throughout the eclectic but compact space, the couple hand-carved the tree pattern from the kitchen into these cabinet doors (from a template) using an electric router. It’s more than ornament: The cutouts eliminate the need for jutting cabinet pulls.biolinia.com

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  Block It OutSeeking an inexpensive way to create a screen effect between the bathroom and bedroom, Novak-Zemplinski and Nix hit on the idea of stacked open-cell concrete blocks, more typically used in parking areas. They discovered blocks with a more-interesting-than-average pattern in Chyżne, a town near Kraków. Better still, they cost just two dollars each. “When we saw how good these parking blocks looked in the bedroom, we thought they’d be a good way to hide clutter in the kitchen, too,” says Novak-Zemplinski.chyzbet.pl  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
    Block It Out

    Seeking an inexpensive way to create a screen effect between the bathroom and bedroom, Novak-Zemplinski and Nix hit on the idea of stacked open-cell concrete blocks, more typically used in parking areas. They discovered blocks with a more-interesting-than-average pattern in Chyżne, a town near Kraków. Better still, they cost just two dollars each. “When we saw how good these parking blocks looked in the bedroom, we thought they’d be a good way to hide clutter in the kitchen, too,” says Novak-Zemplinski.chyzbet.pl

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
  • 
  Selective D.I.YNix and Novak-Zemplinski made the narrow concrete sinks with tilted basins in the bathrooms. “We couldn’t find any sinks we liked,” says Nix. “So we decided to make our own. But those are the most expensive sinks ever, at least in terms of man-hours.” Novak-Zemplinski concurs—while they are happy with the way the sinks turned out, “one of the lessons we learned is that some things are not worth doing yourself.”  Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
    Selective D.I.Y

    Nix and Novak-Zemplinski made the narrow concrete sinks with tilted basins in the bathrooms. “We couldn’t find any sinks we liked,” says Nix. “So we decided to make our own. But those are the most expensive sinks ever, at least in terms of man-hours.” Novak-Zemplinski concurs—while they are happy with the way the sinks turned out, “one of the lessons we learned is that some things are not worth doing yourself.”

    Courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
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Modern open-plan kitchen and dining room with decorative cabinets

Nix and Novak-Zemplinski, founders of the design firm BioLINIA, in their 1,000-square-foot apartment’s open-plan kitchen, dining, and living space. They had the decorative cabinets and ceiling panels CNC-milled by a Polish subsidiary of the Finnish company Koskisen.

Image courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
Project 
Novak-Zemplinski / Nix Residence
Architect 

Aleksander Novak-Zemplinski and Becky Nix met thanks to a student exchange program between the architecture schools at the University of Detroit Mercy and the Warsaw Polytechnic University of Technology. After stints working in architecture firms in Los Angeles, the couple now divides their time between Warsaw and Detroit. A little over two years ago, they moved into a roughly 1,000-square-foot apartment they bought in a spanking-new subdivision in Warsaw. “We decided to make it an experimental project,” says Novak-Zemplinski. So they set up a wood shop in what would be the living room, and, to the extreme puzzlement of the neighbors, proceeded to build just about everything in the apartment themselves, by hand.

Modern ornate concrete block screen

Nix and Novak-Zemplinski designed the black-steel bookshelves and had them fabricated at a local metal shop.

Image courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
Novak-Zemplinski: We went for an industrial loft–type aesthetic and space. When we first saw the apartment, it was still under construction and the ceiling was raw. We really liked the exposed concrete, so we said, “Let’s keep it.”

Nix: We’ve lived in a lot of small places. We’ve tried to incorporate the lessons we learned so we could really improve the space. When it’s this small, you have to be organized.

Novak-Zemplinski: Our home is like a machine. You can move things, reconfigure the space.

Nix: We wanted a big living room, but if guests come, we want them to have private space. So we invented what we call the Cube. You can open it up, pull down the Murphy bed, then slide out the pocket doors to form a wall. Once the Cube is closed back up, you don’t even realize the space segments.

Novak-Zemplinski: The Cube is like a little robot—it transforms into a room, then back into a big box. We have lots of robots here. Like the coffee table: Stand any of its parts upright, and they turn into barstools.

Nix: To socialize, everyone gathers in the kitchen. So we decided to make the kitchen part of the living room. It’s the hearth, where you gather around. But we also wanted a library in there.

Lowering the custom encased Murphy bed

By lowering the custom Murphy bed and rolling a sliding plywood door, Novak-Zemplinski creates an insta-guestroom.

Image courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
Novak-Zemplinski: We drew a lot of sketches and didn’t like them. Then we put casters on the bookshelves and it was an epiphany. We designed raw black-steel shelves that are exactly the height and depth to fit under the kitchen island. So if people want to sit at the counter, you can roll the shelves out and stand up the barstools. The mobility adds life to the space. Visually, the apartment has a lot of potential combinations, a lot of looks. The bookshelves have room on both sides, so you can even hide the books you’re ashamed of—say, the romances.

Nix: For about two years, this was a lab. We didn’t have everything designed beforehand. It was always “What do you think of this?” A lot of adjustments we made onsite.

Novak-Zemplinski: We had pretty basic tools, minimal in form and purpose. So when designing the furniture, we chose simple shapes to make it as easy as possible.

Becky Nix arranging rolling bookshelves

Caster wheels on the bottom allow the shelves to be stored under the kitchen island or rolled elsewhere to create a library anywhere in the apartment.

Image courtesy of ©Andreas Meichsner.
Nix: The pattern on the kitchen ceiling and cabinets we had CNC-milled for us. The pattern is a graphic interpretation of a few different trees that were near the Communist-era apartment in Warsaw we were living in before. One day, we were walking around the park there; the leaves were coming off the trees, and when we looked up we saw these nice patterns. We stood against a trunk and took pictures.

Novak-Zemplinski: By American standards, the 135-square-foot bedroom is very small. For a Communist bedroom, it’s huge. This is a small apartment; we wanted to keep as much open space as possible.

Nix: We don’t believe you need a lot of room for a bedroom—it’s just used for sleeping and…other things, as they say. We made everything in the apartment but the BoConcept sofa. The pieces we created are not of the highest quality, nor are they high design. But it was more about the process of trying and learning. It’s nice to feel like you’ve created something. There’s a story everywhere.

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