written by:
photos by:
January 16, 2009
Originally published in Smaller is Smarter

When Im and David Schafer moved in together they faced the challenge of combining the contents of David’s 880-square-foot loft and Im’s 550-square-foot apartment into a one-room, 426-square-foot downtown loft.

Because their loft is a rental, David and Im Schafer built everything to be removable.
Because their loft is a rental, David and Im Schafer built everything to be removable.
Photo by 
1 / 11
The Schafers consider their loft a work in progress. Says Im: "We thought about building a library ladder for the Wall of Storage, and we'd planned to build a catwalk out from our sleeping loft, with a desk—but decided it was too much structural engineeri
The Schafers consider their loft a work in progress. Says Im: "We thought about building a library ladder for the Wall of Storage, and we'd planned to build a catwalk out from our sleeping loft, with a desk—but decided it was too much structural engineering to concern ourselves with at this point."
Photo by 
2 / 11
At the table, a Todd Oldham for La-Z-Boy modular sofa serves triple duty as seating for work, dinner, and overnight guests.
At the table, a Todd Oldham for La-Z-Boy modular sofa serves triple duty as seating for work, dinner, and overnight guests.
Photo by 
3 / 11
The Schafers' building, The Merrimac, built in 1999, is one of San Diego's first modern, mixed-use redevelopment projects.
The Schafers' building, The Merrimac, built in 1999, is one of San Diego's first modern, mixed-use redevelopment projects.
Photo by 
4 / 11
The Schaffer's furniture includes an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair ("and ottoman!" adds Im.) A coffee table made of glued, corrugated cardboard was the couple's first project together, when they met in college eight years ago.
The Schaffer's furniture includes an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair ("and ottoman!" adds Im.) A coffee table made of glued, corrugated cardboard was the couple's first project together, when they met in college eight years ago.
Photo by 
5 / 11
The stairway to the sleeping loft is a riff on a ship's ladder: "We spent a lot of time figuring out how much space we need to maneuver," says David. "It allowed us to make it as small and perfect as we wanted to." Instead of a handrail, sail cleats are b
The stairway to the sleeping loft is a riff on a ship's ladder: "We spent a lot of time figuring out how much space we need to maneuver," says David. "It allowed us to make it as small and perfect as we wanted to." Instead of a handrail, sail cleats are bolted to the walls as hand-holds.
Photo by 
6 / 11
In the bathroom, they did "basically surface things," says Im.
In the bathroom, they did "basically surface things," says Im.
Photo by 
7 / 11
The kitchen shelves are organized with clinical precision.
The kitchen shelves are organized with clinical precision.
Photo by 
8 / 11
The computer-designed kitchen area has the feel of a ship's galley, with everything neatly stowed, yet visible and instantly at hand: It's much the definition of "ship-shape." For dinner parties, well-worn Eames shell chairs are pulled down by David, with
The computer-designed kitchen area has the feel of a ship's galley, with everything neatly stowed, yet visible and instantly at hand: It's much the definition of "ship-shape." For dinner parties, well-worn Eames shell chairs are pulled down by David, with the help of a footstool. "I have nearly an eight-foot reach," says the 6'3'' David. ("It gets a little tough if I have to spend a weekend or so alone," says Im.)
Photo by 
9 / 11
The Wall of Storage came after the couple moved in.
The Wall of Storage came after the couple moved in.
Photo by 
10 / 11
Local sailboat shops wanted thousands to make the 13-by-13-foot curtain that hides the Wall of Storage. "We we called my parents in Bangkok, gave them the dimensions, and they got it made for 150 bucks." says Im.
Local sailboat shops wanted thousands to make the 13-by-13-foot curtain that hides the Wall of Storage. "We we called my parents in Bangkok, gave them the dimensions, and they got it made for 150 bucks." says Im.
Photo by 
11 / 11
Because their loft is a rental, David and Im Schafer built everything to be removable.
Because their loft is a rental, David and Im Schafer built everything to be removable.
Project 
One Space

When David Schafer moved into his 426-square-foot San Diego rental in 2003, the Chiclets-sized floor-plan wasn’t exactly a deal breaker. At six foot three, he found the live-work loft’s double-height ceiling a plus, and the aspiring architect geeked on the building’s pedigree: the Merrimac, built in 1999, was one of the first modern, mixed-use redevelopment projects in San Diego’s formerly blighted Little Italy neighborhood. (Plus it was featured in the very first issue of Dwell.)

But when David, 31, and his now-wife Im, 26, discussed living together (they met in college, both pursuing degrees in architecture), making smarter use of the vertical space became a priority. Make that a necessity: The previous tenant was a bachelor with Spartan tastes, and with a 260-square-foot outdoor deck and sleeping loft, the place was perfectly adequate—as long as you didn’t own any stuff. Like books. And clothes. And food. All of which David and Im owned and used pretty much every day. “When we moved in, we had the range, the sink, and the refrigerator, and that was it,” says David. “Everything else we made ourselves.” Their solution was storage; and they had nowhere to go but up. The result has been an ongoing collaborative project, an experiment in extreme design and domestic tranquility.

The Schafers consider their loft a work in progress. Says Im: "We thought about building a library ladder for the Wall of Storage, and we'd planned to build a catwalk out from our sleeping loft, with a desk—but decided it was too much structural engineeri
The Schafers consider their loft a work in progress. Says Im: "We thought about building a library ladder for the Wall of Storage, and we'd planned to build a catwalk out from our sleeping loft, with a desk—but decided it was too much structural engineering to concern ourselves with at this point."

 The first thing David did (with help from his dad) was build a corrugated-steel workshop out on the deck, from whence most of the loft’s interior fittings have sprung; only heavy-duty metalwork was completed off-site. The shed’s obsessively orderly jars of sheet-metal screws and neatly coiled extension cords are a pretty good metaphor for the inside of David’s skull: This is a man who makes CAD drawings of his spice collection. Im is an organizer, too, though the flavor of her fervor differs. While David is an inveterate collector, disassembler of machines, and obsessive cataloguer (“I call him an ‘objectician,’” says Im), her neatness is more visually oriented. “I need to make sure I know where everything is,” she says. “I need to see it to keep it in order.”

The couple’s proclivities are enshrined in the kitchen area, where shelves computer-calibrated to their con-diments and liquors climb the wall behind the bare-bones appliances, warmly lit by halogen spots like an alterpiece  to Our Lady of the Garlic Press. Frugality and ingenuity harmonize in IKEA drawers fitted into frames made of construction lumber and cold-rolled steel from the local Handy Metal Mart, and galvanized boxes from The Container Store spot-welded together to fit silverware and utensils.

At the table, a Todd Oldham for La-Z-Boy modular sofa serves triple duty as seating for work, dinner, and overnight guests.
At the table, a Todd Oldham for La-Z-Boy modular sofa serves triple duty as seating for work, dinner, and overnight guests.

Because the loft is a rental, everything they’ve built has to be removable; and because David and Im are smart, all the best stuff is recyclable. Accordingly, their choices of construction materials are as carefully meas-ured as their calculations of spatula and pasta lengths: “If it was a material we could reuse, we opted for some-thing more durable and more expensive; if it would only work for this space, then we defaulted to the cheapest material we could find,” says David. The kitchen shelves—which will stay—are unstained, unfinished MDF plywood, while the countertops and dining table—which will move on to their next abode—are heavy-gauge stainless steel.
The Schafers' building, The Merrimac, built in 1999, is one of San Diego's first modern, mixed-use redevelopment projects.
The Schafers' building, The Merrimac, built in 1999, is one of San Diego's first modern, mixed-use redevelopment projects.

And then there’s the “Wall of Storage”: A five-columned steel structure that occupies the entire west wall of the loft and contains everything else the couple owns—piled 20-feet high. David explains the painstaking planning that went into making the freestanding behemoth rental-friendly: “We screwed plywood to the ceiling, and then bolted the steel structure to the plywood, which serves as a membrane. So this massive thing just sits on the ground.” For those thinking of trying this at home, consider that David has a chummy relationship with his landlord. “He’s an architect, so we speak the same language,” David says. “In our minds, this qualifies as furniture.”

The Wall of Storage is not just a wall of storage—it’s a machine for daily living, an office, a TV room, and a walk-in closet that’s as aesthetically pleasing as an American Apparel window display. Though their T-shirts are arranged by color, Rain Man–style (“If you had to stare at your closet every day, you’d do it, too,” says Im), there’s a 13-foot cotton curtain that can be pulled to hide it all from view. “Guests can be out here,” says Im, indicating the living area, “and I can still be getting dressed back there—it connects straight to the bathroom. And if we  have an overnight guest, we basically have our own bedroom.” Sometimes, at the very top of the Wall of Storage, hibernating in a shoebox, is Atlas, the couple’s California desert tortoise—the ultimate neatnik’s pet: This gentle and noble creature spends half its 80-year life span asleep, and its (infrequent) waste products are easily swept away.

If the Schafers possess any latent messiness or packrat tendencies, they’re forever entombed in the Wall of Storage, inside clear plastic bins and big, green rubber totes placed up top for the heavy, infrequently used stuff. Seismically sensitive visitors invariably question the wall’s stability. David asserts that since the bins rest on parallel bars of steel, any sizable temblor would just cause them to tip conveniently into the gap, wedging them tight. And as long as the engineer is also the guinea pig, who’s to argue?
 
But this is where the Schafers’ evangelism about their project shows, revealing their apartment-as-experiment to be a little less grad-school-application fodder, and a little more Unabomber Hut (but in a good way). The couple believes fervently in what they’re doing—call it an exercise in Extreme Shelving, pragmatic Minimalism, or just plain neat-freakiness—as evidenced by the rigor of their calculations and the mental and physical energy they’ve expended. And it’s obvious that they truly enjoy living this way, scrambling like spider monkeys to reach all their artfully arranged stuff, from books and clothes to the gaggle of frayed Eames shell chairs hanging above the entry, like moose heads in a hunting lodge. In this sense, the two budding architects are part of a long line of artists who adjust their surroundings to jibe with their quirky mental furniture, and an equally storied tradition of pioneers—from Marie Curie to Frank Gehry—who’ve experimented on themselves, as the cheapest, least annoying, yet most demanding client they’ll ever have.

David and Im readily admit that their style of living isn’t for everyone. “The space wasn’t intended or designed to work for anybody but us,” says Im. “It’s a little case study for ourselves, to see what we can get away with,” adds David. He pauses. “Honestly,” he says with a grin, “I think we could live in less space.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
gpphoto44
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016
beverly hills living room piano view
Architect Noah Walker, principal of Los Angeles–based studio Walker Workshop, shares completed and work-in-progress residential designs on his Instagram page (@noah_walker). Take a peek at some of the striking modern houses here, and tour the Venice House on the Dwell Home Tours on June 26.
May 20, 2016
ripple effect san fancisco small space yard outdoor monica viarengo pebble mosiac artificial turf slide
A San Francisco landscape designer finds a small-space solution that’s anything but narrow-minded.
May 20, 2016
Oslo living room with light wood floors and wood slab table
A pair of designers in Oslo, armed with tricks for introducing color and daylight, remake their compact late-19th-century apartment.
May 20, 2016
family affair backyard addition portrait
In coastal Massachusetts, a resourceful couple and their equally enterprising children use reclaimed materials to create a versatile 168-square-foot backyard building.
May 20, 2016
speed machine australian beachside prefab archiblox facade colorbond ultra steel cladding queensland blue gum wood
With little time to waste, an Australian firm erects an efficient prefab overlooking the ocean.
May 20, 2016
Christian Benimana at Design Indaba
When he was younger, there wasn't a single architecture school in his country. Now, as part of MASS Design Group, Christian Benimana shares how architecture can heal and inspire Africa.
May 19, 2016
01 1
This Italian villa is serenity incarnate.
May 19, 2016
michael cobb interior
Alternative materials help a house in California’s wine country tread lightly on the land.
May 18, 2016
13266797 1799532953608317 1984666518 n 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 18, 2016
Industrial kitchen built on a budget.
In Austin, Texas, architect Sean Guess forges an inventive industrial kitchen for a cost-conscious couple.
May 18, 2016
great danes dining area
In an up-and-coming area of Copenhagen, a pair of designers and their twin girls inhabit a converted loft, filling it with serious design savvy and a hefty dose of creativity.
May 18, 2016
25687 preview low 1633 2 25687 sc v2com
An 1885 house in Montreal dips a little into its backyard for spare space.
May 17, 2016
modern ecoconscious pavilion walkway roof
A couple’s retirement home on a nature preserve in Carmel, California, emerges as a series of eco-conscious pavilions that rest lightly on the land.
May 17, 2016
Formafantasma's designs for Alcantara's Touching Tales
In a 17-century palazzo, two young design studios explore a very modern material.
May 17, 2016