written by:
photos by:
July 23, 2009
Originally published in Best New Kitchen Designs

Los Angeles–based architecture firm Tag Front faces the future of downtown living with an apartment that melds the compactness of a studio with the spaciousness of a loft and finds that, despite rumors to the contrary, size doesn’t matter.

In the bathroom, the Stylo bar by Alu eliminates the need for space-eating cabinets by creating a vertical tower of platforms on which all the hygienic essentials rest. Generally used in retail displays, the Stylo stretches from floor to ceiling; platform
In the bathroom, the Stylo bar by Alu eliminates the need for space-eating cabinets by creating a vertical tower of platforms on which all the hygienic essentials rest. Generally used in retail displays, the Stylo stretches from floor to ceiling; platforms branch off at various intervals, creating resting spots for toilet paper, shaving gear, toothpaste, soap, and other necessities. The tub is built up from a rubberized plaster by Miracote and finished off with a woven fabric mesh and final layer of All-in-One coating, popular in prisons for its low price and durability.
Photo by 
1 / 9
In the bedroom, mailing tubes tucked between a concrete weight-bearing post and the eastern wall serve as substitutes for a chest of drawers.
In the bedroom, mailing tubes tucked between a concrete weight-bearing post and the eastern wall serve as substitutes for a chest of drawers.
Photo by 
2 / 9
Mandi Rafaty’s girlfriend, Yoly Guerra, unpacks groceries in preparation for dinner. The kitchen cabinets are off-the-shelf models from IKEA, and all knives are stored on a space-saving magnetic hanging holder on the wall. Two floating, open shelves above
Mandi Rafaty’s girlfriend, Yoly Guerra, unpacks groceries in preparation for dinner. The kitchen cabinets are off-the-shelf models from IKEA, and all knives are stored on a space-saving magnetic hanging holder on the wall. Two floating, open shelves above the Tag Front cast-concrete sink and Frigidaire dishwasher act as home base for plates and dishes, while a convection oven by Sharp, Turbo Air ­commercial-grade refrigerator, and two glass cabinets finish off the kitchen. “It’s all about creating these setups that don’t visually make the space feel smaller than it already is,” Mandi says.
Photo by 
3 / 9
The mini-loft concept was simple enough: The space had to function as a traditional loft—high ceilings, open floor plan, large windows, and the sense of expansiveness offered by much larger lofts. Seems reasonable until you remember they had to squeeze a
The mini-loft concept was simple enough: The space had to function as a traditional loft—high ceilings, open floor plan, large windows, and the sense of expansiveness offered by much larger lofts. Seems reasonable until you remember they had to squeeze a fully functioning kitchen, dining area, living room, bedroom, and bathroom, complete with bathtub, into just 500 square feet.
Photo by 
4 / 9
The cast-concrete sink, glass detailing, and steel appliances add to the clean, minimal, space-saving feel of the kitchen.
The cast-concrete sink, glass detailing, and steel appliances add to the clean, minimal, space-saving feel of the kitchen.
Photo by 
5 / 9
With a push of the sliding door, the bedroom morphs into an extension of the living room, adding much-appreciated square feet during dinner parties and other gatherings. The platform bed and backrest are both Tag Front designs.
With a push of the sliding door, the bedroom morphs into an extension of the living room, adding much-appreciated square feet during dinner parties and other gatherings. The platform bed and backrest are both Tag Front designs.
Photo by 
6 / 9
In the living area, a sliding door conceals the loft from the hallway leading to the office, thus opening the space up by revealing extra square footage in the bedroom. When it’s time for bed, the door slides shut for privacy.
In the living area, a sliding door conceals the loft from the hallway leading to the office, thus opening the space up by revealing extra square footage in the bedroom. When it’s time for bed, the door slides shut for privacy.
Photo by 
7 / 9
Tag Front designed a rectangular mahogany table with four ottomans nestling underneath, creating a simple brown block when not in use. When guests arrive, the ottomans slide out and there’s plenty of room for four.  “I like to have people over and enterta
Tag Front designed a rectangular mahogany table with four ottomans nestling underneath, creating a simple brown block when not in use. When guests arrive, the ottomans slide out and there’s plenty of room for four. “I like to have people over and entertain,” Mandi says, “so it was important to have a dinner table that doesn’t take up much space.”
Photo by 
8 / 9
Yoly and Mandi in the living room full of Tag Front–designed furniture. “The loft also functions as our showroom,” Mandi says, “which works well for me.”
Yoly and Mandi in the living room full of Tag Front–designed furniture. “The loft also functions as our showroom,” Mandi says, “which works well for me.”
Photo by 
9 / 9
In the bathroom, the Stylo bar by Alu eliminates the need for space-eating cabinets by creating a vertical tower of platforms on which all the hygienic essentials rest. Generally used in retail displays, the Stylo stretches from floor to ceiling; platform
In the bathroom, the Stylo bar by Alu eliminates the need for space-eating cabinets by creating a vertical tower of platforms on which all the hygienic essentials rest. Generally used in retail displays, the Stylo stretches from floor to ceiling; platforms branch off at various intervals, creating resting spots for toilet paper, shaving gear, toothpaste, soap, and other necessities. The tub is built up from a rubberized plaster by Miracote and finished off with a woven fabric mesh and final layer of All-in-One coating, popular in prisons for its low price and durability.
Project 
Mini-loft
Architect 

Downtown Los Angeles is foreign territory to most Angelenos. The sprawling, 487-square-mile city seems to have forgotten the place from which it sprouted. Devoid of the sunny postcard scenes featuring palm trees and the shimmering Pacific commonly associated with L.A., downtown is more likely to stand in for New York and its grimier glamour in many a Hollywood flick. Big boulevards with little foliage and looming buildings that cast ominous shadows are its hallmarks.

Despite the lack of typical SoCal charm, it’s these contradictory traits that make a stroll through what is officially called the “historic core” so interesting. Storefronts are teeming with merchants hawking everything from stereos to wedding dresses. Some of the best Mexican food California has to offer can be found at the Grand Central Market at Third and Broadway, and behind almost every door lies an interior with a story bigger than its façade lets on.

Across the street from the market, the Bradbury Building, made famous by its appearance in Blade Runner, is unassuming until you set foot in its soaring, glowing lobby. Farther down the street, the United Artists Theater looks like it’s slowly rotting, but wander inside and experience its amazingly ornate domed ceiling. And still farther down the street lies the Wurlitzer building: a nondescript office tower with a host of tales that are waiting to unfold—including that of Tag Front’s mini-loft.

Here, on the seventh floor, the 14-year-old firm headed by Iranian brothers Mehdi and Mandi Rafaty set up shop after 11 years in Orange County. “When we moved to L.A. three years ago, downtown was supposed to be it—the next hot spot,” Mandi explains. “But really, it was just becoming infiltrated with developers’ thoughts of what a a loft was—open space and a high price tag. Nothing was really happening.”

When the firm moved into the 3,000-square-foot office in 2001, their spatial needs as a firm were not quite that big and thus presented the brothers and their two colleagues, Gary Hunt and Chris Perez, with an opportunity that got their minds racing. “We really only needed about 2,500 square feet for the office,” Mandi says, “and so we were left with about 500 square feet.” The perfect amount of space for a starter home in the inelegantly hewn downtown.

“When we were at SCI-Arc in the late ’80s,” Mandi says, “you could get 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of bare  space downtown for 40 cents a square foot. You couldn’t get that kind of deal anywhere else. Now, that has changed but we didn’t think it necessarily had to. With the remaining square footage, we got to work developing a low-cost living space that I could live in.”

And so the mini-loft was born. The concept was simple enough: The space had to function as a traditional loft—high ceilings, open floor plan, large windows, and the sense of expansiveness offered by much larger lofts. Seems reasonable until you remember they had to squeeze a fully functioning kitchen, dining area, living room, bedroom, and bathroom, complete with bathtub, into just 500 square feet.

After years of designing homes, bars, and restaurants throughout Southern California, including Nacional, Paladar, Ivar, Balboa, and CineSpace, the architects were up for the challenge. But working on restaurants with hundreds of square feet of kitchen space was definitely different from fitting a kitchen that could satisfy a food lover’s cooking needs into a space just big enough to serve as the pantry for one of those restaurants.

After sealing the living space off from the office and creating a separate entrance via the hallway corridor (“I had to keep a little distance from work,” Mandi explains), the next step was minimizing the amount of occupied floor space. “I like to have people over and entertain,” Mandi says, “so it was important to have a dinner table that doesn’t take up much space.”

Tag Front designed a rectangular mahogany table with four ottomans nestling underneath, creating a simple brown block when not in use. When guests arrive, the ottomans slide out and there’s plenty of room for four.

The kitchen cabinets are off-the-shelf models from IKEA, and all knives are stored on a space-saving magnetic hanging holder on the wall. Two floating, open shelves above the Tag Front cast-concrete sink and Frigidaire dishwasher act as home base for plates and dishes, while a convection oven by Sharp, Turbo Air ­commercial-grade refrigerator, and two glass cabinets finish off the kitchen. “It’s all about creating these setups that don’t visually make the space feel smaller than it already is,” Mandi says.

In the bathroom, the efficiency continues. The need for drawer space and shelves was eliminated by the inclusion of the Stylo, an industrial metal bar by Alu generally used in retail displays. The Stylo stretches from the floor to the ceiling; platforms branch off at various intervals, creating resting spots for toilet paper, shaving gear, toothpaste, soap, and other necessities.

The tub is built up from a rubberized plaster by Miracote and finished off with a woven fabric mesh and final layer of All-in-One coating, popular in prisons for its low price and durability. Trying to veer away from the institutional look, Gary Hunt, Tag Front’s designated materials man, found that color could easily be added to the mix, giving a “natural plaster look while keeping the cost way down,” Hunt explains.

In the living area, a sliding door conceals the loft from the hallway leading to the office, thus opening the space up by revealing extra square footage in the bedroom. When it’s time for bed, the door slides shut for privacy. In the bedroom, mailing tubes tucked between a concrete weight-bearing post and the eastern wall serve as substitutes for a chest of drawers.

All of this careful consideration for space and cost has made Mandi the proud tenant of a designer loft smack-dab in the middle of the city for the affordable price of $1,000 a month. Most lofts in the area go for anywhere from $1,200 to $6,800 a month, effectively ruling out tenancy by artists, students, and designers, who so often play an important role in urban revival.

But there’s no guarantee that even the arrival of these sorts of tenants would produce a large-scale desire for Manhattan-style accommodations in Los Angeles. Because while downtown has been garnering international attention with the recent openings of Rafael Moneo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, most Angelenos still feel much like the New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger. In his review of Gehry’s warbling structure, Goldberger dryly states that downtown Los Angeles is “more or less like the downtowns of many other major American cities—a lot of glass skyscrapers surrounded by a lot of freeways.”

Not exactly a glowing example of the classic downtowns that most urban dwellers imagine, with densely packed sidewalks and bustling restaurants with curbside tables. Still, there is always the hope that if more stories like that of the mini-loft emerge from behind the drab office building exteriors, one day downtown will inherit the urban excitement of its celluloid image, rising from Manhattan stand-in to star in its own right.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016