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

Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016