All Together Now
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All Together Now

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By Jaime Gillin
When Svetlin Krastev and Dessi Nikolova had their second child, they saw two options: Go broke buying a bigger apartment, or renovate their existing 620-square-foot home.

Because they loved their central Murray Hill location—Krastev can walk to work in 15 minutes, which means more time with his kids—and also because they themselves lived with their parents in tight quarters in Bulgaria, the decision came easily. However, to answer the not-so-simple question of how the space would work for four, they turned to Ferda Kolatan and Erich Schoenenberger of su11 architecture + design.

In the apartment’s new incarnation, the main living area is a family room that morphs—after the boys go to sleep in the back bedroom—into the parents’ lair. As Krastev puts it, "During the day it’s a one-bedroom apartment, at night, a studio."

Since the main living space has to function as both a bedroom and a family room, Krastev and Nikolova make do without a couch. When the family watches TV or reads, they cozy up on the bed or sit on the built-in bench, which also serves as a dining and play area. "When in a limited space, you have to really think: What do we do in this room, what do we need?" says Krastev. "Do we really need a coffee table?" In their case, the answer was no.

To contain clutter and create a sense of spaciousness and visual continuity, the architects installed a laminate storage wall that stretches and curves from the entranceway all the way to the boys’ room. The floor-to-ceiling cabinets contain almost all the family’s possessions, from clothing and shoes to books and bedding.

"Svetlin and Dessi were clearly up for something innovative and exciting," says Schoenenberger, explaining why his firm took on the relatively small-scale, $300-per-square-foot renovation project. Schoenenberger and Kolatan’s boldest moves include an eye-catching sculptural Corian wall above the bed, whose curves create an arresting and ever-changing play of light and shadow.

"Corian is often pooh-poohed because it’s used for ugly stuff, like bathroom vanities," says Schoenenberger, "but we knew what we wanted to achieve would be difficult with plaster." The eye-catching sculptural wall above the bed is crafted from the material.

The clients embraced the material because it is kidproof—any marks can be cleaned easily and the matte finish resists fingerprints. The structure was built off-site, brought into the apartment in pieces, installed on a wooden skeleton, and then sanded over a three-day period to achieve a seamless integration with the back wall and the skylight overhead. "It’s kind of a melting design that comes from above and goes down the shelves," says Schoenenberger.

For now, Kimi, age six, and Darin, age two and a half, happily share a room and bunk bed. Kimi’s clothes are stored on low shelves in the built-in closet, so he can dress himself, and the children’s toys are stored within easy reach in open drawers.

The unit seamlessly transforms into a window ledge (hiding a heater) and a built-in bench. On the opposite side of the hallway, the storage wall bumps out to accommodate the television and entertainment system and gains some hidden extra space from the former lot-line window niches.

"We realize the space has limitations," says Krastev. "Maybe when the kids get to be ten or 12 years old, we’ll have to move. But we can easily spend another five years here. On a day-to-day basis we’re very comfortable. We don’t have endless means or endless space, but our quality of life is very high."

The bed, usually scattered with Legos and toy cars, "is a big playground for the kids," says Krastev.

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On the opposite side of the hallway, the storage wall bumps out to accommodate the television and entertainment systems and gains some hidden extra space from the former lot-line window niches.

Their parents’ seldom-needed stuff (luggage, winter clothes) is stashed in the higher cabinets. "Believe it or not, we have empty cabinets," says Nikolova. "There’s space for everything."

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