In 2012, entrepreneur Graham Hill moved into a 420-square-foot SoHo studio that would act as his personal residence and a showcase for a movement. "I wanted to start a conversation about how doing more with less could improve our lives from an environmental, financial, and even emotional perspective," he explains. Graham, who is the founder of eco-blog Treehugger.com and other online ventures, turned to the Internet for ideas, partnering with crowdstorming platform Jovoto to launch an international competition to design the space. Out of 297 entries,the winning submission, authored by two Romanian architecture students, promised the functionality of an area more than twice the apartment’s size, thanks to a fluid layout, a custom moving wall, and transformable furniture.
Not long after, Graham purchased a second, smaller unit in the same building, which he intended to turn into a laboratory for living with even fewer material possessions. But with his attention focused on his new company, LifeEdited, a real estate development and design consultancy specializing in space optimization, the residence languished in its original state for years.
In 2014, he sold the first apartment, known as LifeEdited1, or LE1 for short, and moved into the 350-square-foot unit upstairs, with plans to renovate. Graham saw the sequel, dubbed LE2,as a chance to finesse some of the problem points of its predecessor.
"LE1 was amazing, but it was very bespoke, somewhat expensive, anda little too precious," Graham recalls. "With LE2, we wanted to retain the original space’s functionality, but design it in a way that would look less like a white box and have more texture and patina. We also wanted to make it more affordable, so it could work with our development projects."
Graham assembled a team for the new iteration that included LifeEdited designers Catalin Sandu and Andrei Butusina, project manager Andrew Skey, and Brooklyn-based Guerin Glass Architects and their construction arm, Composite Fabrication + Construction, the company responsible for building out LE1. Their combined efforts produced a flexible space that features more off-the-shelf products than LE1 did, is more cost-conscious, and has a more classic look, designed to hold up over time and use.
"LE1 was a prototype apartment that helped us think unconventionally about interior design," says Butusina. "With the new apartment, we optimized the layout to the point where, despite the reduced size of the space, Graham could enjoy all the benefits and features of a much larger apartment." Indeed, the house’s diminutive proportions don’t prevent him or his partner from doing any of the things ordinary homeowners relish. They love entertaining, so there’s a table and seating to accommodate dinner parties for up to 10. And when visitors stay over, the soundproofed office can become a guest bedroom.
To achieve this level of performance in such a tight space, while keeping costs down, the team relied on hardware not typically used in residential settings. For example, the workspace can be enclosed with a Hufcor accordion door. This hardware, typically used in schools and conference centers, has the equivalent soundproofing of an insulated drywall but can be folded and stored in a closet when not needed. Best of all, it costs about half as much as the bespoke partition for LE1 did.
Other budget-saving measures included using off-the-shelf cabinets and designing the modular kitchen around a suite of compact Smeg appliances. The bulk of the furniture is also standard, including the Resource Furniture bed/sofa combo, made in Italy by Clei, and table, which can be raised from coffee to dining height or anywhere in between, a feature that enables the sofa to double as dining seating and the area to be used as a secondary workspace.
The new unit was also an opportunity to incorporate emerging technologies, like home automation devices. Insteon smart switches offer app control over the lighting and fan; the front door’s August Lock can be opened with the tap of a smartphone, which is importantfor Graham, who travels frequently.
The apartment provides just enough support for an ascetic lifestyle, one that Graham feels has become more mainstream in recent years.
"Whether it’s incessant emails, texts, or social media updates, our overly packed schedules or the many hundreds of things we own, life can be overwhelming," he observes. "I believe we intuitively desire simpler lives filled with high-quality experiences, relationships, and possessions."
Of his housing preferences in general, Graham draws many parallels with his life. "I see both as ongoing experiments, subject to iterative design. I try my best to make constant improvements. On the flipside, I try to remove, or ‘edit,’ the things that detract from my happiness and goals."
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