A 1920s Masonry Garage Is Reborn as a Flexible Live/Work Space

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
Big Space, Little Space by design duo Davidson Rafailidis builds on the structure's past, leaving the interiors raw and encouraging imaginative reuse.

Tucked away in the middle of a residential block in Buffalo, New York, Big Space, Little Space is the adaptive reuse of a masonry garage, originally built in the 1920s.

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Big Space, Little Space preserves the brick exterior.

Big Space, Little Space preserves the brick exterior.

The innovative project by designers Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis of Davidson Rafailidis explores the treatment of interior space as an ever-changing medium. The transformation of the brick-clad, industrial structure into an apartment dwelling and workshop for a local couple does not dictate specific uses for designated spaces—instead, it offers a variety of options that could trigger unexpected uses in the future, and encourage reinterpretations by different inhabitants over time.

Instead of clearing out the building and designing the interior from scratch, the designers Davidson and Rafailidis reinterpreted the existing space. 

Instead of clearing out the building and designing the interior from scratch, the designers Davidson and Rafailidis reinterpreted the existing space. 

"Big Space, Little Space does not dedicate spaces to traditional uses," explain the designers. "There is no stationary plan. The spaces are rather offerings for temporary and informal uses. The objective was to create spaces that are useful for everything and where the meaning and usefulness of each space renegotiates with each new user."

The layout's square plan offered few windows, so the designers treated the roof (concealed 12" beneath a parapet) as a fifth facade, inserting 10 operable skylights and a hatch for natural light, ventilation, and roof access. 

The layout's square plan offered few windows, so the designers treated the roof (concealed 12" beneath a parapet) as a fifth facade, inserting 10 operable skylights and a hatch for natural light, ventilation, and roof access. 

Inhabitants can retreat into the warm, insulated "Little Space" (which includes the kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom) during the harsh winters of upstate New York—and spread out into the "Big Space" (the generous garden, workshop, and roof deck) during the warmer months. This means that the living area can extend from anywhere between 464 square feet to 5,165 square feet, depending on the season. 

The general contractor’s former office space was converted into a small apartment dwelling for the couple.

The general contractor’s former office space was converted into a small apartment dwelling for the couple.

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The "Little Space" was seen as the overlap between two bigger, existing spaces—the fenced garden and the garage/workshop and can extend into both. 

The "Little Space" was seen as the overlap between two bigger, existing spaces—the fenced garden and the garage/workshop and can extend into both. 

The designers avoided any materials that might read as too "residential" so that the space would not prescribe a specific use.

"The space is seen here as an animate thing with a lively past and an unknown future, where the intervention is just one of many," they explain. "The space was not ‘remodeled’ to eliminate its messy past, but rather to add to in a similar way to participants in the surrealist game, the Exquisite Corpse."   

Cor-Ten steel shutters give the Little Space more security during long periods when the occupants are traveling.

Cor-Ten steel shutters give the Little Space more security during long periods when the occupants are traveling.

The Little Space has fully insulated perimeter walls and is heated with a single radiator. New radiant heating in an exposed concrete floor was also provided for the bathroom. 

The Little Space has fully insulated perimeter walls and is heated with a single radiator. New radiant heating in an exposed concrete floor was also provided for the bathroom. 

In contrast, the Big Space has untouched and uninsulated walls. It is heated with an existing gas garage ceiling heater that is able to temporarily heat up quickly and as needed. The big garage/workshop also serves as a climatic buffer space to the Little Space. 

In contrast, the Big Space has untouched and uninsulated walls. It is heated with an existing gas garage ceiling heater that is able to temporarily heat up quickly and as needed. The big garage/workshop also serves as a climatic buffer space to the Little Space. 

The Big Space was updated with new skylights and a roof hatch with a staircase that provides access to the roof.

The Big Space was updated with new skylights and a roof hatch with a staircase that provides access to the roof.

Big Space, Little Space floor plan

Big Space, Little Space floor plan

Find more incredible converted garages in the form of this multipurpose backyard space near Seattle and this family hub in Santa Monica. 

Project Credits: 

Designers: Davidson Rafailidis
Engineer of Record: John Banaszak