Prefab Pods Create a Super-Efficient Floating Apartment That Shape-Shifts at Sea

Prefab Pods Create a Super-Efficient Floating Apartment That Shape-Shifts at Sea

By Lucy Wang
Michael K. Chen Architecture channels Le Corbusier vibes into a modular and multifunctional holiday home aboard the world’s largest residential yacht.

Architect Michael K. Chen is renowned for creating stylish, compact homes—and he just unveiled his latest endeavor: a 600-square-foot luxury residence on the largest private cruise ship in the world. Playfully named Pied-à-Mer, the holiday apartment is awash with nautical-inspired midcentury modernist influences—drawing particularly upon Le Corbusier’s ocean liner–like 1952 Unite D’Habitation.

The sleek design morphs from a spacious one-bedroom for a globe-trotting couple to a two-bedroom dwelling large enough to accommodate visits from the clients’ adult children.

The 600-square-foot apartment contains two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dressing room, a sitting area, a trunk room, an entry hall, and storage space.

Terrazzo flooring lines the foyer, which is flanked by storage (a trunk room on one side and a coat closet on the other).

The key to the design is a series of prefabricated pod-like volumes that organize the apartment and contain hidden elements, such as the fold-up cantilevered beds and integrated appliances.

The entry space leads to a hallway between the pair of prefabricated, pod-like volumes. A guest closet lies to the left, and the guest bathroom is on the right.

The hall leads to a small galley kitchen, a living space, and glazed sliding doors that open up to a private terrace.

 "Much of what you see was prefabricated in Austria and installed in a five-week period in Spain," says Chen, who took advantage of the ship’s dry-dock maintenance period and hired yacht builders to create most of the custom architectural elements. "All of the ribbed cladding and pods, all of the cabinetry, and functional elements like the beds were prefabricated. The fold-down table was fabricated in New York and shipped to dry dock; much of the rest was made in Austria."

A custom bronze-and-aluminum dining table that MKCA co-designed with Rush Design folds down from the wall in front of the built-in banquette.

The custom dining table is paired with Mars dining chairs covered in Maharam wool by Konstantin Grcic.

Integrated LEDs minimize the need for additional lighting fixtures.

In a nod to Le Corbusier’s "machine for living" concept, the custom-fabricated pieces are finished in cool blue and gray-toned ribbed aluminum for a "slightly machine aesthetic." To provide warmth and contrast, the apartment is dressed in highly tactile materials ranging from lacquered millwork and stone surfaces to soft fabrics such as mohair, velvet, and suede.

When the dining table is tucked away, the guest bed can be lowered over the banquette.

The beds are built of lacquered millwork with custom upholstered headboards in mohair, and they come with integrated nightstands, lighting, and shelving. A sliding door can be used to provide privacy between the two bedrooms.

"Rounded forms, tough but elegant materials, translucency, reflectivity, and tactility were important to us," explains Chen. "We wanted the furnishings to make it clear that you are on a seafaring vessel, but primarily through materiality and subtle details—soft forms, crisp edges, and balanced heft and lightness."

MKCA mixed custom, contemporary furnishings with vintage pieces. The Vuelta sofa by Jaime Hayon is custom-upholstered in high-performance Holland and Sherry velvet. The vintage saddle-leather-and-stainless-steel lounge chairs are by Pierre Thielen, and wood flooring by Weitzer Parkett is used throughout.

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The vanity in the dressing room features a custom mirror by Sabine Marcelis.

In addition to the challenge of designing within a small footprint, the architects also had to meet enhanced safety requirements for cruising in constant motion. 

"It’s always a challenge to create these transforming elements and to make sure that the motion is smooth, effortless, and precise," says Chen. "That’s exponentially more difficult on a ship where there is no clear straight up and down. We had to rely on our contractors and fabricators to build everything extremely precisely, and we had to design around the inherently greater tolerance that one has to assume on a moving vessel." 

A small galley kitchen is built into the larger of the two prefabricated pod volumes.

To achieve a sense of spaciousness in the eight-foot-tall space, the architects oriented the apartment toward views of the sea and minimized visual clutter with concealed LEDs and continuous aluminum ribs that hide divisions, doors, and appliances.

"It’s just another challenge that we don't ordinarily face on land," Chen continues. "It was all super interesting, though. We learned so much about complex installations and difficult and fast construction on this project, and we fully expect it to inform how we devise future projects—whether seafaring or landlubbing."

The principal bath is clad in hammered quartzite and white glass, and it features a custom marble tile floor.

The guest bath features Artistic Tile stone mosaic flooring and walls of Ann Sacks Blue Celeste Field tile and Stone Source Luce Di Ceramica Pumpkin tile.

Pied-à-Mer Plan Diagram 1

Pied-à-Mer Plan Diagram 2

Related Reading:

This Floating, Off-Grid Prefab Can Be Assembled in Just Two Days

14 Floating Homes That Make a Strong Case For Waterfront Living

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Michael K. Chen Architecture / @mkcarchitecture

Builder/General Contractor: List GC

Lighting Design/Interior Design: Michael K. Chen Architecture

Cabinetry Design/Installation:  List GC

Metal Fabrication: Rush Design

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