Small Space, Big Design

By Dwell and Amanda Dameron / Published by Dwell
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Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron walks us through Dwell's November 2016 issue.

"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. I believe we intuitively desire simpler lives filled with high-quality experiences, relationships, and possessions." — Graham Hill, resident


What we love about this quote is how Hill, whose 350-square-foot abode in New York appears on our cover, addresses over-saturation. We tend to think of micro-dwelling as a reaction against a housing market that, nearly a decade after the mortgage crisis, still says bigger is better. (The median-size American single-family home was larger than ever last year, at 2,467 square feet.) But rather, it’s a movement to streamline our existences, both materially and spiritually. Cleaning out unwanted detritus gives us control over our environment, and space to think at a time when we are bombarded by notifications, entertainment, and news.

Graham Hill, a sustainability advocate whose TED talks have delved into the benefits of living small, put his own lessons into practice at his 350-square-foot apartment, which he shares with his partner and two dogs. Quick transitions, like drawing the FilzFelt curtain, convert the living space into a bedroom. 

Graham Hill, a sustainability advocate whose TED talks have delved into the benefits of living small, put his own lessons into practice at his 350-square-foot apartment, which he shares with his partner and two dogs. Quick transitions, like drawing the FilzFelt curtain, convert the living space into a bedroom. 

Photo by Christopher Testani

An affinity for solving puzzles may be a good predictor of being happy in a smaller home. A strong imagination is also key. As one of the homeowners in the issue points out: "We had to have a good fantasy to imagine a livable apartment, with the state that we found it in." The tighter the footprint, the more flexibility—in budget, patience, and humor, among other things—you will need.

"When a client says, ‘I’ve filled all my wardrobes and still have space left over,’ that means the mission is accomplished," says Roberto Di Stefano, the designer of that same apartment. We especially like the small niche shelving that was squeezed into the tiniest of corners and used as a bookshelf. The designer adds: "We put accents on focus points; we didn’t want the light completely spread out." As in many of the projects in this issue, walls were knocked down to open up the space, but not without using other elements, like lighting, to give structure to the interior.

After successfully reconfiguring his own tiny New York City apartment, Robert Garneau, partner at Archi-tecture Workshop PC, reinvented a 400-square-foot studio for neighbors just a few floors down. Called the Pivot Apartment, the highly efficient residence now serves multiple functions, thanks to a central modular unit that can be arranged to create distinct stations for living, sleeping, and entertaining.

After successfully reconfiguring his own tiny New York City apartment, Robert Garneau, partner at Archi-tecture Workshop PC, reinvented a 400-square-foot studio for neighbors just a few floors down. Called the Pivot Apartment, the highly efficient residence now serves multiple functions, thanks to a central modular unit that can be arranged to create distinct stations for living, sleeping, and entertaining.

Photo: Brian W. Ferry

In Silicon Valley, we highlight a tale of accessibility. Rather than establish a one-design-fits-all methodology, which universal design seeks to achieve, architect Neal Schwartz worked closely to address the varying but overlapping needs of a homeowner (a wheelchair user) and the frequent guest for whom the new structure was made (an elderly mother-in-law). Not everything is perfectly designed for both, but each space caters to its primary user.

Resident Elizabeth Twaddell enjoys the weather with her daughter Uma outside the guesthouse Neal Schwartz designed for her mother-in-law, Surendra, who frequently visits for extended stays. A concrete driveway forks off from the main house to lead to a covered breezeway, sited between the new 775-square-foot structure and a two-car garage.

Resident Elizabeth Twaddell enjoys the weather with her daughter Uma outside the guesthouse Neal Schwartz designed for her mother-in-law, Surendra, who frequently visits for extended stays. A concrete driveway forks off from the main house to lead to a covered breezeway, sited between the new 775-square-foot structure and a two-car garage.

Photo: Joe Fletcher

The dense urban environment is square one for small-space enthusiasts, and we are excited to present several projects located in New York. First up is a great case study of how to maximize a city-specific typology, the railroad apartment, by architect Matt Krajewski. The added bonus? Nearly all the furnishings and fixtures are from IKEA, which proves that a gut renovation can also be budget-friendly (total: $130,000). In a project a little farther uptown, architect Robert Garneau provides a fitting analogy for his conception, the Pivot Apartment: "The project is inspired by a pocketknife—a compact, well-considered modern object expanding to reveal separate functions as needed."

Also in New York, Frame Design Lab introduced a new volume into an existing loft, an idea that seemed counterintuitive to the residents, until they realized how the organizing structure would maximize what was already there. Logic and function guided the solution, resulting in a completely new way of living. XIn Pennsylvania, studio d’ARC presents Minimal House, born from an existing property purchased for just $25,000. This is a story about how creativity and sweat equity can make up for limits in square footage and budget. "If you think it through, you don’t have to sacrifice any comforts, and the small footprint allows you to acknowledge and amplify the qualities of the place," says architect and resident Gerard Damiani. "The house becomes an aperture for enjoying the landscape."

Speaking of respect for the land, don’t miss the Blackpool House in New Zealand. Rather than create a massive ocean-view getaway—the prevailing trend in many beachfront communities—the homeowners zigged by spending 15 years coaxing the site into a landscape that their house would eventually highlight. We love this approach of building over time as schedules and budgets allow, creating a lifelong space rather than a flippable real estate investment. No plug-and-play architecture here.

The unusual layout of René Roupinian’s Upper West Side home is what initially attracted her to the space, but the three-level plan proved difficult to organize. In his first solo project as STADT Architecture, Christopher Kitterman used a palette of walnut and white to unify the apartment, which he filled with space-saving solutions. Near the entrance, a Goliath table from Resource Furniture can expand to seat up to 10.  

The unusual layout of René Roupinian’s Upper West Side home is what initially attracted her to the space, but the three-level plan proved difficult to organize. In his first solo project as STADT Architecture, Christopher Kitterman used a palette of walnut and white to unify the apartment, which he filled with space-saving solutions. Near the entrance, a Goliath table from Resource Furniture can expand to seat up to 10.  

Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson

What better way to round out the issue than with a classic example of making the most of very little. Here, an architect took an unusual layout and tailored it to a resident’s distinct needs. She doesn’t cook, so the kitchen was less important. Little tweaks—like rerouting a staircase and moving a wall just 18 inches—resulted in a major impact. This apartment artfully reminds us of how we must expect our spaces to perform many functions at once. Maybe it’s a simple expandable table that allows an area to transition from entrance to workstation to dining room, as we see in this apartment. Whatever the alchemy, the goal is to find fluid solutions that work for us. Small is smart, after all. 

Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief
amanda@dwell.com / @AmandaDameron 


Shop the  Story

Resource Furniture Passo Table
Resource Furniture Passo Table
Ideal for small spaces, the Passo is a coffee table that transforms into a dining table with a seating capacity of 10. It lifts and extends through a unique telescoping mechanism and a self-storing leaf. You can adjust the table to various heights and choose from an array of table and base finishes to suit the needs of your environment. Photo: Courtesy of Resource Furniture
-Written by Jenny Xie | Dwell
Paulistano Armchair
Paulistano Armchair
As a Brazilian designer who was a member of the “Paulist brutalist” avant-garde in the 1950s, Paulo Mendes da Rocha gained international fame when he received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2006. At that time, Design Within Reach reintroduced the Paulistano Armchairs, a 1957 design that was never before made available in America. The original chair was designed for the Paulistano Athletic Club in São Paulo, Brazil, and is supported by a continuous 17-foot-long piece of phosphatized carbon steel that’s welded in one place. This is consistent with the original raw material that was used in 1957, and is meant to oxidize slowly over time. The chair is then wrapped with vegetable-tanned leather that’s meant to flex slightly. The seat can be adjusted along the frame for varying levels of seating angles.
-Written by Paige Alexus | Dwell
Knoll Womb Chair
Knoll Womb Chair
Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair was the answer to Florence Knoll’s request for a chair she “could curl up in, like a basket of pillows.” The midcentury classic provides ample support for a wide range of sitting positions, providing the comfort and security that gives the chair its name. Wanting to construct the chair from a single piece of material, Saarinen took technical cues from the shipbuilding industry. The upholstered fiberglass shell is perched on a polished chrome steel frame, creating a sculptural form that draws the eye but blends into many interior designs. The Womb Chair was released in 1948 and quickly grew in stature as it was featured in a Coca-Cola ad, a New Yorker cartoon, and a Saturday Evening Post cover. Photo: Nic Lehoux 
-Written by Jenny Xie | Dwell
ABC Carpet & Home Clear Ice Chandelier
ABC Carpet & Home Clear Ice Chandelier
Available through ABC Carpet & Home, the Clear Ice Chandelier was designed to resemble a floating cluster of ice. It’s made up of nine mouth-blown glass globes and anodized aluminum stems that carefully hold them in place. Made in the USA, it was inspired by lighting designs of the past and takes cues from reflective, sculptural forms. Though it’s shown here in clear glass, you can also opt for smoke bulbs—all of which are five inches in diameter. You’ll find G4 halogen 10W bulbs included. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
-Written by Paige Alexus | Dwell
GamFratesi Paper Tables
GamFratesi Paper Tables
When the duo behind GamFratesi Design Studio created the Paper Tables for Gubi, they were inspired by the idea of carefully merging sheets of paper together. The result is a collection of occasional tables that are available in three different heights and tabletop sizes. Balancing on three rounded legs, they're available in either an oak or walnut veneer. The design team—pulling inspiration from their Danish and Italian backgrounds—aims to create furniture that illustrates the process and techniques used. To incorporate this theory, they laid the top down in two different directions, which creates a subtle graphic effect that plays off of the rounded design. Photo: Courtesy of Gubi
-Written by Paige Alexus | Dwell

Amanda Dameron

@AmandaDameron

Editor in Chief / @amandadameron

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