Small Space, Big Design
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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
email@example.com / @AmandaDameron
Shop the Story