This Growing Family Maximizes Every Last Inch in Their 850-Square-Foot Apartment
"We immediately understood that we needed to erase everything," says designer Roberto Di Stefano, who, along with architect Alessandro Bongiorni, overhauled an 850-square-foot home in Milan. The 1950 apartment, purchased by Andrea Maffei and Rossella Acierno, was highly segmented, divided into small rooms that received little natural light from the narrow windows. Dated materials and finishes—seemingly untouched by the previous owner for decades—completed the sad picture. "You had to have a good fantasy to imagine a livable apartment, with the state that we found it in," Andrea says.
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Structurally, the space was an ideal candidate for renovation: With no load-bearing interior walls and only one essential column, the entire layout could be reconsidered. The southwest-facing orientation also meant that a better approach to windows would dramatically improve the lighting.
The couple had worked with Di Stefano and Bongiorni on their prior apartment, a one-bedroom that they felt would be too small for a family (their son, Alessandro, was born in February). Di Stefano is a member of the online interior decorating platform Decorilla, which Andrea and Rossella used to fine-tune their ideas and create mood boards. "We did research and played around a bit," Andrea says. "It helps in figuring out what you want to do, because at the beginning you typically do not have an idea."
When it came time to begin the overhaul, a few challenges arose. Without access to original drawings, things that should have been simple tasks—finding the heating and plumbing ducts, for instance—became hurdles. Eventually, the team discovered that the piping was spread out around the perimeter of the apartment. The discovery turned out to be a blessing: It enabled the designers to add a second bathroom without a major retooling of the plumbing. But in the end, even that wasn’t so simple: The installers accidentally mixed up the shower and sink taps and set them into the finished resin walls. "I was crying," Rossella says, laughing now. "It was the worst day of the renovation." Switching the channels added three weeks to the timeline, but fortunately the mistake was fixable.
"A lot of people think that we have nothing in the house, but when we open up the storage, they see that we have plenty of things."—Rossella Acierno, resident
Light now streams into the finished home, a modern space made up of smooth surfaces and clean lines. Its restrained appearance belies its ample storage, which tucks neatly into the compact footprint. The hallway connecting the private spaces of the home is lined with handleless doors, creating a minimal passageway that hides rows of shelving as well as the washer and dryer. Careful to avoid visual monotony, the designers selected different materials for the storage units. A floating oak console runs the length of the living room, while the kitchen cabinets are clad in glassy gray lacquer. Not an inch goes unused: In the hall, a narrow recess outfitted with shelves serves as a mini library of the couple’s travel guides, and in the bathroom, black metal cubbies offer a place to stash toiletries.
Strategic storage use opens up the public spaces of the residence, which are now arranged as a central zone. With the living room, dining room, and kitchen joined together, the couple have space to comfortably host friends for dinner parties and cocktails. The layout is also ideal for looking after their son; Rossella or Andrea can prepare something in the kitchen while Alessandro plays on the rug in the living room. "I have control of the situation because from the kitchen island to the carpet, it’s five meters and it’s visible," Rossella explains. With busy schedules and long hours—Andrea is a vice president at a Swiss bank and Rossella will return from maternity leave to a management position at the consulting company Accenture—the space ensures that the family remains close during precious shared hours. As Rossella puts it, "At night, we can be with our baby, always together in the same room."
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