A Tiny Apartment Is Transformed Into an Award-Winning Minimalist Masterpiece
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A Tiny Apartment Is Transformed Into an Award-Winning Minimalist Masterpiece

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By Lucy Wang
An architect masters stylish minimalism in his clever renovation of a small one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne.

When a third-floor walk-up unit hit the market in the 1970s apartment building where architect Jack Chen had been renting, he jumped at the chance to own his first home. Here was the opportunity he had been waiting for—ever since Chen moved into his ground-floor rental a year ago, he had wanted to improve the unit’s livability, but was stymied by his tenant status.

A clear delineation lies between the oak-clad box that houses the entry, kitchen, and bathroom on the right, and the white-walled living room and bedroom.

A clear delineation lies between the oak-clad box that houses the entry, kitchen, and bathroom on the right, and the white-walled living room and bedroom.

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Yet Chen's new one-bedroom purchase also posed multiple challenges: an awkward layout, the lack of a working kitchen, and a tight budget. At 376 square feet, the unit is the smallest project he has ever worked on at his firm, Tsai Design.

The multifunctional organizer at the entry includes an umbrella stand, a shoe rack, and an adjustable pegboard that serves as a wine rack and hat/helmet rack.

The multifunctional organizer at the entry includes an umbrella stand, a shoe rack, and an adjustable pegboard that serves as a wine rack and hat/helmet rack.

Drawing inspiration from the ethos of the tiny house movement, Chen says: "[Here’s] the central question: How might we fit a big house into a small unit? The trick to designing small footprint homes is knowing where it pays to be generous."

After identifying the spaces to prioritize—the entrance, the kitchen, and the bathroom—Chen and his team inserted a floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and wall system into the existing layout. Created in collaboration with a cabinetmaker who specializes in high-end hotels, the multifunctional system conceals an abundance of storage as well as space-saving furnishings.

A multifunctional built-in conceals this TV screen and a pull-out work station. The computer monitor is hidden in the adjacent cabinet.

A multifunctional built-in conceals this TV screen and a pull-out work station. The computer monitor is hidden in the adjacent cabinet.

The sliding door separating the living room from the bedroom can be used as a whiteboard. The Hybrid Chair from Studio Lorier can be converted from an office chair (seen here) to a lounge chair.

The sliding door separating the living room from the bedroom can be used as a whiteboard. The Hybrid Chair from Studio Lorier can be converted from an office chair (seen here) to a lounge chair.

The oak finishes of the cabinet and wall systems match those used for the floor, joinery, wall panels, and ceiling, creating the illusion of a "timber box" that stretches from the entry to the bathroom. A simple material palette and mirrored surfaces create a modern and minimalist look that appears much larger than its square footage suggests.

To create the illusion of space, Chen added mirrored cabinetry and skirting in the living room.

To create the illusion of space, Chen added mirrored cabinetry and skirting in the living room.

The fixed-gear bicycle hanging above the couch serves as an art piece; Chen no longer rides the bike. Le Corbusier Projecteur 165 pendant lights hang in the corner.

The fixed-gear bicycle hanging above the couch serves as an art piece; Chen no longer rides the bike. Le Corbusier Projecteur 165 pendant lights hang in the corner.

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FLOS Aim Multipoint Pendant Light
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MASH Studios Lax 3X Wall Mounted Shelf
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Eager to host dinner parties, Chen sank much of his budget in transforming the non-working kitchen—which only had a sink previously—into a 13-foot-long galley kitchen with nearly 10 feet of counter space and plenty of concealed storage. Next to the kitchen, a large fold-down dining table slides out of the wall for entertaining.

The bulk of Chen's budget went to the new galley kitchen with Dekton Kelya engineered stone countertops and backsplash.

The bulk of Chen's budget went to the new galley kitchen with Dekton Kelya engineered stone countertops and backsplash.

Only used for special occasions, the fold-out dining table is concealed in a wooden panel that slides out from the wall. The folding stools are by Timber Dimensions.

Only used for special occasions, the fold-out dining table is concealed in a wooden panel that slides out from the wall. The folding stools are by Timber Dimensions.

"Layering and overlapping are the key to planning for small spaces: Two different functions co-existing in the same space at different times," Chen explains. "It then comes down to the detailing of the flexible joinery to make it an effortless transition between the two functions, such as the slide-out dining table."

The bathroom sliding door is made of glass that frosts over for privacy with the push of a button. The frosted glass allows natural light to pass from the bathroom into the kitchen.

The bathroom sliding door is made of glass that frosts over for privacy with the push of a button. The frosted glass allows natural light to pass from the bathroom into the kitchen.

A feature moss wall, visible from the entry, covers one of the bathroom walls to bring the outdoors into the apartment. Chen imported the no-maintenance preserved moss system from Korea.

A feature moss wall, visible from the entry, covers one of the bathroom walls to bring the outdoors into the apartment. Chen imported the no-maintenance preserved moss system from Korea.

A wallpaper made of organic grass weave textures is the backdrop for this display shelf. The wall covering is Kyoto 'Wasabi' by Instyle.

A wallpaper made of organic grass weave textures is the backdrop for this display shelf. The wall covering is Kyoto 'Wasabi' by Instyle.

"Knowing everything needed for a comfortable life is stored within reach, and with cleaning the whole home taking under an hour, what’s not to love about a small footprint life?" says Chen.

"I really enjoy the bathroom space, as the apartment doesn’t have an outdoor space so I tried to create the illusion of green outdoor environment in the bathroom, with the green moss wall, timber tiles, etc.," says Chen. The bathroom, seen here from the bedroom, also has a retractable clothesline.

"I really enjoy the bathroom space, as the apartment doesn’t have an outdoor space so I tried to create the illusion of green outdoor environment in the bathroom, with the green moss wall, timber tiles, etc.," says Chen. The bathroom, seen here from the bedroom, also has a retractable clothesline.

Silvery blue woven vinyl flooring continues from the living room to the bedroom. "[It] gives a contemporary reference to the traditional tatami straw flooring and brings a softness to the space," adds Chen.

Silvery blue woven vinyl flooring continues from the living room to the bedroom. "[It] gives a contemporary reference to the traditional tatami straw flooring and brings a softness to the space," adds Chen.

Bathed in light from the rising sun, the bedroom includes a wall of built-in closets. The nightstand is a fold-down wall panel.

Bathed in light from the rising sun, the bedroom includes a wall of built-in closets. The nightstand is a fold-down wall panel.

Type St. Apartment floor plan

Type St. Apartment floor plan

Related Reading: 11 Transforming Apartments That Make the Most of Minuscule Spaces, 8 Transforming Furnishings For Tiny Apartments

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Tsai Design Studio / @tsaidesign

Cabinetry Design / Installation: Lee Cabinets