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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
"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."
"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.
Cabinetry Design / Installation: Lee Cabinets