A Porch in Italy Is Reborn as a Tiny Cabin With Eye-Popping Interiors

Drawing from Persian design, Francesca Perani Enterprise creates an urban hideaway with budget-conscious materials like OSB and printed floor tile.

In the town of Albino, in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, an open porch attached to a large modern villa has been converted into a tiny, 25-square-meter (about 269-square-foot) "urban cabin" for a couple of Italian and Persian origin. The project, led by Francesca Perani Enterprise, takes inspiration from Persian design and is a celebration of color and texture that elevates affordable materials, such as oriented strand board (OSB). 

"The design approach is ironic and playful," says Perani. "Since the beginning of my practice, I have always battled against straight-line trends and a minimalist approach."

Urban Cabin is an extension to a modern villa built in 1968 by Armen Manoukian, a Milanese architect and engineer of Armenian origin. The main home was renovated by Francesca Perani Enterprise in 2008. 

Urban Cabin is an extension to a modern villa built in 1968 by Armen Manoukian, a Milanese architect and engineer of Armenian origin. The main home was renovated by Francesca Perani Enterprise in 2008. 

A collage of images shows the 1950s open porch before it was transformed into the cabin. 

A collage of images shows the 1950s open porch before it was transformed into the cabin. 

The clients are both doctors with two children and the main house, designed by architect Armen Manoukian in 1968, is the wife’s childhood home, inherited from her parents. Perani renovated the villa in 2009—her first project as an architect—and was invited to convert the porch a decade later. "With both projects, I wanted to preserve the intrinsic value of the existing building while incorporating new elements in dialogue with the original," says Perani. "I am curious to experiment with materials and composition."

"I wanted to reference both traditional Persian architecture as well as the solar shading developed by contemporary Iranian architects," says architect Francesca Perani of the perforated metal screen. "It was a great opportunity for me to explore the culture." 

"I wanted to reference both traditional Persian architecture as well as the solar shading developed by contemporary Iranian architects," says architect Francesca Perani of the perforated metal screen. "It was a great opportunity for me to explore the culture." 

The cabin—which has its own entrance and houses a small living and sleeping area, kitchen, and bathroom—is conceived as a multipurpose space that can be used as a studio, a retreat for the owners, or guest accommodation. "They often have relatives come to visit and so wanted to provide a comfortable and private space," says Perani. "The clients also wanted to be able to use it themselves, as a space to read, listen to music, or relax."

The arrangement of the multifunctional interior space was inspired by the architect’s childhood holidays in a small motorhome. 

The arrangement of the multifunctional interior space was inspired by the architect’s childhood holidays in a small motorhome. 

The OSB-clad living and sleeping area leads to a bold blue bathroom. The white fittings and fixtures in the bathroom echo the retro white cabinet handles used in the kitchen.

The OSB-clad living and sleeping area leads to a bold blue bathroom. The white fittings and fixtures in the bathroom echo the retro white cabinet handles used in the kitchen.

Previously used as a storage area for sports equipment, the porch has been simply enclosed with an earth-colored facade. A folded, perforated-metal screen defines and offers privacy to a triangular garden at the front onto which the shower opens.

The earth-colored façade is like a "second skin" over the existing porch, with large openings for the windows and doors. A playful, perforated-metal screen covers the south facade and defines a private, triangular garden.

The earth-colored façade is like a "second skin" over the existing porch, with large openings for the windows and doors. A playful, perforated-metal screen covers the south facade and defines a private, triangular garden.

The shower opens out onto the triangular garden through a set of French doors, creating a strong connection with nature. The metal screen offers privacy.

The shower opens out onto the triangular garden through a set of French doors, creating a strong connection with nature. The metal screen offers privacy.

"Urban Cabin is a minimal and multifunctional lodge, which summarizes the functionality and stylistic resourcefulness of a living space," says Perani. "With the intent of extending seasonal uses and allowing new ones, the cabin was conceived to give a sense of quiet and intimacy at one with the surrounding nature, as well as to provide privacy from the high-density urban location."

The window frames also function as bench seats and have been designed at an angle to facilitate conversation. The blue edge of the frame both defines this area as a separate part of the tiny living space and creates a connection to the blue bathroom. 

The window frames also function as bench seats and have been designed at an angle to facilitate conversation. The blue edge of the frame both defines this area as a separate part of the tiny living space and creates a connection to the blue bathroom. 

The rear of the former porch functions as a retaining wall to the garden, so the cabin is essentially built into the landscape. A roof garden, which can be accessed by stepping up from the existing garden, extends the home’s outdoor space and helps to reduce solar heat gain to the cabin.

Section of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise showing how it sits against the volume of the main home and how the roof garden is accessed.

Section of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise showing how it sits against the volume of the main home and how the roof garden is accessed.

Inside, the space is divided into two parts—a 19-square-meter (205-square-foot) living room and kitchen, and a bathroom. The living space is clad entirely in OSB, which offers a dramatic contrast to the bright blue bathroom. "I have always seen OSB in building sites, and I love its textural irregularity and random organic composure. It gives the space a sense of warm comfort," says Perani. "The living area also has a joyous intrusion of recycled 1960s handles and printed marble gres tiles in the kitchen area."

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Recycled 1960s handles, sourced from a local hardware store, have been used in the kitchen and living area. 

Recycled 1960s handles, sourced from a local hardware store, have been used in the kitchen and living area. 

The living and kitchen area has abundant storage space.

The living and kitchen area has abundant storage space.

Printed, marble-pattern floor tiles were used for the kitchen counter to add texture to the space and echo the pattern of the OSB. "I was looking for a low-cost material that was playful, bold, and resistant," says architect Francesca Perani. "I only needed to use two large tiles, so the cost was very low."

Printed, marble-pattern floor tiles were used for the kitchen counter to add texture to the space and echo the pattern of the OSB. "I was looking for a low-cost material that was playful, bold, and resistant," says architect Francesca Perani. "I only needed to use two large tiles, so the cost was very low."

The tiny, extremely narrow footprint of the porch meant that the entire interior needed to be custom designed with flexible, multifunctional furniture and storage built in. The storage spaces by the entrance conceal a heating system as well as a desk and space for a washing machine, while the seating at the side of the cabin functions as storage and can be converted into two single beds. 

The bench seating that runs down the side of the living space conceals storage painted the same bright Persian indigo color as the bathroom. With the addition of mattresses, which are kept in the storage space, the benches can be converted into two 90-centimeter-wide beds.

The bench seating that runs down the side of the living space conceals storage painted the same bright Persian indigo color as the bathroom. With the addition of mattresses, which are kept in the storage space, the benches can be converted into two 90-centimeter-wide beds.

"I spent most of my early childhood summers in a motorhome with my family," says Perani. "This was a precious reference when designing such a small space. Every part of the interior has multiple uses, and I have deliberately used diagonal lines to make the space feel more dynamic."

The triangular window above the kitchen lets natural light into the small space and creates a dynamic accent that breaks up the large OSB surface.

The triangular window above the kitchen lets natural light into the small space and creates a dynamic accent that breaks up the large OSB surface.

In the bathroom, the shower opens out onto the "secret" garden through French doors, connecting guests to the exterior. "The dramatic Persian indigo color was used to reference the tiles used on mosques and palaces in Iran," says Perani. "Every surface has been finished in glossy blue resin, and the bright white fittings stand out clearly from this dark color, creating a dialogue with the 1960s handles used on the cabinets in the living space."

The white fixtures and fittings stand out against the bold blue bathroom walls.

The white fixtures and fittings stand out against the bold blue bathroom walls.

An existing stone wall adds texture and character to the shower space. 

An existing stone wall adds texture and character to the shower space. 

"It was challenging as a more mature architect to introduce a respectful but experimental dialogue with my previous restoration and the existing architecture," says Perani. "The result is a blend of bold, contemporary architecture and Iranian culture that creates a reassuring feeling of intimacy and warmth." 

Floor plan of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise.

Floor plan of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise.

Sections of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise. The figures used in the drawings are by cutoutmix, a collection of free downloadable figures created by Francesca Perani Enterprise  to offer architects and interior designers more diverse and gender-neutral figures for use in design renders. 

Sections of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise. The figures used in the drawings are by cutoutmix, a collection of free downloadable figures created by Francesca Perani Enterprise  to offer architects and interior designers more diverse and gender-neutral figures for use in design renders. 

Elevations of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise.

Elevations of Urban Cabin by Francesca Perani Enterprise.

Related Reading: 

This Compact New Zealand Home Uses Low-Cost Materials to Dazzling Effect

A Pair of English Barns Hide Unabashedly Bold and Budget-Friendly Minimalist Interiors

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Francesca Perani – FPEnterprise / @fpenterprise

Interior Design: Ilenia Perlotti

Junior Architect Intern: Ilaria Odoli

Builder: Gherardi Giuseppe

Carpenter: DueMMe

Structural Engineer: Roberto Belotti

Heat Engineer: Progterm

Metal Shadings: Valoti Giovanni

Lighting Design Company: Due Effe Illuminazione

Styling: Chiara Birolini

Decorator: Diego Armellini

Photography: Francesca Perani

Cut-out Illustration on Renders: cutoutmix

Mandi Keighran
Design and travel writer based in London.

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