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TRANSFORMATIONS: Living Large in Small Spaces

Posted by Stephanie Vozza

Jun 19, 2014 1:32:00 PM

FOR TOO LONG, the McMansion was the symbol of success in this country, but Americans are finally coming to the conclusion that bigger isn’t better. The average new home size in America peaked at 2,479 square feet in 2007, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Since then, the trend has started to reverse. In 2010, real estate research firm Trulia found that the median “ideal home size” for Americans had declined to around 2,100 square feet, and a third of survey respondents reported that their preference was less than 2,000 square feet.

Two thousand square feet is still a more than comfortable am Living Large in Small Spacesount of space, but there’s a growing interest in going smaller—much smaller. In July 2014, A&E Network will launch a new series called “Tiny House Nation” that will feature small dwellings ranging from micro-apartments in Manhattan to row homes in Savannah, all less than 300 square feet. The new show, along with the many books, blogs and magazine articles, confirms the health of the small-house movement—a return to houses less than 1,000 square feet—that started in the late ‘90s. It gained traction during the Great Recession of 2008, with more homeowners looking for housing that was more affordable, easier to maintain and eco-friendly. Today, Millennials are feeding the trend with their taste for compact urban living, including micro-apartments no larger than a dorm room. And as Baby Boomers retire and downsize, expect even more interest in small.

But small homes don’t have to mean small lifestyles. Whether designing or retrofitting a 1,000-square-foot condo or a 300-square-foot micro-dwelling, the key is to pack in greater functionality, using every available cubic inch. The slideshow below showcases a number of concepts and strategies: built-ins, niches, items (and even entire rooms) that cleverly collapse, hide away or transform into something else altogether. Not only are these ideas practical, they’re fun, and hold the potential to make a small space fee.

Optimizing Square Footage When designing, building or retrofitting small spaces, look for ways to shrink the footprint of every feature. For example, utilizing pocket doors, which slide into the wall when not in use, saves space in the kitchen and other high traffic areas. Traditional swinging doors occupy up to 14 square feet and dictate furniture placement, whereas a pocket door takes up none. Another space saver is the spiral staircase. A conventional straight-run staircase takes up about 30 square feet of a home’s area; in contrast, a spiral staircase takes up from 9 to 16 square feet. Just be aware, spiral staircases must be of minimum diameter to meet building codes. Built-ins are a classic strategy for optimizing small spaces. While it’s easy to design these into new buildings, ready-made nooks and cabinets can make it easier to integrate these features when remodeling.

 Pocket doors are an effective, easy way to reduce a home’s carbon footprint. They allow builders, remodelers and architects to design smaller, more energy-efficient spaces, which require fewer building materials and generate lower energy bills.

Pocket doors require no square footage, whereas a swing door takes up to 14 square feet. In theory, replacing a dozen swinging doors with pocket doors could potentially reduce a home’s footprint by 120 square feet. That’s less to build, and less to heat and cool. Assuming a value calculation of $150/square foot, the saved space could shave up to $18,000 from the build cost.

Doorways that incorporate converging pocket doors offer flexibility and enhanced traffic flow. For example, opening both doors seemingly creates one large room from two. When not in use, rooms can be sectioned off to save on heating and cooling costs.

Pocket doors also offer benefits for aging in place, as they are easier to access by those who use a wheelchair or a walker to assist with mobility. While a swinging door can be difficult to maneuver around, a pocket door that glides easily into the inside of the wall offers no obstacle.

Double Duty Taking advantage of unique storage options and assigning items with dual functions can make small homes can feel larger. For ideas, take a cue from boats, which by necessity do this especially well. Storage is built in under bunks and benches. Tables collapse and expand. A panel slides over the stove, expanding counter space. The spaces under stairs and beds can be cleverly designed to maximize storage. Incorporating some of these concepts will make even the tiniest micro-unit almost seaworthy.

Collapsible Features When you think about it, many features in the typical home are only used part of the day. Wouldn’t it make sense to tuck, fold or collapse these things away when not in use? Murphy beds—beds that fold up onto the wall—have long been a staple in space-conscious homes. Today’s versions are not only convenient, they’re stylish and green. Other designers have taken this concept a step further, creating entire bedrooms that stow away when not in use. Not surprisingly, many of these concepts are originating in European and Asian cities, where space has been at a premium for a long time.

Transforming Furniture Going along with the concept of foldable and collapsible features is the notion of transforming furniture: Tables that change in size and height, or that transform into sofas or double as artwork. The whimsical qualities of these pieces appeal to our more playful natures, but they’re also highly practical, especially in space-starved micro-apartments or rooms that serve double duty as offices and guest rooms.

 ElectroluxAs the trend toward smaller homes and dwelling spaces grows, designers will introduce even more concepts that maximize space and lifestyle. Since 2003, Electrolux has sponsored a global competition called Design Lab, inviting students to present innovative ideas for future households. Matthew Gilbride created the Elements Modular Kitchen for the 2010 contest, the theme of which was the “2nd Space Age.” These modular wall-mounted units can theoretically function as refrigerator, stove, air-conditioner and/or lighting, and can be easily rearranged or reconfigured. The adaptable modules in the Elements Modular Kitchen could be customized for any space, including tiny micro-apartments. The units would be wirelessly connected to each other, and powered via wireless technology applied to the wall, supplemented with solar energy. Incidentally, Gilbride’s concept won third place in that year’s contest, which also featured a robotic tetrapod vacuum cleaner, personal 3D clothing printer and portable washing machine drum.

  • Johnson Hardware, based in Elkhart, Indiana, offers commercial-grade door frame kits with a lifetime guarantee. The company’s heavy-duty pocket door frame supports doors that weigh up to 400 lbs., and has a maximum interior entry opening of 90 square feet. Johnson systems are designed to last a lifetime, using commercial-grade, three-wheel or four-wheel hangers.

  • Built-in bookcases from WG Wood Products feature four shelves and double cabinet doors for storage. With a 72” x 30” opening, the BKC-3 measures 5.5” deep, but is also available in a 7.25” depth. The company also offers recessed niches that create space for art or accent pieces. They’re available in a variety of sizes that range from 18” to 48” tall, with depths from 3.5” to 11”. Made in the U.S., both items are available unfinished and are created from solid whitewood that comes from fully sustainable forests.

  • Precision Pine offers customizable kits for traditional wooden spiral staircases. The kits come in several styles and contain everything needed to build the complete spiral stair, including the top landing and horizontal rails. The company offers several species of wood, including yellow pine, red oak and environmentally friendly European beech.

  • Recessed medicine cabinets are a way to add storage in a small bathroom, especially one with a pedestal sink. Kohler offers these cabinets in several styles and widths, from 15” to 40”. Made of aluminum with a mirrored front, these medicine cabinets include 5” deep, adjustable shelves.

  • Brooklyn-based Urbangreen offers a whole line of contemporary-style beds with storage drawers underneath. The king-sized Thompson Storage Bed features 12 drawers and eliminates the need for a separate dresser or chest of drawers. All of their beds are made in the U.S. with sustainable materials, and are hand-sanded and hand-finished with low-VOC waterborne stains and paints. The company also makes a twin-sized version with six drawers.

  • Good designers make the most of small kitchens by creating corner breakfast nooks that include plenty of storage. Of course, these can be custom built to suit the space, but there are also ready-made options, such as the Ryland Drop Leaf Table and Modular Banquette from Pottery Barn. To save space, the table’s leaves can be lowered when not in use. The modular seating blocks double as cubbiesthey can be arranged in an L- or U-shape and customized with cushions.

  • It’s a bookshelf…or is it? The Murphy Door makes the fantasy of a hidden room a reality. With a bookcase on one side, the Murphy Door maximizes wall space by using the door as storage. The company offers flush units up to three feet wide, and bi-fold surface mount options in several widths. These pre-built units are available in maple, oak, cherry, knotty alder and paint grade, and in a variety of finishes.

  • Designing under-the-stair storage is a common way to make the most of commonly wasted space; outfitting individual stair risers with drawers is another way to tackle the problem. This design, from Australia’s Unicraft, shows how seamlessly drawers can be integrated into a traditional wood staircase.

  • Living Cube, designed by Till Könneker of illDesigns and constructed by Remo Zimmerli of Holzlabor, was created with the urban dweller in mind. It combines several functions in one compact cube: storage for books, clothes and shoes, an entertainment center, sleeping loft and an interior room, which can be used for additional storage, or even a workspace. The Living Cube is made to order in Switzerland, and is available in several configurations.

  • The Bedder Way Company, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, makes Murphy beds that fold out horizontally or vertically, depending on the space constraints of your room. The cabinet is just 19” deep, occupying minimal floor space when closed. Some units have a drop-down table that can be used as a desk or dining area. The Bedder Way Company uses GreenT hardwood plywoods from Timber Products Company, manufactured from sustainable and managed forests and engineered to meet state and federal emissions requirements.

  • Another Murphy bed option is the Adam space-saving bed, which allows a builder to use a smaller footprint by combining living space with sleeping space. Closed, it features a 79.25” sofa that can accommodate two to three people. Pulled down, it features a horizontally placed queen-sized wall bed with two shelves above the bed that run the length of the unit. The Adam is designed and made in Italy by Clei, and is available in the U.S. from Resource Furniture.

  • The Dutch-designed Fold Inn allows even the space-challenged to host guests. This bedroom-in-a-box unfolds into a bedroom, complete with four “walls” and privacy for its single bed. Quick and easy to set up, Fold Inn was designed to fit in a standard elevator and sits on casters, making it easy to move around and stow away when not needed.

  • A shower enclosure can take up a lot of valuable space in a bathroom, but Duravit offers a solution with the innovative OpenSpace shower enclosure, designed by EOOS. The enclosure includes a chrome frame that attaches to the wall; two large self-locking glass doors, in either glass or mirror, are fitted in the frame. After showering, the doors can simply be “folded” against the wall, freeing up floor space in a small bathroom. The doors conceal the tap fittings and shower hose so the bathroom appears larger.

  • The Passo coffee table from Resource Furniture comes with a glass or wood top and metal frame, and adjusts to various heights, including dining. Two self-storing leaves expand the table from 48” x 30” to 78” x 30”.

  • The Minuetto table from Milano Smart Living morphs from a sofa table to a dining table, opening from a depth of 19” to 118”, comfortably seating 10 people and up to 12. Use it with the company’s Pocket Chairs, which fold to be 1” thick; you can fit five on a 5” wall hook and six on a rolling trolley. The chairs are attractive and sturdy, and are available in several colors and finishes, including aluminum frames with wood seats.

  • Ivy Design’s Picture Table doubles as a piece of art, as it can hold a poster-sized print inside its frame. In its upright position the table simply clips to the wall; when a dining or workspace is needed, it quickly unfolds into a 59” x 35” table that comfortably seats six or accommodates a home office. Another version is available with a mirror.

  • The Stealth Kitchen, available from Resource Furniture, features a modular design that opens to reveal a fully functional kitchen. All kitchen components, including refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, microwave, oven, cooktop, sink, counter space and storage, are hidden behind a wall of sleek cabinetry. The Stealth Kitchen requires a smaller footprint than a traditional kitchen, and uses locally sourced hardwood, formaldehyde-free plywood and CARB2-compliant materials.

  • The DoubleSpace Kitchenette, created by Vestal Design’s Jeffrey Warren, features two electric burners and a melamine countertop. The stove rotates on an axle to swing underneath, revealing an easy chair with a generous, 30”-wide cushion.

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