Located in a 1970s walk up apartment in Melbourne, Australia, ‘Type Street Apartment’ is a small, 35 square metre, one bedroom flat that has been recently renovated by Jack Chen, the architect behind Tsai Design, for his own use. The small size of the project belies the extent of its scope: the apartment was designed as a blueprint for small footprint life in support of the ‘tiny house movement’ which questions the modern-day lifestyle of living in excess. The central question that Chen attempts to answer is “How might we fit a big house into a small unit?” The trick to answering such a dilemma the architect explains is knowing where it pays to be generous. The result is a compact apartment that elegantly combines space for entertaining, a home office and a place of rest in a setting of subtle sophistication.
In its original condition, the apartment had no working kitchen, an awkward layout, and no outdoor space. Chen’s ingenious solution in tackling these problems is based in layering and overlapping: the key to planning for small spaces is to allow for two different functions to co- exist in the same space at different times. This type of functionality not only demands clever and elegant design solutions but also depends on exquisite craftsmanship for the detailing of the flexible joinery in order to effortlessly switch between the two functions.
Two inventive solutions the team came up with are a retractable sliding panel with a slide out dining table and a fold-up work station, which both effortlessly disappear when not needed. Wall systems like these, along with multifunctional cabinetry that allow an abundance of storage space in every room, were realized with the help of a professional cabinetmaker specializing in high-end hotels who gave Chen’s team the confidence to find the best solution through numerous prototypes.
Visually, the apartment is divided into two zones, the service areas which are dominated by timber finishes, and the living areas rendered in white. Equipped with three metres of bench space and ample concealed storage, the four-metre long kitchen is wholly encased in timber, from the veneer joinery and wall panels, to the floor and ceiling surfaces, which allow the kitchen area to be perceived as a separate space from the all-white living room despite comprising a single volume.
Also clad in timber, the bathroom is separated from the kitchen by a glass partition which provides the kitchen with much needed daylight borrowed from the bathroom. This internal window also allows direct views of the bathroom’s green wall, a moss-covered surface, overlaid with various potted plants that makes up for the lack of an outdoor space. When privacy is required, the transparent glazing is turned translucent with the push of a button. Meanwhile, the living room and adjoining bedroom, which can be separated by a another retractable panel, are enveloped in white while the silvery blue woven vinyl flooring, a contemporary reference to traditional Japanese straw mats, imbues the space with a sense of softness.
Additional design solutions, including mirrored cabinetry and skirting which make the living room feel bigger, a retractable clothesline for maximum use of the bathroom, and concealed air conditioning in the bedroom, are further proof of how Chen has used the apartment’s small size as an opportunity to demonstrate that elegance and comfort are all about good design.