#24 - Gone Blue

ICFF: Designing for Small Spaces

Courtesy of Till Konneker

So-called global cities are running out of space to put everyone. To meet the demand, a new market has emerged in micro-apartments and aPodments; finding ways to cram people into smaller units has been the subject of design competitions such as the landmark aDapting to Small Living Show hosted by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

The good news is that living in a small space doesn’t mean that you don’t have to live like a monk in a cell. That was the reassuring message from a panel discussion titled Designing for Small Space at this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, where three U.S.-based designers discussed the profound implications of going small for their profession.

Playing the Stylist & Therapist

The trend toward living small is resulting in more multipurpose furniture, custom designed pieces, and even different approaches to using color. It appears that in every way going small requires designers to be more creative. The ICFF panel showed slides of wall partitions that folded down and converted into dining tables, Louis Vuitton suitcases that served as side tables, and steel storage trunks fitted into the end of a bed that could double as seating.

New York designer Alexander Gendell recently added the Pop Mural chair to his Folditure collection of fold-flat furniture.

Folditure Pop Mural by Alexander Gendell

Everyone on the panel agreed that clutter is bad. New York City-based designer Amir Khamneipur said that he begins by working with his clients—even their children—to pare down their possessions.

You have to play their stylist and their therapist,” he said, “You have to say that these have to go, this has to go and that has to go.”

Khamneipur generally puts quite a bit of storage in a small apartment, but he said that it is possible to overdo it and that too many bureaus, drawers and cabinets can be an eyesore.

Bed Up by French furniture manufacture Décadrages

Between Architecture & Furniture

Another strategy is to make more space by probing behind walls that can be used for arches, alcoves and yes, more storage. So if there is space behind the wall, and you are living in a 400-square-foot apartment, you really might want to have a medicine cabinet that is 20 inches deep.

Karen Stonely, principal at New York City-based Span Architecture, showed slides of a tiny Craftsman-style house in Maine where she concealed a television behind panels, designed a kitchen table to fold out of a wall, and installed a seating base near a fireplace that could be transformed into two daybeds.

“We are interested in the slippage between architecture and furniture,” Stonely explained. “When does a piece of architecture become furniture and vice versa?”

Wooden furnishings have been integrated into the walls of this compact Madrid apartment by Elii Architects, allowing them to be folded away when not in use. Watch the video.

Fighting Against Stubborn Spaces

Changing colors, or even varying the shade of a particular color, can add volume and depth to a space. But there also are potential pitfalls.

“Sometimes I go into a room and it is small and dark,” said the Los Angeles-based designer Oliver Furth. “If you paint it white, it is still going to [be] gloomy,” noting that you cannot make a room be something that it doesn’t want to be.”

Another strategy, he says, is to transform it with “lighting that is dramatic and sexy.”

Obviously all of the design tricks in the book won’t work if designers cannot convince their clients to edit their possessions. “Coco Channel said get dressed and then take one thing off,” Stonely said, “I think that in a small space that is often the case—being careful to have a reductive nature. Maybe everything that you think needs to be there, in fact doesn’t.”

Beyond 3-Dimensional Spaces: Designers from LAAB explain their small-space project in Hong Kong. Watch the video.

About the Author

Alex Ulam is a freelance journalist and design critic based in New York.

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