Living Small: Furniture and Accessibility
The Youtube channel Never Too Small boasts 2.25 million subscribers — a platform featuring the imaginative manipulation of space in tiny footprints. Videos of micro-apartments, in Paris, London, and beyond, get views in the millions. Clearly, there is a demand for content geared towards living small, as a global housing crisis has precipitated the ever-dwindling availability of affordable, larger-footprint residences in urban areas. Architects, working in this constrained contemporary reality, have been necessitated to make the most out of limited space, configuring sub-40 square-meter floor areas to create a non-claustrophobic spatial experience.
In the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst, Australian firm Brad Swartz Architects made the most out of a 27 square-meter apartment for a couple by an efficient system of concealed storage. Another project by FREAKS freearchitects in Geneva has a more minimal material palette, featuring the straightforward division lengthwise between living and other spaces. Spanish firm elii’s intervention in Madrid for a solo occupant, just 24 square meters, integrates a collection of sliding and fold-down devices in its configuration.
Projects like these, having to make do with a pragmatic approach due to this lack of space, are often venues of ingenious design choices — mirrors to make a room feel larger for instance, and most conspicuously, the presence of drop-down and deployable furniture. In a limited footprint, the space that can be saved by folding up furniture such as dining tables and beds is significant.
Sustainability: The Space Debate
But as urban apartments get smaller, accessibility is, and will continue to be, a key concern. An apartment designed by Nicholas Gurney, also in the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst, looked to the future, designed for a couple who wanted the home to be the “last place they ever lived in”. The 38 square meter floor plan consists of three zones, and crucially considers the couple’s needs as they age, as the bathroom is made wheelchair-accessible. To make a multi-functional apartment, pull-out furniture is again utilized — the bed when not in use is folded up into a wardrobe partition, and a five-seater dining table can be drawn out from a kitchen drawer.
In these small apartments, the necessitated use of deployable furniture can, of course, lead to significant restrictions on who can use these spaces in a comfortable manner. Drop-down furniture is easier for non-disabled people to use, as people with limited mobility, for instance, might struggle with the constant physical movement of having to re-configure the spaces they use. Some people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), might find the domestic routine of repeatedly re-organizing spaces for use difficult to consistently maintain. The automation of this type of furniture, such as these adjustable kitchen designs, is needed, and necessary design, but can be inaccessibly expensive. All this, of course, is only a small segment of a wider global system that marginalizes disabled people.
A recent furniture line released by IKEA and two other non-profits contains a handle that attaches to a shower curtain to make for easier opening, and a bedside accessory that allows for the storing of a walking stick — all these devices intended to make everyday objects more usable by people with disabilities. For people who live in smaller spaces and need these accommodations, “add-on” products like these can be a useful addition to their homes — perhaps working in tandem with deployable furniture, or in their existing homes, particularly if they cannot afford an architect to reimagine their spaces.
The sensitively-designed spaces exhibited in Never Too Small’s Youtube channel, in addition to the many tiny footprint designs we see on design websites daily, are useful case studies of how we can make the most out of less space. But they also offer a useful framework for questioning what small building footprint design decisions are accessible or not.
Sustainability: The Space Debate