Sydney architect Brad Swartz explains how he turned 27 square metres in a Darlinghurst block into a functional and beautiful one-bedroom apartment for him and his partner. Being close to the city won over size for this young professional couple. Photos Katherine Lu.
When we bought it, this was a rundown apartment consisting of a single room and a tight bathroom. But the building was charming – art deco, located close to the CBD – and the apartment was on the top floor, with windows on two sides, providing both a view and cross-ventilation. Furthermore, it was affordable in the otherwise expensive Sydney property market.
Our brief was simple: to design a functional home for a couple to live and entertain in. We wanted it to feel, and function, like a one-bedroom apartment. Therefore, generous storage, an internal laundry, and a dining space were essential.
However, this seemingly modest brief understates the complexity of the project, which was bound by a tight budget and tighter space constraints. The aim was to turn one fairly small space into two by creating a public/private division. The solution: to insert a clean, white joinery unit that divided the apartment in half. On the one side of the unit is the living, dining and kitchen area – the public space – while on the other is the concealed bedroom and bathroom.
On the public side, every opportunity was taken to maximise the feeling of space. The controlled use of mirrors and other subtle design features, such as a hatch window in the joinery inspired by SANAA’s ‘House in a Plum Grove’, increases the sense of openness and depth within the apartment.
The kitchen was designed as a homogenous unit that doesn’t look or feel like a standard kitchen. The functional elements are hidden in the unit: the oven sits behind a pocket door, and a cupboard over the sink hides the dish rack, which doubles as crockery storage.
The white joinery unit itself holds all the items you would expect to find in a larger apartment: books, wine, a TV, a desk. We took a very pragmatic approach to designing this joinery unit by considering the storage requirements for each item.
The bedroom, where the kitchen once was, was designed to snugly accommodate a queen bed with storage above and below. While the floor area is small, a window expands the sense of space, and the use of timber has a softening effect. This arrangement spared us from including an unsightly and impractical foldaway bed – which we feared would never be folded away in reality.
The rest of the storage is stacked and fitted around the fixtures, like Tetris pieces, to make the most of the minimal available space. Wherever possible, items are given multiple purposes. For example, the step to the bedroom creates a threshold between private and public, becomes a seat when guests are over, and conceals a shoe drawer. The TV becomes a computer screen when the panel concealing the electronics flips up to become a desk.
At first, we thought it would be fun to live next to the CBD in a tiny apartment for a year or two at the most. But through quality bespoke design, the apartment has remained a functional and satisfying space to live in, proving that architectural design can make the smallest of spaces livable, affordable, and sustainable.
Profile: Brad Swartz is a design focused architect who specialises in bespoke residential design. He believes architectural design should relate uniquely to the clients’ brief and appropriately to the site, which is best achieved through a high level of collaboration between the architect and client.
Originally published in The Design Guide issue 5, 2015.