WORDS Jason Burgess PHOTOS Katherine Lu
When Sydney architect Nicholas Gurney presented Jane Cavanagh with his proposed colour scheme for her Woolloomooloo bedsit renovations, she was less than impressed. “Trust me, is all he said.” With some trepidation she did and now she thinks: “It was the best decision I ever made.
For Nicholas’ his brief for the redesign of her 27 square-metre apartment was simple: “All Jane requested was ‘a flexible canvas for daily living’.” The resulting Mighty Mouse micro-apartment or apodment is a feat of inventive design.
Creating from such a tiny canvas, there is a fine line between the cosy and the claustrophobic. Through a smart use of natural light, colour and space, the Mighty Mouse is a slick, fun and open-plan nest that are big on practicality and livability.
Jane and her husband have become champions of the micro lifestyle. “For me,” she says, “it’s the clean lines, lack of clutter and just generally beautiful design that makes me feel so good living here.”
Being domiciled in a space the size of a hotel room might not be everybody’s idea of living, yet with property prices soaring, traffic jams stalling and downtime getting shorter, there are some compelling reasons why astute buyers seeking the convenience of an urban lifestyle are now looking to apodments as their choice for future living.
Think about it – a bigger life does not necessarily mean a bigger house. Technology coupled with transformable furniture makes it possible to trick out a modest sized pad with all the bells and whistles of a manse thrice the size for a fraction of the price.
Jane reckons, “Living in a small space makes you assess how much of your stuff you actually need. We have given away a lot of our extra items that we thought we needed, but didn’t.”
By paring back on the non-essentials, micro-residents or ‘micronauts’ live energy-efficient lives without forsaking creature comforts. Positioned in the heart of the city with amenities close at hand, they are also leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
The Mighty Mouse apartment is part of a 1950’s walk-up apartment block with stunning views over the Sydney skyline right down to the harbor bridge. It’s ideally situated just 15 minutes walk from the CBD, on the doorstep of restaurants, bars and shopping in the Kings Cross precinct. The city is an extension of the living space and life is as much about what happens outside the door as it does within.
While micro-living is nothing new to Hong Kong or Tokyo Western, conurbations have only recently adopted the concept. Places like New York, Manchester and Vancouver are all actively seeking fresh ways to affordably accommodate exploding city populations.
A US Census in 2010 revealed that 33% of New York residents live alone and with people getting married later, divorced more frequently and also living longer, the trend is growing globally. For Nicholas Gurney that accelerating demographic was a catalyst for the Mighty Mouse project. “The micro apartment,” he says, “offers a proposal for future high-density urban living for one-person families.”
He admits loving the challenge of addressing the dual issues of affordability and social sustainability. This project cam in on a budget less that $AUS 40,000 with a four-week window from demolition to move-in time to complete the transformation.
“leaner budgets require greater levels of ingenuity.”
To maximise light, space and the view, Nicholas devised a joinery pod insertion. The pod features wall-to-wall sliding doors that provide screening for the bathroom and sleeping zones, while also accommodating shelving, an entry foyer and concealed full height storage.
The built-in pod element contains the workings of the entire apartment in less than half the footprint and it negates the need for some conventional furniture pieces. The location, size and movement of the sliding doors, allows the apartment to function as either a bedroom or an airy living/dining zone.
The controversial colour palette was appropriated from the tiny cartoon character ‘Mighty Mouse’ and is used to demarcate space; a black kitchen, a bright yellow living area and a red bedroom. “Much like Mighty Mouse, the apartment was required to punch well above its size.”
The employment of melamine joinery – all low formaldehyde and low VOC (Volatile organic compounds) – kept costs down. A decision was made to lower the ceiling height to 2.4 metres to eliminate waste during the production of the joinery. As a result, individual components, including the doors, could be constructed from full sheets of melamine. This provided significant reductions in the price, energy and production time.
The new galley kitchen replaced an existing G-shaped layout, whose fixed breakfast bar cluttered the dining area. The upgraded kitchen features most of the mod-cons – an oven concealed behind a receding door, a two-burner electric cooktop (but no rangehood) and a 120L fridge/freezer. The benchtop is made from a near indestructible material known as compact laminate. There is an undermount stainless steel sink, matte black mixer tap and a pantry hidden behind a sliding splashback.
In the sleep zone, two large drawers provide ample storage beneath the bed and a wardrobe is accesses from atop the bed itself. Recessed LED downlights provide the general ambience throughout the apartment and feature lamps have been used for highlighting key areas. An adjustable Flos 265 wall lamp provides illumination in the dining zone. A fully portable Artemide Tolomeo micro-clip lamp brings reading light to where it is needed in the bedroom.
The bathroom was given an $1,800 ‘tart up’. Using all existing locations, a new basin plus tapware and toilet were installed. Larger, cleaner looking black floor and white wall tiles were laid over existing tile work. And to amplify light and space, an old fixed shower screen was replaced with a curtain. There is a shared laundry in the building so that was not an issue.
Nicholas reckons the Might Mouse design “confidently dispels conventional notions surrounding small space living. It provides considerable quality of life and heightened property value.”
For Jane: “The finished product is striking, an amazing space to be in. It is so functional, streamlines and comfortable. There is loads of hidden storage and the city skyline views make it all the more magnificent.”
How bout’ it?
Nicholas is no stranger to working with small-scale units. He has completed five residential spaces that are less than 35 square metres in size, with another two under construction. At the time of writing, he was particularly excited about a 21 square-metre apartment – above a former pub in Syndey’s Redfern – that he was planning for a couple in their thirties.
His best advice is: “Use an architect – a decent one will pay for themselves with clever ideas and overall costs savings.”
“I attempt to create ‘zones’ in spaces, regardless of how small they are. Joinery is a great way to do this. Explore joinery as furniture in place of conventional furniture pieces."
Natural light and ventilation is integral to creating healthy small spaces. Where feasible, high ceilings can elevate spirits and access to the outdies can calm claustrophobic friends.
“Well-designed small spaces,” says Nichola, “are good for the soul, promote weight-loss and a healthy glow.”