Condo Design: Space Saver

by Kacey Larsen
2017 master design awards residential interior

My husband and business partner, Brad Riemann, and I set out to renovate our 1880s home several years ago. Having been “fully updated” in the late ’60s, it required extensive work to bring back character and reconfigure the space to meet our needs. With both of us being architects, we quickly had everything designed and in line to tackle the project—except for a place to live while we did so!

As luck should have it, just a block from our home, a sad little studio condo came on the market for a screaming deal the same month. It had been abandoned by its former owner, was devoid of any character and, at only 350 square feet, was generously described as “cozy.” We saw the incredible opportunity before us, snatched it up and got to work.

Storage, Functionality, Privacy

The renovation of the condo posed a number of unique challenges. Limited square footage, an 8-foot ceiling height, and two separate exterior doors meant we would need to get creative to make it work. We needed the space to be highly functional, both for ourselves as work-at-home professionals (with our three dogs) and for future rental occupants. As it was to be only our temporary residence, we also needed to be very cost-conscious to protect our investment and ensure marketability in the long term. The primary strategic goals for the design were to maximize storage, improve functionality and introduce much-needed privacy to the one-room space.

To start, the entire west wall was built out with a tessellated arrangement of inexpensive stock cabinetry. This wall of cabinetry provided the immediate benefit of ample storage while sacrificing less than 18 inches in overall unit width. The high-gloss white finish selected for the cabinets reflects light around the space, is low maintenance and easy to keep clean. The storage wall design includes open, lighted cubbies, created to allow flexibility in the composition of stock cabinetry in order to fill the space from floor to ceiling. One large “cubby” was built around the mostly unused exterior door leading to the other condo units in the building, with deep steps to accommodate dog beds.

The kitchen was designed as an extension of the storage wall. The extreme spatial limitations meant that standard-size appliances would not be an option, so efficient and well-designed compact units were selected from various manufacturers to provide full function in an otherwise diminutive kitchen.

The biggest impact on the space and the project goals was the design of the bed loft. The site-built loft accommodates a queen-sized bed, a full desk, bookcases, closet space with easy access to the storage wall, and laundry space with a vent-free washer/dryer combo unit. In addition, the loft serves as separation for the distinct public and private functions of the home.

Design Investment

The final product is a dramatic improvement in function and design over the uninspired studio apartment it once was. This home is small living at its best! The space serves all the necessary household functions, as well as addresses the additional needs of shared living and work-from-home occupants. And while the space is still only 350 square feet, the condo feels far from cramped or confined.

After about a year of living large in the extra small space, we returned to our completed home and listed the condo for rent. With lots of buzz and numerous applications, we quickly (and now consistently) leased the space for well over the market rate of similarly sized apartments in the neighborhood—proof that good design is a great investment. | QR

Lark Architecture

Jessica Miller, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C, NCARB, is the founder and president of Lark Architecture. She has worked extensively in the high-end residential, adaptive reuse and sustainable design markets with a strong interest in renovation and rehabilitation of existing structures. Miller has an NAAB-accredited professional Bachelor of Architecture degree from Kansas State University with an additional focus in Urban Planning.
Lark Architecture is based in Chicago and is licensed to practice in multiple states across the Midwest. The design philosophy at Lark is that architecture is an adventure—one of self-discovery, problem solving, historical investigation, and place-making that all culminate in the creation of homes intended to surpass the expectations of the client and withstand the tests of time.

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