Koka Studio, Warsaw

An architect’s design is only as good as their understanding of their client’s needs. In designing Koka Studio, husband and wife Kalina and Robert Juchvenic had two distinct advantages: a definitive brief and a unique opportunity for close collaboration given the client was Kalina’s sister, Katarzyna.

For her apartment redesign, Katarzyna (‘Kasia’ to her sister and brother-in-law) delivered a brief outlining three clear requirements. First, her love for cooking necessitated a spacious, full-size kitchen. Secondly, she wanted the 33sqm/355sqft apartment to be a natural home for her growing collection of vintage furniture. Lastly, as a hobbyist ceramicist, the design would need to include a place for her to showcase her creations.

We have studied [the housing estate’s] history and we felt inspired by its “spirit”.

Kalina Juchvenic

When designing the apartment, the architects reflected this source of inspiration in the tiles and flooring. White building blocks characteristic of the building are mimicked in the simple white tiles lining the bathroom, while the terrazzo floors of the apartment are in a similar shade to the building’s staircases.

With a largely unchanged layout from the 60s when the estate was built, the apartment originally featured dark hallways and a cramped kitchen, as well as appliances blocking doors and disrupting movement through the space. By removing a wall between the original kitchen and living room, an open-plan layout with more flow between each zone was created, integrating the kitchen, living, and dining areas.

Upon entering, almost all of the apartment is immediately visible, pulling focus towards double balcony doors framing the verdant greenery outside. A black metal and wooden openwork structure delineates the entrance zone while preserving a sightline of the balcony and living room. The structure was heavily inspired by Alexander Calder’s whimsical hanging mobiles, a playful and interactive combination of simple shapes, different materials, and lines.

“Kasia created a lot of sketches of her dream structure, which we processed to create a 3D model that was then sent to a manufacturer,” explains Juchnevic when asked about creating the unique room divider with her sister.

A floating TV cabinet hovers behind the structure, allowing parquet floors to continue uninterrupted from wall to wall, visually expanding the space. The floors have an oak herringbone pattern popular in the 1960s, another nod to the housing estate’s history. With track lighting mounted above the entrance threshold, different areas can be illuminated to change the mood and ambience.

The full-size kitchen is the “main furniture in the living room”, a custom joinery piece stretching across an entire wall. With cabinets concealing hidden appliances finished in the same light oak veneer as an entrance closet (also concealing laundry facilities), there is the illusion that the kitchen is bigger than it actually is. For a contemporary take on mid-century detailing, circular recessed finger pulls are used in place of doorknobs in both the kitchen and entrance closet.

Kasia’s favourite colour—pink—shines in the main living space; sandy-blush overhead kitchen cabinets and pink appliances match a vintage Togo sofa, contrasted with a striking maroon countertop. A white modular String shelf unit mounted alongside the kitchen is the designated location for Kasia to display her handmade ceramics.

For another playful apartment with pops of pink, check out Billinghurst in Buenos Aires or Studio 98 in Antwerp.

Hanging above a round second-hand dining table is a peach-coloured Vernon Panton flowerpot pendant, defining the dining zone. Originally painted a dark brown, three vintage 1970s Bruno Ray chairs were stripped by the architects to expose their natural grain. The striking green stain on the chairs now intentionally matches the green flecks in the terrazzo floor tiles in the kitchen area.

The bedroom, directly accessible from the entrance or through a narrow wall opening next to the living room, embraces soft hues with a pink scalloped headboard and a mint green closet. The gas-lift bed conceals storage space underneath, while a generously-sized windowsill, mounted wall lamp, and small floating shelves cleverly remove the need for a bedside table.

With a mix of open and closed storage selected for the wardrobe, visual depth is added to the compact bedroom, making it feel less confined. This device also has the effect of adding more character and colour to the space with the personal items and clothing on display.

The nearby bathroom is concealed behind a frameless door, designed to blend in with the white walls of the apartment The palette is simple and integrates several materials from the kitchen and living area, including the terrazzo floor tiles and oak veneer cabinetry. The sense of space and ability to move through the compact bathroom is enhanced by small but considered details such as a wall-hung toilet and a curved edge to the vanity.

The consistency of materials and colours throughout the apartment, from the flooring to the continued use of oak veneer, creates a strong sense of cohesiveness while simultaneously establishing clear, yet subtle, zones.

With soft pops of pink and green against an otherwise neutral palette, the “bright, bold and colourful interior” as intended by the architects creates an ideal canvas for Kasia’s treasured vintage furniture collection and self-made ceramics.

When designing for intimate acquaintances, or indeed for themselves, the temptation for architects to over-customise their design can be great. And yet, Koka Studio is a shining example of a level of personalisation that meets every client’s need while still achieving a design that offers great longevity and broad appeal.

Kalina and Robert Juchnevic of blok585m2 (architects), Katarzyna Kowalska (owner) and the NTS team

If you’re looking to see how other Polish architects transformed their apartments, head to Lwowska, Krakow for a similar storage-heavy, minimal design.

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Images byNeverTooSmall & Hanna Połczyńska