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Designing Small Spaces for Families
Designing Small Spaces for Families
Small Living
June 25, 2024

Designing Small Spaces for Families

Compact living for families can be a balancing act. These thoughtfully planned, innovative homes show how to make it work – both for today and tomorrow.

Compact living for families can be a balancing act. These thoughtfully planned homes are full of innovative design solutions that bring out the best of shared living and make it work – both for today and tomorrow.

Kate Kolberg
Writing:
Writing:
Kate Kolberg
Photography:
Photography:
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Interior Design
Studio Josef Karol
With a motto of "Design with Intention," Studio Josef Karol designs spaces that not only look good but also enrich the human experience.
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Architecture
arbol
Global production office offering consistent lifestyle products, residential architecture, and philosophical wisdom, accessible online. Accepting global orders.
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I am an architectural designer in Osaka and make my living mainly from housing.
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l’atelier is the first-ever nomadic architecture studio. We collaborate and co-create with a global team spread across the world.
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Small Space Living for Families

To some, small space living – particularly with a family – feels a bit radical. Yet, for many others, it is nothing short of normal. Families in densely populated cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York have long since shared compact homes as a way of balancing the limited space and high living costs with the amenities and conveniences just outside their door. Many others outside of these big meccas live in smaller homes as well for a whole host of reasons, spanning circumstance or socialisation all the way to preference and cultural norms. The tradition of multigenerational living offers a good example of this; how, even in small footprints, large families will opt to live together in order to tap into all the strengths and benefits of communal living.

Normalised or not, the rate of small space living among families is trending upward, reflecting both larger social factors like increased urbanisation and living costs as well as more personal ones like relationships to material consumption and time. The clients of Kazuteru Matsumura, an architect at Coilkma, for example, were interested in how small space living could increase their time together: “The client was looking for a compact house”, Matsumura told Never Too Small. “They wanted a house where [the family] could gather together instead of being in separate rooms”. The result, F-House, is a compact three-level timber home in Osaka that makes clever use of strategically placed velcro curtains in lieu of doors to create flexible, shared zones and concealed storage spaces.

Design Planning for Today and Tomorrow

A truly functional compact home for a family does not typically arise without a good deal of thought and planning – both for today and tomorrow. First, realistic day-to-day use must be taken into account. Three or more people tend to create more laundry than just one, so dedicating additional space to the laundry or adding a ceiling-mounted bar for drying clothes can be game changers. What about when everyone needs to get ready at the same time in the morning? One way to manage the dreaded bathroom queue, as Zajirogh points out in his NTS episode, Open Sky House, is to separate the toilet from the vanity and shower (and even add a second toilet if you can spare the space) so that multiple people can rotate through these spaces at a time.

The second element of practical planning relates to how the house will be used in the future – something that is particularly relevant when living with kids, who have a tendency to keep getting bigger. This can be achieved by implementing spaces that can become future bedrooms or offices. The single storey House in Heguri design by Yousaka Tsusumi of Arbol Design, for example, embraces the fact that the three children are all still so young by using what will become a second bedroom as an office while the family is still all sharing the primary bedroom. On the other end of the spectrum, Michelet, a home by L’atelier - Nomadic Architecture Studio founder Pierre Escobar, now has an office in what was the eldest child’s bedroom before they left for university. 

Compact Living for Sustainable Futures

Few would argue that small space living is without its own set of obstacles; however, it can be a beneficial endeavour for those looking to foster a more sustainable, eco-conscious  lifestyle that encourages minimalism and prioritises using the amenities outside your front door – whether that be nature or a bustling city. As more and more people gravitate toward small space living – out of necessity, conscious choice, or tradition – innovative design solutions and technical advancements will continue to help optimise their living without sacrificing functionality or style.

Writing:
Writing:
Kate Kolberg
Photography:
Photography:
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