Family of 5 Lives in 540-Square-Foot Paris Apartment

It works if you design with time, as well as space, in mind.

Interior of apartment

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

Years ago we showed a tiny apartment for a family of four in Paris and readers were appalled, suggesting that Child Protective Services should be called in. But if you have an apartment in a nice part of Paris or Rome you don't give it up; kids come and go, but a good apartment in a nice location is something you keep forever. As the architect firm l'atelier Nomadic Architecture Studio notes,

"With a real estate market always under pressure and the growing attraction of Paris both locally and globally, small housing is becoming an undeniable reality in the French capital. Small apartments and related challenges have all become more relevant in the context of lockdown when people need to study and work from home."
Living room and kitchen

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

One of l’atelier's projects is Michelet, a 50-square-meter (540 square feet) apartment designed with the expectation that the two older children (15 and 18) will be leaving sooner rather than later, so it is designed to adapt and change. According to v2com,

"The two eldest children were soon to be independent, and the request was to design an apartment that can adapt and evolve so that there would eventually be only one bedroom left after the children had left home. Therefore, l'atelier staged the project in three different phases, and we included a few easily movable partitions in the floor plan. As of today, the apartment can accommodate five people, and this layout will remain as is for the next three years. When the two eldest children leave, the parents’ bedroom wall will be removed to create a bigger living room. Finally, in about ten years, when the youngest boy [currently 7 years old] leaves, the two remaining bedrooms will connect to make a larger bedroom for the parents."
Stair to lovt
Stair to loft.

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

Architects are trained to deal in three dimensions, but often fail when they take the fourth dimension of time into account. It becomes even more of a challenge during the lockdown when everybody has been working from and staying home. It's actually quite intricate:

Apartment Plan

l'atelier, Nomadic Architecture Studio

The boys share a bedroom in the upper left corner of the drawing, with one bed up the ladder to the 40-inch-high loft over the bedroom (the ceilings in the apartment are 10 feet so there is enough room) and another sleeping alcove underneath the daughter's room which is accessible via what is described as a "Donald Juddesque" stairway from the dining room.

niche in dining room

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

The apartment is in a very shallow building (23 feet deep) with windows front and back, which is a big help in keeping it bright. The load-bearing center wall could not be removed, hence the separate kitchen/dining and living areas. To make the apartment feel more spacious, the architects used the same material everywhere, a light Polish plywood with a light pine floor.

Everything is so minimal in this apartment, nothing but a few books and objects; I wonder what it looks like now with everyone on lockdown.

Kitchen stove

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

I often complain about the kitchens in North American tiny houses, with their 30-inch full-size ranges and fridges; note how the family living in 540 square feet is comfortable with a 24-inch-wide induction range.

coffee machine

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

It was actually surprising to see an appliance on the kitchen counter; I had to zoom in to figure out that it is a Nespresso Pixie. Everything else they own is hidden behind plywood doors.

living room and storage

Tim Van de Velde via v2com

There are real lessons in how to deal with small spaces here. Many architects do their planning in two dimensions, but here l'atelier has worked in the third, with their intricate weaving of sleeping alcoves, bedrooms, and bathrooms, and even in four dimensions, with their planning of changes over the next 10 years. It helps if people are going to be happy in 540 square feet, although if you live in a city like Paris and it is not on lockdown, the streets and parks add to your living space.

It also helps to be an extreme minimalist with enough storage to hide everything away. Five people living in 540 square feet might be a problem right now, but they are certainly doing it in style.