News Home & Design Architect Converts Historic Micro-Apartment Into a Modern Live-Work Space A cramped, dark apartment is remade into a minimalist home and office. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 17, 2021 05:07PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Never Too Small Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive From Paris to Milan, older European cities are full of beautiful, historic buildings that are not going to be replaced any time soon. Rather, preservation is a more reasonable (and sustainable) route, and retrofitting them to be more energy efficient can also have economic benefits (like creating more jobs). In Bergamo, Italy, Catarina Pilar Palumbo—architect and founder of local architecture firm thecaterpilar—transformed for herself a cramped and dark apartment into a bright and functional live-and-work space. Located in a refurbished historic building dating back to the late 19th century, the redesigned 398-square-foot residence now incorporates a sleeping loft and several multifunctional spaces. We get a visual visit of the aptly named Il Cubotto via Never Too Small: Before converting it into a live-work space, Pilar Palumbo explains that the original apartment featured wonderfully high ceilings, but also an awkward layout, and too many doors: "When I first saw the apartment, the first room was a living area and a kitchen. There was a door to a narrow and gloomy corridor. Off this corridor, there were three more doors. I wanted to increase the light coming into the apartment, so I removed all the unnecessary door and small walls, and converted the storage room into a kitchen." Never Too Small The new layout has changed the living room into a dining and meeting room, where Pilar Palumbo can receive clients. The round table in the center of the room serves as a place to eat or to pore over architectural drawings or books with visitors. This space is lit by not only the original window punching through the building's thick walls, but also by 12 bright LED lightbulbs inserted in the ceiling. Never Too Small The pure white-painted walls help to create a sense of openness and luminosity, and is part of Pilar Palumbo's pared-back palette of colors and materials, which helps to give the illusion of a larger space. Never Too Small The walls feature discreet floating shelves, perfect for displaying material samples and books. Higher up, there are more shelves, which hold Pilar Palumbo's collection of books. These can be accessed by using a moveable ladder that is hung off a rail. Never Too Small Moving into the once-dim corridor, we can now find a small but functional kitchenette with a good amount of storage, plus a mini-refrigerator, induction stovetop, range hood, and sink. Never Too Small There is storage above, below, and even in the hidden storage cabinets at the very rear of the counter. Never Too Small Opposite the kitchen, we have the bathroom behind the apartment's only door. Pilar Palumbo says the layout here hasn't changed much, but the addition of sliding shower doors made of frosted plexiglass help to create a clean-looking space, and also helps to hide the storage bins in one corner. It's all lit from above with extra-bright LEDs that are hidden by a translucent ceiling panel, to imitate the effect of a skylight. Never Too Small Beyond that, we have Pilar Palumbo's office, which also doubles as a living room and guest bedroom. Never Too Small There are two floating desks here, plus several custom-built rolling cabinets that store documents and equipment (like a projector), and which can be moved around the apartment. There is also a Japanese-style futon here that can be used both as a sofa to watch projected movies from and as a guest bed, when needed. Never Too Small One of the major architectural interventions in the project is the installation of a vivid blue metal mezzanine in the middle of the apartment, which helps to not only bridge the two different zones of the dining and meeting room and the office-living room but also serves as Pilar Palumbo's bedroom and wardrobe. One can reach it using the same ladder that goes up to the library. Never Too Small The mezzanine floor is lit from below to enhance its lines, and takes an open gridded format, allowing light and air to pass through. Pilar Palumbo says that: "Since the space is multifunctional, it's important to create fluidity between the different areas [using the mezzanine]." The mezzanine includes four white panels that slide to simultaneously reveal storage, and close off the bedroom. Never Too Small In the bedroom proper, there is a bed, and an open wardrobe off to the side to hang clothes. The wooden rails are a safety feature, but also provide a way to hang things like lights and so on. Never Too Small Using a simple and minimalist assortment of colors and materials, Pilar Palumbo has successfully created a flexible series of spaces where she can not only work efficiently but also live comfortably—all in a building with a historic past to preserve. She concludes that: "Bergamo is full of old buildings that we need to maintain and use. I like the possibilities that come from using new materials in antiquated spaces. Giving them new life is the most sustainable way to design." To see more, visit thecaterpilar.