'Unfolding Apartment' Has a Multifunctional, Space-Maximizing Cabinet

This 420-square-foot micro-apartment features a clever cabinet that functions as a bed, home office, closet, library and bar.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA

Alan Tansey

Space is scarce in big metropolises like New York City, so it's not surprising that small apartments with awkward layouts are actually quite common. These types of apartments are often a good fit for someone who wants a relatively affordable home that's close to their place of work, while still allowing them to enjoy the cultural and culinary advantages that the big city has to offer.

But living in a small apartment doesn't necessarily mean that one has to live in a cramped or poorly designed space. In revamping this 420-square-foot studio in Manhattan, the architects of New York City-based firm MKCA (featured previously for their Attic Transformer project) were able to redesign the apartment to suit a client who entertains often, hosts houseguests now and then, and occasionally works from home.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

Dubbed the Unfolding Apartment, the project features some excellent small space ideas to make the most of a limited space. As the architects say:

"The challenge is to incorporate all of the aspects of a larger space for work and entertaining within a compact studio apartment. Rather than the typical Manhattan approach of dividing a small space into even smaller individual rooms and spaces, a strategy of extreme density and flexibility is employed."
unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

The design scheme uses what we like to call an "all-in-one box" approach, which condenses and conceals a bunch of functions into a single, oversized cabinet that's pushed off to the side, and spread out over one wall. In doing this, a lot of space is freed up, transforming the available area into a blank canvas of sorts that can be altered according to the needs of the moment.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

The apartment's all-in-one, multifunctional box hides a bed, nightstand, closet, home office, library, storage and even lighting for the room. The cabinet's deep blue tone adds a pop of color into an otherwise minimalist space. The cabinet is also punctuated with some eye-catching aluminum metal bars, which the architects say offer clues into how to use the space:

"The width of the aluminum elements varies according to body positions and heights, creating grips and handles with which to operate the cabinet. They function to subtly choreograph movement across the surface."

There are a lot of layers of multifunctionality to this clever cabinet and its contents. Here we see the blue cabinet revealing some of its secrets: at its first transformation, this flip-down counter can serve as a bar when people come over for a gathering.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA Alan Tansey
Alan Tansey

With its central location in the apartment, it's the perfect spot to lay out snacks and drinks.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

Here is the magic cabinet opening up yet another layer, revealing the fold-down Murphy bed.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

When completely folded down, the bed uncovers a little nook for storing books and more.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

With a reading light installed, it looks to be a comfy spot to bury a nose in a book and wind down the day.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

Privacy is always a concern in a tiny space. Here, that issue is addressed with a number of adjustable doors and panels, which can slide out or pivot open to create either closed or screened off areas – a good compromise for someone living in a small space, but who still wants to host guests visiting for the weekend.

We see this principle in action with the same multifunctional panel that swings out to show the bed; that same wall also functions as a divider between the main bed area, and the guest area.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey 

With the same bar counter folded down, it now becomes a home office that joins up with another storage space on the guest bed area – which also doubles as the living room area, thanks to the orange-colored convertible sofa bed.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

Interestingly, the blue cabinet extends all the way to the kitchen, inserting itself into the kitchen counter, which helps to connect it visually to the main living space.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

If one changes the viewing angle, you can see that where the wall of the enormous cabinet ends, there is some kitchen storage conveniently carved out, but still a bit hidden out of sight.

unfolding apartment michael k chen architects MKCA
Alan Tansey

By condensing and layering a variety of functions into a hide-all cabinet, this design scheme skilfully maximizes the available space, creating a range of possibilities into an apartment that can transform and adapt as necessary, rather than having fixed notions of how to occupy the space. To see more, visit MKCA and on Instagram.