A 'Minimum Dwelling' Studio Apartment That Maximises Every Inch

Architect Douglas Wan wanted what he calls ‘the simplest gesture’ for the studio apartment he lives and works in.

With the ambition of exploring the contemporary meaning of ‘minimum dwelling’ (while also adding a hint of Star Wars to his bathroom!), the young architect references high density living prototypes from Kuala Lumpur to London, along with traditional Japanese architecture in his slick apartment-for-one in Fitzroy.

Sasha Gattermayr

The living and sleeping space owes its apparent generosity to expansive glazing across one wall. Photo by Sherman Tan.

Light is compressed in the threshold and points out to the living space. Photo by Sherman Tan.

Studio details. Photo by Anthony Richardson.

Plywood joinery meets the 1.8 metre deep linoleum benchtop. Photo by Anthony Richardson.

Black linoleum covers kitchen walls, benchtop and cabinetry. Photo by Anthony Richardson.

The ‘Sith Lord’ bathroom. Photo by Sherman Tan.

The threshold leads into the bathroom. Photo by Anthony Richardson.

The raised platform sleeps two or seats six. Photo by Sherman Tan.

Bathroom, kitchen and threshold are separated from the open living space by a plywood tunnel. Photo by Sherman Tan.

Sasha Gattermayr
12th of February 2020

In an old Fitzroy building from the 1950s, originally designed as nurses’ accommodation for the nearby hospital, lies the sleek and compact studio apartment of architect Douglas Wan. Working within a tiny footprint, the WHDA architect asked: ‘What does it take to live not just comfortably, but with a few luxuries?’

The answer, it turns out, is minimal interventions, and clever partitioning. New plumbing and steel beams (one being 750kg!) were the few additions Douglas made in order to enhance the liveability of his tiny home, and maximise natural light. All internal walls were demolished, and the steel beams craned and keyed into place to support plywood room dividers. In the name of space efficiency, the living space forgoes conventional furniture, instead opting for a floating platform that sleeps two, or seats six, alternately.

Giving the utility spaces a distinct separation from the open living area was a priority, so plywood cladding and partitions tunnel through to compartmentalise these zones. Shifting from dark to light, and between open and compressed spaces, Douglas played with contrasting atmospheres and depth of views to delineate between sleeping, bathing and living areas.

Floor-to-ceiling black ceramic tiles and crimson grout achieve Doug’s vision for a ‘Sith Lord bathroom’ (!), while pale plywood softens the sheen of polished black surfaces that continue through the kitchen. A 1.8m-wide black linoleum benchtop doubles as a mise-en-place section and servery, allowing ample space for appliances and storage below.

In designing his apartment, Douglas fused inspiration from the traditional Japanese tokonoma – an elevated platform used to receive guests and display art – with the ‘Isokon Flats‘ designed by Wells Coates in London in 1933. This ‘ocean liner-esque’ block of concrete studio apartments was designed as an early prototype for minimalist mass housing, and is where Douglas derived the name for his design: ‘Existenzminimum’.

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