This Apartment Proves Less Really Is More

Words by Anthony Richardson

We sometimes get the wrong impression of small apartments, given Melbourne’s reputation for “dog boxes in the sky”. However, if done right, a small apartment can give you much more than a huge home, and Type Street Apartment by tsai Design proves this.


In Australia, there is a lot to be said about the apartments we design and build. On one hand, we have truly amazing apartments, but more often than not when we think of apartments, we think of those ‘dog boxes in the sky.’ Often poorly laid out with poor natural light, and a lot of the time to be quite small in area. While we are building these tiny apartments, we are also building the biggest homes in the world. However, there does seem to be a shift to the smaller living lifestyle and living without excess with movements such as tiny homes and minimalism. Jack Chen from tsai Design wanted to experiment with the smaller side of living, “The project overall was an experiment for myself, after hearing so much been promoted about small living I wanted to see and experience it firsthand.” Jack gave himself the brief of creating a 1-bedroom apartment which can double as a home office, with the comfort and detailing you’d find in a typical home.

The existing conventional suburban 70s apartment unit had its constraints, being only 35m², limited access to natural light with the bathroom taking up the valuable northern aspect, no outdoor space, low 2.4m ceilings, and a rather limiting kitchen. Walking into an existing apartment you might think the easiest approach would be to remove everything and start with an empty shell, however in an effort to manage the cost of the project, walls and plumbing are kept in their original positions. “It was definitely a challenge to try to control the budget,” as Jack explains “with small spaces there's really no economy of scale, everything need to be considered and worked, every metre square of space need to have a budgetary allowance.”

When it comes to tiny spaces, every millimetre counts, so decluttering and “freeing” up space was a priority. Many of the kitchen appliances are hidden behind cabinet doors, giving a more uniform and open feel to the space. However, there was some clever detailing to go into the dining space, with a disappearing table and fold-away chairs. “The result looks surprisingly simple, I think its a sign that a detail has been resolved when it looks effortless.” There is some more trickery with the workspace/living room, where once you’re done with work for the day, the table disappears and the TV reveals itself from behind a cabinet. These little touches give multiple uses which are critical when you’re limited with space.

With no outdoor space, Jack still wanted to feel like he was outside. The bathroom contains an internal green wall, which truly becomes a unique feature and something to look at upon entering the apartment. However, it goes much deeper than something to look at, it provides a sense of calmness for a daily ritual. “It is really quite calming and relaxing to be bathing amongst the greens, with the timber tiles creating an overall outdoor sense of environment.”

Wanting to with easiness and calm, the material palette was kept simple. Have too many different materials and colours and suddenly your senses begin to overwhelm. So Jack took a more considered approach, with a simple white backdrop which matched with the kitchen cabinetry. A silvery/blue vinyl floor referenced tatami straw flooring, but in a contemporary manner. Mirrors used underneath the day-bed (for the record, I love day-beds!) help to give a sense of more space in a very subtle way. Timber was used extensively, giving a sense of uniformity and consistency. Timber flooring, veneer joinery and wall panels, timber ceiling and even an exposed plywood edging to the kitchen bench-top. All done to provide softness and a sense of calm that comes from being surrounded by the natural. To complement the timber, Jack carefully paired it with black, whether it was the bench-top or the tap-ware. It gives the apartment a very luxurious and contemporary feel for such a simple detail. If tsai Design’s apartment is any indication of what it’s like to live small, then give me 35m².

Type Street Apartment is a finalist in the ArchiTeam 2018 Awards for Residential Alterations and Additions. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 14 November 2018 at 5 Easey Upstairs, 5 Easey Street, Collingwood. See ArchiTeam for more information.

The project overall was an experiment for myself, after hearing so much been promoted about small living I wanted to see and experience it firsthand. I’m glad to say I really enjoy living in the apartment and are a bit surprised I would be ok with it.
— Jack Chen – tsai Design
Floor Plan

Floor Plan


Project Name _ Type Street Apartment
Architects _ 
tsai Design | | @tsaidesign
Location _ 
Area _ 35m²
Project Completed _ 2017
Photographer _ 
Tess | @tesskellyphotography

Published with BowerBird

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