Michael Chen Unveils Micro-Apartment Prototype at KBIS

The Transformer-type installation incorporated a kitchen range, an entertainment system, a vanity, and a bed.

Courtesy Alan Tansey

Until recently, Michael Chen’s smallest project measured just 250 square feet. Since opening Michael K. Chen Architecture (MKCA) in 2011, the New York–based architect had developed several solutions to the problem of uber-dense living. The spatial innovation connecting these works is a “transformer” unit, an oversize furniture system that conceals/reveals all the necessary equipment for living: a kitchen range, an entertainment system, a vanity, a bed.

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At this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, Chen unveiled his tiniest and most flexible transformer yet. The installation, which was produced for the German manufacturer Häfele, clocked in at 185 square feet and comprised a Murphy bed, collapsible sofa, retractable kitchen fixtures, and plenty of storage.

The L-shaped installation was anchored at one end by the custom-designed sofa, whose back doubled as the headboard of the queen-size bed. An extensible kitchen, complete with Corian surfaces and Fisher & Paykel appliances, formed the other arm of the L. Storage accounted for the space in between the zones. Meanwhile, a separate console positioned opposite the sofa-cum-bed hid a television and dining table. Discrete Häfele lighting illuminated the entire unit.

The clear attention to joinery and edge detail, producing a seamless swiveling and sliding of parts, beckoned the user to engage with each element. Functionality here took the form of a well-choreographed dance.

Chen harbors hopes that his investigations into the Lilliputian can have a big impact to mitigate the worst effects of urbanization. “We do think about micro-housing as a potential component of making cities more affordable and sustainable,” he says. “But thinking beyond the typology itself, our focus here was also to tell a compelling story about micro living, and to demonstrate how livable and appealing a well designed, ultra-compact home could be.”

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