Small space is a relative term when it comes to architecture. Think: the petite pied-à-terres of France versus the seasoned micro-dwellers in Japan. However, in terms of design and functionality, we can confidently turn to Europeans for their mastery in small space living long before it became a movement. For these high-density dwellers, space optimization of the “less is more” mantra is more than just a hip design catch-phrase.
For a young Milanese couple with a daughter, buying a 5th floor flat in a 1960’s building just outside the heart of Milan isn’t unusual. Bordering the bustle of the vibrant city, where over half of the properties are appartamentos, the Navigli District is an artsy neighbourhood centred around two archetypal canals lined with boutiques and restaurants. Looking past the dark walls and dated wallpaper, this young couple could envision the 1100-square-foot apartment’s potential and hired Italian Architect, Francesca Ferlazzo Natoli to help transform the flat into an eclectically chic and functional three bedroom dwelling fit for a family.
“The original apartment was covered in wood paneling and tired carpet while the corridors were narrow and very dark. The layout was divided into small rooms that received very little natural light from the restrictive windows,” states Ferlazzo.
Seemingly untouched since the 1980’s, a gut transformation was required to reimagine the layout, create clever storage options and capitalize on natural light. First things first, Ferlazzo opened up the space to create a family-friendly open living and dining area. With two balconies, she was able to create a connection to the outdoors that wasn’t easily accessible in the previous layout.
Floor-to-ceiling built-ins maximize space and create a focal point for the family’s artwork, books and coveted Italian glass vases by Venini, while the narrow built-in niches provide overflow for the family’s extensive library. For a contemporary vibe characterized by eclectic touches, Ferlazzo seamlessly melds warm woods and matte whites with classic modern touches like the Arco floor lamp designed by Milan designers, Achille Castiglioni and his brother, Pier Giacomo in 1962. An overhead light without the hassle of wiring is the ultimate in functionalism.
Splashes of red make a bold statement and bring energy to the otherwise neutral palette. The Vanity Fair armchair by Poltrona Frau is a replica of the celebrated 904 model that was part of Poltrona Frau’s catalogue in 1903 and became an archetype after which modern armchairs have been patterned ever since. The armchair’s familiar curves offset the clean lines of the room to create design harmony in the living area.
Oak parquet flooring in a herringbone pattern was paired with highly durable resin floors in high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathrooms. Strategic built-in storage creates a clutter-free concept and all the cooking functions in this smart kitchen are ergonomically placed on one wall of the room while the rest of the area can be used for prep and a casual eating area or workstation. A white Saarinen tulip table has a relaxed look with painted white wood chairs for a casual eclectic aesthetic that Europeans have so elegantly mastered.
A built-in resin wall niche acts as gallery space to spotlight the couple’s black and white Fornasetti ceramic plates. With no joints or seams, poured resin flooring has the sleek look of concrete floors without the maintenance. Offering a modern aesthetic, the flooring is waterproof, easy to maintain and offers hypoallergenic qualities. The main corridor leading to the home’s private spaces — three bedrooms and two bathrooms — enjoys concealed storage and a pared-down feel.
The master bedroom’s minimal appearance belies its ample storage that tucks neatly into the compact footprint. The tufted headboard cleverly fits into a custom-built recessed wall with lighting and creates a thoroughfare at the foot of the bed for accessing ceiling height storage.
“We managed to incorporate two bathrooms into the space, the family bathroom is more spacious with a bathtub for their daughter while the guest bath enjoys a shower. Light now streams into the contemporary space made up of smooth surfaces, rich colours and clean lines,” states Ferlazzo. Not afraid to use deeper tones in smaller spaces, Ferlazzo repeats the resin flooring and walls to maintain the home’s cohesive feel while the glossy red lacquer on the floating vanity makes a dramatic statement. The subtle Talo light fixture by Artemide makes a modern assertion.
An L-shaped floating oak vanity creates ample room during rush hour for this busy family. The linear design of the Riga light fixture by FontanaArte maintains the clean lines of the master bath. The flat’s diminutive proportions didn’t prevent Ferlazzo from taking risks with an eclectic upgrade while keeping the style functional yet chic and personal. “It’s a functional and flexible home perfect for the needs of this young family wanting a comfortable yet contemporary dwelling,” concludes Ferlazzo.