With confident use of line and colour, Nicholas Gurney’s reworking of a studio apartment achieves big spatial objectives in a tiny envelope.
Young designer Nicholas Gurney has recently completed the refurbishment of a micro-apartment in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo. The project, a clever reworking of the existing space in response to a client’s needs, represents a key moment in Nicholas’s own career. His design work is underpinned by two complementary interests. The first involves exploration of the difference between furniture and joinery in the resolution of compact spaces. The second, a more altruistic ambition, is to make good design accessible to all. Nicholas sees The Studio as a culmination of these interests through its spatial innovation and modest budget.
The Studio is located on the upper level of an older-style housing project. Access is via external stairs and elevated central walkways, an endearing social legacy of the original building. Nicholas’s scope of works was confined to the twenty-seven-square-metre space within, where his clean, confident lines, bold colour and orthogonal geometry have brought to life a new living environment. The grittiness of the existing complex amplifies the clean aesthetic of the new work.
The project began with a complete stripout of the existing apartment. Awkward ceiling bulkheads that segmented the main space were also removed. The bathroom’s enclosing walls and the kitchen’s service connection were retained, along with the four existing windows.
The great success of the project lies in the detailed organization of its plan to achieve a series of “no negotiation” spatial objectives – objectives that are a no-brainer when designing a bigger house, but challenging when working with only twenty-seven square metres. The first objective was to avoid a viewline from the bed to the kitchen. The second objective was to provide visual separation between the front door and the bed or couch.
Meeting these objectives eschewed the obvious additions of screens and blinker walls to produce a highly adaptive yet exquisitely simple spatial diagram. The space is essentially divided into two zones, a free-plan, 2.7-by-7-metre room and a 1.3-metre-deep inhabited “joinery wall” flanking the longer edge of the main room.
The joinery wall encloses the entry vestibule, all storage, a queen-sized bed, the wardrobe, a bookcase and the bathroom within its singular form. On the face of this wall a plane of simple, full-height sliding panels controls access to each functional part contained within. The occupant is free to stack the sliders at will, weaving in and out of the wall between entry, bed and bathroom. The sliders also allow untidiness in the bathroom, bookcase and bed to be instantly screened away in the event of unexpected guests or a bout of clutter overload.
The remaining primary space has a small kitchen at one end but is otherwise free. One can imagine it furnished with nothing more than a super-scaled four-seater couch and a generous coffee table – the couch doubling as a spare bed for guests who stay too late to send home, and the table easily converting to an impromptu Japanese-style dining table when something more ceremonial than a TV dinner is required.
The kitchen is worth special mention as it is a great act of stealth. At first glance it reads as a simple credenza that bookends the living space. The fridge and oven are concealed below the bench and behind cabinetry, and a shallow pantry fits behind a panel-sliding splashback. All finishes are deliberately matching (even down to the tapware) so the reading of a unified whole dominates over the parts.
An off-white epoxy floor brings a natural patina to the space. The finishes for the rest of the apartment are deliberately without pattern or texture. Joinery elements are made in unadorned edged laminate and cuts are skilfully proportioned for minimal waste out of standard 2400-by-1200-millimetre sheets. A beautiful 1970s Italian light fitting cantilevers off the wall as a style prompt for any companion furniture.
A scheme of primary colours amplifies distinct programming within the apartment. Muscle-car matt black saturates the kitchen, with amorous red for the bed and an intelligent yellow for the bookshelves. The colours are concealed or revealed as a sort of “mode indicator” as the occupants modify the space with the sliding panels to suit the activity of the moment.
I’m told the colours are a reference to the comic character Mighty Mouse – a little guy who is renowned for punching above his weight. Nicholas is quick to inform me, however, that knowing the inspiration behind his work should not be a prerequisite to gaining value from it. I completely agree with him.
This noteworthy and transformative project was brought in for less than fifty grand, demonstrating that good design can be achievable for all.