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Living Large in Harlem

Location isn’t everything.

In 2018, MDG Design + Construction purchased a package of six failed coops and distressed rental properties from the City of New York with the intention of turning them into affordable residences. As a firm that designs, constructs, and manages high-quality affordable housing, MDG is known for its innovative approach to development — but even they felt challenged by the odd layouts in two of these Harlem properties. Each building consists of five floors, with four apartments — two 2-bedroom units and two studios — on each floor. The ground floor studios are 250 square feet; the studios on the upper floors only slightly larger. The 2-bedroom residences are floor-throughs, with 8 ft. by 8 ft. master bedrooms barely big enough for a queen-sized bed.

At first, MDG considered the obvious solution: tear down walls in order to enlarge the studios, but reconfiguring the floor plans would have been cost-prohibitive for an affordable rental project. Instead, they decided to partner with Resource Furniture and use multi-purpose furnishings to maximize available space.

Ulisse Sofa Wall BedUlisse Sofa pictured with Genie adjustable-height coffee table.

Ulisse Sofa Wall BedAt night, the Ulisse Sofa opens up over the Genie coffee table to reveal a queen size bed.

The Livability Quotient

Given the market demand for affordable housing, there was no question that all the renovated units would have rented unfurnished, but MDG wanted to create a more livable home for their residents. Recalling the popularity and success of the furnished micro-units at Carmel Place, MDG turned to Resource for help. By incorporating wall beds in the tiny studios and bedrooms, the cramped footprints were made to feel much larger. 

By day, the Ulisse Sofa provides comfortable seating while the height-adjustable Genie operates as a coffee table, desk, or dining surface. At night, residents simply remove the backrest cushions and pull the hidden lever to reveal a queen-size bed, complete with an upholstered headboard and a premium queen-size mattress. No need to move the table; the Ulisse opens right over the Genie when it’s set to its lowest position. The smaller bedrooms in the 2-bedroom units were fitted with Kali Board, a twin-sized wall bed with a built-in desk.

Kali Board with built-in seven-foot workspace. No need to remove objects from the desk when the bed is opened.


Renovating Occupied Apartments

The renovation was carefully orchestrated as existing tenants needed to have a place to live while the renovations were underway. MDG accomplished this by “checkerboarding”— as an apartment was ready for renovation the tenant was moved to an empty apartment, then back home after their apartment’s renovation was completed. This method enabled MDG to efficiently renovate apartments with as little disruption as possible. Existing residents had the option of a renovated apartment with or without a wall bed. “I am not sure if the project would have worked without the furniture,” said MDG CEO Matthew Rooney.