Matus Ferguson of Palette Architecture discusses how living in a micro-unit at ALTA+ influences his thinking about designing for small spaces.
Last February we sponsored Big Ideas for Small Lots, a design competition launched by New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the American Institute of Architects that sought to address many of the challenges associated with the construction of affordable housing. Architects from all across the globe were invited to submit their designs for affordable, cost-efficient apartments on 23 underutilized, City-owned lots. Among the participants was Palette Architecture; their proposal for the competition, More with Less, leveraged pre-fabrication practices to maximize the number of residents served while minimizing construction costs.
Our association with the competition introduced us to Matus Ferguson, a Project Manager with Palette who also happens to live in ALTA+, an all-inclusive co-living development in Long Island City. ALTA+ features two- and three-bedroom microsuites fully furnished with sofa wall beds and convertible coffee-to-dining tables from Resource. We sat down with Matus to ask how living with transforming furniture influences his work designing space-efficient housing.
ALTA+ is the first formal co-living experience I’ve had, in terms of co-living programs run by a management office. I’ve been part of smaller co-ops in the past — farming co-ops and artist co-ops that weren’t necessarily part of a property management company. And in those living situations, there’s a lot more community involvement and sweat equity that goes into making the co-living work. In other words, everyone helps out with things like cleaning up the kitchen, making joint decisions on furnishings and equipment upgrades, and so on.
ALTA is different in that it’s an all-in-one package. You’re leasing an apartment from a property management company, Ollie, who also happens to be a social engagement company. Ollie has a social aspect to their program as well, where they coordinate outings, trips, events. They also organize these in-house gatherings — happy hours, music nights, comedy nights, and so on. So you can have as much interaction with that social aspect as you want, or you can retreat to your apartment and do your own thing.
I don’t think the co-living program at ALTA would be possible without kinetic, operable furniture, especially considering the size of my room. Then again, when I think about the size of my room now, it’s really not that much smaller than some of my previous New York City apartments.
To that point, as apartments get smaller and smaller, transforming furniture becomes almost a necessity. Honestly, it has doubled the size of my room. At night I pull out my bed, and I have a nice, queen-sized bed to sleep on. I can put it up during the day, and then that becomes a living area or a lounge space with a couch.
Once you do that, there is a mental conversion, and it creates the feeling of more space — and that has been key to keeping me happy. You can just fold the bed up and you have an operable, height-adjusting coffee table. You can hide it under the couch, or it can be a coffee table, or it could be a desk. And it just makes the experience of living in this type of space so much more flexible and enjoyable.
We’re involved in a few co-living projects in the office, and I see more of this happening in the future. It’s definitely affected my designs. I feel more comfortable with smaller and smaller spaces now, and not necessarily because I want them to be smaller, but because I feel like I know how to make them more comfortable, and I know how to design friendlier environments for the user.
After living in ALTA and using kinetic furniture, I feel more comfortable designing small spaces now. Having experienced co-living on this scale — in a large building with two roommates in my suite, and with a shared bathroom and shared kitchen and kinetic furniture in your own private bedroom — I can see how that can come together to actually give you a good deal of space and flexibility.
I actually put one [sofa wall bed] into a project. It’s a combination office and guest room — so the occupants can put up the bed and have a couch. Then, when their in-laws come over, they can pull out the Murphy bed and use that as a guest room.
Architectural Project Manager
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Resource Furniture is underwriter of the Big Ideas for Small Lots design competition, organized by HPD and AIANY to address the challenges of urban…