This is how living in a confined space works

Desktops in children’s rooms can be folded. Sliding doors also save space. (Photo: Christoph Theurer)

Family House

The inconspicuous but carefully renovated house by architect Matthias Amsler in Zurich is a prime example of how creative and ingenious planning can create a personal home on just 78 square metres.

Existing terraced houses are not necessarily preferred when architects want to show off their skills. They always have a certain bourgeois quality about them, because space and interior design options are limited. How easy it is to design a large bungalow or transforming loft provides more freedom for creative and stunning design.

On the other hand, Matthias Amsler, co-founder of Zurich-based Mirlo Urbano Architects, saw the restrictions as a challenge and perfected them with flying colours. Between the city ideal and outdoor life, the 43-year-old and his family made a conscious decision in favor of this form of living.

The tiny three-storey terraced house is part of a settlement in Oerlikon Zurich.  It dates back to the thirties.  (Photo: Christoph Theurer)

The tiny three-storey terraced house is part of a settlement in Oerlikon Zurich. It dates back to the thirties. (Photo: Christoph Theurer)

Prior to the renovation, the architect lived for seven years with his wife Stephanie Unternorr, who is a hygienist, and their two children, Milo and Frederick, in a small settlement with the kitchen garden facing southwest. This was an unbeatable advantage, because the pair knew the weaknesses and lack of 78 meters posts2– Domicil.

“We knew what we were missing and what qualities we wanted to make best use of,” explains Matthias Amsler. Selling was out of the question as they both appreciated the central location and good neighborliness. Six owners live in the classic builder houses in Zurich Oerlikon, which were built in the early 1930s. In 2017, it offered the opportunity to rent an apartment nearby, allowing the couple to update their former home from the ground up. It was obvious that everyone would have to leave during the basic renovation. The architect wanted to create a new quality of residence that would meet the requirements and needs of a family of four.

The entrance area also benefits from the opening of the ground floor.  Mirror and front door with opening make it look bigger.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

The entrance area also benefits from the opening of the ground floor. Mirror and front door with opening make it look bigger. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Apart from the stairs, facade and roof, he completely renovated it. Usage variability was a top priority in the design. “The house must easily adapt to different everyday situations.” Sometimes people have a quick breakfast in the kitchen and sometimes a table of twelve needs to be set up in no time at all. For example, a nightstand with a linoleum lining is extended by the dining table and an additional element hidden by the cellar door. The creative person designed the individual modules in close dialogue with the craftsmen.

The house has a charming garden with a small balcony where the family loves to spend their time.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

The house has a charming garden with a small balcony where the family loves to spend their time. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Another hypothesis was more storage space. This is the only way to organize everyday life. In order to create order, the architect used every niche, no matter how small, for shelves and cabinets, all made to measure. It starts right away from the small entrance: glasses, gloves or scarves disappear in the four drawers of the wooden container opposite the stairs, one for each family member!

The ground floor in particular reveals the amount of creativity and empathy used by Matthias Amsler in planning the rooms and matching their interior design: he had the built-in cupboards in the plank-built open kitchen, which had been spray painted to cover them. . The high intensity of natural pigments creates subtle color manipulations depending on the incidence of light. The marble worktop makes this area especially homey. The sink, drain and protective appearance are carved from stone. An extensive U-shape under the ceiling provides additional space for glasses and supplies.

The wall panels, shelves and cabinets are in gray polished wood planks, the worktop is in Marquina marble.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

The wall panels, shelves and cabinets are in gray polished wood planks, the worktop is in Marquina marble. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

What makes this listed home so special, however, is not the perfect function, but the many design details, such as flush light switches with wall panels, or the kitchen clock with a minimalist dial.

A table for up to twelve people can be built from the counter in the kitchen and dining table.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

A table for up to twelve people can be built from the counter in the kitchen and dining table. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

A noble cement tile in soft pink serves as a visual arc between the cooking area and the actual living area with a separate dining area. It gives the ground floor the serenity of the Mediterranean. The powdery tone harmonizes nicely with smooth clay plaster walls. This building material, which can absorb and release moisture and ensure a pleasant microclimate in the room, was chosen from the very beginning.

Selected mid-century furniture dominates the living area.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Selected mid-century furniture dominates the living area. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

The sustainability of the building procedures was a crucial point for the couple. That is why the house is heated by a geothermal heat pump, which cools the three floors in summer. Natural materials such as wood, natural stone and linen dominate the furnishings. With a great deal of sensitivity to the cramped ground floor, the couple combined miniature furniture with vintage finds.

Its soft niche for Scandinavian design is unmistakable, like the NY11 dining chair by Danish designers Rune Krøjgaard and Knut Bendik Humlevik for NORR 11, or the CH 25 lounge chair made of oak frames and natural bamboo work by Hans J. Wegner for Carl Hansen. The sofa in front of the patio door also meets all the requirements for flexibility: it can be converted into a sofa bed in no time at all. The concept of color in various shades of grey, black and feminine pink spans across the three levels.

Stephanie Unternurher loves to work the dining table with linoleum inlays.  Cement tiles shimmer in delicate shades of pink.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Stephanie Unternurher loves to work the dining table with linoleum inlays. Cement tiles shimmer in delicate shades of pink. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

An elaborately restored wooden staircase with contrasting color chords and anthracite balustrades leads past the children’s cloakroom to the first floor. This is where the children’s rooms of Milos and Frederik are located. The father of the family designed space-saving sliding doors for the two rooms so that valuable floor space would not be wasted. Here, too, all shelves and drawers are made to measure. When schoolwork is done, the writing locker can simply be closed.

Sophisticated shower room facing the street. Delicately veined marble gives the washbasin and open shower area an exclusivity. The mirror installed across the entire width makes it appear larger. The small hallway also benefits from daylight through a skylight made of ribbed glass.

From here, steep grades lead to the parent’s relaxation area below the surface. The client had a home office built into a new dormer with a view of the garden. Wardrobes surrounding the solid oak worktop left and right. The architect designed the sleeping area across the road like a small kiosk by contrasting it in colour. The blue-gray color makes it look like a comfortable bed.

Dedicated storage solutions such as sailing yachts provide a new accommodation quality.  There is a toilet behind the door with a hatch.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Dedicated storage solutions such as sailing yachts provide a new accommodation quality. There is a toilet behind the door with a hatch. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

All walls and ceiling are covered with wood panels. On top of the futon beds, Amsler has incorporated a bookshelf. In contrast, put a wash basin with a suitable base cabinet. A narrow door next to it opens to a separate toilet under the sloping roof. The intimate sleeping area can be separated from the desk by a linen curtain to allow for as many different uses as possible.

Pushing the bed toward the home office reveals the bathtub.  Ribbed frame perfectly fits the edge of the sink.  (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

Pushing the bed toward the home office reveals the bathtub. Ribbed frame perfectly fits the edge of the sink. (Photo: Christoph Tourer)

While one may want to sleep peacefully, the other can function in the light. The absolute advantage of the imaginative design of the urban space is hidden under the slatted frame on the outer wall: if you push both beds into the office area, the exclusive bathtub will appear as if by magic. The bed and the bathroom are perfectly combined here in the smallest of spaces. Thanks to the new roof window, you can look at the starry sky for free.

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