Beyond the Row House: An Inspirational Apartment in Philadelphia

Looking through to the living room from the kitchen.

Looking through to the living room from the kitchen.

When looking for small space solutions, it’s important to consider every possible source of inspiration. Craig Martin’s apartment, located in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood, is a superb example of how a smaller space can be expansive with thoughtful and thorough planning. When Craig was renovating his apartment, “the interior architecture had to be highly engineered,” he says.

Craig is a long time resident of his building, originally a Hebrew school built in 1905, who first moved into another unit during 1994. In 2000, he purchased and moved into his current apartment and started renovations in 2001. The building suffered a major fire in 2002 that damaged the entire facade and several apartments. Although his apartment escaped major damage, he was required to vacate for the following two years. Luckily, he was able to access his apartment, prior to formally moving back in, to repair the damage and continue with his planned renovation.

When Craig was renovating, he started with a empty shell and didn’t take anything for granted, such as the height of the ceilings or the placement of closets and the mechanicals of the apartment. The height of his apartment is 12 feet high. A dropped ceiling over the kitchen, dining area and front hall concealed six vertical feet of space. By raising this area one foot, he was able to retain an attic-like storage space and still have good ceiling height in those areas. Additionally, leaving the space enclosed allowed him to move all the apartment’s mechanicals into
the space, expanding the usable space in the living areas below. He created access to this area by using a drop down staircase so that he can easily access the storage and mechanicals for repairs. “Seems frivolous but 10 inches, one way or the other, makes a really big difference,” Craig says.

In the kitchen, Craig choose a small refrigerator which allowed him to change its location and open the wall between the kitchen and the living room. Before, the kitchen was very closed off. After, the cook is no longer isolated and can see straight into the living room and out to the beautiful vista beyond the windows. Appliance drawers are becoming more and more popular in kitchen design. Craig used both freezer and dishwasher drawers so that he could create an island workspace on which two people can easily prepare food and cook without tripping over each other. On
the other side of the island are pantry cabinets. He’s gotten some comments from people about the size of the kitchen. However, the “kitchen is extremely efficient,” he says, because everything is well planned out. During the recent holiday season, Craig was able to prepare a holiday dinner for several guests without any problem. An appliance Craig really loves is his microwave/halogen oven. Although it’s not much bigger than an average microwave, this oven can cook a full roast chicken. It also works as a regular microwave. Double duty appliances are key in a small kitchen.

Concepts like continuity and symmetry help the fool the eye into thinking a space is more expansive than it may be. The cabinetry throughout the kitchen, dining and living areas is finished in matching wood paneling. Craig choose recessed handles so that the lines of the cabinets would be uninterrupted, as well as to decrease the likelihood of clothing getting caught on the handles. When placing appliances, he centered the stove and placed the refrigerator and cabinets evenly on either side. The matching paneling creates aesthetically pleasing symmetry which fools the eye into
thinking the space is larger than it is.

Access to the attic-like storage area.

Access to the attic-like storage area.

Throughout the apartment, enclosing features actually allowed for more storage opportunities. Originally, the flue of the wood burning fireplace was exposed. By enclosing it, he was able to create a peninsula that houses the television, media storage, a wine refrigerator, liquor cabinet and some built-in display storage. This media storage area created a much better place to put the television than the original layout of the living room allowed. Because two of the living room walls are entirely covered with windows, prior to the creation of the media peninsula, there was only
one uninterrupted wall to place the television on and it was not conducive to watching comfortably. With the television moved, that wall now hides a large coat closet with three hidden panel doors finished in the same color as the wall. The closet doors seem to melt away when closed, especially since the doors frame art work chosen especially for this wall.

The use of symmetry is very important in a small space.

The use of symmetry is very important in a small space.

Aside from smart wall and storage placement, the choice of space-conscience appliances helps to maximize a small home’s area as well. Craig loves his on-demand hot water heater. He says that although the range in gallons per minute changes, from about two to three during the winter to six to seven during the summer (external water supply temperature pending), the supply is endless. It takes up a fraction of the space and is much more efficient than a traditional water heater. Additionally, although the apartment does have a complete HVAC system, he installed radiant heating
under the poured concrete floor which he says keeps the apartment very comfortable. Aside for very cold days, Craig often doesn’t have to use the main heating system. All the supporting mechanicals are hidden in the attic space above the kitchen.

The enclosed area around the fireplace.

The enclosed area around the fireplace.

Unsightly wiring is a problem that faces most people no matter what size their home is. Craig created an in-wall closet that opens to both the office and the living room to house the audio visual components as well as his computer. He then snaked wires through the walls and ran them through soffit-like channels in the wood trim beneath the windows and on top of the desk. The result is clean and tidy. The channels are accessible via drop down panels.

Another feature, which increases the streamlined look of the apartment are pocket doors. This requires some planning since a door way might have to be moved so that there is enough wall to enclose the doors but it allows for more floor space for cabinetry or furniture because there doesn’t have to be an allowance for door swing.

The doors of the closet in the living room disappear when closed.

The doors of the closet in the living room disappear when closed.

The bedroom features a magnificent built in closet arranged against the full length of one side of the room. When initially laying out the closet, Craig was faced with having to design around a window that reduced the depth of the closet. His solution was to gradually increase the depth with stepped increases going inward. Although he didn’t have the limitation on the opposite side, he matched the design for symmetry. The result is a closet that is both practical and “more aesthetically pleasing,” he says. Behind the closet is another window. Craig says, “I didn’t need to see the neighbor, but I did need more space.” Because the apartment has so many windows, covering the window was an easy sacrifice to make. Housed inside the closet is space enough for two people to easily share plus a large television and a washer and dryer, all hidden behind closed doors when not in use. To maximize the space, Craig utilized a pull down closet system from Hafele. This functionality allows the closet to be placed over the drawers. He adds, “otherwise hanging space is typically inefficient. [it’s a] perfect use of space.”

The bedroom closet.

The bedroom closet.

The bedroom closet.

The bedroom closet.

Although the apartment wasn’t big enough to add an additional bath, the separation of the toilet with a small sink from the bathtub, shower and larger sink, makes it seem like there is a separate powder room. When entertaining Craig can close off the main bath. He jokes that it prevents guests from checking out the contents of his medicine cabinet and linen closet. The design in the two areas utilizes the same tile and aesthetic so when the door is opened, it looks cohesive. Instead of a standard size bathtub, he has a shorter but deeper soaking tub which was instrumental in allowing for the two separate spaces. The bathtub features glass doors which allows for a larger visual space. The bathing area also features two shower heads at either end so two people can shower together comfortably. The sink features two faucets over one extra wide sink. When laying out the space, he measured carefully to make sure that two people could use the sink together without bumping into each other. The space is too small for two conventional sinks but the use of the large sink easily allows for the functionality of two in the space of one. Although the in-wall tankless toilet required eight inches of space in the wall framing, it “saved a foot of depth” in the overall space, Craig says.

A view of the bathroom.

A view of the bathroom.

Craig mentions, that when you design for a small space, you have to consider the function of the space first and then design around that. Once the purpose of a room is considered, such as the space in which two people need to get ready or the space needed for a pocket door, then it’s just a matter of fitting the features together cohesively with in the total area.

Being open minded to as many possibilities helps too. In order to create the bathroom, Craig had to sacrifice the hall closet but he feels the two-room bathroom serves much more purpose than the original location of the closet and, by enclosing the space around the fireplace, it allowed for one wall in the living room to contain ample storage and closets. He adds that when renovating a small space it’s important that “items
normally considered at the end of the project be considered at the beginning.”

The double sink in the bathroom.

The double sink in the bathroom.

All of his careful planning and work has been highly rewarding. Not only does Craig have a beautiful, functional space to live in, he has also been able to embrace his love of space management and interior design as a profession as well.

Craig used Hafele products in his renovation.

Antique doors from Asia on the linen closet.

Antique doors from Asia on the linen closet.

 

Mosaic floor tile in the home office.

Mosaic floor tile in the home office.

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