houses, small spaces

Designing small spaces

Chris van Niekerk, architect at The Fold Architecture and Africandy creative director, shares some creative wisdom for balancing design and function in small spaces. Function When tasked with designing the interior of a small space, it's important to understand how the space will be used and by whom. Ask yourself as many questions as possible to try and ascertain your lifestyle – it will become clear how best to assign functions to various spaces and whether these functions can potentially overlap. Try to find any redeeming features in the existing space, such as: existing structural elements, potential to increase ceiling height, source of natural light, views outwards etc. Interests The next step would be to focus on what interests you as the user of the space and to try and incorporate this into the design as much as possible. Here's a look at some examples from our recent small-scale projects: Case study 1 (images 1-2) In the case of this 45m2 apartment, we took our cue from our client's interest in theatre and music. Dramatic bands of shades of grey are used as a theatrical device to modulate the space into different zones, whilst distinct joinery elements are inscribed with zigzag lines reminiscent of sound waves in a gestural way. Lighting sources are all hidden, save for two highly polished copper-pipe pendant luminaries which poke fun at the idea of the source of the light, whilst hinting at an idea of impermanence and whimsy. We also used large mirrors to increase the perception of space to the delight of visitors. Case study 2 (images 3-5) In the Medicape Clinic project – a GP practice with a focus on cosmetic medicine – we focussed on maintaining a clinical quality, ensuring a sense of cleanliness and calm for the visitor. The brief called for the small space to appear as large as possible, with an emphasis on pristine details and junctions. The design employs light – both natural and artificial – to render the wall, floor and ceiling planes of the clinic in a restrained and almost ephemeral way. Transparency and reflection expressed in the use of stainless steel, mirror and glass contain and reveal the limited space within and beyond the reception area which leads to two consultation rooms. As a counterpoint to these abstract materials, natural-oiled oak was used on parts of the floor and desks throughout. The tactile quality of the pebble resin floor, often experienced bare-foot, invite a physical connection with the space. Case study 3 (images 6-8) One of our more interesting projects is the 'Flying Carpet' apartment. Contained within a listed art-deco building it was altered to create a specific relationship between various functional zones, inside and outside, using three differing levels. One of the levels is a mezzanine, made possible by the discovery of a large unused space beneath the floorboards. This modulation resulted in spatial interest with a specific focus on material relationships; such as the contrast between the white walls and the beautiful concrete beams which we discovered when stripping the interior. Case study 4 (images 9-10) The set for the Dr. Mol Show allowed an altogether more abstract approach to space making. Elements reminiscent of cells or molecular structures recall the information discussed on the show. The placement of this element suggests layering and creates visual interest. The faceted geometric form of an interview desk, manufactured in Corian, is suggestive of organic structures like bone. The space is dynamic with nomadic furniture and can be altered to suit the requirements for a specific shoot – dependent on the interviewer and visitor. All projects mentioned are by The Fold Architecture and Africandy. For more information on these businesses visit and