Space Saving Furniture

Alright, been away for a while but now we’re back with more news and ideas on architecture and design! Today I want to talk about space saving furniture. Now this is usually an unattractive subject precisely because the furniture ends up being, well, unattractive. The problem with space saving innovations is that they are usually identifiable as something meant to save space, so they don’t have the same refinement and simplicity that’s so pleasing about ordinary furniture. This arises from prioritizing spatial efficiency over aesthetics, and since they are frequently at odds, it means sacrificing appearance.

But what if that didn’t have to be the case? I’m not just talking here, about stools with storage compartments in them or drawers under the bed, I’m talking about full queen beds that (tastefully) disappear into the wall and coffee tables that transform into dining tables. That’s the kind of magic being produced by the Italian furniture company Clei. I realize that this might not sound all that impressive since these products have been around in some form for decades, but there are two differences in the way Clei is doing things. First, as I mentioned before, they look good. As in, for a lot of the products, you’d never know they were actually transformers. And second, they’re easy to operate. Very easy.

I’ll be honest, it’s a little hard to articulate the beauty of these systems without seeing them for yourself. What first drew my attention was this video produced by Resource Furniture, the North American distributor of Clei’s space saving furniture:

These types of furniture are really exciting because they make it not just possible, but actually comfortable to live in a small space. Efficient spatial living is a hugely important issue these days for a number of reasons. There is typically a correlation between square footage and energy use, since larger homes tend to have more lighting and greater utility needs; there’s a materials cost since larger spaces use up more materials and labor than smaller homes; there are numerous potential sustainable and social benefits of density that become reduced as individual spaces increase; and finally we have to recognize that larger homes don’t make us any happier (studies have shown that while the size of the average American home has more than doubled since the 1950′s, happiness has remained about the same).

It seems then, that smaller housing is something that we should really be aiming for as a society. But the reality is that most people still feel the pull of the big house, the ever-increasing American Dream. There’s a sense that if most people are living in enormous homes, it would require almost ascetic self-denial to live in a small apartment or house. That’s where efficient furniture enters this discussion. Spatial efficiency increases the livability of a given area. By allowing us to use the same space for multiple activities, it increases the effective square footage, essentially letting us count one space two or three times. Obviously you aren’t actually getting a larger house, but the point is that you get all of the spatial benefits of having a larger house, while maintaining a much smaller physical and ecological footprint.

As I’ve pointed out before, super dense cities are – counterintuitively – the most sustainable human environments on the planet. They are also typically the most culturally rich and socially active. More an more people are choosing city living over a more conventional suburban lifestyle. Space saving furniture can make the experience more comfortable for these people, but it can also make city living viable for people for whom it otherwise wouldn’t be feasible, whether economically or spatially. And that’s good for all of us.

For further reading NPR published an interesting (and short) article on increasing home sizes back in 2006. Check it out here. And as always, comments, criticisms, and questions are encouraged!

Johnston Architects

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