The Joy of Small Spaces

A DILAPIDATED CENTURY-OLD BLACKSMITH SHOP IN SUNNYSIDE IS REINVENTED AS A COZY RENTAL.

superka-stairs

The home feels larger than its actual square footage because every space that can be used as storage—for example, the area under the stairs— is put to work. For the walls, several coats of paint preserve the industrial look and add stability. Photo by David Lauer

Tiny is big these days, in case you haven’t noticed, with real-estate shows bursting with stories about small but livable spaces. Recently, local firm Design Platform, led by Jonas DiCaprio, joined the crowd, taking on the challenge of turning a 500-square-foot former blacksmith’s shop into a charming apartment. Many who looked at the building—with its dirt floor and sagging walls—recommended a tear-down, but owner Jennifer Superka, president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, recognized its potential and found a kindred spirit in the Design Platform team.

“The building was in shambles,” DiCaprio says. “Recently, it had only been used for storage, and it was too small to be a garage.” Interestingly, though, many of the original elements of the blacksmith shop were still there, including the main workbench, now the bathroom vanity.

A change in zoning meant that the Superkas could create a rental apartment behind their home. And while DiCaprio says they could have torn down the old structure and actually saved money, they loved it enough to fight for it.

living-room

The finished apartment is less than 500 square feet in size. The architect’s top priorities were to allow in as much light as possible without actually rebuilding, which would have resulted in irreversible changes to the homeowners’ beloved building and further loss of space. Photo by David Lauer

So the Design Platform team worked to maintain the existing structure, make spaces within the limited footprint multifunctional and open it to as much light as possible. Rebuilding, which would have required meeting current building code restrictions, would have resulted in a loss of space inside.

Another priority for DiCaprio was not using any drywall. “I wanted natural materials that warmed up the space,” he says. “We were able to keep all the existing brick inside although we had to paint it with several coats in hopes of helping it hold together. The natural wood ceilings and interior walls are built more like a piece of furniture or cabinetry. It’s very warm and cozy.”

bedroom

The upstairs bedroom makes use of natural materials rather than drywall to add warmth to the space. The wooden walls were crafted like furniture. Photo by David Lauer

So how did they maximize the space? It’s all in the planning. “When a space is well planned out—maximizing storage and utilizing every nook and cranny— the spaces can really live much larger than the square footage would lead you to believe,” DiCaprio says. He adds that even though the spaces are small, they are well defined, and he points to the living space’s distinct areas with the flexibility to be dining, living, extra bedroom space and a music practice space (the current tenant is a drummer).

house-before-outside

house-before-inside

These “before” images show a space that was too small to be turned into a garage and that had been used mostly for storage for years. Even these photos belie the structural challenges of the project. “The building was in shambles,” DiCaprio says. Courtesy Design Platform