City & Country: Designing for small spaces

(From left) Vercoe, Yeap, Lai and Tan are the four designers who will showcase their creativity in designing Urban Cubes for different living spaces for HOMEDEC 2013

THIS year’s Home Decoration Exhibition or HOMEDEC at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, which begins on Oct 17, will offer a unique attraction — Urban Cubes. More than 6,000 sq ft of exhibition space will be set aside for this exhibit, in which four award-winning designers will showcase their creativity. Each will fill two 11ft by 11ft cubes with ideas that make a small space stylish yet liveable.

“We are sure that the four different designs or themes, which will be unveiled at the exhibition, will be the star attraction, not just for homeowners, but also for industry professionals and providers,” says Vincent Lim, president of C.I.S Network Sdn Bhd, the organiser of HOMEDEC. “Each designer will be utilising materials and products sponsored by exhibitors of HOMEDEC.”

There will be about 500 exhibitors occupying 1,600 booths, making HOMEDEC the largest home decoration exhibition to be organised over two weekends in Malaysia.

The designers participating in Urban Cubes are Blu Water Studio chief executive designer Lai Siew Hong, PDI Design & Associates managing partner Tan Su Cheng, Palladio Interiors managing director Dion Vercoe and SWOT Design Group executive creative director Sean Yeap.

Lai’s Beach Cube concept is designed to be built by the seaside while Tan’s small office/home office (SoHo) showcase caters for the urbanite who wants to live in the city centre. Vercoe highlights student accommodation, inspired by the iconic Mini Cooper car. Yeap’s concept, called Urban Camper, are spaces that connect to nature.

Urban Cubes
Lai’s Beach Cube is something he envisions as a holiday home. “The Beach Cube can be placed by the beach as a hideaway,” says Lai. “The design approach is clean, minimal and open. We started by playing with the cubes, linking them together, pulling them apart, stacking them together and tweaking them around, and we ended up with the two cubes linked with an open courtyard space.

“We also created what we call a ribbon that ties the two boxes together. And there is a skylight over the shower area. As this is for a resort, we can afford a lot of openings that help occupants connect with nature and the environment.”

Different planes, platforms and levels are used in place of furniture. “In a small space, you don’t need a chair and you don’t need a big bed. A platform can act as a bed and the ledge by the window can double up as your work or make-up area,” Lai explains.

Tan’s SoHo cubes required plenty of thought to ensure that the needs of the urbanite are fully met. “We separated the two cubes and they have their own individual entrances. Our design theme requires us to include working, cooking, sleeping and recreation spaces in this small space.”

There is also a vertical garden, a sky deck where occupants can sun themselves, and a little organic farm. The design concept, says Tan, is based on self-sustainability and will include solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system. To help with storage, there are floor cabinets. The space will also have a small kitchen-cum-laundry area.

Vercoe’s Student Cube, inspired by the Mini Cooper, comes in strong colours and bold lines. “A Student Cube provides a practical solution to student accommodation,” he says. “The Mini Cooper is youthful and iconic, and is quite spacious inside.”

One of the key considerations, he says, is storage, as students usually have lots of stuff such as large luggage bags. To maximise space, the sleeping area is on the mezzanine floor while the living and cooking spaces are on the lower floor. Other spaces are hidden away — the pantry is behind a door while the dining table can be pulled out from under a cabinet.

Yeap’s Urban Camper cubes have a minimalist style and “are connected to nature”. “We incorporate three basic needs in the design — eat, rest and rejuvenation,” he explains. “The first cube is where the pantry is and there is a staircase to the bedroom.” One of the cubes will have a full-height window to allow plenty of natural light in and allow those inside to look out and enjoy nature.

Lai believes it will take about three years or more for developers to understand how to approach these small spaces. “But for the last one year, my company has been receiving requests for proposals for small units because the price of property has gone up,” he says. “If you live in the city, it is quite tough to get a decent place on a budget.”

Tan believes that having “forward-looking, design-oriented and adventurous property developers or investors” is needed to ensure that these ideas come to the fore. Meanwhile, Vercoe says commercial viability is one factor that developers will consider before thinking of ideas for small spaces.

Yeap, however, sees the Urban Cubes as an educational model. “The whole exercise is to educate the public not to waste space, when all you need is a comfortable space to live in,” he says. “This will help us save cost and the environment as less material is used for a small space.”

Thanks to these designers’ efforts to think outside the box, we now have four designs that could become a reference point for Malaysians in the future.


This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on Oct 21, 2013.

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