On a street corner in the city of Huê, Vietnam, surrounded by much more conventional buildings, a translucent tower glows, revealing its interiors to passersby. On the bottom floor is the Tiam Coffee Shop, welcoming visitors in to sit down for a hot beverage. Above it is a luxurious multi-story home for a three-generation family of seven, topped by a peaceful “sacred space.” Fitting a lot of functionality into a tiny urban footprint, the building pairs a minimalist, mostly-white palette with traditional Vietnamese materials and layouts.

The part café, part multi-family residence that is Cafe Tiam emits a warm glow in the evening.

Designed by Nguyen Khai Architects & Associates (NKAA), the four-story residence is a fresh take on the Vietnamese architectural trend of wrapping homes with airy perforated facades that blur the boundaries between indoors and out, regulate sunlight, and allow for plenty of natural ventilation. In this case, vertical white louvers set in front of all-glass walls provide just the barest hint of privacy for the building’s inhabitants, with wide horizontal strips blocking views from the sidewalk below. This visibility to the world outside is buffered by placing less private functions on the outer edges of the building, like dining tables, kitchen counters, and stairways.

Upward view of the multi-story Café Tiam from street level.

The first level of the tower is the actual Café Tiam. The upper floors make up a three-generation residence.

Just above the café, two parents and their daughters now have themselves a sleek, spacious-feeling minimalist home.

Just above the café, two parents and their daughters now have themselves a sleek, spacious-feeling minimalist home.

The design began with an existing 18-year-old house that was in dire need of renovation. The footprint measures just 376 square feet, and is fully occupied at the lowest level by the café run by the building’s owner. The nearly all-white café features sculptural furniture, bamboo chairs, and living greenery, a theme that continues as you ascend into the residence above. The next level up is home to the clients, a couple and their two young daughters, while the third floor and half of the fourth floor host grandparents and uncles. The “sacred space” is a balcony tucked behind the louvered facade, accessible to the whole family.

2D layout of the multistory tower that houses both the Café Tiam and a three-generation family home.

Working with such a confined floor area, the architects managed to make each level feel airy and comfortable. Platform beds are set along the rear wall behind sliding woven screens, beside the bathrooms. The kitchens are small, but when you’re gazing out all that glass at the world outside, it’s hard to feel confined. Smart details like a bench with a sliding table that also serves as the base of a ladder-like staircase make the most of the space available. The grandparents’ level has a somewhat more conventional layout with a dining table and benches, and the uncles’ lofted bedroom nooks stagger upwards toward the roof.

All-white bathroom and kitchen located on the Cafe Tiam's second story.

The third story of the Cafe Tiam tower contains a cozy home for the grandparents of the family.

Platform beds in the multi-generation home help make the most of the tower's tiny footprint.

In keeping with the tower's perforated, transitional vibe, an upper level

Spending time talking to and understanding the essential needs of the owner, we designed Tiam in a way to give him a better standard of living, along with valuable experiences for each and all members in the house,” say the architects. “It has three floors, one attic, a balcony, and a terrace. The effective solution for such limited built area is to design the interior as minimal as possible, and to create continuous and open spaces. We create functional zones and place objects in order to bring members of the family closer to each other, but still be able to have their private spaces if necessary.”

Exterior view of Cafe Tiam from across the street.

They add that “plant pots of different sizes are found in every corner of the building. Plant pots on the louvers, balcony, terrace, and inside the house create a calm and pleasant atmosphere. Although Tiam is located near a crowded crossroad, all family members still feel close to nature and [enjoy] a peaceful living space.”