Tiny house builders and micro-apartment remodelers use all kinds of clever tricks and hacks to pack maximum functionality into cramped spaces, but where do you think they get half of their ideas? From boats. “Pied-a-Mer,” a floating apartment by architect Michael K. Chen of MKCA Architecture, is a little different from highly efficient sailboats with adorably small living quarters (for starters, it’s on the world’s largest residential yacht). But Chen has effectively brought those influences full circle for this unusual 600-square-foot luxury residence, which delivers modern micro-apartment design to the ocean.
This apartment looks nothing like any cruise ship suite we’ve ever seen before. In fact, if not for a few tell-tale details, you might think you were looking at a well-appointed studio apartment in Manhattan. Rendered in soothing pale blue, the rounded built-in structures brimming with transforming features reference Le Corbusier’s modernist Unite D’Habitation housing project in Marseille, France, which was itself inspired by midcentury ocean liners.
“As a jumping off point for the project, we looked to Modernist architecture’s fascination with nautical design and cruise ships, which optimized for small-scale living, modular organization, and efficiency,” says Chen. “In particular, Le Corbusier’s belief that a home should be regarded as a ‘machine for living,’ his own multifunctional apartment and atelier at the Immeuble Molitor, as well as his fascination with cruise ships as models for self-sufficient, utopian apartment complexes, like his famed 1952 Unite D’Habitation, offered inspiration.”
The clients are an older couple who use the residence as a getaway for themselves and, occasionally, their adult children. They wanted the ability to expand the space from a one bedroom to a two bedroom as needed using extra tables and beds that fold away almost imperceptibly. Hidden behind surface panels are the components of extra sleeping spaces, two baths, a dressing room, a sitting area, a trunk room, and a “landing zone.”
The dining area converts into the second bedroom on demand, with the cantilevered folding bed tucked behind a fold-down table. When all four guests are present, a sliding screen divides the apartment to create privacy while maintaining access to the common living area, which itself faces a wall of glass that looks out to the ocean.
Chen adds that “concepts of motion and multi-functionalism underpin all aspects of the residence’s organization and aesthetic. In addition to disappearing tables and beds, MKCA has incorporated hidden lighting and integrated appliances that can be boldly revealed or neatly tucked away. Continuous aluminum ribs help conceal panel divisions, doors, and appliances, and also impart a sensation of height in the relatively low, eight-foot tall space.”
“Finishes across the apartment are either impervious or designed to patina over time. This dichotomy extends to the furniture selection, whose surfaces are highly tactile, shifting from polished metals and stones to more plush materials such as mohair, velvet, and suede, and serve as sculptural elements within the space.”
It’s obvious from the deft execution of this project that Chen is accustomed to designing small spaces. Micro living is a common theme in his firm’s portfolio, including the brilliant “Unfolding Apartment” and a 12×16-foot micro-housing concept designed for Häfele. Building on a ship presented a few new challenges, like restrictions on potentially flammable materials, but the resulting combination of warmth, simplicity, and nautical style is a refreshing take on both small spaces and floating residences.