Small space challenges can be fun when you think of them like a game of Tetris, fitting pieces together in just the right way to create a functional whole. Anyone who has strolled through an Ikea showroom and marveled at how they cram every square inch of a 120-square-foot apartment with furniture and storage knows it’s all about smart use of space combined with visual tricks that fool the eye into thinking a room is bigger than it really is.
A truly gifted interior designer might be able to find ways to achieve this effect using all vintage pieces and found objects in a rainbow of colors, but most of the time, making a small space livable requires a surprising amount of restraint. Sticking to a limited color palette can help keep space-challenged homes and apartments from feeling cluttered and overwhelming, and modular elements, like those found at Ikea, definitely make it easier to design your own arrangement of furniture and storage elements to fit the dimensions of your interiors.

But nothing is quite so effective as custom built-ins for maximizing small spaces, and this apartment in Bordeaux, France is a prime example. Located on two levels of a narrow stone building in the heart of the historical center of the city, the space is undeniably tiny, but the owners wanted a solution that would feel bright and airy, with all the functions you’d expect in a larger home.

Architecture firm L’atelier Miel teamed up with Michaël Martins Alfonso to design two opposing living room walls of wooden built-ins packed with multi-functional and transforming elements, as well as additional wooden storage solutions elsewhere in the home.
Ten windows found on all four sides of the apartment give it a lot of potential for brightness, which the architects played up with white wall surfaces and a minimally textured, pale wood that carries through every corner of the space.

On one wall, a puzzle-like staircase made up of cabinets and open shelving nestles into a corner beside the kitchen, leading up to the bedroom. A vertical panel hides a closet, and shoe storage slides out of the landing at the halfway point. The open niches offer space to display decorative objects.

On the opposite wall, a floor-to-ceiling bookcase features an asymmetrical checkered arrangement of shelves and cabinets, with a built-in bench hiding a number of surprise functions. The first is four giant subdivided drawers full of office supplies, cd’s and other small items, organized in trays and shelves. The second is a table leaf that can be partially pulled out for use as a desk, or turned to create a double-sided dining room table with room for four.

Crawl up onto the bench and head toward the far corner and you’ll find a tiny nook offering both an additional workspace or a place to read. Removable foam cushions fill in the nook when you want to sit in the window and take advantage of the natural light, or you can take them out to sit in the desk chair that’s tucked into the space below.

Additional wooden built-ins offer storage space in the bedroom and bathroom, so there’s no clutter to be found anywhere in the entire house, despite its diminutive proportions.