Any home that’s been around for a century or more has likely seen its fair share of renovations, both small and major. Spaces that started out with high ceilings and few interior walls were almost always subdivided to fit more people as cities grew more crowded and belts tightened. Old wooden floors were covered with carpet or tile, then restored. Original trim and molding was stripped away for something more modern, which quickly became passé. Then occupants with more wealth came along and attempted to recreate the original proportions and materials, starting the cycle all over again.

Inside "House N," a renovated transforming apartment in Milan.

These houses and apartments changed more than their original designers and builders would have imagined, says Quinzii Terna Architecture, and often in ways that are both surprising and confounding. The firm, led by Diego Terna and Chiara Quinzii, argues that these changes follow those of the occupants’ psyches, reflecting both inner transformations and the evolution of the world outside.

“House N,” an apartment in Milan measuring just over 530 square feet, is presented as an example. The architects point out the details of the home that would appeal to a wealthier current resident and managed to survive many renovations: the plaster geometric-patterned frames in the ceilings, the wood of the window frames, and the terrazzo floors, which themselves are made from a mixture of cement and marble scraps since real marble would have cost too much money at the time of building.

Inside "House N," a renovated transforming apartment in Milan.

These things were not remarkable when they were originally included in the home, but today, they carry a quaint sense of authenticity that so many spaces built more recently tend to lack.

“So the new project wants to maintain the original intention and some traces of the previous inhabitants (who have changed the original ambient too), such as the arch between the entrance and the living area, a first attempt to open the spaces between each others, especially the ones of conviviality, like the living room, to mark the passage between the different areas of the house in a lighter way. But what the original project offers is precisely the space, in its different dimensions, the high ceilings, the long corridor, the large rooms, areas that we are no longer used to, with the surfaces designed nowadays to reach the minimum dimensions in an economic context.”

“The space, in fact, is the object of the greatest transformation and so the new project folds the old one without breaking it, without canceling it completely. The space, which is already there with all its qualities, is released and re-structured with light elements, the furniture. These pieces, like large objects, create new environments, no longer as separate spaces but as nuances of space, continuously modified by a movement of furniture, which open, move, rotate, become alcoves, deposit, surface of work, archive, game.”

Inside "House N," a renovated transforming apartment in Milan.
Inside "House N," a renovated transforming apartment in Milan.

The architects think that ultimately, many of us need to feel that our home is both tied to its own particular history and able to adapt to our current needs. This focus on the “nuances of space” results in new flexible elements that act like oversized pieces of furniture, giving the small apartment the ability to shift and transform at a moment’s notice with tables that fold out of walls, hidden storage, and a small room that can open or close to the rest of the home.

But the addition is intentionally temporary in nature: easily removable and able to adapt yet again to the needs of future inhabitants. Like so many past changes, the pressboard used throughout the renovated interiors was considered low-end not so long ago, but it’s currently in vogue as a budget-friendly yet visually pleasing material.

Inside "House N," a renovated transforming apartment in Milan.

With these psychological considerations, “House N” anchors itself in past, present, and future all at once — quite a feat for a home that’s over 100 years old.