“People think smaller spaces are easier to design, but they are actually super challenging,” says María José Váscones, one-half of the design duo behind Doméstico, a “habitable artifact” that condenses domestic activities into one organizing element. The pair chose the word “artifact” because they see the Doméstico micro-living solution as an object that inserts itself inside an existing space. “It’s not part of the architecture but becomes a part of it once placed within it,” explains Juan Alberto Andrade, who works alongside Váscones in Guayaquil, the largest city and chief port in Ecuador.
Intended for 20- to 45-year-olds who don’t have many options in Ecuador if they want to live alone or as a couple, the first Doméstico was made for an apartment in the new Qorner tower in Quito (a project by local developer Uribe Schwarzkopf and Safdie Architects). The city is growing fast, say the pair, and its economic centre (as opposed to its historic district) is becoming very diverse, with colleges, activities and public spaces. “Many people want to be closer to the amenities the city offers,” says Andrade. “So the client wanted to show the possibilities of a small space measuring just 27.5 square metres.”
And the possibilities are multiple — with Doméstico as an approach to micro-living. The artifact, which can be made to measure, features a small but complete hallway kitchen module that is hidden when not in use. It has storage at the top (both behind doors and on shelves, accessible via ladder) and at ground level for everyday items, including a pull-out wardrobe and corner cupboard. There is a desk that can be lowered, and a bed behind it. But worry not. If you don’t want to make or push your bed back up and still need a working surface, you can place a stand-alone desk or sofas and a coffee table in the free area next to Doméstico. Váscones calls this the space where everything can happen. “When you pull down the bed, it becomes a bedroom; push it up and it becomes your office; add a sofa and it is a living room.”
The designers selected a limited palette of three contemporary colours (green for some of the storage, light brown for the units and black metal for the handles, rails, ladder and light strips). They opted for laminated boards, a durable and flexible material that can withstand a high level of interaction, for much of the artifact; local craftsmen applied a high-quality sleek finish to them. Despite featuring several flexible and folding elements, the result is much more than just a thoughtfully designed collection of furniture: It’s a rich and polished work of architecture in its own right.
Váscones — who in college developed an obsession with the YouTube channel “Never Too Small,” which focused exclusively on small-footprint design and living — says the pair was only too aware of the common pitfalls of such endeavours. “You don’t want to be completely surrounded by things that close and open or have multiple functions,” she says. “It seems practical, but in the end it isn’t.” Neither did they want all the elements to be too dispersed or confusing. “We sought to condense everything inside one object,” says Andrade.
It’s small-space living that doesn’t require a degree in puzzle-solving. In fact, despite some initial shock and hesitation from potential buyers at its diminutive size, the Doméstico-equipped apartment has been so well received locally that the pair is currently making two more for the same complex.
Designers María José Váscones and Juan Alberto Andrade recently installed the small-living solution for the (ultra-organized) big-city dweller in a tiny Quito apartment.