Shelter: Flexible Home Design

The latest is interiors that come with moving parts
Shannon O'Leary  |   October 2009   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Sliding glass doors custom-made by Pedini Seattle

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The latest in urban design are interiors that come with moving parts 

We are a convenience-driven, customize-it-to-me-now culture. The alphabet soup of TiVo, iPhone and Hulu essentially translates into having it our own way with a few flicks of our fingertips.

This ethic of prompt personalization has immigrated to urban architecture, where the liberating concept of flexible design has entered the mainstream. The idea is that by incorporating a movable element—such as a sliding wall—into an open floor plan with the ease of an Etch A Sketch, owners can customize how they use their space, making rooms disappear or appear at their command. For those feeling limited by the fish-bowl floor plans of contemporary condos and townhouses, this can be a transformative design tweak, giving even space-constrained owners a new freedom of functionality. (The ultimate in elastic interiors has to be architect Gary Chang’s 344-square-foot Hong Kong apartment, recently featured in The New York Times. Dubbed the “Domestic Transformer,” after the presto-chango auto-robot toys, it can flip or slide into an astounding 24 different layouts via an array of movable units.)

According to Sam Cunningham of downtown-based Realogics Brokerage, which represents such high-end condominiums as Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, many open floor plan condos in town are being retrofitted with flexibility-enhancing parts, such as sliding glass doors and walls. “And they’re selling pretty quickly,” he says. “Developers have started to take notice and to install these types of adaptable systems as standard features.” In fact, with projects completed in just the last year, local developers and designers are proving their flexible mettle with their variations on mobile interiors.

Famous for his inventive single-family residences, Tom Kundig of Pioneer Square’s Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen (OSKA) inserted literal wall art into his first condo project (1111 East Pike), recently completed on Capitol Hill. All 27 units, ranging from 600 to 1,125 square feet, boast “puzzle walls” made of run-of-the-mill medium-density fiberboard (MDF) but fetchingly fitted with barn-door hardware and coolly suspended from a ceiling track. To close off their kitchen or bedroom, residents simply roll the pieces into place at will. “Instead of the architect making all of the decisions,” notes OSKA’s Matt Anderson, “moving walls lets the owners shape their own space.”

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