Studiomama has built a micro neighbourhood inside a former factory hall in Milan, complete with a cluster of totem-like living spaces that can be personalised by their inhabitants.
The London-based design firm’s ‘MINI Living – Built By All’ concept (on show during Milan Design Week) recalls Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena’s ‘Half A Good House’ project, which gives residents the chance to finish their homes themselves and raise their living standards. Studiomama’s design is on a decidedly more diminutive scale, however, reducing living spaces to a series of plywood and MDF structures spanning 20sqm, wrapped in translucent shells.
‘With the populations of our cities growing ever bigger, we asked ourselves, “how can we live better on a smaller scale”’, says Studiomama cofounder Nina Tolstrup. ‘People’s lives are becoming dematerialised, thanks to technology, so living spaces can be smaller, but they shouldn’t have to sacrifice on quality.’
Each of the living totems is the same but can be reconfigured by its inhabitants. Adds Tolstrup, ‘We designed them with distinct personalities in mind to show how they could be customised.’
Studiomama envisaged one yellow-hued space for a botanical illustrator, whose tiny home includes a mini greenhouse, while another living environment is conceived for a DJ, whose blue-tinged, bachelor-style totem comes complete with a mini recording studio. All have semi private areas, screened by Kvadrat textiles.
Adds MINI Living creative lead, Oke Hauser: ‘[The] installation turns people into active creators and puts them back at the heart of the design process. We believe the quality of a living space is determined by how well the residents identify with their home.’
Shared spaces are at the heart of this MINI Living neighbourhood – part of the car brand’s ongoing series of micro home experiments. Conceived to show how empty warehouses, offices and shopping centres could be recolonised, the installation comes with a communal kitchen, dining area and an ‘amphitheatre’ for film screenings, talks and events.
‘If you share parts of your home, you need less space,’ says Tolstrup. ‘Why pay for a dining room in your home that seats 12, if you only want to entertain three times a year, when you could share one instead? And with more and more people living alone these days, access to talks and happenings can really enhance their quality of life – whether they’re young or old – building a strong sense of community.’
Tolstrup points to the housing collectives that proliferated in 1970s Denmark, from where she hails. ‘None of what we’re suggesting is new, but this is a more personalised and formalised way of tackling shared living spaces – and its much more design-led.’
Studiomama has long been experimenting with micro living. Last year, it created a 13 sqm home concept in a former minicab office in London, with extendable furniture and bookshelves that double as beds. Tolstrop and Jack Mama (her husband and Studiomama co-founder) also designed a 36 sqm beach house for themselves on the Kent coast and turned a London carpenter’s workshop into a home, complete with a hanging sleeping ‘pod’.
While Tolstrup and Mama might spend most of their time in a more voluminous London home, they’ve learnt lessons from their time spent in small spaces. ‘You become more disciplined, you buy stackable furniture and you learn to outsource things like cleaning. Jack jokes about how I’ve been taking lessons from Marie Kondo, doing things like rolling up my clothes. It’s kind of hysterical but it works.’
When the duo moved briefly to Stockholm for a few years, they were forced put all their possessions in storage. ‘We didn’t miss anything – half the things we have in our home, we don’t need.’
Less possessions means greater flexibility too. ‘Smalls spaces are easy to manage, plus you can pack up and travel with ease.’ Ideal for the new generation of digital nomads.
Studiomama’s ‘MINI Living – Built By All’ installation is on show at via Tortona, 32, Milan, from 17 to 22 April 2018.