Ten years ago Steve Sauer was looking for a place to keep some stuff. When he found a subterranean storage unit in the basement of a century-old Seattle coop, he quickly realized it had potential as a living quarters.
Drawing on his expertise as a designer of airplane interiors (at Boeing), he began to sketch a home that could fit within 182 square feet. “When I first started designing this thing, I was thinking bicycle messenger, 22 year old bicycle messenger with 8 pieces of clothing and almost nothing else just living in the city.”
Sauer’s “pico dwelling” (pico is 1/trillionth) isn’t about sacrifice. He’s managed to fit about 8 different useful spaces into the micro apartment by stacking functions. A cafe area (complete with Eames chair) is stacked on top of a video lounge (with 37-inch TV). One floor up on the adjacent wall, a bed(room) is lofted above a walk-in closet/ office.
The main floor space fits a transforming table (that folds down from a cable to seat 6) and a 3-foot-deep Japanese-style soaking tub hidden below the entryway. The kitchen backs onto a bathroom which serves as the platform for a guest bed(room). There’s also storage for 2 bikes (a pull-up bar doubles as a bike holder) and steps that double as benches.
More quality, less space
“I drive a Smart car and I like pushing the limit to see what I can do with the smallest kind of thing in all ways. I guess being an engineer I like pushing efficiency kind of limits all over the place because it’s just interesting to me.”
Sauer appreciates simplicity, but his main interest in small spaces is a desire for high quality and control over his environment. “Typically cost considerations are the driver for small spaces, but that wasn’t at all my primary interest. I wanted higher quality than I could afford at normal size and so by compressing myself I could get high quality materials and also by building it all myself I saved that money as well.”
Maker built: DIY machining and IKEA hacks
Sauer spent thousands of hours in materials research and settled on the exotic (i.e. German faucets and Brazilian Walnut flooring) to the mundane, using IKEA as a materials resource. His hacked IKEA projects include: cut-up shelves and tabletop serve as the frame for kitchen drawers; bed slats are both floor for the guest bed and a countertop has become floor to his cafe level; and in the kitchen, “Ikea hardwood shelving for drawer boxes, a table-top for drawer fronts, countertop planks for framing, and heavy duty drawer glides.”
Standing beneath a former-table-top-glass-turned-translucent-bathroom-ceiling (also the guest bed floor, covered by bed slats), Sauer explains, “This would cost a fortune if I ordered it custom and it’s only a couple of hundred from IKEA with a whole table so IKEA really comes to the rescue with some of these things as materials supply.”
Nearly every piece of furniture or appliance reveals some mix of Sauer’s DIY tinkering. The bathroom sink is a mix of “floor wood as a deck, Ikea shelf brackets, a glass vessel sink, and satin-finish pipery”. Bathroom towel racks that were too expensive to purchase were replicated via “desperate acts of machining stainless steel” (an earlier iteration used boat-part stanchions).
His soap/shampoo shelving was constructed from stainless steel kitchen containers fitted into a laser-cut panel. A bike shifter mechanism became part of a showerhead. 3form plastic products serve as both a cover for his soaking tub (1″ Chroma) that is strong enough to double as a floor, and a semi-translucent wall between the bathroom and kitchen (1/4″ Varia Ecoresin).
Sauer doesn’t have formal construction training, but he is a self-taught practitioner of all the residential construction trades, holds a master’s degree in whole systems design, and has a little workshop that includes a lathe (an Atlas 6” metal lathe) from his father that was resurrected for extensive custom machining.
A pico development?
The final project shows off Sauer’s dedication to quality and custom finishes and it was a labor of love. It took 7 years to complete and 2 years to get permitted.
Today, Sauer has the permits and a certificate of occupancy for his tiny home and he would love to take what he’s learned and create an entire building of high-end micro apartments.