John MacPeek has fond memories of living out of a suitcase when he first moved to Europe over 2 decades ago. “There’s a real advantage to having everything you own that you can carry on your back at one point”. So when he was looking to buy an apartment in Barcelona, he was ready to live in something compact where everything he owned was accounted for.
When he first saw his new home, its size didn’t bother him (about 25 square meters or 270 square feet) as much as its condition. It was an old storage room for the building’s water tanks and it looked more like a storage room than anything habitable.
A wall of windows to the sea
He enlisted the help of architect Lola Domènech who insisted she’d take on the project if she could open up the apartment to the sea. MacPeek bought the “over-sized closet” and Domènech began plans to take down the main wall and replace it with a 6-meter-long (20 foot long) folding glass door that allows in light and air to provide passive solar heating and cooling (the shutters can close it off completely in summer to prevent overheating).
Domènech then began to design features to invade every available space. She created a walk-through shower with a curtain on one side to protect the toilet and a see-through glass door to close it off from the rest of the apartment (yet let in nice light and showering views). Indoor/outdoor, slatted wooden floors double as a drain and zinc roofing material lines the walls; the water-proofed materials mean that now, nearly a decade since it was constructed, the shower still looks nearly new.
Although MacPeek wanted a more traditional bedroom, Domènech convinced him to keep the bed open to the rest of the apartment so it could serve double duty. She designed a single wall at one end of the bed for a bit of privacy, but the other two sides are open to the living area. To convert the bed into a sofa lounge, the mattress can be rolled to create a back support and guests can sit on the wooden frame.
Refrigerator in a drawer
To make the most of the tiny kitchen, MacPeek uses a table that folds closed against the wall as an ideal breakfast nook (complete with folding chairs for up to 3 people). He has conventionally-sized appliances and even a small dishwasher, but he realized there was no way he would fit a full-sized “American-style” refrigerator in the space. So he installed a half-size “European-style” refrigerator/freezer and next to it, a refrigerator in a drawer.
Simplicity as a complicated virtue
MacPeek doesn’t see the small space as a sacrifice, but rather as an asset. “There’s an advantage to having less space and less things. Then you sort of know what you need”.
He sees so many large homes as cluttered. “If you have so much space where you’re constantly putting stuff away when you open those cupboards you end up finding a lot of junk basically”.
To keep the apartment from appearing cluttered the materials were limited to wood floors/tables, white walls and a deep red for accents (cupboard doors, a hanging kitchen lamp). On one wall of the kitchen he did use a chalkboard paint so the space can double as a message board.
On the day of our shoot, he had written a quote from Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti: “Simplicity is one of the most complicated virtues.”
MacPeek elaborated on his choice of quote: “Simplicity makes you decide. You have to really decide what you want and whenever you decide what you want you’re also deciding what you don’t want and discarding all those other things.”