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Tiny Origami apartment in Manhattan unfolds into 4 rooms

In 2005, third-grade-teacher Eric Schneider bought as big as an apartment as he could afford in Manhattan. He paid $235,000 for a 450-square-foot studio with a tiny kitchen.

“It was basically an open rectangular space,” remembers Schneider. “There wasn’t much to it, there was just a couple of old closets, an old corner kitchen and that was it”.

Extreme density in a tiny home

Then he let architects Michael Chen and Kari Anderson of Normal Projects design a way to pack more density into his small space.

“Initially we were looking at different ways we could subdivide the spaces into smaller spaces,” explains Chen, “but pretty quickly it became clear that there wasn’t really enough room to get like a real bedroom in here and if you did then there wasn’t really room to have a real living room area and Eric is a pretty serious cook and so a tiny little kitchen wouldn’t really work for him.”

4 rooms tucked into a cabinet

In order to fit more apartment in a small footprint, they created an object that’s bigger than furniture, but smaller than architecture and that morphs with the changing activities of a day.

It’s a large, blue, oversized cabinet that houses all of the walls/bed/tables/shelving/closets needed for at least 4 full-sized rooms.

To create a bedroom, the cabinet door swings out to create a wall dividing the living room from the sleeping area, then the Murphy bed folds down revealing a built-in nightstand complete with lighting.

Japanese sense of space

By continuing to unfold, or fold differently, Schneider can create not just the bedroom with accompanying closets, but an office plus library, a guest bedroom, and a living room. Or close it up entirely and simply flip down the small bar and the room becomes entertaining space for a dozen.

The Normal Projects architects called their creation the Unfolding Apartment, though given Schneider’s affinity for the Japanese sense of space (he spent his first year post-college living and teaching in Japan), it could as easily be called the Origami Apartment.

Magical, morphing, mystery cabinet

The morphing cabinet had to be custom built and while it packs in a lot- even kitchen storage and lighting for the room- Chen warns it’s not about hiding stuff, but about strategically creating division and overlap.

“It’s partly partitioning the space, it’s partly making its interior available and its partly also creating lots of different areas of overlap where you get like a living area and a bed area and a dining area and a lounge area and they’re not necessarily separate but they’re sort of leaking into one another in a way.”

In total, Schneider spent $70,000 total remodeling his new apartment and this includes not just the cabinet, but the bathroom renovation, all cabinetry, kitchen appliances, furniture and dishes, etc.

In this video, Chen shows us his custom cabinet of rooms and Schneider unfolds a few of his favorite configurations: his bedroom (& closet/changing room), office (& library), guest bedroom, kitchen, dining bar, living room and lounge.