Small Wonders with Michael Chen

[nggallery id=110 template=”sliderview” display_content=”0”]Michael Chen thinks through ways clients use a space and creates areas dedicated to those specific uses. “The work emerges out of trying to be able to extract a full life out of a relatively small space,” he says. “It’s a choreography kind of thing. There’s a transition from day to night, and that action can be instrumental in changing spaces.”

Chen’s Manhattan-based firm, MKCA, has earned a reputation for designing and engineering multiuse spaces. His recently completed 5:1 apartment, a 390-square-foot unit in Gramercy Park, transforms for night use by easily moving a wall, lowering a bed and creating a dressing area.

MKCAOne overriding element in his multiuse designs, whether it’s for a micro-apartment or a sprawling penthouse, is that transformations have to happen easily. “You should never have to move a piece of furniture to configure an apartment from one state to another,” he cautions. “If the quality of motion is bad, it’s not worth it.”

As a result, his firm often engineers the hardware that transforms a room’s use.

Modeling objects and motion are as much a part of his projects as the designs themselves. “A lot of our work happens in 3D digital modeling, and that gets translated into full-size mockups,” he shares. “The tools we use are very, very precise.”

After analyzing the space for each client’s lifestyle needs, the complexity of motion within that space is developed. This process can take months, depending on the materials and the extent of the transformations, as they often require the firm to develop custom solutions.

“We need to verify the motion is going to be smooth, simple and economical,” tells Chen. “We try and get more than one use out of everything, and we know there are many consequences of moving something on a motorized track.”

Because of those complexities, the firm often focuses intently on one area in an apartment. Some clients want multifunction kitchens, while other apartments, such as the 5:1 apartment, focus on the living area.

“In a small space, not everything can be an attention grabber,” notes Chen. “You need quiet in a single room; otherwise, you’d go crazy if everything is calling attention to itself.”

Rendering | MKCA / Michael K. Chen Architecture

Photography | Alan Tansey

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