Future Living

Living spaces are getting smaller - but they’re also getting smarter

Design Anthology / Lane Crawford

We don’t live the way we used to — especially in Asia. Families are smaller and so are apartments, with the average size of a Hong Kong flat tumbling to just 400 square feet. Young people are more eager to leave the family home and venture out on their own, even if that means sharing a flat with someone. The rise of freelancing and working remotely means many homes are doubling as workspaces.

What does this mean for our future living arrangements? That’s something Hong Kong-based architecture firm LAAB is eager to find out. ‘We’ve been exploring how to achieve a quality lifestyle in a small space,’ says director Otto Ng.

Living spaces are getting smaller — but they’re also getting smarter. ‘Modularity allows people to transform the space,’ says Ng. A traditional Hong Kong apartment is divided into small rooms, but Ng envisions an open space that can be used for many different purposes. In one 309-square-foot flat he designed for a young professional couple living in Central, a large bathtub doubles as a seating area for watching movies, sliding screens create a temporary guestroom and retractable kitchen cabinets save space. There are even catwalks and a hidden, ventilated litter box for the couple’s cats.

Smart design goes beyond sliding walls and multipurpose furniture. LED lighting systems automatically change the colour and brightness of light depending on the time of day, which can help wake you up in the morning, concentrate on your work in the afternoon and lull you to sleep at night. Motion-activated sound systems allow your music to follow you throughout the house. Remote locks can be used to let your Airbnb guests into your apartment when you are travelling.

LAAB is not the only firm thinking about these issues. Edge Design founder Gary Chang won worldwide attention when he turned his 344-square-foot childhood flat into a transformer home with 24 rooms in one, thanks to an intricate network of sliding walls and furniture. ‘The transformations need to be user-friendly and involve as little steps as possible, or else no one would dare to move anything,’ says Chang.

Even big developers are seeing the potential of these spaces. Loft-style apartments with open floor plans and double-height ceilings are already common in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and Ng says they will become increasingly common in Hong Kong too. ‘We’ll be thinking of space more three-dimensionally,’ he says.

Text / Christopher DeWolf