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Think Big: 9 Small-Space Layout Ideas to Steal from a Petite Paris Apartment

When Septembre Architecture arrived on the scene of a 645-square-foot apartment in the hip 11th Arrondissement of Paris, the space had too many walls—surely placed in an erstwhile attempt to maximize space in the tiny flat. But to the architects, the walls only made the home feel smaller, and they set about removing and replacing them with sliding doors, clear and mirrored surfaces, and clever shifts in flooring material to divide the apartment into useful zones without dividing and destroying the whole. Here, our top nine takeaways.

Photography by David Foessel, courtesy of Septembre Architecture.

1. Use flooring to define zones.

Even though the apartment opens onto one single, open room, the architects used a concrete floor to define the kitchen, vertically oriented wooden floorboards to define the dining area, and horizontally oriented boards to define the entry hall, each as separate zones.

The kitchen’s gray laminate cabinets match its gray concrete floor, while the white marble backsplash matches the white marble top of the Saarinen Round Dining Table in the dining room.
Above: The kitchen’s gray laminate cabinets match its gray concrete floor, while the white marble backsplash matches the white marble top of the Saarinen Round Dining Table in the dining room.
Storage is a higher priority than lounge space in this entryway/living room, which has a pullout futon for overnight guests. Note the change in flooring, from horizontally laid planks in the entry to vertically laid ones in the dining area.
Above: Storage is a higher priority than lounge space in this entryway/living room, which has a pullout futon for overnight guests. Note the change in flooring, from horizontally laid planks in the entry to vertically laid ones in the dining area.

2. Put hallways to work.

Apart from the spacious front room, the rest of the home—the office, bedroom, and bathroom—is built off of one long hallway that actually comprises a substantial part of each room (rather than being wasted space that leads to each room).

Moving from the front room to the office, the flooring shifts to a stylized installation of colorful broken tiles that was preexisting in the apartment.
Above: Moving from the front room to the office, the flooring shifts to a stylized installation of colorful broken tiles that was preexisting in the apartment.

3. Use built-ins to turn a spare sliver into a functional space.

Instead of struggling to place furniture, the architects planned for three basic functions in the home office and had built-ins installed to accommodate: a desk for work, a bookcase for storage, and a walkway for movement—nothing else.

 A full-height, full-length bookcase installed along one wall of a narrow home office provides copious storage space for books and work material. Opposite, a built-in desk runs the length of the hallway, offering ample work space for two.
Above: A full-height, full-length bookcase installed along one wall of a narrow home office provides copious storage space for books and work material. Opposite, a built-in desk runs the length of the hallway, offering ample work space for two.

4. Sliding barn doors stay out of the way.

Standard swinging doors are cheap and easy (and typically come standard). But sliding doors maximize space for movement by staying out of the way.

The functional hallway continues from the office into the bedroom, which is marked by the original wood flooring, painted white.
Above: The functional hallway continues from the office into the bedroom, which is marked by the original wood flooring, painted white.

5. Don’t box the closet in.

If you want a traditional closet, you’ll have to carve out space for one. Here, the architects installed the closet behind the bed and bathroom to accommodate their clients’ extra-large clothes collection (both homeowners work in fashion).

A drywall panel behind the bed functions as a headboard and a screen to partially shield the closet.
Above: A drywall panel behind the bed functions as a headboard and a screen to partially shield the closet.

6. Swap solid walls for clear glass.

When privacy isn’t paramount, use clear glass instead of drywall to divide rooms. It has a thinner profile (so it takes up less space), it makes both rooms look bigger, and it allows natural light (which comes at a premium in most homes) to flood adjacent spaces.

At right, the closet actually extends into available space behind the bathroom.
Above: At right, the closet actually extends into available space behind the bathroom.

7. Use mirrors to (visually) double your space.

I stared at this next photo for a good 10 seconds before realizing the bathroom wall is a full-height mirror (and I look at photos of interiors all day, every day). The apartment ends here, but to the eyes, it just keeps going.

The bathroom shelving, sink, and door frames are all defined in black steel.
Above: The bathroom shelving, sink, and door frames are all defined in black steel.

8. Use same-size tile for visual continuity.

You can use changes in design details to define space, but the opposite it also true: Keeping design details consistent saves a space from looking too “chopped up.”

Because a mirror above the sink wasn’t necessary, Septembre applied the same shape as an interior picture window looking into the black tile-lined shower.
Above: Because a mirror above the sink wasn’t necessary, Septembre applied the same shape as an interior picture window looking into the black tile-lined shower.

9. Use tiles as “rugs” to define floor space.

The architects used hexagonal mosaic tile everywhere in the bathroom—on the floors, walls, and shower. On the floor, black hex tile is installed against white in a rectangular pattern in front of the sink—it’s a typical size, shape, and location for a bathroom rug, and visually stands in for one.

Mosaic tile in two colors adds visual interest to traditional finish.
Above: Mosaic tile in two colors adds visual interest to traditional finish.
The layout of the 645-square-foot apartment.
Above: The layout of the 645-square-foot apartment.

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