News Home & Design This Renovated Micro-Apartment Is Inspired by Japanese Taverns This home recalls the small and intimate atmosphere of the izakaya. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Published September 26, 2022 02:00PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Sim-Plex Design Studio News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive From Paris to New York, in many big cities all over the world, small living spaces are the norm, rather than the exception, thanks to lack of space in a denser urban environment, rising housing costs, and even more practical reasons like the inherent geographic constraints of the landscape. Of course, living in a smaller apartment in the middle of a major metropolis usually does not pose a problem, as many urbanites find themselves going out more often to eat, shop or hang out in one of the many green spaces that cities often boast. But with the onset of the COVID pandemic, residents in many cities found themselves grappling with extended lockdowns that kept them at home, where there might not be a lot of space. Without the flexibility to go out for work or leisure, many were stuck at home, which some experts say has negatively affected people's mental health. Such was the case for one young couple living in Hong Kong, where the double whammy of living in a micro-apartment, combined with the necessity of COVID lockdowns led the pair to yearn for a bit of a street life ambiance in their newly purchased home. The couple turned to local firm Sim-Plex Design Studio (previously) to bring some of that bustling vibe of a Japanese izakaya—an informal type of bar serving snacks and drinks that is quite popular in Japan. The result: a home that feels welcoming and open, despite its relatively tiny 367-square-foot (34-square-meter) footprint. Sim-Plex Design Studio As the designers explain, it was all about translating this bit of Japanese culture into the couple's home, especially in the recent context of Hong Kong's so-called nano-flats: "In Japan, if you want to have a drink and meal, the best atmosphere is generally in an izakaya. Among most of them, the U-shaped izakaya can most highlight its characteristics: the chef or the boss is at the core of the layout, and the diners sit in the U-shaped bar table surrounding the center. [..] [The couple in this renovation project] yearn for Japanese izakaya culture. Especially under the pandemic, they cannot travel abroad, and they hope to experience the izakaya vibe at home. At the same time, due to the limited space of tiny nano flats in Hong Kong... [h]ow to create an open, with vibe of an izakaya living space that is compatible with different living scenarios and functionality at the same time is a difficult question." To begin, the designers took inspiration from the typically U-shaped izakaya as a starting point for laying out the main living area. Rather than have an enclosed kitchen, which is more typical for apartments in Hong Kong, the team opted to demolish the existing partitions to open up the kitchen somewhat into the "middle core" of the apartment. While the kitchen becomes "semi-open" in this way, there is nevertheless a bit of privacy afforded by the placement of the refrigerator and cabinets, with the idea being to "balance openness and privacy." Sim-Plex Design Studio When the space-saving folding table is flipped up, the open kitchen becomes a mini-izakaya of sorts, allowing the homeowners to act a bit like chefs, "perform[ing] in the center of a U-shaped izakaya." In addition to this folding table, there is a larger, dining table for four guests that have been stored away in one of the apartment's many storage cabinets. This flexibility of this means the tables can be cleared when they are not in use, thus freeing up the middle core of space for yoga practice, yet another one of the couple's preferred activities, or for any other potential "living scenarios." Sim-Plex Design Studio The kitchen itself has been configured so it is less cluttered and easy to clean, thanks to the installation of streamlined appliances like an induction stovetop, as well as elements like dark blue subway tiles and a reflective stainless steel plate behind the stove to tie it all together visually. Sim-Plex Design Studio The entry has been designed so that it maximizes both storage and a sense of openness, as well as convenience, with the addition of built-in shoe storage and an upholstered bench for sitting down on. The use of a hidden LED lighting strip system helps to add much-needed ambient lighting throughout the project, while also maximizing functionality by illuminating every square inch of usable space. Sim-Plex Design Studio The television is mounted on an articulating arm, so that it can be moved and adjusted, depending on where the homeowners will be seated. Sim-Plex Design Studio Besides the kitchen, there is an integrated rack for storing magazines or photos. This element also serves to add more functionality to the wall that hides the sliding door leading into the bathroom. Sim-Plex Design Studio The bathroom is compact but well-appointed, thanks to lots of wood-textured tiling, and a large mirrored cabinet to lighten and warm the entire space up. Sim-Plex Design Studio Next to the bathroom is the master bedroom, which features a clever storage platform that can not only hold a queen-sized mattress on top, but also hides a bunch of storage options like drawers in the steps, integrated storage cabinets, and a full-height wardrobe. Sim-Plex Design Studio The designers add that the other room in the apartment has been left unfurnished for the moment, as there are plans to either add a desk to transform it into a home office, or to someday convert it into a nursery. Sim-Plex Design Studio So while some may debate whether small spaces are healthy or not, the truth is that they are already a reality in many places in the world. There's no doubt, however, that we need more energy-efficient and resource-efficient homes in the future, and most likely that means downsizing the idea of the average North American home. So to that extent, we would all do well to rethink these smaller spaces so that they are more comfortable to live in. To see more, visit Sim-Plex Design Studio.