It is 2021, and the world population is slowly edging towards eight billion, and the lack of space is becoming more apparent by the day. The need to transform the way we live by utilizing the space we have efficiently is very important, considering the increasing population. That is what the Australian YouTube series, Never Too Small, does. Never Too Small is a media company that is dedicated to spreading the message about small living – a concept which focuses on using the least amount of space possible, providing a solution for urban overcrowding issues whilst improving the quality of life.
Colin Chee started this series after moving into a 40 sqm studio apartment in Melbourne. He realized that the small living lifestyle made him feel more connected to the city. “The way I think of it is that the supermarket across the street is my pantry,” he says.
The episodes of Never Too Small take us into the micro-homes of people who have made their tiny apartments look spacious and well-designed. The channel’s videos are aesthetically pleasing and informative and will make you want to drop whatever you’re doing to binge-watch them. Today, owning a spacious house in the heart of the city is an unattainable dream. Watching other people turn their matchbox houses into proper living spaces gives a sense of optimism, but a part of you always wonders, is that space enough?
“A lot of people want to live in urban areas … a way to make that work financially is to live in a much smaller space” – Colin Chee
It is easy to see why the channel is so appealing, looking at its 1.7 million subscribers. The almost meditative house tour videos show homes that are almost in a state of utter disrepair being brought back to life with clever design and are extremely satisfying to watch. The videos feature small living homes all over Australia, Hong Kong, and London with a recently increasing number of features across Europe. The people featured in the Never Too Small videos are mostly middle-aged architecture and design professionals who don’t have children. But that is the core concept around which the channel runs, that you can live in the house of your dreams in the center of the city while focussing on your career, just on a smaller scale.
One of the important reasons designers encourage the shift to micro-living is the environmental benefits. Architect and urban designer Katherine Sundermann explains, “The amount of energy and water you’re using (in comparison to living in a larger home) aren’t insignificant. Especially if you have a well-designed new apartment. You might not even need to turn on your heater in winter, compared to living in a detached weatherboard in the suburbs where your energy costs can be very high.”
One thing that is seen in the videos is that none of these people have stuff they don’t need, which they collected over the years. It is possible that the houses were made to look minimal for the sake of the shoot, but given the small footprint and the minimum storage in these designs, you can only wonder – is their lifestyle so minimal?
On that note, let us look at some designs of micro-apartments featured on the channel –
Episode 24: Boneca Apartment
The channel’s most viewed episode is about a small apartment in Sydney that was designed by architect Brad Swartz. The apartment complex was built in the 1960s and comprises around 40 apartments. The small living apartment designed by Swartz was only 24sqm and the new design completely changed the layout of the house. Swartz felt a strong need to divide the living and sleeping spaces, which were originally combined and accessed through a corridor from the entrance (which also contained the kitchen). The new layout made the sleeping area as small as possible so that the main living space would be spacious.
The key element of the design was a sliding timber screen that would determine the function of the apartment at any given time. During the day, the timber screen creates a visual separation between the living and sleeping area, while allowing light to pass through the slats. At night, it is used to close the kitchen, opening up the sleeping area. The bed is raised, providing storage space underneath. The unique feature of the apartment was its full-width windows, which the design uses efficiently to light up the spaces. Access to the bathroom and walk-in wardrobe is provided via a hidden door between the kitchen and the sleeping area.
Swartz kept the material palette of the design minimal, and the entire apartment has an earthy feel to it. The floor and the timber screen were made of blackbutt timber. The gray tiles in the bathroom complement the timber floor and, combined with the concealed lighting, gives a luxurious feel to the space. The benchtop and the splashback of the kitchen are made of light grey concrete.
The apartment doesn’t have a full-height refrigerator or space for a washer/dryer and because of its small size; it isn’t possible to provide these amenities either. But despite that, the apartment provides a sense of luxury way beyond its size.
Episode 55: Small Apartment, City Veil, Hong Kong
Desmond Wong, the owner of Archetypal, a furniture and lighting store in Hong Kong, wanted to design a sanctuary from the bustling sounds of Hong Kong. One of the slightly bigger apartments shown on the channel, this 52sqm apartment, is in Sai Ying Pun, on the western side of Hong Kong. Wong’s small living apartment was on the 31st floor of a high rise that was developed on a site that originally comprised nine tong laus, low-rise buildings unique to Hong Kong.
Wong’s design drew a lot of inspiration from wabi-sabi aesthetics with earthy colors and also incorporated clean line European arches. Wong gave a lot of importance to the first impression you get once you enter the house and he used the outdoor views and lighting as much as possible.
A race deck platform was installed on the balcony at the same level as the floor to create a sense of continuity. A storage cupboard is at one end of the living room with grills above to provide additional storage while hiding the AC unit. The kitchen can be accessed through an open arch that creates a better flow between the spaces. The two original bedrooms were combined to form a bigger and more functional bedroom with a study space and wardrobes.
The color palette used is fairly neutral with the accent pieces of darker colors kept in the lower half of the house to avoid visual clutter. The sliding door of the storage unit is covered with textured wallpaper to add to the earthy feel of the space. Bronze fittings were used in the bathrooms to compliment the color scheme of the rest of the apartment.
According to Wong, a home is a manifestation of one’s habits and needs, and it’s essential to analyze how you use a space before the design process. Even though he wasn’t a designer, Wong designed a small space in such a way that it provided him with everything that he needed.
Episode 19: Experimental Micro Living – OPod
The OPod Tube House is an experimental, low-cost, small living housing unit created to solve Hong Kong’s space and housing problems. Using a low-cost and readily available concrete water pipe, James Law designed a 15sqm micro-apartment that can accommodate one/two people. The OPod tubes are designed to be stacked on top of one another to form a modular structure that can be moved to different sites in the city.
The OPod shown in the video is a prototype of the design and is around 2.5m wide and 2.5m tall. The core design concept is to use simple materials to get the most out of the space. All the furniture and fixtures are made of recycled material. The design was made keeping in mind the young population and was designed around their needs.
The living area is organized around a sofa bed that has some storage below it. There is a system of customized shelving with the mainframe made up of recycled and cut scaffolding tubes painted black with leftover timber panels painted yellow for the shelves. The flooring is made of recycled bamboo floorboards. The kitchen is a tiny space comprising a basin, a small refrigerator, and a microwave. Since the design was made for the younger generation and because the people who live in these pods wouldn’t be doing much cooking, the kitchen was provided with just the basic amenities. The bathroom is at the back of the unit and is a tiled space with a toilet and a shower.
The whole OPod costs about 150,000 HKD, which is about 1/5th of the cost it takes to construct a normal apartment of the same size. Although economical and futuristic, the OPod design isn’t the most optimum, as it has just the bare minimum space required, and has a lack of storage and kitchen facilities.
The homes in Never Too Small are well designed and admittedly the videos are pretty fun to watch, but most of the tiny apartments shown in the videos will never be a conscious choice for people, especially in Asian countries, where the channel isn’t so popular. But given our exploding population, major changes involving the redesign of our cities and homes are inevitable. Is small living the way of life in the future? We will never know for sure, but what we do know is that once you start this visually pleasing series, you cannot stop and, who knows, maybe we’d be drawn to the micro-apartment lifestyle soon enough.
NEVER TOO SMALL 52sqm/559sqft Small Apartment – City Veil. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grwHG9SDkRs.
NEVER TOO SMALL ep.24 24sqm Micro Apartment – Boneca. (2019). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daL7TkzyW7k.
NEVER TOO SMALL ep.19 15sqm OPod – Experimental Micro Living Housing. (2019). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2AMqinJZ3E
Monster Children. (2020). “Never Too Small” is My New Favourite YouTube Channel. [online] Available at: www.monsterchildren.com/never-too-small-is-my-new-favourite-youtube-channel/
Never Too Small. (n.d.). Never Too Small | Showcasing the best design ideas and solutions for small format living. [online] Available at: https://www.nevertoosmall.com/
the Guardian. (2019). Never too small: the aspiration and nauseation of micro-apartments. [online] Available at: www.theguardian.com/money/2019/nov/15/never-too-small-the-aspiration-and-nauseation-of-micro-apartments