Usually, the occupant of an apartment makes do with what storage they are given, organising their belongings around a floorplan that the architect has already established for the space.

When re-configuring a small apartment in the Sydney suburb of Potts Point, young designer Nicholas Gurney had a different approach in mind: the design to the clients’ belongings.

Located on the upper level of an older-style housing project, The Studio is a meagre 24-metre-square space for which the occupants had ambitious plans. Not only was Gurney required to design a home that provided a high quality of life on a modest budget and a tiny floorplan, it also needed to be able to accommodate the habitual social gatherings of the newly-wed occupants.


Gurney turned to the holy land of spatially efficient design for his own solution: Japan. Using the Japanese principle of ‘5S’ — sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain — Gurney worked closely with the clients to figure out just what was needed to accommodate their lifestyle. More importantly, he worked towards a design that was capable of sustaining a life lived with less.

Before he set pen to paper, Gurney asked the clients to compile a list of their belongings so that storage could be designed accordingly.

“The 5S apartment promotes living with less,” says Gurney. “The design [places] importance on selecting, organising and caring for the belongings of the occupants.”

Joinery was custom-made for the storage used throughout the 5S apartment. This same joinery continues throughout the bedroom and bathroom, in correspondence with the ‘standardise’ tenet of the 5S philosophy.


“Streamlined joinery with carefully considered internal storage allocations prompts devotion to the 5S methodology,” says Gurney in a design statement. “The bulk of the joinery is 900mm deep, allowing primary objects to be stored at the front, and secondary objects at the rear. A significant amount of storage is overhead in areas otherwise void.”


In the kitchen, efficiency was maximised through the creation of separate ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ areas. The dry area has been placed closer to living quarters, hiding the wet area from a guest’s sight for when the occupants are entertaining.

The possibility of entertaining was a key part of the brief received by Gurney. This social emphasis was the driving force behind the creation of a single, flexible, open-plan space that could be used in a variety of different ways.


Even within this small floorplan, Gurney achieved a differentiation of spaces. The bedroom was a priority area for this added level of privacy. To distinguish it from the living space, a folding, perforated wall was erected as a permeable border that allows light and ventilation to enter while blocking views. Non-negotiable privacy considerations were also made when designing the floorplan. For instance, a view line from kitchen to bedroom was comprehensively avoided. It was also imperative that the front door did not open onto views of reclining areas, such as the bed or couch.


To sustain this sense of “shine”, all finishes to the apartment have been deliberately left without pattern or texture, with the exception of the floor. The off-white epoxy of this ground surface gives the space a requisite dose of tactile interest.


“The design elevates a seemingly one-dimensional space and, in doing so, confidently dispels conventional notions surrounding small space living and provides considerable quality of life for the inhabitants,” says Gurney.