Renaissance-Era Micro-Apartment Renovated Into Elegant Home

With a few clever design interventions, a dilapidated 15th-century space is brought up to speed.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio interior

We often talk about how the 🌳preservation of existing buildings is actually a form of climate action because, as some studies have shown, reusing an older building will result in fewer environmental repercussions than constructing anew. Of course, such details can come into conflict with the harsh realities of housing shortages in many cities around the world—leading to the question of whether we should preserve "obsolete" buildings🔥 that are already there or bulldoze them to make way for new housing.

But it doesn't have to be so black or white. We can have our cake and eat it too. Old buildings can be readapted for new purposes, potentially creating human-scaled housing that is in harmony with the existing urban fabric. That's particularly true with old buildings in historical cities, like Mantua in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, where local firm recently renovated a small and really, really old 387-square-foot (36-square-meter) apartment dating back to the fifteenth century. With a few clever design interventions, the dilapidated space is transformed into an elegant home that nevertheless feels cozy and intimate. Check the brief video tour via :

This newly renovated unit was once part of a larger apartment that was home to the client's late grandmother and has now been divided into two apartments, with the client living in the smaller unit. The new plan had the architects demolishing an existing wall between two bedrooms to create an open-plan space that now has its own entrance, a new kitchen, bathroom, and dining area. But perhaps what makes the space work is the installation of a sleeping cube (also known as a bedroom box).

It's a design move that we've seen before, which works to create separate zones for different purposes in a small space that would otherwise feel too undefined functionally and too open. The sleeping cube not only reduces light and noise for its occupants, but it now also helps to create new transitional spaces that mediate movement between the entrance and the living room while also providing a landing spot to hang coats.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio sleeping cube
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The overall ambience of the apartment is one of an airy refinement, with a bit of calculated roughness around the edges, as seen in some of the pockmarked walls. These were purposely kept unfinished, as if to remind the inhabitants of the historical character of the building. As the firm's lead architect Jacopo Rettondini explains:
"At one stage, the apartment resembled an archeological site. We discovered some beautiful frescos underneath the paint and render. The walls underneath were scored and marked with signs of different ages, like something you would see in a museum."
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio wall
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On the other side of the sleeping cube, we find the open-plan living space that includes a sitting area, a small dining area, and a kitchen that runs along one wall.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan main living space
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The sitting area comprises a couch and a long oak wood bench placed under the apartment's two main windows. The bench serves as both a seat and as a place to hold a television.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio sitting area
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Likewise, the kitchen is simple but elegant; the light grey cabinets above contrasting with the brushed brass-faced cabinets below. To save counter space, we have a pair of round induction burners that hang off the backsplash.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio kitchen
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The dining area piggybacks on one side of the sleeping cube, with a floating bench acting as seating. The dining table itself can expand to seat up to eight guests and can also be used as a workspace.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio dining area
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The sleeping cube itself was conceived as a compromise—both because of the tight quarters and also because of the architects' desire to preserve some of the history of the place:
"Given the small size of the space and peculiarity of the wall surfaces, it was immediately decided to create a central element of the bedroom cube. Since the ceiling in the apartment is quite high, the cube does not go all the way to the ceiling. This helps visually letting you see around the cube, but also helps with airflow around the apartment."
The inside of the sleeping cube has been designed to be a cozy place to rest, yet there are also other additions, like the built-in headboard and lighting to create a space for relaxing with a book. The window cutouts to the cube are strategically placed so that one's sightline is not confined within the box. Of course, there is integrated storage underneath the bed to keep things organized and out of sight.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio sleeping cube
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The bathroom area sits off to one corner of the apartment, and consists of a custom-made square resin sink that sits on an oak bench.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan bathroom sink
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A sliding door gives access to the rest of the bathroom stuff like the toilet, bidet, and shower.
Monolocale EFFE by Archiplan Studio shower
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With its regal air, Rettondini believes that this renovated micro-apartment is a great example of how older buildings can be rehabilitated for new uses, by designing purpose-made elements that help to update such spaces:
"We think it's important to make custom furniture for these small spaces in order to make full use of the space, and to keep the design cohesive. It is also important to maintain historical aspects of the building, while introducing contemporary elements. The idea is to maximize and bring character to the limited space, to create a sort of character between the space and the furniture itself, and who is there."
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