We live in the era of tiny homes and micro-apartments, a global trend that’s only growing in urban areas as we all search for affordable housing. In turn, the American kitchen as we know it is poised for a makeover–from the giant, steel-clad, HGTV-approved wonderlands of the McMansion era, to tiny, modular, multipurpose units that can squeeze into a few hundred square feet.
At this year’s Salone del Mobile furniture festival, the Japanese interior furnishings company Sanwa showed off several diverse micro-kitchen concepts, commissioned by a series of designers. “Compact kitchens are popular in Japan for studio apartments,” says Sanwa spokesperson Yuki Yamamoto. “As we have developed compact kitchens in Japan for many years, we thought we could present to the world what we can do the best.”
Their designs don’t disappoint, and they may just convince you of a downsize. Let’s take a look.
The AM 01, by Alessandro Mendini, imagines the kitchen as a bold, colorful armoire that’s suitable for a living room. Made of materials like silk-screened glass and stainless steel, you open the doors to reveal a full sink, electric cooktop, and overhead shelving. You can also store various utensils inside the doors themselves. If only the designers added refrigeration, this would be a complete, all-in-one kitchen.
The BA 01, by Bestetti Associati, looks something like a typical butcher block kitchen cart, but it’s hiding a lot more functionality. Constructed of Paperstone–a combination of recycled paper and resin–it mimics the natural rock and concrete finishes in many kitchens without the weight. On top, you pull the cutting board out of its slot to reveal a sink hiding underneath. There’s enough space to chop, wash, and cook on a burner, too. Then in the cabinet underneath, the design hides a compact fridge so you can store perishable food. But perhaps the best touch is that the whole thing is on wheels, so you can move it anywhere you’d like to cook, at any time.
The EO 01, by Elisa Ossino, is the most modern of the designs, with sleek black panels that hide the kitchen inspired by Japan’s traditional fusuma and shoji panels that divide rooms. Once removed, you have room for a sink and an induction burner. Plus, the sink is designed to be quite skinny so a cutting board can safely bridge over the top. The cutest touch, however, is the magnetic sideboards, which allow you to leave notes and hang photos, much like on a family refrigerator.
All of Sanwa’s kitchens are small–some aren’t much larger than a small dresser. The cleverest design doesn’t just go small, however. It goes multipurpose. The AC 01 is what the company calls a “transformer” kitchen. In daily life, it’s a wall-mounted bamboo desk. But when you want to cook, you can actually tilt the desktop up 90 degrees to become the backsplash. The sink’s faucet appears to twist up. You can readjust the height of the desk itself to become an ergonomically friendly place to sauté and chop.
Together, the designs are enough to sell anyone on micro-home living. Just keep in mind that all of these designs come with one big catch: They require a water hookup for their sinks to operate. That means that while we’re able to build premium kitchens smaller than ever, we’re still going to be limited by the necessary plumbing to hook them up.