Spinning Kitchens Sliding Walls
“When the kitchen rotates, the wires rotate with it.”
Richard Janvier, an industrial design major from UB’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design (SASD), stood in front of a rendering of a studio apartment that was displayed on a massive movie screen at the Bijou Theater in downtown Bridgeport. It was early May, and Janvier and his SASD classmates were presenting ideas for apartments they had designed at the behest of local developer Philip Kuchma. As Janvier pointed out certain features—walls that opened to reveal hidden closets, counters that dropped to be level with someone in a wheelchair, and spinning kitchens —Kuchma smiled broadly. He’s slated to build a 50-unit apartment building at 285 Golden Hill Avenue in Bridgeport and fill it with 300-, 600-, and 750-square-foot studios marketed to 20-somethings—young professionals and graduate students not unlike Janvier and his classmates. Which is why they were up on stage. Kuchma had tapped them for design ideas
because, he said, “they’d have some interesting input” about making the building as appealing to young buyers as possible.
“There are a lot of young adults who haven’t lived by themselves, who moved back in with their parents, because housing has been too expensive and the job market hasn’t been great,” said Kuchma. “When they do move out, they aren’t as eager to share apartments as before.”
In Bridgeport they wouldn’t have to, he adds. Kuchma bought his first property in the city in the early 1970s, and since then, he has reopened or built a string of sites, including the once-shuttered Bijou and various downtown condos, retail spaces, and restaurants. With its lower prices, commute-friendly location, and culture, Kuchma thinks the time’s never been better for the city. To get others on board, he’s invited members of the media and roughly 130 city officials, architects, engineers, developers, and other civic leaders to the SASD presentations.
Kuchma first told Interior Design Chairman John Kandalaft and his students about the Golden Hill apartments in early spring. A few weeks later he returned to SASD and was presented with students’ design concepts. They featured different apartment layouts, specially designed appliances and hardware, and graphics for publicity materials to building signage. “I was very, very positively impressed,” he says. Led by Kandalaft, interior design students recruited peers from the industrial and graphic design departments in order to develop as many concepts as possible.
“The direction that was given to the students was, ‘Create a flexible, open environment,’” said Kandalaft. Ideas came from buildings in Japan, China, and from Habitat 67, the iconic prefabricated community in Montreal by architect Moshe Safdie, who dared to take 354 identical block-like forms of concrete and rearrange them to create 146 residences differing in size and configuration. Habitat 67 still makes headlines today. (A May 2013 article in the Financial Times called it “one of the weirdest, most memorable and most futuristic housing schemes ever built.”)
SASD students did rearranging of their own, too, replacing sheet rock and wood studs with sliding glass walls, fold-down beds that transform sleeping areas into living spaces, and moveable cabinetry and closets that “create a spacious feeling within an existing envelope because we’re working with 300-, 600-, and 750-foot studios,” said interior-design major Patricia Herson.
“We wanted to create new ways of looking at the space that meet the needs of young, emerging professionals or graduate students that are efficient, adaptable, and flexible,” Herson added.
Eat-in kitchens, the heart of many single-family homes, were shrunk, tucked away, or completely reconfigured because they devoured too much studio space and were largely unnecessary for the 20-somethings Kuchma sought to attract. Appliances, lighting, door sliders, and other fixtures were created by industrial design majors. Meanwhile, graphic design students developed marketing and brand materials, from logos to building signage, and publicity brochures.
Those who saw the presentations at the Bijou seemed receptive to their proposals. “As a resident of a one-bedroom condo with a one-year-old baby, I ran home with ideas from the presentations to my wife with the hopes of implementing some of them ourselves,” said David Kooris, director of planning and economic development for Bridgeport. “The students generated ideas that I believe will evolve from fringe design to mainstream a Americans struggle to balance increasing housing and energy costs with quality-of-life desires.”
Kuchma agreed: “One design showed an area that was a circle with one half for the kitchen and one for entertainment,” he said. “You spin it depending on what you need. Those kinds of ideas don’t fall on deaf ears.”