Some developers worry about competitors stealing their ideas. Not AvroKO. In fact, the New York City design firm wants its peers to embrace the environmental and space-saving concepts it explored in, its first foray into residential development. “We wanted to promote the idea that in New York, a developer could take up a project that would make you feel good, that would be healthy, that would be space-efficient,” says principal Kristina O'Neal.

AvroKO conceived as an experiment in architectural freedom. It found a partner who owned a pair of small, unoccupied Manhattan apartments and convinced him to let the firm remake the units in return for a share of the eventual profits from their sale. Then O'Neal and AvroKO's other principals—Adam Farmerie, William Harris, and Greg Bradshaw—unleashed their memories of every tiny New York City apartment they'd ever lived in or seen. “We discussed all the things we would want and other people typically want in urban apartments,” O'Neal says.

Innovative features include a hideaway guest room, a home office mezzanine, and nontoxic finishes and materials. Custom-designed items such as Murphy beds, lighting fixtures, and freestanding furniture give the 500-square-foot and 575-square-foot units additional character. The architects even chose bottles for the wine refrigerators and books for the shelves, providing a carefully curated living environment for time-starved New York home buyers. The strategy caught on; the units sold in six weeks at higher prices than AvroKO anticipated.

project:, New York City
architect/developer: AvroKO, New York City
general contractor: Synchro PM, New York City
project size: 500 square feet, 575 square feet
construction cost: $150 per square foot
sales price: $650,000, $700,000
units in project: 2
photography: Michael Weber

the art of the deal what was the hardest sacrifice you had to make to do this project?

“That would probably be giving up the movable loft idea. Because we had the luxury of high-enough ceilings, we thought it would be great to have an adjustable loft or mezzanine if you needed the extra space. The loft would be ‘stored' against the ceiling when not in use, and with the touch of a button, the whole platform would lower and you instantly had a second floor. Unfortunately, what with budget restrictions and overall feasibility issues, we weren't able to make it happen. But there's always next time!”

what moment in the project most scared you?

“At one point we were concerned about whether the movable kitchen wall was going to work out, because if it didn't, we would have lost one of the strongest parts of the whole concept. Essentially it is the feature that allows for a guest bedroom that disappears when not in use, and this was a key element in our original space-efficiency plan. It worked out perfectly in theory, but until we actually built it and tested it out for ourselves, we were definitely a little bit nervous.”

what delights you most about the project?

“I think one of the most satisfying aspects of this project was that we were able to design something for the individual, something that could help improve his or her lifestyle in a meaningful way. Designing restaurants or hotels is certainly exciting as well, but really allowed us to design on a more personal level. Also, a large part of our role as designers is to be problem solvers, and was an exercise in creating innovative solutions for everything from space efficiency to wellness in a really confined area. We challenged ourselves to solve or improve as many aspects of the hectic New York lifestyle as we could in just 500 square feet, and I think it worked.”

what do you wish you'd known about the development process beforehand?

“We learned a lot about the sales market, including a whole variety of details concerning why people buy. We weren't experienced in sales, so we had to bring in The Corcoran Group to broker the deal. With such small units, and with our education now, we would most likely not use a broker again, even though Corcoran was great to work with. It comes down to profit margins in the end.”