New Dog, Old Tricks

So much more than just the boss of small spaces, Bradley Swartz has a think about a great many things when he designs. Big or small, his practice considers the client’s whole neighbourhood, access to amenities, shops, parks, pools, etc., as well as their more intimate requirements, as part of the design process.

“Our message is more about living and working in the city, the idea that we can make more global cities. We are trying to move away from the ‘Australian Dream’ of a quarter-acre block. We think that living in an apartment doesn’t have to be a compromise, it can actually be really beautiful … really desirable.”

“Most of the world actually lives like this; living in an apartment is the norm. This is everyday design for most of the world’s architects and designers, it’s just new to us.”

After working with Akin Creative and Marston Architects, Brad started his own practice and immediately won Best Apartment or Unit at the 2015 Houses Awards for his place in Darlinghurst. People were frothing about this tiny, tricky place on the top floor of an Art Deco building. The apartment was gutted and rearranged like a game of Tetris, designed within an inch of its life to squeeze the maximum out of a mere 27-square-metres. Sliding components are concealed and revealed according to what is going on. All custom-made, the joinery functions perfectly according to requirements, with little tricks to keep it hidden away so that you don’t feel like you’re working in the kitchen or eating in the lounge room.

The success and attention this first project received were followed by a series of projects. Brad says his clients are varied: “Some people are wanting small – that is their criteria – minimising and consciously trying to keep a small footprint, and others are downsizing from bigger homes and panic a bit when they don’t know where they are going to put everything!”

Brad explains, “It’s really expensive to get an apartment in Sydney, so the trick is to get a place you can afford and then make the very, very best of it.”

Brad has found that he can bring a new kind of philosophy to his work after living in one of his own designs. “It has been an interesting experience, actually,” he says. “When I designed my place it was really out of necessity. It was all I could afford and the starting point was to make the most of a small budget, but after living there for a while I find it has changed my attitude. I can appreciate minimalism. Not so much living in a white box with nothing, it’s more about quality over quantity. Because I have been restricted over the last four years, if I do need something I feel much more comfortable about spending more. For instance, we only have room for a couple of [cooking] pots. So I feel much more comfortable about going and buying a really beautiful, expensive pot.”

“I really like the brand Patagonia’s philosophy too, which is to spend more on items that are going to last a long time. I find I do this with everything I’m thinking about buying – limited space makes you consider your purchases more.”

Informed by his firm appreciation of outstanding, considered design, his practice is expanding and leaning toward collaborations with other excellent designers on future projects. Currently working on a development with his studio neighbour, designer Henry Wilson, he sees a clear role for designers of all types to help squeeze the very best out of a brief.

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