Adapting Aging Architecture: Modern Plug-Ins for Beijing


[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

modular home beijing 1

Cold, dilapidated and lacking modern amenities like bathrooms, Beijing’s historic architecture in the Hutong districts becomes livable again with sleek modern plug-ins that make them more comfortable without significant alteration. People’s Architecture Office created a modular system called the Courtyard House Plugin that acts as a temporary solution to make the spaces more desirable, minus the trouble of renovation.

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These aging structures are typically built around small courtyards, and after centuries of habitation, have sometimes reached the point of being dangerous. Developers are often hesitant to take on significant renovation projects due to costs and the fact that some of these spaces are still inhabited.

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The new modular components slide into existing spaces, instantly updating them with modern amenities and clean, contemporary interiors. They can be assembled quickly with no more than a single hex wrench.

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The first prototype, ‘Courtyard 72,’ will be a live-in laboratory for researchers studying the living conditions in the region. Ultimately, this sort of plug-in modular solution could ensure that Beijing’s oldest and most culturally and historically important neighborhoods remain livable for local residents.

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Secular Conversion: Historic Chapel Turned Modern Library

A beautiful old chapel in the Italian town of Lonate Ceppino has been transformed into a modern library with a  perforated aluminum tower that adds to the ... Click Here to Read More »»

Contemporary House Inserted into Crumbling Castle Ruins

A ruined 12th-century castle serves as a stunning historic shell for a contemporary residence in a renovation by Witherford Watson Mann architects. The ... Click Here to Read More »»

Learn Modern Architecture Principles with New LEGO Kit

If you’ve always wanted to design modern buildings, but don’t have any plans to attend architecture school, LEGO has just the tool you’re ... Click Here to Read More »»

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Amphibious Architecture: 12 Flood-Proof Home Designs


[ By Steph in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

amphibious architecture affordable bamboo house 1

Instead of trying to beat back rising water levels, these innovative structures work with them, adapting from land-based to floating houses with the ease of an amphibian. From a DIY foam-based flotation system on a modest home in Louisiana to high-tech, self-sustaining disaster pods, these buildings are ready for whatever Mother Nature might throw their way – even 10-foot floodwaters.

The UK’s First Amphibious House
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Located on the Thames River, the UK’s first amphibious house is nearing completion. Baca Architects designed the home for a couple who wanted to live on a flood-prone island in the river, integrating a terraced landscape that acts as an early warning system that the waters are rising. The terraces will fill with water before the ‘wet dock’ under the house does, and then the home itself will gently rise to stay above the surface.

Foundations That Float Above Floods
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buoyancy foundation 1

The Buoyant Foundation Project has come up with a solution to retrofit existing homes in post-Katrina New Orleans in anticipation of future storms and floods, allowing the structures to lift off the ground in an emergency. Buoyancy blocks would be installed beneath the sub-frame of the home, while four corner guideposts keep the building in place as it rises with the water.

Amphibious Communities for Thailand
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amphibious houses thailand trench 2

Flooding in Thailand gets worse with each passing year, now occurring in off-seasons and in areas that haven’t historically been flood-prone. Site-Specific looks to the nation’s past for an answer, in the form of homes that were built as rafts. This idea can be adapted even to communities that aren’t built directly on the water in the form of amphibious homes built over trenches, which fill with water first, raising the structures as the water rises. The entire prefabricated steel flotation system is hidden in the trench beneath the house during the dry seasons.

New Orleans Home Will Break Free & Float in Case of Flooding
amphibious architecture floating new orleans 1

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New Orleans design firm Morphosis, which has designed many of the city’s most innovative post-Katrina architecture, came up with a home that will rise up on the surface of the water in the event of flooding but remain tethered to vertical guides. Sponsored by Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation, the house uses the region’s classic narrow shotgun house typology and adapts it for the realities of the present time.

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Amphibious Architecture: Foundations Float Above Floods

Floods spell disaster, but what if houses could ride out the storms, rising with the tides, then settling back down to the ground when the water is gone? Click Here to Read More »»

Tsunami Ark: Handmade Flood-Proof Floating Wood Capsule

Former Facebook and PayPal employee Chris Robinson is two years into an epic backyard project rising behind his home in Palo Alto: a structure dubbed the ... Click Here to Read More »»

Angular Masterpieces: 10 Home Designs Defined by Angles

These 10 home designs take full advantage of the eye-catching nature of jagged corners and sharp angles, resulting in unforgettable architectural creations. Click Here to Read More »»

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3D-Printed Columns Use Ancient Technique Against Earthquakes


[ By WebUrbanist in Conceptual & Futuristic & Technology. ]

quake column design detail

Bringing together cutting-edge technologies and an ancient approach to resisting earthquake damage, the so-called Quake Column marries tradition and high-tech to create a bold new structural solution needing no mortar nor rebar to reinforce it.

3d printed column interlocking

Incan masons historically interlocked complex three-dimensional stone shapes in order to allow movement during earthquakes while preventing buildings from becoming structurally compromised in the process. The puzzle-like interlinking of the constituent parts helps structures resist seismic shocks, keeping them from becoming detached either horizontally or vertically.


A modern-day company in California, Emerging Objects, has taken this page out of history and reapplied it with 3D printing, allowing their new variants of these old blocks to be fabricated quickly, easily and cost-effectively. Unlike their heavy stone predecessors, these new versions are can be lightweight, modular and made on demand, including built-in handles for carrying printed-on instructions showing builders how to assemble them into columns.

quake column mortar free

3d printed material exterior

These contemporary equivalents are designed to be load-bearing, code-compliant materials that could be used in actual architectural applications of all kinds, all without steel reinforcement or mortar cementing the connections. More on the structural physics at work via Inhabitat: “the absence of resonant frequencies and stress concentration points made the structures more earthquake resistant. During earthquakes, the dry-stone walls built by the Incas would move slightly and resettle without any damage. Rounded corners and an incline of three to five degrees contributed to their stability.”

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Using recycled construction waste and rapid prototyping processes, a Chinese company is showing off how 3D printing technologies can be applied to building at ... Click Here to Read More »»

24 Fantastic Future Wonders of Green Design & Technology

From floating eco-cities to sustainable skyscraper farms, modular folding origamic architecture to gigantic green super-spires, here are 24 future green ... Click Here to Read More »»

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Lost Soles: 10 Abandoned & De-Feeted Shoe Repair Stores


[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

8 Cents shoe repair store Peoria 1
Abandoned shoe repair stores, once ubiquitous elements of the urban tapestry, epitomize small Mom & Pop stores that “progress” has kicked to the curb. Here’s one shoe repair store that won’t play in Peoria, even at the bargain rate of eight cents. Not that shoe repair ever was an expensive chore, this shop had to be abandoned a LONG time when Flickr user Smitty-Snaps chanced upon it on January 23rd of 2009.

8 Cents shoe repair store Peoria 2

A little over two years after Smitty-Snaps snapped the abandoned 8 Cents Shoe Repair (if that actually was its original name, and that’s doubtful), another Flickr user, David Sebben, couldn’t pass on the opportunity to photo-document the peeling green patina on the abandoned storefront. The shop lost its “1209” street number in the meantime but an extra couple of years haven’t noticeably aged this already well-weathered denizen of a long-passed Peoria.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

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Militello's Shoe Repair Baton Rouge 2

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“Complete Shoe Service While You Wait”? Ain’t nobody got time for that these days! The former Militello’s Shoe Repair located on Government Street in downtown Baton Rouge, LA, was visited in August of 2007 by the delightful Colleen Kane from the Abandoned Baton Rouge blog. Could that be a reflection of her sandal-clad tootsies in the lower left corner of the third image above? If not, Militello’s is way creepier than we thought.

“This Pizza’s Tougher’n Boot Leather”

Boot & Shoe Repair in McAlester OK

If the external architecture of the eerily lit Boot & Shoe Repair shop in McAlester, Oklahoma looks a little familiar, you just might be hankering for some pizza & birch beer. Yes indeed, this used to be a Pizza Hut restaurant back in the day and as the author of the Used to Be a Pizza Hut blog states, the store “pretty much looks abandoned but is apparently a boot & shoe repair place, which is actually harder to believe would be in business than the original Pizza Hut that it replaced. When is the last time you took a shoe in to be repaired?” Harsh.

From Re-Soled to Re-Sold

Cordonnerie Shoe Repair shop 1

Cordonnerie Shoe Repair shop 2

“Cordonnerie” is French for Shoe Repair and J. M. Dostie’s shop on Avenue De La Salle in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montreal, was legendary amongst the shoe-repairing cognoscenti. Although Dostie’s Cordonnerie had managed to build up an appreciative clientele among the Canadian city’s rock-climbing community, rising rents amidst gentrification in the neighborhood delivered an effective coup de grace to the store in early 2011. Kudos to The Milkman at Vanishing Montreal for the above before & after images.

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The Bucks Stop Here: 9 Closed & Abandoned Dollar Stores

Dollar Stores may be the new face of retail in post-9/11 America but when they close or are abandoned, that's change we don't want to believe in. Click Here to Read More »»

Boom To Bust: 10 Abandoned Fireworks Stores & Stands

Fireworks sales are “fly by night” on several levels, and when boom turns to bust the colors fade faster than the aftermath of a bombshell in a moon-washed ... Click Here to Read More »»

Empty Chambers: 10 Closed & Abandoned Gun Stores & Shops

If your business involves getting fired, going off half cocked or triggering bankruptcy, you just might be one of these 10 closed and/or abandoned gun shops. Click Here to Read More »»

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Transformer Hotel: Tiny Room Showcases Convertible Furniture


[ By WebUrbanist in Boutique & Art Hotels & Travel. ]

transforming hotel 3 pieces

Deploying three novel pieces of multipurpose furniture, this 240-square-foot space manages to pack in all kinds of secrets, surprises and amenities for guests to explore, discover and utilize in a unique micro-suite.

transforming room convertible series

transforming hotel demo model

The first featured item in the Kinect line, this new series of space-saving furnishings and fixtures from Resource Furniture, is the Lift, a coffee table that can be reconfigured into a workstation and contains additional storage space for laptops, gadgets, magazines and remote controls.

transforming hotel bedroom set

Also in the set: Slide, a credenza with a mini refrigerator and additional storage, and Hide & Seek, a wall-mounted cabinet that contains a bar, an espresso maker, and an ironing center, but that can be configured to different uses thanks to its modular design.

transforming hotel furniture series

The transforming room, made in conjunction with New York’s Think Fabricate, also features a fold-out sofa and wall bed combination and can seat up to six people around its convertible conference-and-dining centerpiece.

transforming furniture dwell design

The room, showcased at this year’s Dwell on Design, is both a demonstration model but also a powerful potential strategy for cramped urban hotels where space is at a premium (not to mention a good way for would-be consumers to test out transforming products for durability and functionality before they buy).

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Resource Furniture: Convertible Designs for Small Spaces

Multifunctional and convertible furniture solutions from Resource Furniture unfold and expand in unexpected ways, fitting lots of function into tiny rooms. Click Here to Read More »»

Room in a Box: 10 Pieces of Clever Transforming Furniture

From tetris tables to sofa beds on steroids, shelves that fold down into seats or that double as decor and much much more. Click Here to Read More »»

Transforming Furniture: Fitting 5 Rooms into 640 Square Feet

With a mostly-open floor plan tucked into 60 square meters of space, the design challenge was to effectively fit the functionality of five rooms into the ... Click Here to Read More »»

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Capital Idea: Bridge to Elevated Park for Washington D.C.


[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Washington DC Elevated Park

A freeway bridge linking historically divided sides of Washington, D.C. on either side of the Anacostia River is set to become a vibrant, High-Line-style elevated park. OMA + OLIN have been announced as the winners of a competition to design the new civic space, which will be packed full of fun attractions including performance spaces, play areas and an environmental education center.

Washington DC Elevated Park 8

Washington DC Elevated Park 3

The 11th Street Bridge Park will reuse existing piers from the bridge that once connected Wards 6, 7 and 8 on either side of the river before it was replaced. Uniting these diverse communities in an unprecedented way, the bridge will offer recreational opportunities ranging from canoe and kayak launches to a hammock grove. There’s even a series of nets that allows people to hover over the water.

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Paying tribute to a motif found throughout the city, the design consists of a sloping X-shape with an eclipsed cafe, an environmental center and a central plaza at its center. Atop each building is a rooftop garden filled with public art, amphitheaters, playground equipment and lots of trees.

Washignton DC Elevated Park 4 Washington DC Elevated Park 6

The design encourages interaction between two very different sides of the city, one wealthy and the other historically poor, drawing them together to enjoy nature, culture and physical activity. The project incorporates a wide variety of suggestions from the community, creating a space that’s tailored to their wants and preferences.

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Grass-Covered Bridge in Amsterdam Doubles as Public Park

This proposal for a pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam doubles as a public park with wildlife, recreation, a cafe and even a sloped roof for sledding in winter. Click Here to Read More »»

Leisure in the Sky: 13 Elevated Railway + Rooftop Parks

In cities where highways and high-rises have taken up virtually every square foot of real estate there is to be had, lush parks, pedestrian walkways and bike ... Click Here to Read More »»

Sky Park: Design Idea Floats City Block Over Penn Station

Out of four recent proposals for a radical overhaul of Penn Station in New York City, this concept is far and away the most dramatic. Click Here to Read More »»

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Refold Workstation: Mobile Flat-Pack Cardboard Standing Desk


[ By WebUrbanist in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

flat pack work desk

Two student designers have seen the future and building toward it with a flexible, foldable, affordable and recyclable cardboard desk that support the weight of a whole person but can also be built in minutes without any tape or connective hardware. The desk has an adjustable height factor allowing it to be used while you are standing or seated.


flat pack desk design


standing desk stand up

From Refold creators Fraser Callaway, Oliver Ward, and Matt Innes: “the way we work is changing. We are more mobile and more connected than ever before. We have the ability to do our jobs from almost anywhere at anytime, but our workspaces have been slow to reflect this.”

standing or sitting down

standing flat pack desk

Standing desks, its New Zealand-based designers argue, are healthier and more interactive than conventional sitting types – they raise energy levels and encourage group collaboration, idea sharing and more. Of course, a fringe benefit: standing desks require no chairs, so this becomes a one-piece furniture solution, further simplifying the design problem.

flat pack work station

Created in three sizes for different heights and body types, these desks could be deployed “for schools, creative studios, pop-up stores, mobile offices, or disaster relief.” Since the desks can be adjusted up or down, you could also theoretically carry two and use one to sit in, too.

standing desk side front

flat pack cardboard standing desk

The material is 100% recyclable, using digital fabrication rather than conventional die cutting for greater precision and overlapping vertical with horizontal oriented cardboard fluting, laminated together to provide maximum structural support. Pieces can also be replaced individually, such as the top should the surface become worn or damaged during transit or usage.

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Without further ado, here are 20 more examples of incredibly compact and transforming furniture for cramped urban living. Click Here to Read More »»

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Offices don't have to be drab and unimaginative, as proven by these 12 modern, playful, clever office interiors and furniture designs. Click Here to Read More »»

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7,000 LEDs Casting Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Whole New Light


[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

sistine chapel new lighting

For 500 years, visitors were able to see Michelangelo’s famous 6,000-square-foot painting bathed in natural light, but for the last 3 decades they have gotten a dismal view, the room shuttered and lit by weak halogens – but all of that is about to change. For the first time since outside light was blocked by the Vatican (or, in some regards, since the painting was first created) its 5,000,000 annual viewers will have a clearer-than-day look at this amazing ceiling-spanning classic.

sistine chapel conversion project

Thanks to Osram, a German light manufacturer, the new lighting strategy being deployed will not just rival but actually exceed the capabilities of sunlight, casting color as well as illumination, all without damaging this seminal work. The design had to take into account the complex three-dimensional nature of the space while also using out-of-the-way crevices and architectural details as places to tuck in the lights.

sistine chapel full color

Carefully attuned the actual color spectrum showcased in the work, the array of thousands of LEDs will greatly enhance the visitor experience beyond previous rehabilitation attempts. Meanwhile, since LEDs do not emit energy in the UV band, the frescos will be protected from decay associated with other kinds of light exposure. Also, they will last far longer than conventional lights, making the solution more durable and robust.

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Luminaries: 20 Light Graffiti Artists & Photographers

Light graffiti is uniquely ephemeral and inextricably intertwined with the art of photography, sometimes even invisible to the naked eye and apparent only on ... Click Here to Read More »»

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Radiotopia Fundraiser: Support 7 Story-Centric PRX Podcasts


[ By WebUrbanist in Culture & History & Travel. ]


Last year, Roman Mars of 99% Invisible and PRX broke records, raising $375,000 with a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign – this year, Radiotopia aims to collect $250,000 in contributions on Kickstarter page to support its lineup of seven amazing radio shows. So far, this campaign has gained over 2,500 backers and $100,000 in its first 24 hours - to see why, read on and listen to a collection of select stories, one per show, embedded for your listening pleasure below.

radiotopia kickstarter crowdfunding campaign

Funded directly by fans, Radiotopia represents “a new model for audience engagement and revenue growth in public radio” as well as a “collective of the best story-driven shows on the planet.” For their last campaign, designed to make 99% Invisible a weekly production, WebUrbanist brought you seven of the show’s most compelling episodes in an effort to support their crowdfunding endeavors. This year, we are highlighting one episode from each of these unique and compelling podcasts. As fellow independent media producers, we encourage you to check these out for yourselves and show your support for these amazing programs.


99% Invisible has gone from a garage radio startup on design and built environments to one of the most popular and celebrated award-winning audio programs in the world. From this past season, Holdout represents the a great example of how the show explores the intersection of urban planning, zoning laws and esoteric architectural history. At the heart of this episode is the nail house of Edith Macefield, a woman who refused to sell her home at any cost – developers ended up building around it, but, like any good story, the end is not the point, and there are many twists along the way. Bonus: a t-shirt featuring this famous home is one of the Kickstarter rewards you can get for supporting Radiotopia!

radio diaries radiotopia prx

Radio Diaries “tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary life,” enabling citizen journalism since the 1960s and collaborating “with teenagers and octogenarians, prisoners and prison guards, bra saleswomen and lighthouse keepers” along the way. When Borders Move explores the strange phenomena of geographical boundaries defined by landscape features like rivers that stubbornly refuse to stop moving over time. In this episode, personal interviews with impacted individuals are spliced in between larger examples and explanations, showing the human side of these larger historical shifts.

love and radio radiotopia

Love + Radio “features in-depth, otherworldly-produced interviews with an eclectic range of subjects, from the seedy to the sublime.” Bedouin Love is a short show featuring a poignant but “brief conversation of love, death, and camel’s milk” with a guide in Petra, Jordan, an ancient historical site where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and other films were shot. It represents another side to the tourist experience – those hard-to-capture but powerful person-to-person moments that go beyond the contents of superficial and sanitized travel guides and give you a sense of the day-to-day life and culture of a place.

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99% Invisible: 7 Episodes of the Best Radio Show on Design

There is no witty wordplay nor shocking truth in our title today, but that is quite by design – we simply did not want risk underselling Roman Mars, the ... Click Here to Read More »»

If You Build It: A True Story of Hands-On Design Education

What if high schools replaced shop classes with results-driven, full-scale architectural projects, where the goal was to collaborate and make something ... Click Here to Read More »»

Remodeling Suburbia: Rerouting Classic, Car-Centric Design

What will the city of the future look like? These ten visions of urban life imagine spaces that are pedestrian-friendly, safer, and more inviting for all. Click Here to Read More »»

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Ultra-Compact Stairs: 12 Next-Level Space-Saving Designs


[ By Steph in Design & Fixtures & Interiors. ]

Compact Stairs Charlie Girls 1

Clever integration of storage, dangerous-looking alternating treads and unusual wall-mounted designs enable these 12 compact staircases to avoid the problem of wasted space. Whether leading up to lofts in tiny houses and micro apartments or simply taking a smarter approach in larger spaces, these space-saving stairs look cool in addition to taking advantage of every square inch.

Stairs Packed with Storage

Compact Stairs Storage Drawers

Combining staircases with storage is nothing new in Japan, where carpenters have built drawers and cabinets into them for centuries. This project by architect Kotaro Anzai is a traditional ‘kaidan dans’ staircase cabinet made of linden plywood. Drawers open both out and to the side to make maximum use of the space.

Incredible Built-In Loft & Stairs from HBO’s ‘Girls’
Compact Stairs Charlie Girls 1

Compact Stairs Charlie Girls 2

Any architecture and design enthusiasts who watched HBO’s ‘Girls’ probably drooled over the clever built-ins in the fictional Bedford-Stuyvestant home of the character named Charlie. A lounge space is lofted over a semi-enclosed bed, and the stairs leading up to it also function as a closet and storage cabinet.

Built-in Bookcase Loft Stairs
Compact Stairs Bookcase Loft 1

Compact Stairs Bookcase Loft 2

A small apartment in Camden feels far more spacious after a renovation that added a central volume enclosing the bathroom and lots of storage, with a lofted bed on top. The most clever part is the wall of built-in shelves that double as a staircase to get to the top.

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Steps to Saving Space: 15 Compact Stair Designs for Lofts

Alternating treads, ultra-narrow ladders, built-in storage and other tricks enable these 15 smart space-saving designs to fit into the smallest of apartments. ... Click Here to Read More »»

15 Flat-Pack Furniture Designs & Ideas for Saving Space

A pizza box that folds out into a desk? Flat-pack furniture is incredibly clever, saves space, cuts shipping waste and is fun to put together. Click Here to Read More »»

When Every Inch Counts: 14 More Clever Small Space Hacks

Making a tiny living space comfortable and practical means integrating multi-purpose furniture, custom built-ins and lots of other clever space-saving tricks. ... Click Here to Read More »»

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