Inner-City Living: 7 Design Tips For a Small Block

When our Senior Designer Michal Kurtis was asked to take a look at a 200sqm pocket of land in Mount Hawthorn he could barely contain his excitement.

The newly subdivided patch may have been compact, but it was perfectly proportioned, well orientated and in a fantastic location.

Fast forward to today and Michal’s vision for a funky upside-down house has become a reality – and his downsizing clients couldn’t be happier.

Dubbed The Urbanite, their striking home proves why an urban-infill block is an exciting opportunity.

Here’s the inside track on the home’s design story, illustrating 7 design tips for a small block build.


Okay, so you may have secured what feels like a handkerchief-sized slice of land, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play to its strengths. In the case of The Urbanite, not only was the block a stone’s throw from busy cafes, shops and restaurants, but it was also opposite one of the area’s most popular parks. The buzz of the inner-city lifestyle with a leafy-green open aspect was a win-win. Capturing the view out to the treetops naturally became a design priority, along with harnessing lots of lovely northern light and winter sunshine.


Although they were downsizing from a big single-storey by the coast, the owners were confident they could get everything they needed on their prized urban-infill block. The key was to stay focused. With this in mind, they drew up a simple wish list: A luxurious master bedroom and ensuite, a large kitchen and open-plan living area for both entertaining and the everyday, an inviting guest bedroom, a generous home office, a second sitting room, and a comfortable outdoor entertaining space. It wasn’t about chopping the available space into as many rooms as possible. The mission was to design rooms that felt light, airy and open, defying the relatively compact dimensions of the 10m-wide block. Good storage, maximising the park views and capturing winter sun rounded out the list.


It’s no good trying to cram a quart into a pint pot. Things just get messy. On a compact block, you really can’t afford to set space aside for rooms that get used only once in a blue moon. (Who needs the extra cleaning anyway?) Aim instead for spaces that are adaptable. The Urbanite is a three-bedroom design, but one of the bedrooms is used for an at-home business. The second bathroom is semi-ensuite so it serves as the powder room while still feeling a luxurious addition to the guest room. The space that links all the downstairs rooms is not only the entrance lobby, but it’s also been cleverly designed as a comfy second sitting room with views to the courtyard. The courtyard also multi-tasks. It’s a private outdoor sitting area, as well a space to hang the hammock or roll out the yoga mat. And as for the upstairs living and dining space? Simply push the furniture to the side, open up the doors to the balcony and it’s party central.


If you’re swapping the ’burbs for the buzz of the inner-city, there’s every chance you’re ready to think about doing things a little differently. In the case of The Urbanite, this meant turning the design upside down. Going topsy-turvy had two key benefits. Firstly it made the most of the park view and secondly it meant the whole of the upper floor could be dedicated to a spacious kitchen and living area, and a luxurious master suite.


When you’re building on a compact block it’s especially important to be able to let in lots of natural light. Lots and lots of natural light. Michal designed The Urbanite around a courtyard on one side, essentially creating three walls of floor-to-ceiling glass over two-storeys. A huge bank of sliding doors leads out to the balcony and there are sliding doors to the courtyard from the home office, guest bedroom and downstairs sitting room. A series of slim and square windows has the added benefit of creating dramatic effect in key areas of the house


If you look carefully, you might notice the balustrade to the balcony slopes at a jaunty angle. It’s a clever design feature that makes this main outdoor space feel extra spacious. The north-facing courtyard captures that lovely winter sun, and the front garden is a good size for a kitchen garden and some weekend pottering.


Not only does it feel striking and sculptural, but the revealed soffit concrete staircase tricks the eye into believing a greater sense of space because the floor area below is visible. The Urbanite also features high ceilings and taller-than-average doors to really kick the sense of volume up a notch or two. Take a look at some of our other modern narrow lot home designs.