Simon Woodroffe is bringing about the foldaway, pop-up, push-button home
Author Boyd Farrow Illustration Daniel Stolle
Can’t be bothered to fold back your comforter or layer your pillows every morning? Imagine pushing a button and watching your bed disappear into the ceiling. Expecting company? Press another button and the floor glides back to reveal a sunken lounge. In the meantime, you may want to read email at your hideaway desk, or snack in your pop-up diner.
This is the vision of British entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe, whose latest venture, Yo! Home, conjures up the fun of his earlier Japanese-inspired efforts—like his Yo! Sushi restaurants and Yotel capsule lodging—as well as his former life as a set designer for bands including the Rolling Stones and Queen.
“In our prototype apartment there are just 12 moving parts, all drawing on the mechanics of stage scenery,” he says. “We use a lot of counterweights, so if you push or pull something it feels very light. There are some electric motors, but we’ve used as little as possible that can go wrong.”
Woodroffe is explaining this from the open-plan houseboat on the Thames that he designed as his London residence and office, and which elegantly displays the benefits of multiuse living space. Everything is within reach when needed and tucked away when not.
“This is one of those ideas that is so obvious you wonder why no one has done it before,” he says, throwing up his arms in faux exasperation. “Our lives, particularly the way we organize our possessions, have changed enormously, but the way we think about our homes has hardly altered over a hundred or so years.” He adds that the first Yo! Home residence could go up as early as this year, probably in London’s hip Shoreditch neighborhood.
Woodroffe isn’t the only person working on mini pads: There are similar projects springing up as city planners try to reconcile the rising number of single residents with dwindling urban spaces. In January, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had adjusted the rulebook to allow 55 micro-apartments in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, some as tiny as 250 square feet.
But Woodroffe says his ambitious new pro- ject will herald a bigger change in the way we live. For starters, his stage-set wizardry promises to double or even triple a home’s functional size. Secondly, he believes that his version of Le Corbusier’s maxim, “The house is a machine for living,” is emphatically in sync with today’s fluid lifestyles and demands for efficiency. He’s convinced that peekaboo kitchens, transformer dens, elevator beds and instant cinemas will resonate with buyers (not to mention volume-driven property developers) the world over. As well as saving space, he adds, Yo! Home residences will save money, as “the furniture is the home.”
“Homes are an emotional purchase,” Woodroffe says. “I think we’ve created something that people will love.”
While admitting that living in a kind of Swiss Army knife may not be for everyone, Woodroffe believes there are enough people “in every high-cost city on earth” for the proposition to take off. He envisions developers offering multiple versions of the Yo! Home, varying in size and finish, from bachelor pad to country cottage. The 860-square-foot prototype, unveiled last fall at the U.K. industry show 100% Design, had a price tag of around $450,000.
Woodroffe, known for his colorful suits and fedoras, insists that Yo! Home is more than a clever design concept. He believes it has the potential to improve people’s lives. He is aware that the prototype’s futuristic vibe will speak to aspirational early adopters, but says the Yo! Home model could easily be applied to housing for students and the elderly, and pretty much everything in between.
And his ambitions for the project keep growing. Right now, he’s tinkering with the design to incorporate sliding walls built around courtyards, so residents can “open up” their homes and foster a sense of community. “In cities today, two of the biggest issues affecting people are stress and loneliness,” Woodroffe says. “How amazing would it be if we could help?”
BOYD FARROW, a London-based writer and editor, is still waiting for an apartment that will wash, dry and fold his laundry.