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The Globe's new Real Estate Beat offers news and analysis on the Canadian housing market from real estate reporter, Tara Perkins, and others. Read more on The Globe's housing page and follow Tara on Twitter @TaraPerkins.

Condo design is taking a page from Swiss Army knives.

A Vancouver-area developer broke ground last week on a condo project that claims to be "the world's first fully transformable homes built in a large-scale condo development."

The idea is to enable condo residents to do more in less space. The island in the kitchen can be extended into a full-sized dining table. The TV slides over so that a built-in daybed sofa can be pulled down. The master bed folds up into the wall, so that the bedroom can be used as a living room.

The concepts themselves are not new, but developers in Canada are increasingly taking notice of them as the proportion of people living in condos grows.

Globally, a number of companies already specialize in "transformable furniture," which is gaining traction with residents in densely packed cities. Hong Kong architect Gary Chang made headlines about five years ago by redoing his tiny condo (less than 350-square-feet) using a series of movable walls and innovative furniture (a number of videos are available on YouTube if you search "Gary Chang apartment" and there are some photos on his company's website.

"It's like a Rubik's cube of an apartment," Gary Switzer, CEO of Toronto-based condo developer MOD Developments Inc., says of Mr. Chang's space. MOD is developing The Massey Tower in downtown Toronto, a project that includes fifty 377-square-foot units, each of which has already sold (the building is scheduled to be complete in 2016).

"Suites are getting smaller because of affordability," Mr. Switzer notes. Designers are starting to go to new lengths to help people squeeze their lives into fewer square feet, and he says it's likely that these concepts will become more common.

"I think the less clutter there is in these small places, the more livable it becomes," Mr. Switzer says. "To me, you can have a badly-designed 1,000 square-foot unit where you can't even lay out your furniture, and you can have a small unit that is beautifully designed almost like a cabin on a ship, where everything has its place."

Daryl Simpson, vice-president at Bosa Properties, the Vancouver-based developer behind the new transformable units (which will be in the University District tower in Surrey, which is part of Metro Vancouver), notes that those units are not "micro condos" (some such condos are being built in Canada, stretching less than 300 square feet). But, even in a 525-square-foot one bedroom unit it's normally hard to have people over for dinner, or invite a handful of friends to watch TV, Mr. Simpson says.

Bosa Properties hunted for inspiration from New York to Italy. New York City held a competition spurring developers to design models for livable micro suites, and last year the Museum of the City of New York hosted an exhibit called "Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers" that included a model of a micro apartment with transformable furniture.

Mr. Simpson claims that, while designers have done a number of single suites, the University District tower will be the first commercially-viable condominium project where the developer has included an array of fully-transformable furniture in the units.

"We've taken conventional sized suites and tried to find ways to make them live bigger," he says.

Photos courtesy of Bosa Properties