Japanese puzzle box

This dynamic apartment interior makeover sees wall removed and unlikely spaces connected – an air of Zen-like serenity runs through it

Designed by Dan Yang from Dform Projects

From the interior designer:


This home is located in the heart of Manly, right in front of the famous Manly Beach, an iconic Australian beach frequented by tourists, surfers, and volleyballers.

The building was originally a two-storey Victorian-style tavern, built in the late 18th century. 

Over the years, two extra storeys were built on top, turning it into a four-storey mix-use building – with ground-floor shops and upper-storey apartments.

Before the redesign by Dan Yang from Dform Projects, the floor plan was not particularly well thought out… not a lot of that gorgeous Manly sunshine made its way into the 52m² apartment. 

This, alongside the complex plumbing, created a challenge for the architects that required a creative design solution.


The architects demolished the bedroom wall to allow natural light to penetrate deeper into the apartment and moved the bathroom away from the entrance. 

They also opened up the kitchen, living, and dining spaces – combining them into a larger, overlapping area.

The introduction of floor-to-ceiling timber brought the outside in, enhancing the natural feel of the apartment – a nod to the beautiful surroundings following the owners' request to create ‘a uniquely Manly experience’. 

This feeling is evident from the first point of entry where beauty and function meet. 

The foyer is a hybrid of a mudroom and a genkan, a Japanese entryway. 

There is a niche to hang jackets and place your keys while below the niche is a pocket for shoe storage.

The entrance

A floating platform was created in the living area creating a Tatami-style living area that also leads to the bedroom. 

In the kitchen, matte black elements meet bronze mirrors for the kitchen splashback – the architects decided a bronze mirror in this wooden context can create a softer ambient reflection of the surroundings.

The kitchen

The kitchen bench blends seamlessly into the bedroom platform. 

On entering the bedroom, there is a zen garden with a bonsai tree coming out of the wall. 

The garden sits behind a glass wall that connects with the kitchen. 

A zero maintenance bonsai tree created from lifelike materials is strategically placed under the skylight, so around 12-1 everyday natural sunlight comes into the space and shines on the bonsai. 

On the other side of the garden is a sheer curtain that allows light to pass through to the bedroom but also provides privacy.

Beside the mattress, two small custom niches act as bedside tables, above which are two wall lights for night time ambiance.

The meditation space

Next to the bedroom is a meditation space. 

The entry to the meditation space is through a small window opening inspired by traditional Japanese teahouses. 

The architects intentionally lowered the ceiling and raised the platform to compress the vertical space – directing you to sit on the platform once passed through the opening. 

Here, the architects added another zero maintenance vertical garden – in this room, you can detach from work and stress.

There is roughly 15m³ of storage space underneath the bedroom and the meditation room which can be used for storing bulky and seasonal items. 

The second bedroom is hidden on the other side of the main entrance. 

When the door to the bedroom opens, the timber cladding partition wall becomes an extension of the timber Genkan. 

A small but practical study is hidden behind the foyer extension.

Credit list

Dform Projects
Window/door joinery
Al Carpi glass doors
Bedroom floor
Quick-step; Wonderwood
Trends International DEsign Awards (TIDA) Homes – Highly Commended
Kitchen designer, kitchen manufacturer
Dform Projects
Australian Timber Ceilings
Main flooring
Wonderwood Floors
Bathroom tiles
Feature light fittings
Ztwo Lighting

Designed by: Dform Projects

Story by: Trendsideas

Photography by: Pablo Veiga & Nam Tran

05 Nov, 2023

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