With micro-houses and modular construction becoming more common and with urban density on the rise, it’s no wonder that entrepreneurs and innovators are finding new ways of making stuff more compact. From a folding canoe to a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t kitchen, smaller solutions are simply better for urbanites looking to optimize space and convenience. Here are five solutions that are helping people fold their way to more compact urban living.

  1. The Foldable Canoe
Courtesy of Onak.

Courtesy of Onak.

Designed by a group based in Copenhagen, ONAK – a foldable origami canoe that can be rolled up and put away – is the perfect gizmo for urbanites who love to get on the water. ONAK, which is made from a patent-pending flexible material called the Honeycomb – Curv™ Polypropylene, is a stiff canoe that comes almost entirely in one piece, folding and unfolding just like origami. According to the company, the material is tough, recyclable and durable enough to be folded and unfolded many thousands of times. Earlier this month, the team raised €235,230 (a little over US $260,000) with their Kickstarter campaign and have now gone into production.

The canoe, which measures 465 x 85 centimeters (183 x 33.5 inches), and has a capacity of 200-250 kilograms (441 to 551 lbs.) also comes with a case, which can be stowed away on a bike, when traveling via public transport and at home.

2. Folding Bikes


Courtesy of Brompton bicycles.

Ideal for city living, particularly for users who combine cycling with mass transit, foldable bikes may be a perfect last mile solution. Easy as they are to store in tiny urban apartments, they almost make bike racks seem obsolete.

First developed by Cambridge-trained engineer Andrew Ritchie in 1975, who produced the first run of bikes in 1981, the Brompton folding bike – a signature folding two-wheeler that – has developed a cult-like following among its owners. But far from a young company, Brompton reported £21 million (US $30 million) in sales in 2013 alone, and the bicycle continues to gain a following in cities around the world. Today, there are Brompton clubs in at least 10 cities – not to mention, Brompton blogs, like this one. In New York, a group has combined foodism with Brompton-loving, organizing bimonthly events called Yummie: Ride, fold, eat, unfold, ride.

Other models of foldable bikes (many of which are more affordable than the Brompton) include the Montague, the Dahon, a range of foldable bikes from Pacific Cycles, and the U.S.-made Tern folding bicycle.


Tern’s Elektron. Courtesy of Tern.

This fall, Tern is gearing up to release the Elektron – a foldable electric bike that can be re-sized so that people of different heights can use it. Folded, the Elektron measures 41 x 86 x 65 cm (16.1 x 33.0 x 25.6 inches), and can carry a maximum of 105 kg (230 lbs). The bike can run between 20-100 km (13-62 miles) on a single charge and is operated by a 400Wh Bosch battery.

3. The Folding Standing Desk


Courtesy of Refold.

Although Ernest Hemingway famously used a standing desk when writing (his did not fold), standing desks only started to pick up recently, when our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and over-reliance on sitting have come under fire. Some studies have been quick to point to the health benefits of standing desks, including a reduced risk of obesity, a reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, while others have called sitting the new smoking.

Combining the benefits of a standing desk with the concept of a mobile office, a New Zealand-based trio designed Refold – a fully folding cardboard standing desk in 2014. The team’s Kickstarter campaigned raised a little over NZD 70,000 (US $51,000), and they have since gone into production, manufacturing in both New Zealand and in the U.S. The desk, which is comes in four parts and is made of 7mm thick cardboard, comes in three different heights, and folds to become a 110 x 66 cm (43 x 26 inch) case that can be carried and set up anywhere. The company promises that the desk, which weighs 6.5 kg (14 lbs), can carry the weight of a person, holding up to 85 kg (187 lbs).

The fully recyclable desk has an optional add-on of a polypropylene top, which makes it waterproof, and can be adapted as a mobile sitting desk, with sitting legs sold separately.

4. The Folding Helmet


Courtesy of EcoHelmet.

Unlike other products on this list, the folding EcoHelmet is designed for cyclists who have not made up their minds about whether or not they will end up on a bicycle at some point during the day. Designed as a solution for bike sharing, the EcoHelmet is a foldable, honeycomb-patterned recyclable helmet made of waterproof recycled paper that riders can recycle once they’ve disembarked. Developed by Brooklyn-based industrial designer and cyclist Isis Shiffer, the helmet folds flat into a banana-like shape, and stretches to fit different sized heads. It has been crashed tested and promises to absorb blows as effectively as polystyrene – the material used to make most helmets.

Although it is yet to go into production, the EcoHelmet could be a solution for bike-sharing programs in cities around the world, making it easy for riders to make on-the-spot decisions about hopping on a bike without having to worry about safety.


5. The Folding Kitchen


Courtesy of Ana Arana.

Yes, that’s right – a kitchen that you can simply fold away, or keep folded until you need to use it might be just the thing in this age when micro-housing and living small is all the rage, and designer Ana Arana’s folding kitchen is a guaranteed space-saver for those looking to optimize their home.

The kitchen – named Gali – folds from a dresser-type structure into a kitchen, with a stove, sink, refrigerator, microwave, garbage can, and countertop. Measuring a little under 2 meters (9 feet), Arana’s vision for Gali comes from her belief that our living spaces, like everything else, need to adapt to the times. On her website, she explains that, since how we perform or daily rituals of preparing and consuming food have changed, so should our kitchens. “We no longer need a specific room to perform [these rituals], they happen anywhere imaginable and more and more often alone…So how to adapt that to a home?” she asks.

Arana’s Gali is a revision of the kitchen as a space that, although essential to each home, is not used in the same way by each person.