Tips for ‘get­ting smaller’ with your decor

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Front Page -

The quin­tes­sen­tial stu­dio apart­ment was found in Man­hat­tan for gen­er­a­tions. In film and on stage, a build­ing-locked room with a view of a brick wall just a few feet away or a tiny space below the side­walk spoke hu­mor­ous vol­umes about cramped liv­ing. Many units were il­le­gal and ex­isted un­der the radar of build­ing in­spec­tors. To­day we find that mi­cro-units are more pop­u­lar than ever and have been ex­posed to the reg­u­la­tory light of day.

Pri­mar­ily, the de­mands of Mil­len­ni­als have cre­ated a mar­ket for very small units. There are 80 to 82 mil­lion young peo­ple who have grown tired of liv­ing with room­mates or at home with par­ents and are more than ready to move on. They much pre­fer pri­vacy over size of apart­ment and are will­ing to give up space in or­der to achieve a sense of con­trol over their liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments. Some avail­able de­vel­op­ments are dorm-like sleep­ing rooms with com­mon kitchens. Seat­tle is the city in the U.S. with the most mi­cro-units. In 2015, 782 mi­cro-hous­ing units were cleared for oc­cu­pancy in the city, with an­other 1,598 units in the pipe­line. Once com­mu­ni­ties got wind of the trend, how­ever, com­plaints sur­faced, and now there is a min­i­mum size of 220 square feet — each must have its own bath and kitchen.

Hous­ing types al­ways re­act to the econ­omy. We’ve seen it be­fore in the United States. Dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, res­i­den­tial build­ing in great num­bers stalled out, but there were still some 4 mil­lion homes built. Most were very ba­sic bun­ga­low style homes that were pop­u­lar right through to the end of World War II. In gen­eral, the pop­u­lar size of houses will re­late to the health of the eco­nomic times. De­pend­ing what sta­tis­tics you read, it is said con­cur­rently that the Amer­i­can home is both shrink­ing and ex­pand­ing. The fact re­mains that young peo­ple are in great mea­sure re­stricted to smaller homes, con­dos and apart­ments due to lower wages. Time is not stand­ing still for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion, and ev­ery pass­ing year pushes Mil­len­ni­als to­wards ir­re­versible adult pas­sages.

This is not a con­di­tion iso­lated to the U.S. In 2016, some 11 per­cent of the high-rise units that are ex­pected to en­ter the mar­ket in Toronto are called “shoe­box” con­dos. They run be­tween 225 and 400 square feet. The spa­ces at­tract both in­vestors look­ing to rent them out, af­flu­ent folks who want a pied-a-terre, and young peo­ple striv­ing to own their first home. Ev­ery ma­jor world city has al­ways been able to charge the high­est prices for lo­ca­tion and prox­im­ity to the vi­brant cul­ture that ex­ists in ur­ban cen­ters: Mu­se­ums, govern­ment cen­ters, the­aters, restau­rants and world-class shop­ping. While this is noth­ing par­tic­u­larly new, what is new is the re­al­iza­tion that shoe­box liv­ing might not be a tem­po­rary stop in adult de­vel­op­ment.

Back in 1998, ar­chi­tect Sarah Su­sanka wrote “The Not So Big House”, the first in her fran­chise of books about build­ing bet­ter, not big­ger. At that time, she was an­a­lyz­ing step­ping back from much larger foot­prints like a 7,000 square foot McMan­sion in fa­vor of a 3,500 square foot home. Her premise was that a well-de­signed “smaller” place was more than enough. Flash for­ward to to­day, and we are ex­am­in­ing homes that are many times smaller. By com­par­i­son to a mi­cro-unit, a 1,200 square foot home is nearly pala­tial. With­out doubt, de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects are pressed to use more tal­ent and in­ge­nu­ity when de­sign­ing small units. We see in­no­va­tions such as din­ing ta­bles that might rise up out of a com­part­ment in the floor when needed. There are beds that re­cess into a wall com­part­ment and fold down over a built-in sofa. De­sign is akin to the chal­lenges of marine ar­chi­tec­ture and the tricks used in mo­bile tiny houses re­late to the de­sign prin­ci­ples of state-of-theart mo­bile homes.

Most likely, an en­tire gen­er­a­tion is go­ing to forge a new way of liv­ing: Group ameni­ties will counter bal­ance dras­ti­cally re­duced sizes of starter homes. Life­style shifts will em­pha­size com­mu­nity and neigh­bor­hoods in­stead of in­di­vid­ual back­yards and garages. Small is be­com­ing more pop­u­lar than ever.

Chris­tine Brun

Small Spa­ces

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