Tips for ‘getting smaller’ with your decor
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.