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Who wants to live the small life?

Have I convinced you to live in a small house yet?  Lots of people love living the small life — and bring great gusto to it. And not just on mountain tops and deep in forests.  These people found smaller is better even in the biggest cities.

Designer and architect Rohan Walters built an 1100 square foot “Driveway House” in Toronto in a space that was just 12 by 40 feet.  Read more about it here where Humble Homes drew our attention to it.

The use of glass walls and frosted panels allow lots of light to penetrate into the interior of the home.


I particularly like how the electrical outlets are placed high on the walls along a silver-coloured strip.


And it’s super efficient, too, using as small an environmental footprint as it does a physical one.

In the heart of Paris, clever use of design by Julie Nabucet and Marc Baillargeon allow comfort and style in just 130 square feet. Thanks to Tiny House Talk for the heads up.


The bed pulls out from underneath the raised kitchen area.


And I love the bold touch of the red kitchen cabinets. This angle allows you to see how they’ve brought light into the kitchen through the clouded glass of the bathroom door.


Of course, there are lots of opportunities to create a great small space in New York City.  This Houzz story shows a 300 square-foot studio in Manhattan.  Are you expecting more sleek finishes and mid-century modern lines?  Nope, this space has gone all Boho in Soho. (Actually in the Upper East Side, but who could resist…?)

Eclectic Bedroom by Brooklyn Photographers Rikki Snyder
In decorating her studio, she was inspired by both New York City and rural Chilean Patagonia. She wanted to create an urban refuge but was also drawn to rough woods, thick wools and warm colors, which were naturally suited to the apartment’s existing brick wall.
Even this tiny NYC apartment shows us warm wood and rich textures.
This story from Life Edited shows how they’ve fit so much into the tiny area without looking cluttered or “stuffed”.
From Apartment Therapy we learn about another tiny home, right across the bridge in Brooklyn and just 460 square feet.  They have used light wood tones as well to make their house look warm and yet clean and elegant.
But the secret to living in such a small place is in building up.  Looking the other way in the suite we see how they have created a second story in their sleeping loft.
Lots of clever use of built-in storage, plus an office area tucked under the bed.
Big cities and small homes.  The perfect combination.

Pushback on small apartments in Portlandia

It’s no secret that the rental market in big cities is crazy.  Crazy as in bad.

This article in the New York Times explains how the people who are being badly squeezed by the rental shortage are those on the bottom of the economic pyramid.  New rental buildings are going up — but only for renters who can afford at least $1500 a month.

Many of the worst shortages are in major cities with healthy local economies, like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington. “We’ve seen a huge loss of affordable housing stock,” said Jenny Reed, the policy director at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “We have lost 50 percent of our low-cost units over the past 10 years, and at the same time, the number of high-cost apartments, the ones going for more than $1,500 a month, more than tripled.”

Everyone is suffering from the rental crunch.  As accommodations get scarce they get more expensive.  It’s bad for everyone, but for the people who don’t make much money it’s far worse. The people who make our lattes, who deliver our papers, who serve us our lunches are all hurting for accommodation they can afford.  So are students, and retirees who don’t own their own home.

And it’s just going to get worse.

Seattle has followed other American cities in allowing (even encouraging) the construction of Micro-suites.  AKA aPodMents.  I’ve spoken of them before.  And other cities in the States are also allowing tiny apartments to go up.

For the adAPT NYC competition, micro-apartments meant an apartment that was between 275-300 sq ft, but these included kitchens and ADA bathrooms. In San Francisco, legislation last year granted an allowance for building dwelling units as small as 220 sq ft, with 70 sq ft for bathroom and kitchen. In Boston, they nervously authorized the construction of 450 sq ft “Innovation Units.” In Providence, RI, they’re making apartments as small as 225 in the Arcade Providence.

But not everyone loves them.  In Portland right now the city government is in the midst of a controversy over a plan to allow these mini-homes to be constructed.


 The issue, once again, is parking. …The apartments, enjoy a “group living” designation–the same as dormitories, monasteries and convents. As such, they are not required to provide a set amount of parking spaces.

IMHO this opposition is taking is a very, very, very short-sighted view.  Even the most myopic of us can see that having more cars and finding space to put them is not the answer.  Every city planner since Robert Moses has worked to keep cars out of civic cores.  We need them, true, but improved transit and walkable neighbourhoods will serve the entire city (not to mention the planet) much better in the long run.

And let’s look at the market for these micro suites — not every one who rents one will own a car.  Since affordability is the chief attraction of renting one, it’s quite likely that the potential clientèle will use transit or some form of co-op car ownership like Zip Cars or Car2Go rather than tying up money in an automobile.

But even if most of the people in the building have cars, why are the people currently living in the neighbourhood worried about street parking?  Don’t they have garages and parking pads in their yards? And even if they put up “average” sized apartments rather than the micro-suites, isn’t it likely that the tenants will be sharing them, so you end up with the same number of people (and cars).

I’m very much interested in what others feel about micro-suites.  I think there’s definitely a place for them in the housing mix of every large city.

Real life and reel life small apartments in New York

Who hasn’t dreamed of moving to New York, at least for a couple of years?  Pretty much everyone, which is why living space is at such a premium in that city.  And when people pay such a lot for such a little space, they get pretty creative with how they use their limited living area.

A recent discovery of mine, YouTube program SPACEStv brings us this super sleek space-age apartment — completely finished in recycled materials.  Watch this and learn more about it:

Incredible that this space was built by just one guy!  It looks like something from 2001 (the movie, not the year).

And from Inhabitat we see a similar space but a completely different take.  The HBO series Girls features a very home-made looking space-saving studio suite built by and for the character Charlie. As in real life, this apartment uses every square inch for living.

girls-charlies-apartment-leWhereas the first apartment had everything — even the kitchen stove — hidden behind slick plastic and stainless steel, this suite has everything right out in the open. But it feels warm and welcoming.

The space was designed by production designer Laura Ballinger

girls-charlies-apartment-5Surprisingly, I could see myself living in the fictional home before I would feel comfortable in the actual home. There’s something about the “Tron” apartment that looks a little toooooooo white and clean.  But since the builder/occupant is an environmentalist it was important for him to get away from the dirt and the garbage he deals with every day.

Which would you choose?

What’s the skinny?

The small house movement is creating solutions to one problem of large cities — odd, skinny lots, sometimes between two existing buildings.

skinny homesThis article from Dwell features five such buildings, from all around the world.  Check it out, with the built-ins and niches that make skinny houses feel more like homes.


Tetris housing? China says yes!

I bet the first house you designed was built of blocks.  And although it may have had tons of style, I bet it didn’t have a lot of structural integrity, nor did it have a lot of interior room.

But Studio Liu Lubin has designed a modular home plan that lets you fit pre-made blocks into each other to make a small, or a large home.

Studio-Liu-Lubin-Tetris-House-537x405According to this story at Inhabitat, the home can function as a single room, or

can also be stacked up to create a mini housing complex that meets China’s land use policies

Read more: Tetris-Like Micro House Can be Stacked to Form Expanded Housing Suites | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

I’d love to see the housing complex go up!  Especially when they start flipping the modules around to get them to fit perfectly.

Terence Conran — living small

Terence Conran is not a household name on this side of the Atlantic, but he is a legend in Europe (and kind of a hero to design fanatics here).


Now 81 years old, he’s been at the forefront of design (residential, commercial, graphic) since the 1950s, and he started some innovative companies to bring great design to the masses.

Ever the innovator, Sir Terence has gone online now with The Conran Shop and Conran Home  and ever the prolific author, has put his ideas about living small into a book – How to life in small spaces.


Lord love ‘im, he’s had his finger on the pulse of what is fashionable, cool, and avant garde for over 50 years. And living better in smaller spaces — is fashionable, cool, and avant garde.

Another super cool super small NYC apartment

Thius 425 square foot Manahttan apartment comes to us via the Inhabit website.

Manhattan-Micro-Loft-Specht-Harpman-5-537x357It’s another sleek, cool looking micro-apartment, built into a loft and over 3 floors.  Of course it is loaded with built-in storage — the space beneath the stairs is non-stop closet.  And it manages to maintain a comfortable feel while keeping clutter to a minimum.

The owners are using it as a pied-a-terre, not planning to live there full time, but I think it would be perfect for a single person (or a very compatible couple). I hope they hang a few paintings to take advantage of all that light.

BTW, you may want to subscribe to Inhabit’s newsletter.  It’s NYC-centric, but full of articles of interest to all sustainability and small-living fans.

Now the fun part begins…..

I mean it!  Even though we are busier than ever with packing and tossing and moving and all the nuts and bolts of those things, now is the time when we can really get down to the fun of planning the decor of our new home.

It helps that we are moving into a tiny rental space.  There’s no time for us to regret shedding most of our furniture — we’ll be seeing pretty much how we will be living, so sentimentality will get put out on the curb along with those IKEA chairs.

Although most of the choices can be made at different times during the build process — we won’t need the sectional for the upstairs sitting area until we are ready to move in — we will need to decide on a number of options soon because we have to design how to get power to the lights we want.

For instance, we know we want the sputnik lamp above the bed



(maybe with fewer arms)

sputnik2 so we’ll have the box wired into the ceiling to accommodate that.

Now for beside the bed — we want lighting beside the bed for night-time reading.  Mounted on the wall?  Or sitting on the bedside table? Mounted, since the tables are already very small.  Maybe a pendant?  No, we want a lamp with an arm so we can direct the light onto our books and away from our fellow sleeper’s faces.  We know where the bed will go — but how high will it be? How big will our headboard be?  We’ll need to place everything correctly.

We need storage under the bed, and because the bed will be placed so close to the side walls there won’t be room to pull out under-bed drawers, that means a lift-a-bed

bedLuckily they have a local distributor. So when we pick a bed, we will have a good idea how high the mattress will be in relation to the lamps, and we will know how wide the headboard should be, so we’ll be able to talk with the designer to get the boxes for the lamps put in just the right place.

And this is before we even break ground on the new place!

But doing this homework ahead of time and making clear decisions means no CHANGE ORDERS!  Change orders are just what they sound like, a way of taking your estimate and blowing it up (literally and figuratively).  Heaven forfend you change your mind on something after the trades are off-site!

And all the time we are picking the nitty and the gritty of the design, we are trying to keep to the big picture.  Or rather, the small picture. Because we are trying to make the inside of our home look bigger than the outside.

Like this guy did:

TardisAnd that’s going to influence all our decisions.



Living small on the West Coast

It’s not surprising that Vancouver might embrace the small-living model.  Pressed on three sides by water — the Fraser River and the harbour — there’s no place to go but deeper, making more homes in less space.

Reliance Properties has won praise for its innovative makeover of the historic Burns Building in our city’s Downtown Eastside.

The suites, which range in size from 226 to 291 square feet, go for an average of $850 per month, including cable and internet.

Yes, in Vancouver, $850 a month is quite a reasonable price to pay for less than 300 square feet.

And they’re cute, too!


The surprising thing for me is that there’s a movement in our neighbouring suburb of Surrey for microsuites.  Surrey is huge, with lots of wide open spaces.  But homes here are still out of most people’s budget.  To increase affordability even more than density, Surrey is selling suites for prices even people earning $17 an hour can purchase.

With prices as low as $109,900, the project is designed for first-time home buyers lacking the income to afford the traditional larger home.

Once again, there’s no sacrifice of style in these units.


No doubt about it in my mind — small has a place everywhere.

Cubbies and crannies make cozy comfort

We are currently packing/winnowing our belongings for our move to our temporary home–and putting some things away for “deep storage” — only to be opened once we are in our laneway home.  Christmas decorations; vases; my collection of insulators(yep, you heard right, insulators); my “good” dishes and crystal; you know, stuff you only use once in a while.

But why keep them at all?  If you only use them once in a while, or if they are not useful (i.e. insulators), why keep them?

Because they hold meaning for me.

In our new place, we will have very limited storage for clothes — one closet shared by two people.  We are hoping to have some shelves to store some things like jewellery, hats and accessories, but for the most part the closet will be the total of our clothes storage.  This is not such a big deal to me.  I am not that interested in clothes. And shoes?  I was able to clear out half my shoe cupboard because I discovered four pairs of identical low-heeled black pumps, and near-duplicates of every other pair of shoes I own.  A small closet will be fine for me.

On the other hand, the metrosexual I married loves clothes.  He also dresses carefully, takes excellent care of his clothes and shoes, accessorizes thoughtfully.  He will cringe when it comes to sharing a closet.  And he will find a way to store everything he really wants to keep.

That’s the point I am trying to make.  You get rid of a lot of things, but you will find a way to keep everything you really love.

Like in this apartment.


Just 240 square feet, you’ll see art on the walls and books every where.  Even in a little cubby library off the lofted bedroom.

Books2Adorable, non?  And almost magical, in a Narnian kind of way.

What is it you couldn’t give up? Not in a “one minute to leave a burning building” situation, but where you could only take the most precious of your belongings?


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