If you are read­ing this, chances are you might be at least mildly inter­ested in small space liv­ing.  As a vet­eran small space dweller (sub 600 square feet for the last four years) and com­pul­sive surfer of Apart­ment Ther­apy, I have picked up a thing or two about why some small spaces make me fan­ta­size about mov­ing into a 350 square foot apart­ment and why oth­ers just plain suck.  So in lieu of recently being reminded how many stank-ass apart­ments there are out there, I thought it high time to exer­cise my patri­otic duty and pump some sound knowl­edge of small space liv­ing and dwelling out into the world.

To begin my nar­ra­tive, let me take you to a time long, long ago, in a land not so far away, where there lived a stal­wart young design stu­dent faced with the valiant task of cram­ming five bed­rooms and two full bath­rooms (did I men­tion one bed­room and bath­room required ADA com­pli­ancy?) into a pal­try 1300 square feet.  “Impos­si­ble!” you might exclaim, but cram I did, and five years later I am still reap­ing the ben­e­fits of that stu­dio project (Thanks Matt Melcher!).  Freshly armed with this holy grail of apart­ment design enlight­en­ment, you can imag­ine my dis­tress when I began my search for the per­fect small apart­ment in the big city.  Despite the fact that I had fought bru­tally with the laws of physics for an entire semes­ter to earn this sacred knowl­edge, it became painfully appar­ent to me that said knowl­edge is not required to gain employ­ment within the apart­ment design industry.

So now that I have gone and snatched away the romance of the urban lifestyle and turned it into the snor­ing, unat­trac­tive, pim­ply girl­friend with cot­ton undies, let me go back and sing the siren’s call of the city.  Stu­dio apart­ments are hot, small spaces are bet­ter than big spaces, and there is just noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to the energy hap­pen­ing right out­side your front door when you live down­town.  All you have to do is find that per­fect apartment.

Hall­ways are Use­less- The biggest rookie mis­take of apart­ment devel­op­ers is the hall­way.  Let’s face it, when you have between 300 and 500 square feet, there’s just no where that a hall­way can take you!  Inevitably though, I have found that

This is so bad, I can’t even write a worth­while caption.

most shit apart­ments insist on hav­ing this tran­si­tional space that is a com­plete waste of pre­cious square footage.  What exactly are you going to put in a 3 foot wide by 15′ long space?  While you cog­i­tate on that for the next 12 months of your lease, let me remind you that you are giv­ing up 45 square feet — that’s a damn fine closet!  Next time you’re in the mar­ket for a small space, keep an eye on the tran­si­tional areas, because 450 square feet is com­pletely liv­able — but not if you have a long hall­way and that weird “entry” thresh­old that can house the awk­ward side­board and a few stray pairs of shoes.

Not all Win­dows are Cre­ated Equal — I am sure that right after telling you to wash your hands before din­ner, your mother impressed upon you the impor­tance of day­light when try­ing to make a small space feel larger.  How­ever, just because an apart­ment has a nice set of win­dows, does not a bright space make.  Lucky for you, I spent a year work­ing at the Day­light­ing Lab, and picked up a thing or two about the ways that nat­ural light impacts a space.

Con­fused? Just get a south fac­ing apartment.

South and West are the Sex­i­est Direc­tions — For max­i­mum day­light ben­e­fit, look for a south fac­ing apart­ment.  In the north­ern hemi­sphere, the sun (whilst trav­el­ing from east to west) is in the south­ern side of the sky dome, thus illu­mi­nat­ing the south­ern face of a build­ing the most.  How­ever, I have dis­cov­ered that land­lords are aware of this phe­nom­e­non, and charge more for south-facing apart­ments.  If you are budget-minded and can’t afford south, look west.  A west-facing apart­ment will gain the day­light in the after­noons and evenings, when you are more likely to be home.  Though pro­ceed with cau­tion — west-faces also receive the max­i­mum solar heat gain because they receive direct sun­light dur­ing the hottest part of the day (good in win­ter, very bad in summer). 

photo cour­tesy of Kalense Kid via Flickr

Look Out­side — In a tightly packed urban core, be sure to look out your prospec­tive win­dows.  Is there a tall build­ing right across the alley?  Then you will likely never see the sun.  Lack­ing direct sun­light is bad, but worse, these apart­ments lack the poten­tial for ambi­ent day­light because the build­ing next door pre­vents the sky dome from being seen (unless your face is smushed up against the glass, and are you really ready to make that type of com­mit­ment to win­dow cleaning?).

500 Sq. Ft. — Fea­tur­ing Office, Break­fast Nook, Liv­ing Room, Bed­room, Bath­room, and Storage

A Room within a Room — Visu­al­ize your stuff in the apart­ment.  Can you see pos­si­bil­i­ties for “divid­ing” space?  A good lay­out will enable the inhab­i­tant to cre­ate divi­sion of pub­lic and pri­vate spaces, and yes, this can be done in a stu­dio apart­ment.  Watch for things like alcoves or niches, these work well for sanc­tion­ing off some pri­vate space.  If the plan is a box, that’s doable too, just make sure it’s a big enough box to accom­mo­date some division.

Why all the fuss about divi­sion of space?  Because that sep­a­rates the men from babies.  If you are going to truly make small space liv­ing a lifestyle, you need to be able to enter­tain com­pany in your home.  Chances are, if your bed is right in the mid­dle of the liv­ing room, friends would rather go else­where to hang out.  Not to brag, but I have hosted Thanks­giv­ing din­ner with four peo­ple, two grey­hounds, and one Ital­ian grey­hound in a space just shy of 600 square feet because I have clearly delin­eated spaces (bed­room, kitchen, break­fast nook, office/dining room, liv­ing room, bath­room).  When my loft can serve the same func­tions as a small house, I am not liv­ing small, just liv­ing in a small apartment. 

Clos­ets are over-rated when you have curtains!

One Closet? Pish Tosh — I fell in love with my apart­ment the moment I laid eyes on it, long before prac­ti­cal things like the fact that it only has a sin­gle closet came to light.  So when I ven­tured in on mov­ing day, woe be to the designer of this unit when I faced this ulti­ma­tum: Get rid of half my stuff, or have it stacked up all over the beau­ti­ful apart­ment I so loved.  What did I do?  Nei­ther.  I got damn cre­ative with how I store things, and still love the apart­ment to this day.

So Billy, what can we learn from this?  To watch for stor­age space.  I can promise you that I will never again sign a lease with­out know­ing exactly how many clos­ets I have to work with.  How­ever, I have also learned that even if there is only one tiny closet, there are ways around it, if you are pre­pared to work for them.


Et Voila! The Office trans­forms into the Din­ing Room!

What are Your Deal Break­ers? Before you start shop­ping, be hon­est with your­self about what you absolutely can­not live with­out.  Are you a foodie?  Do you require a huge kitchen?  Do you have 75 pairs of Manolo’s that need a home?  Do you need a spare room for overnight guests, or will a pull out sofa do?

Small space liv­ing is not for every­one, and most often, there are ways to “cheat” things, but not always.  For exam­ple, my office desk is on cast­ers and by merely mov­ing my wire­less key­board and mouse, it can trans­form into a delight­ful din­ing room table.  How­ever, if there is no way to fake one of your deal break­ers, it sure short­ens the process if you know that up front.

Well folks, that’s all I have for this week.  With any luck, I’ve helped quash the stigma about tiny apart­ments, and helped some­one find that per­fect, Bad Ass Teensy Apart­ment.  Please feel free to share or re-publish this arti­cle else­where, just please give me credit for my work when you do.  Cheers till next time.