Advantages of Small Space Living Part 1

Apartments and Condominiums.

By Karina Gafford
MilitaryByOwner Staff Writer
 
Given the recent proliferation of smaller space accommodations, perhaps it is time to reconsider our expectations for personal space in living arrangements. The recent story (now understood as a hoax) of a man living inside the 64-square foot Astor Place Cube in New York City found mass appeal across the US, sparking a debate on how much room a person truly needs for living.
 
The past couple of months alone have seen media flurry around micro-condos. One couple in Manhattan reportedly purchased a microstudio for $150,000. This price is a steal in New York City until you consider that the couple shares the 175-square foot space with their two cats. To put this in better context,  get up from your computer and walk 10 feet, then turn 90-degrees and walk 15 feet, and now imagine sharing that space with someone every-single-day; the words cozy and claustrophobia come to mind. The couple attributed their decision to purchase the smaller space to cost for the location and a lack of a need for a larger space; they use their saved income for vacations and spending time enjoying the city instead.
 
In October 2013, for another example, a company in Toronto unleashed a new type of dwelling called SmartHouses (think SmartCar, and now apply that cozy concept to a house). Before we discuss the minutiae (ignore the pun) of how the groceries that failed to fit inside the SmartCar will fit inside the fun-sized kitchen, one should note that these SmartHouses do at least start at around 289-square feet, making them quite expansive compared to the Manhattan couple’s studio. The additional space comes at a cost though; they start at around $250,000.   For some of you,  you may now sit up and pick your jaw up off your desk; it’s a very unflattering look!  The primary marketing tactics for SmartHouse via their website and Twitter posts suggests that they believe the appeal for the miniscule spaces comes from a similar mindset to that of the Manhattan couple—trading size for the convenience and entertainment of the urban location. 
 
The small spaces are no longer confined to the likes of Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Toronto though; they are coming to a city near you, and soon!  The City of San Francisco has just approved legislation to permit 220-square foot microstudios in the pricey city where an average 1-bedroom apartment rents for approximately $2,100 per month. The legislation is designed to help with the city’s housing affordability crisis where many young adults and seniors cannot afford rent. Ted Gullickson, Director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, however, has expressed concerns that these units will be overtaken as "crash pads" by the more affluent members of the tech industry in the city. The units range from $1,200 - $1,500, and up to two people may live in them, which is significant since other pricey areas such as Arlington, VA, where studios rent for approximately the same price, can only have one tenant.[1] It seems that Gullickson, too, believes that city workers will find value in the trade-off of space for cost in an urban environment.
 
While the prospect of living in such a small space elicits a rather unpleasant knee-jerk reaction from those accustomed to a traditional American-Dream-style, 3-bedroom home (now upgraded to wrought iron fenced instead of white picket, of course), it appears that a market demand does exist for smaller scale living. It is challenging to pinpoint precisely why this demand now exists; the trade-off of space for cost cannot be the only reason. Yes, the Great Recession has truly changed American’s perception of home values, and yet magazines (beyond niche one’s like Dwell) and home buyer television shows do not reflect these trends; instead, they continue to appeal to our heady pre-recession days. To begin to understand why smaller scale living has an increasing demand, we must first understand where we came from, The Land of Bigger is Better!
 
Let me paint a picture for you of the pre-recession home buyer daydream. In the dream, you, smiling broadly (hair perfectly coiffed, of course), are welcoming your large party of guests for whom you have so graciously thought to provide a coat room conveniently located off of your elegant foyer. From the airy, cathedral-ceilinged foyer, your guests can leisurely meander into the formal living area where they can comfortably enjoy pre-dinner cocktails and hor d’eurves before entering the dining room.  The dining room was also tastefully designed with comfort in mind to easily accommodate a bar, buffet, and cabinet (the one where you store all of your wedding china you only used once) in addition to your twelve guests. Your guests marvel at the meal you have prepared courtesy of the space provided by double convection ovens and the seeming miles of counter space in your spacious kitchen. Fortunately, your well-stocked pantry—the one that is stocked so well that you can easily regale your guests with hilarious stories of your preparation for any prospective zombie apocalypse—easily met your needs, both for preparing dinner for the evening and brunch for tomorrow. During the dinner conversation, you notice with pleasure that your guests murmur to each other in approval at your sparkling pool and landscaped garden just beyond, the garden you so carefully tend to several days per week. Following the evening’s meal, your guests converge upon the billiards table in your game room, challenging each other to games before retreating to their respective bedrooms—all en-suite and spacious, of course, as you are, indeed, the consummate host. By now you should have a host of images dancing in your head, painting a montage of the ideal home for an entertainer—a fusion of all that is ideal among Martha Stewart Living, Good Housekeeping, Southern Living, and HGTV rolled into one perfect abode.
 
Now that you have your vision in mind, picture the aftermath—you could think of it akin to the entertainer’s hangover.  Following a hectic morning of brunch and goodbyes, your guests finally drive off, leaving you to yearn for an opportunity to cuddle up under a blanket in one of the over-sized recliners in your in-home theatre room. Entertaining is a tiring job! But no, there’s no time for movies and relaxing; you have a home to attend to this afternoon! Remember how much you appreciated your counter space yesterday—the one in the large kitchen that was at the top of your home shopping "must have" list? Well, it’s dirty, just like each of the four guestroom bathrooms, the half-bathroom downstairs, the dining room, and the formal living room. Each of the guestrooms will need to have the bed linens changed, and you should probably vacuum and dust in there, too, while you’re at it. Oh, and wiping down all of the baseboards and fans would probably be a good idea, too, particularly since you’ll have more guests visiting next weekend (you—and your great home—make for a popular hosting team!). There’s a red wine spill on the creamy-colored carpet in your game room to address right away, but make sure you also don’t forget to call the pool maintenance company as your pool does not look as sparkling as it did last night. Having a pool seemed like such a good idea at the time, your subconscious recalls wistfully before you reality check her to remind her that this is about the third time this year that you have had to call someone out to check on the pool filter.  Speaking of filters, you may want to consider calling the air conditioning company for the bi-annual check-up, too; having the air conditioning break is the last thing you need right now given the expense of fixing the roof and having the gutters cleaned. You had considered replacing the flooring in the upstairs bedrooms, but given that the costs of maintenance and utilities on the home are already so high, you may want to consider abstaining from large investments for the moment. It’s a good thing you have a full-time job to cover these expenses; then again, isn’t taking care of this home a full-time job, too? Maybe you’ll get to enjoy the peace and quiet of your media room one day. You definitely did not have these Cinderella-Pre-Ballgown images of yourself when you envisioned your entertainer’s residence. Maybe you could just host your next party at a nearby restaurant instead?
 
While you spend the day cleaning up your spacious home, picture your neighbor, Anne, a small space renter in a nearby multi-dwelling housing unit complex (MDU’s, which means a condominium or apartment complex to the rest of the world). Just like you, Anne held a party for her friends last night, but now while you clean, she is relaxing in comfortable leather recliners, enjoying the company of her neighbors in a shared theater room.  Anne took advantage of hosting a party in the building’s lounge and game room, and grilled dinner using grills and propane provided by the community.  After the party, Anne bid everyone goodnight and retreated to her private (and still clean) apartment while her guests crashed in the guest suite. Anne has put approximately zero thought or concern into how or when their post-departure clean-up occurs, and that’s just fine by her; she has other things to do with her day. While the trade-off of space for cost may have been a consideration for Anne, just as it was for the Manhattan couple, and just as it may be for the SmartHouse and San Francisco microstudio dwellers, it seems that Anne has found many other advantageous aspects of living in a smaller home.  

Of course, Anne’s living arrangement would not work for every family’s situation, but it is important to note that having a space for entertaining does not necessitate the 4,000-plus square foot glory mansions of HGTV.  Similarly, the fear of caring for such a larger space should also not prevent someone from buying or renting a home of such a size; never let fear be a motivator! Instead, it is wise to logically consider both the advantages and disadvantages of each to make the most prudent decision for your family. 
 
Here, we learned a little more about the rise in smaller space living, and in the follow-on article we will look primarily at the advantages and benefits of small space living in MDU’s.

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