300 Square Feet – Could you live in it? Bloomberg (and I!) think you can!

10 Jul

UPDATE: After writing this blog post, I got a bit of attention! I received e-mails from CNN, ABC, and WNYC, asking if they could interview me about my apartment. In response to NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s micro-apartment proposal, many news outlets wanted to show examples of people who were already living in small spaces. Realizing how baffled people are about the feasability of living in a very small space—and embracing how much I *love* finding creative ways to make small spaces work—I decided that I might be able to lend my hand to some small-space-newbies! Hence, The Small Space Savant was born – go check it out after you read on about my response to Bloomberg’s 300 sq ft apartment proposal :)

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I realize that this has nothing to do with beer… but this is my forum, so I’m going to use it today to talk about something else that is near & dear to me… living ‘large’ in a small space :) So…

 
… Mayor Bloomberg has thrown down the gauntlet to design firms, and is “seeking proposals to design, construct and operate” a city-owned micro-unit rental building. Waking up this morning, this story was all over the news and in virtually every paper. People, as well, are definitely talking about the idea… and the sides are being drawn – could you, or could you not, live in 300 square feet? (New York 1’s snap poll this morning showed that roughly 75% of New Yorkers could not, while 25% could)
 
So clearly, these apartments are not being imagined for families or roommates, but rather for residents who are single and, most likely, young. Moving to the city out of college, you’re going to be pulling in a less-than-stellar paycheck, and looking for a decent, yet cheap, apartment. How high could your expectations really be at this point?
 
College dorm rooms are going to average out to about 100-120 square feet per student, whether it’s a single, double, or triple room. In roughly 100 square feet, you’re managing your sleep space, your work space, and your closet space. Take another 60 square feet for allocating a bathroom, and you’re left with 140 square feet to use as kitchen/living space. I don’t see how this couldn’t possibly pass as ‘livable’ for a young, single person.
 
I cook, a lot, but I know that many of my fellow New Yorkers don’t. Eating out and ordering in are the go-to for the vast majority of New Yorkers (c’mon, be honest… how many of you actually brown-bag it for lunch on a regular basis??). I thought that the idea of storing books in the oven was just an urban myth, until I recently visited a friends’ brother’s apartment, and he literally had the oven, as well as most of his kitchen cupboards, filled with books. His fridge? Blueberries, some cheese, juice, and the entire crisper drawer was full of beer. Really, if someone is not going to use their kitchen for anything other than a means to get water and wash the occasional dish after a microwaved dinner, and as a beer cooler, why do we need large kitchens in urban apartments? A small, two-burner stove and a half fridge could work for a large number of tenants, and the extra space saved in the kitchen could be appropriated to the living space.
 
IKEA has these amazing design spaces, model apartments really, set up throughout their showrooms. They show, in real space, how it is possible to configure an entire apartment (bedroom/closet, bathroom, kitchen, & living room) into various square footages. I’ve seen ones that were right around the 200 sq. ft mark, as well as 300, 400, and 500. Stores like IKEA have mastered the art of creative, functional, space-saving design… and make it possible to create a comfortable home in a small space.
 
We have been expanding our living spaces exponentially over the past several decades, and our ideas about how much space we “need” have been spiraling out of control. I’m addicted to HGTV and love watching, in particular, the renovation-focused shows… but I’m always amazed, listening to couples as they walk through houses that seem incredibly spacious, talk about how there’s not enough room. Contrast that to a family like The Tiny House Family, who are living in a 320 sq. ft. home that they built! I realize that “living small” isn’t for everyone, and of course it doesn’t have to be, but in a city like New York where the rent is high and space is at an ultra premium, it just makes sense to create realistic apartments, both from a space and a financial point of view.
 
When you make the decision to live in New York, you’re acknowledging that you’re going to be living in an urban environment, and that does not go hand-in-hand with the idea of a large living space… especially when you are young and single. Yes, we all dream of having a balcony or – dare I say it – a garden space, but hey, we’re not really going to get it. Laundry in the building? Fantastic! Laundry IN the apartment? You’re the luckiest son of a ___ in your circle of friends. Outside of New York, does this seem reasonable? Probably not. So when I hear (or see, in comments sections of articles) people who don’t live in New York commenting on how ridiculous this is, I get really aggravated. It’s not apples-to-apples, people. Part of our lifestyle involves the city itself – the city is, in part, an extension of our living space. We sit, picnic, or meander through our parks, and consider them to be our “backyards.” We are out, after work, with friends at bars/cafes/restaurants, participating in sports leagues, biking/jogging/rollerblading down the West Side highway, going to the gym, taking in a show/concert/dance performance, or just spending 2 hours grocery shopping, because we have to take the train, stand in a long check-out line, and then lug our groceries home on foot & up our third floor walk-up.
 
Our daily reality is so very different, aside from our small apartments and high rents. It’s a package deal here, and we buy into it, and for the most part, we love it. Yes, 105 sq. feet is small, but after 7 years my rent is just over $800, I live half a block off of Washington Square Park, and I don’t have a roommate. I dare you to find a better *deal* on an apartment for a single girl. I knowlingly and happily traded space for location/rent.
 
I think that Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to develop micro-apartments is fabulous and appropriate. In urban cities in so many other parts of the world, people are already living with and embracing the idea of micro-living. Outside of urban areas as well, a large community is growing and supporting the idea of tiny living: https://www.facebook.com/#!/thetinylife
 
And, hey, if people are really concerned with the idea of being able to make 300 sq. ft. work, I’d be happy to show them (and Mayor Bloomberg) how! A designer I may not be… but who better to advise you, then someone who’s had to “live” with a small space, day in & day out, for 7 years?! ;)
 
So…….. could YOU do it?! :) If you’re at all doubtful, check out this awesome 300 sq. ft NYC apartment!
 
~HH~

6 Responses to “300 Square Feet – Could you live in it? Bloomberg (and I!) think you can!”

  1. Chris Spradley July 10, 2012 at 10:26 AM #

    Great piece and your comments on the city being an extension of your living space is one of the reasons I LOVE New York! However, I also cook a lot and have lived too long and own too much stuff to live in 300 sq ft. Love the idea for young people trying to make their way in NYC though!

    • thehopshoney July 10, 2012 at 11:29 AM #

      Chris – if I can cook in my apt that doesn’t even have a “kitchen,” imagine how much I/you could cook in a 300 sq. ft. place that HAD a real kitchen… no matter how small?! & all of us, even me, can stand to downsize & de-clutter a bit… ;) (These apts could also be great for older people – much less space & stuff to manage!)

  2. Laura M. LaVoie July 10, 2012 at 8:43 PM #

    I love your take on the small space. When I read this story yesterday I was somewhat amused because I live in a space half that size with another person. It is not only possible, it is quite comfortable. By the way, thanks for the link in your blogroll!

    • thehopshoney July 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM #

      Thanks so much, Laura! People don’t really have perspective on how ‘large’ a small space can feel… I had someone ask me yesterday if you could even lay down in a 105 sq. ft. apartment! lol :)

  3. Beauseant July 11, 2012 at 8:50 AM #

    Very good posting- beer or no beer!! Having lived in West Africa, my expectations for a lavish home was not exactly on par with most Americans my age. When I returned from that continent, I bought a 1400 sq.ft. home built in 1929, and thought I was king of the world! When others told me to “trade up,” I refused. Years later, I’m not in repossession for over-buying, like many many other home-owners, and I still love my 1400 sq.ft.!!! I have used IKEA furniture throughout my home as it relates to limited European space and smaller American homes. I, too, think its dreadful to watch some people’s behavior on HGTV when they attempt to move to Europe and complain about interior space when they have a beautiful city just outside their door; very spoiled and unrealistic humans.

    • thehopshoney July 11, 2012 at 10:25 AM #

      There’s a really big difference between identifying what we need, vs. what we want… here, we *want* a lot of things, but living in small spaces really helps you to see what it is that you actually need – and yes, there are definitely financial rewards to small living as well!

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