Canada's Condominium Magazine
There is a big difference between a small living space and a smart small living space. While it is true that some people are willing to live in modified shipping containers, often in areas removed from the city centre, that is a trend that’s likely to remain fairly marginal. The trend to construct small, attractive, specially designed condos in conventional structures in downtown locations, however, is spreading. In fact, it’s happening all over—London, England, New York City, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto.
A good example of the kind of space that can be created, albeit with a lot of ingenuity and thought (and money), is the NYC apartment of TreeHugger founder Graham Hill. The apartment has 420 square feet but is designed with features such as sliding walls and convertible, multi-use furniture to make it feel much bigger. It is not simply a small space with a finite amount of furniture and finite options for living in it. Rather, the space can be reconfigured as needed—Hill boasts that he can seat ten for dinner, though you wouldn’t think it possible at first glance. There is even room for guests to sleep over, thanks to a clever use of hidden bunk beds. The cost of the renovation was justified, Hill said, because his apartment is meant to serve as a prototype for similar units to be built much more cheaply.
Toronto is getting its first micro-condo building on Queen Street West, devoted entirely to smaller living. Smart House micro-condos are being marketed as the “no clutter, no excess” option, doing more with less. They are as small as 289 square feet.
Thinking about living that small, one might take a look around one’s own home and imagine it shrunk down to that size, possibly aghast to think of all the “stuff” that would have to be sacrificed. But that, the micro-condo proponents would say, is the wrong way to think of it. It’s not about sacrificing stuff you already have, it’s about being creative in how you live and careful about what you acquire in the first place.
To be fully realized, smart spaces must be designed for maximum utility and versatility. This is what gives the space an expansive feeling that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional space with four rigid walls, a floor and a ceiling.
The millennials are coming
A question that will occur to many might be, “Who wants to live that way?” Who would buy a condo with just 300 square feet or less? At least part of the answer is: Millennials. Those diverse, well-educated, self-expressing, optimistic millennials, according to a recent US Nielsen report, are very interested in living in cities. So much so that they are “fueling an urban revolution” as they seek the vibrancy and creative energy to be found in cities like Toronto and New York. They want to step out of their front doors and find shopping and their workplace right there. They tend to eat out, don’t watch a lot of television, and prefer socializing to staying home.
Millennials (62%) prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers where they live in close proximity to a mix of shopping, restaurants and offices. They currently live in urban areas at a higher rate than any other generation. This is the first time since the 1920s where the growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of the cities. And, 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future. The “American Dream” is transitioning from the white picket fence in the suburbs to the historic brownstone stoop in the heart of the city.
Nielsen, Millennials—Breaking the Myths
But the millennials, alas, have been struggling with high unemployment and lack of cash. How to realize the dream of living in the heart of a major city when money is tight? Buy small. Or rent. The Nielsen survey found that two-thirds of millennials were renters. But they have plans to buy: 90 per cent of renting millennials said that they intend to buy, according to research at Harvard University’s Housing Studies centre. They represent the largest demographic group in the US, outnumbering baby boomers, with a similar percentage in Canada, and the online realtor Trulia says that as such millennials will have an enormous impact on housing, one way or another.
In response to the housing affordability problem, cities like New York and London have recently approved micro-condo pilot projects with units as small as 250 square feet. They are designed for young first-time buyers on low to moderate incomes. Pocket Living, the London company building “compact, stylish homes” that sell for 20 per cent less than the market rate, is subsidized by the city of London and plans to continue building its tiny homes “across London” over the next ten years.