The living room of the second LifeEdited apartment, which we're calling LE2. It's pretty small -- would you want to live there?
Two weeks ago in New York City, 33 development teams from around the world submitted plans for a competition called adAPT NYC. The winner of the competition will receive the right to purchase a parcel of land from the city and build a 50+ unit building comprised of 275-300 square foot “micro-units”; the building will be exempt from the current 400 square foot minimum for new dwellings. My new company, LifeEdited, is part of a great team that submitted a proposal. NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the agency in charge of the competition, told the Wall Street Journal that this is three times the number of entrants for similar competitions.
San Francisco already has several innovative small space developments such as Cubix SF, a building made up of 250-350 square feet luxury condos, and an upcoming four-story prefab-construction building with 300 square foot units in the city’s SoMa district. The city is considering changing their building code to allow living spaces as small as 150 square feet (220 with bathroom and kitchen).
Boston Wharf Towers in -- you guessed it -- Boston will feature 450 square foot studios. A building going up across the street will feature studios as small as 330 square feet.
A developer in Chicago plans to turn up to 1200 dilapidated units into apartments as small as 275 square feet with rents starting around $700.
In Portland, OR, a large development is being built with units as small as 274 square feet. Building amenities include bike storage, big common spaces and easy access to public transport.
What does all this mean?
Does it mean, as some suggest, that real estate developers are trying to exploit the quick cash of young professionals at the expense of families and marginalized citizens? Perhaps. Though most of these developments are designed as affordable spaces, allowing people with limited financial resources to live in neighborhoods that would otherwise be off limits.
Or could it mean that these developments are proof that small space living is gaining enough momentum to work its way into mainstream architecture, design and living? Might Americans be finally rejiggering their notions of the dream home?
In 2007, the ostensible peak of the housing boom, the national average size for new home crested 2500 square feet. In 1950, this number was 983 and there were more people living in these homes: 3.37 back then versus 2.6 in 2007.
With this recent real estate boom and bust, America got bloated on square feet. Our homes—with their lawns to tend, floors to vacuum, gates to close, shingles to replace, sump-pumps to repair and, worst of all, mortgages to pay (or not)—failed to nourish us. We thought our homes would give us security and satisfaction. Instead, they made us tired, nervous, and overwhelmed by trying to manage all of our stuff and space.
People are recognizing small-space living as a choice, not a punishment. People want manageable sizes, minimal upkeep, sane energy consumption and affordable rents and mortgages. We are also questioning how far we want to be from our neighbors. Maybe gates and lawns keep us from getting to know these important folks.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that “Nothing is the next big thing.” What better place to put your nothing than a small home? In all seriousness, few things curb consumer-culture tendencies than a home with minimal space.
Some point out that this movement is focused on singles and couples in big cities. This is true to a large extent, but I believe these demographics are early adopters for something with very broad appeal. We are all ready for less, but better. We are all ready for our homes to be refuges of happiness, not sources of stress. We are all ready for homes that make financial, ecological and plain old common sense. It might not be long before 1K square foot family homes are the norm again. Numbers aside, this movement will usher in an era when our homes start supporting our lives more than our lives support our homes.
Graham Hill founded TreeHugger in 2004 with the goal of driving sustainability mainstream. Graham is also the CEO of LifeEdited, a project devoted to living well with less.