Embracing the Miniature Life

Typically, Americans like their houses big. But in their attempt to commute as little as possible and to cut down housing expenses, they are accepting smaller living spaces.

Urban environments becoming denser and denser, less available land for construction and rising prices are all pushing developers towards the idea of building smaller units. Moreover, increases in both rent and home prices have far outstripped the growth of salaries, so homeownership has become a dream for many low- and medium-income Americans who bear the brunt of an aggravating battle for space. In many condensed cities, owning property has become practically out of reach for the average Millennial or Baby Boomer.

The Carmel Place in New York City
The Carmel Place in New York City

In 2012, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a micro-unit pilot program as a way to tackle the metro’s housing crisis and to accommodate the Big Apple’s growing small household population. Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the project and has pushed for a change to the city’s zoning laws to lower the minimum space requirements. Current laws require homes to be at least 400 square feet, but the city waived the regulation for one community to test the viability of smaller apartments. This is how Carmel Place (formerly known as My Micro NY) became the first micro-unit development in a metro where people already paid top dollar to live in cramped apartments.

Monadnock Development and nARCHITECTS built the 55-unit tower, which was prefabricated in a Brooklyn factory to save money and energy. Located in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, the community features units that range in size from 260 to 360 square feet and is complemented by shared amenities such as a fitness room, recreation room, an outdoor terrace and an indoor lounge.

Expanding micro-living style

Apart from the nine-story modular building in Manhattan, some other densely populated metros across the U.S. have also adopted the miniature-style of living.

David Baker Architects designed an upscale condominium development in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Half of its 69 units are micro-apartments. The same architects came up with 1178 Folsom, a 42-micro-unit development in San Francisco, ranging in size from 290 to 350 square feet. The community is part of the newly adopted Western SOMA development plan. Some cities even allow units as small as 90 square feet. Seattle has the highest concentration of micro-units in the country.

In other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, property prices skyrocketed in the past few years, making developers enter a race to build smaller and smaller homes. Dubbed “nano flats” by the Chinese media, these homes are less than 200 square feet. Real estate businessmen are cashing in on limited space, creating so-called space-capsule apartments. Some Hong Kong residents are even forced to live in spaces sinisterly referred to as “cage homes” or “coffin apartments”. Although tiny and congested, they still are ridiculously expensive.

A way of life

For some youngsters or couples, living small is a choice. The tiny house movement seems to be on the rise in the U.S. The social movement refers to people who choose to downsize the space they live in because of environmental or financial concerns and their desire for more time and freedom. To be considered a “tiny home” by the American Tiny House Association, square footage cannot exceed 400. To put it all in perspective, the size of an average American house is 2,600 square feet, accord to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The exploration of micro-apartments’ future is just beginning in the U.S. Flats are getting smaller as home prices escalate, but people have a better shot at buying their own home without paying for mortgages a lifetime.

Image via Google Street View