The Tiny Apartment is so small that it must have slipped through some time warpage and came out at the end of it’s first-year lease (and, ahem, months without a blog post).

Hard to believe that it’s July again and a year after my first encounter with The Tiny Apartment. I know it’s time to gather the final data for a decision about staying or going, but other factors besides space size are in play: area rents, convenience, time considerations.

I’m deep in analytic thought as we speak but I will leave you with one overriding finding from my first year: space size is not the most crucial factor for successful micro-living. Room layout and certain essential features, such as a large closet, are much more important. Unfortunately, my tiny studio doesn’t measure up. Now if only a space warp could drop in a few architectural changes, my decision would be easier.

Check out the November 2013 issue of Dwell magazine devoted to small-space living. I haven’t read all of the articles yet but did zero in on the story about Mad Men star Vincent Kartheiser who lives in a 520 sq. ft. studio cottage. He bought the house pre-Mad Men but chose to renovate it in 2010, well after Mad Men fame (and fortune?). The article doesn’t make his motives clear so I’m curious what drives him to stay. (I assume he can afford a larger home!) But I love that he stays and lives according to his own priorities rather than the expectations of others. Go Vincent!

In my last post, I advocated for at least 400 square feet of living space for a healthy, reasonable life. After researching online, I might be willing to amend that theory for some people. (I’m not sure that includes me.)

Size seems to be less critical than the right layout and functionality. The article “8 Tips for Making Your Own Micro Apartment” validates my theory that odd-shaped rooms aren’t optimal for micro-living. It says that square or rectangular spaces work best.

The article also designates the size of micro-ness. For a single person, according to the article, it’s 250–400 square feet. Therefore, I am sub-micro, more in the nano zone.

I suspect a 300-sq ft apartment with the right layout and multi-functional features may be perfect for some people. The PBS NewsHour video “How to Live Micro: Apartments for the New Single World” demonstrates how it can work.

Let’s face it—my apartment is tiny by most standards. There are tinier apartments out there, but I find it curious that their inhabitants never complain about them—at least in front of the camera.

It’s been almost three months since move-in, so now might be a good time to report preliminary results in my micro-living experiment.

Living small definitely has its benefits, but I can’t say it’s all easy. After living in such a tiny space, I suspect a small space would feel just about right.

One of my readers commented that many Americans have more space and stuff than they need. I’m down with downsizing but I suspect we need a reasonable amount of space for basic comfort.

Divide and Design

I’m not at all opposed to studio living; in fact, I think I like it. But I think I’d prefer a larger, dividable space. My studio is so tiny that dividing the space into different areas or zones is not possible or advisable—I want my limited space to feel as open and airy as possible. But I may partition it at some point to test my theory.

The studio is also a bit awkward in layout and configuration. It’s an end unit on an irregularly shaped lot, so all of the walls are at a slant, which contributes to my space issues.

The Envelope Please

My not-so-scientific conclusion is that the average downsizer might want to start with a minimum of 400 square feet. Some people are content with less space, such as this New York City architect living and working in 78 square feet. But I suspect that many of us lack that kind of discipline. And “New York small” is probably different than “everywhere else small.”

But, I haven’t completed all my space-saving projects or found all the right multipurpose furniture. Will I feel differently when I’m done? I don’t know. Stay tuned.

 

Believe it or not, my tiny kitchen lost six linear inches of counter and cabinet space. I had to agree to this to get a new refrigerator. As you know, I had hoped to add counter and cabinet space, not remove it. It seems irony was just waiting to pounce on The Tiny Apartment’s weakest point.

My old 20-inch Frostman refrigerator was a disaster. It froze things in the fridge section and, living up to its name, covered everything in the freezer with a layer of frost. I kept the temp high so it wouldn’t freeze everything in the fridge, but then everything in the freezer didn’t freeze.

Photo of the sink before the new fridge was installed.

My dish rack before the new fridge. How spacious!

Apparently, 20-inch fridges are a thing of the retro past. To fit a new 24-inch frost-free fridge, the crew had to saw away part of the surrounding cabinet. Ouch! That hurts in a kitchen this size. And now I have to move everything around because the counter that held my dish rack has vanished. Losing that little counter space has thrown off the entire kitchen layout.

On the bright side, I have a functioning refrigerator, albeit bigger than I need, and now I can keep ice cream in the freezer. I guess my days of single-serving pints are over. As they should be.

Photo of sink and new fridge minus the left counter space and dish drainer.

Oh no! No more tiny counter space to hold the tiny dish rack. C’est la vie!

While pondering my kitchen space problems, I stuck a small shelving unit on top of the counter to simulate open shelving. I tried it on a whim and kept it as a fun interim solution. But new developments have brought unexpected changes to my little kitchen and these shelves are now gone. I’m posting these photos anyway to document the kitchen’s evolution and to show you my quick-fix solution.

Shelves on the counter hold dishes and bread bin.

Small shelves on top of the counter act as a temporary fix.

I liked the texture and color this arrangement brought to the kitchen, but counter space was still a big problem.

I still think wall shelves are the only viable solution (cabinets would be too bulky). As soon as I figure out how to hang shelves with concealed hardware, I’ll put them up.

Counter space to the right of the shelves.

Counter space to the right of the standing shelves.

In the meantime, I’ll share my recent kitchen upset in the next post.

In my previous post, I presented one-piece furniture options for both sleeping and sitting.

I’d almost decided on a convertible sofa (see example of how one works) until I realized the footprint would squeeze out room for a coffee table (as I may have mentioned, my place is teeny tiny). I stumbled upon a suitable piece from Scandinavian Designs that seems to defy categorization (see pic below). Is it a daybed, a chaise, or as the company calls it, a chaise futon? It really has no resemblance to a futon. To me, it’s a cross between a chaise and a daybed, but let’s agree to call it a chaise.

Hybrid chaise lounge and daybed with small footprint.

Hybrid chaise/daybed with a small footprint.

Enough Room for a Coffee Table

The chaise is only 30 inches deep, which leaves plenty of floor space for a coffee table and ottoman. Although the carbon footprint is larger than I’d like, the physical footprint is perfect. In all the browsing I’d done, both online and brick and mortar, it was the smallest, lightest, and most versatile. While it wasn’t my first choice for sitting comfort (no backrest), its practicality won out.

The top folds out to queen size if I ever need extra sleeping space. But for now, I lay a cushy piece of natural latex foam over it to sleep. I’m brainstorming storage ideas for the foam—turns out latex is heavy, making it bulky and cumbersome to roll up and store. I could find lighter options, but I already own this foam and it’s super comfy. And natural latex is cleaner and healthier than lighter, more processed options such as memory foam. I also have a wool/cotton topper, but it’s actually heavier and bulkier than the latex foam.

Is Blue a Big or Small Color?

Of three eye-popping colors, I chose turquoise. Even though it’s bright and brilliant, the color is less obtrusive than red or purple in a small space. Plus I just like the color.

Some small-space designers advocate light or neutral colors to maximize the feel of a space. But other designers disagree. In any case, I didn’t have many choices in this size footprint, so I’ll work with the color whatever the effect.

Good Fit and Find

Overall, the combination sofa and bed is a great choice for a very small space or as an extra sleeping space in a guest room or office. If I must say so myself, good find!

In my micro-studio I have room for a sofa or a bed but not both. One piece of furniture that serves both functions seemed like the best solution. Here were the choices and pros and cons of each:

  • Sofabed—A traditional fold-out sofabed is labor-intensive to operate, the mattresses aren’t the most comfortable, and the footprint can be deeper than other options. But they do have a back and arms, the best for sitting comfort
  • Convertible sofa—A sofa with a click-clack fold-down back is less labor-intensive to operate than a sofabed, but folding it down can require moving it out from the wall or letting it sit out permanently a few inches from the wall (in my studio, every square inch is vital space)
  • Futon—Futons are bulky and clunky to operate. I don’t mind sleeping on a futon, but I don’t like sitting on the steep angle in upright position
  • Daybed—A daybed usually lacks a built-in back and arms, making it the worst choice for sitting comfort. But they’re user-friendly for sleeping and you can find them with shallow footprints
  • Traditional bed—I could have gone the obvious-bed-in-the-studio route and loaded up a small bed with bolster cushions and pillows, but I preferred a living room aesthetic over a bedroom one

To my earlier point, furnishing a tiny space is not a tiny task! I think I could have written the entire Wikipedia in the time it took to suss out a solution. Next, I’ll show you what I found.

 

Close-up of the kitchen counter

The tiny kitchen’s counter space (not shown are two tiny parcels to the left of the sink and right of the stove top).

The back wall in the kitchen is just crying out for open shelving, right? Below the wall is the only counter space to speak of. There’s little room for food preparation, especially after a few small appliances stake their territory. Open shelving will help keep clutter off the counter and will also solve the problem of no overhead cabinets.

I’ve been brainstorming some solutions (see below). In this tiny kitchen, I may want to try them all.

TINY APARTMENT SOLUTIONS

Problem: Kitchen needs counter space and is too small for an island.

Solutions:

  • Cover the sink or an open drawer with a large cutting board to create an extra work surface (easy! see pic below; hey, what happened to my vintage cutting board that pulls out from under the countertop?)
  • Keep a mobile cart outside the kitchen and roll it over for temporary counter space (easy, but requires giving up precious space in the main room)
  • Build a lightweight, removable countertop that spans part of the open space and props against the counter on either side (requires some time and effort to build; I’ll make a quick cardboard prototype and show you later)
  • Add shelves on the wall to keep things off the counter (with these vintage plaster walls, may require some time and effort)
Photo of cutting board and sink.

A large cutting board covers the sink to act as temporary counter space.

 

You won’t go far when you walk into my kitchen, but at least you’re physically out of the main room (not so in some studios). Even though it feels more like a walk-in closet than a kitchen, it’s actually sort of charming, kind of like a little play kitchen. I don’t think I’ll be doing any serious cooking here, but it’s great for making coffee (my #1 priority) and preparing light meals.

Overview of kitchen

Not ready for the big reveal, here’s the kitchen on move-in day. It’s roughly 30 square feet.

Full List of Amenities

  • Two-burner hotplate
  • Apartment-sized refrigerator (not frost free! do they even make these anymore?)
  • Pull-out sink sprayer
  • Convenient U-shaped configuration
  • Hardwood floors
  • Window over sink with view of trees, bottle brush buckeye, and hummingbirds
  • Takes about two minutes to clean

You may have noticed no oven on the list. It’s true. I have no oven of any kind. Next on my shopping list is a small convection oven.

View of kitchen window and refrigerator.

A window over the sink—one of life’s simple pleasures.

Photo of two-burner stove.

Nifty built-in counter-top stove.