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.

Better late than never, right? This project has been kicking my upcycling butt, but I finally made enough progress to report back.

We’re talking about the tattered dresser makeover project, which is now mid-cycle in the upcycle process. I’m liking the new design and modern look but color choice is, ah, remaining elusive.

For such a small dresser, it’s quite finicky. I brought home at least six paint samples that were all rejected. The dark colors and the light colors looked jarring in such a small room, so I looked for midtones. I finally found a contender, but now after a first coat the color isn’t living up to its swatchy promises.

See the dresser below trying on the interim color. I think it makes the wall look too yellow. The walls actually look browner away from the purple-toned dresser. When the project is finally done, with a different color I think, I’ll show before and after shots.

Dresser with new paint, legs, and knobs.

This dresser redo has added legs and new knobs but hasn’t settled on a final color yet.

Did I mention that painting and upcycling furniture is harder than it looks? The design blogs make it look so easy! But I’m certain that after I straighten out that nasty learning curve, it’ll get much easier. Stay tuned.

 

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the cost of living goes up every second. I phoned a nearby store that sells unfinished pine dressers in various sizes and will even make them to order. They quoted about $400 for a small, unfinished pine dresser with three or four drawers. And I would still have to paint it myself! Needless to say, I continued looking for a used one.

Upcycling Challenges

I looked for weeks to find an old dresser to upcycle but wasn’t having any luck. I need a piece that is counter-height and as wide as the wall outside my kitchen, so my needs are pretty specific. My best-laid plans are to slide it over and use it as extra counter space for big cooking extravaganzas (hah!).

My persistence paid off. I finally found this old pine dresser on Craigslist that was the exact width I was looking for. The wall is 25 inches wide and the dresser is 3/4 of an inch smaller. I paid $15. The dresser is shorter in height than I need but that’s OK because I can add legs to raise and modernize it.

Photo of a small dresser in need of a makeover.

Upcycling dresser project—This small no-frills dresser needs repair and a makeover. It’ll be taller and snazzier but not too proud to act as extra work space for the kitchen.

Dressing Up the Dresser

The complete makeover will include painting, replacing knobs, repairing broken drawers, and adding legs. Oh and I might add a glass top to avoid scratching the surface.

Check back soon for the results.

 

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!

OK, I’ll just say it: I adore solar energy. That’s strong language for an energy source, I know, but I just can’t help myself. I’m enamored by practical and peaceful solutions. (The sun shines everywhere—it’s renewable and we won’t have to wage war and drop bombs to get it.)

Given the sustainable nature of both micro-living and solar power, I think this blog has license enough to discuss one of my favorite topics. And with solar cells getting tinier and tinier, who knows, maybe The Tiny Apartment can someday have its very own solar collector—the extra small micro model.

Stay tuned and sunned (not tanned).

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.

 

News flash: The Tiny Apartment’s affinity for small things does not extend to bridges over large bodies of water.

On my maiden crossing of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, I shuddered at the side-by-side contrast of the new and old bridges. With the creaky old bridge looming next to the new one, I peered into a dark and distant past that in actuality was only last week. Were people actually driving over that matchstick construction as recently as a week ago?

I got a late night phone call from fellow micro-dweller and friend Alan alerting me to this year’s San Francisco Mime Troupe show “Oil and Water.” The Tiny Apartment is featured in the show! Okay, not my Tiny Apartment, but a tiny apartment. Two characters in the show live in a micro-apartment, and wackiness ensues as they try to share the tiny space with themselves and visitors. In one bit, two visitors enter and everyone moves around the space like sardines in a can. Sounds hilarious.

The Mime Troupe addresses socially relevant material, and micro-living is a hot topic these days, so that’s how my and Alan’s living situations ended up featured in the show.

For all my non-Bay Area readers who haven’t seen a Mime Troupe show, it’s not pantomime. It’s actually loud and raucous satire and it’s a lot of fun.

Support the Troupe(s)

The SF Mime Troupe, now in its 54th season, is an institution in the Bay Area. But the 54th season almost didn’t happen due to a lack of funds. With seven more free shows in the parks this summer, I hope people, myself included, go out and support the show (they accept donations).

Up and Coming: TINY at Large

Escaping the four walls of The Tiny Apartment, thetinyapartment.com will venture out and report on various happenings in the micro-living community. Later we’ll take a closer look at Alan’s micro-apartment. At approximately 300 square feet, I admit to some bouts of square footage envy.

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.