Living Well in Tiny Spaces

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Spaciousness could become a thing of the past in urban areas as we continue to contract ourselves into smaller and smaller spaces. In September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on a proposal to reduce the minimum apartment size to 150 square feet.

In Boston, there are plans to reduce minimum unit size from 450 to 350 square feet, and in New York, Mayor Bloomberg has launched a contest to design compact apartments to accommodate an expected influx of new residents. It all begs the question: Are dreams of mansions resigned to claustrophobia?  

Felice Cohen became a YouTube sensation in 2010 for a video showing how she managed to squeeze into a 90-square-foot apartment in Manhattan. She was evicted this past winter after her landlord found out that she was living there even though she was not on the lease. "I realized that you don't need so much stuff," Cohen says. "So many of us have so much stuff that we don't even use or wear, and I think at some point you realize that you're happier with less stuff." 

Jay Shafer is the designer and founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House company. He’s lived in a 100-square foot house for a decade. "Everything seemed to be about the McMansion, at least outside of the city, and a lot of people are thinking about living with what they need rather than with a lot of extra space that they're not using," he says. Shafer says that one of the benefits of living with just the bare necessities means that he has "outsourced" his life — without a large living space to fall back upon, he goes out to eat frequently, and spends more time out in public. 

"We're always out," Cohen says. "Since my video came out, I've had emails from people all over the world asking where they can find these small units."

We asked you to share your house or apartment size and where you live. Here's a map of your responses. 



Felice Cohen and Jay Shafer

Produced by:

Robert Balint, Rebecca Klein and Paul R. Smith

Comments [10]


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Mar. 07 2013 01:08 AM
toby from Staten island

Taylor,your a disgrace to Staten islan

Aug. 03 2012 02:27 PM

smallest was 250 sq feet. All the comforts of home with out the space to cutter it up with non-essentials.

Now that I own a house and have 1500' sq feet to roam around (and fill with useless extras - really three TVs? I was never this person!)- I miss the simplicity of a well designed smaller space.

While I never achieved a level of design or style like this "Origami Apartment, I sure do dream about it still.

or Perhaps Luigi Colani was right all along:

Aug. 02 2012 06:32 AM
Becky from Albany, NY

I lived in a lovely studio apartment in Minneapolis that was 350 sf including kitchen, bathroom and 2 closets. I had space for a futon, papasan chair, bookcase, kitchen table and desk - all I needed as a young single person - and I think it would have been fine for a couple as well. It was spacious enough that I could invite a few people over and entertain as well. There were 4 windows in the living space and another small one in the bathroom. The sunny, breezy nature of this corner unit in addition to 9 ft ceilings, as opposed to the standard 8 ft, made this apartment feel more spacious than it actually was. Don't underestimate the power of good design in impacting how a space feels!

Aug. 01 2012 04:16 PM

I live in 800 square feet with my husband and my 12-year-old son and - some of the time - my 20-year-old son. It's really not a big deal! I love the tiny homes, but my husband is a painter and a musician, so he put his foot down!

Aug. 01 2012 03:56 PM
Sandy Northrop from Salisbury Beach, MA 01952

If small living spaces spaces are designed like boats or RV's that would be great! I lived on a 24 ft sailboat for long weekends and know 6' man who lived on it for a summer. He did fine. They have built-ins for great organization. I didn't get to this conversation until late.

Aug. 01 2012 12:06 PM
David Waldo from Edmond, OK

In Philadelphia, while in graduate school, I lived in an efficiency apartment about 20x20 ft, 400 square feet. However, I slept often at school and tried real hard to think of how to have no living space at all. I could sleep in my graduate office, shower over at the gym, and eat at restaurants. My only problem was where to keep my cloths. I thought of keeping them in boxes at school but I thought that would be too suspicious.

Aug. 01 2012 11:05 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I believe in the end, as far as New York is concerned, we will continue to pay more for less. Eventually that 90 square foot apartment will be 5 grand a month.

In the future, Real Estate Brokers will start having us think small. They will encourage us to raise teeny tiny children who have malnutrition deficiencies so that in a hundred years we will all be tiny and not need as much space to live in.

I of course sort of think that I'm kidding.

Your guests were fantastic, however what I believe can happen is that those small spaces will keep going up in price until everybody is paying a huge amount of money for small spaces. Wait a second, isn't that what happened in this city already?

When I got my apartment in Bed Stuy, two floors and six big rooms, for a family of four, my competition for the place was at least six College Students. Their willingness to live on top of each other raised the price for my family.
My kids will probably live in a tin can when they grow up, and I wonder if they will be buried in it as well.

Oh and the smallest place I ever lived in was my own head.

Aug. 01 2012 10:31 AM
Vincent from Bellerose, Queesns

I am leery of the push for these small apartments, it is driven by greed. The end result will be enormous profits for the real estate developers for these over inflated "boxes". If possible they will make this the new model on how middle class and poor people should should live while they go home to their mansion with their pockets filled with our money.

Aug. 01 2012 09:08 AM
Taylor Jones from Staten Island

It's an indelicate question, but someone's got to ask it: How does the tiny, tiny home dweller escape his own bodily aromas? Not to mention the smell of minced garlic after eating Chinese takeout?

Aug. 01 2012 08:58 AM

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