life in a tiny apartment.

January 30, 2013

Tip #49: Tiny apartments, not for the Jetsons only.

Last week’s announcement that Mayor Bloomberg had selected a winner for his micro-apartment design contest has temporarily thrown tiny apartment living back into the public eye. The fervor hasn’t reached the same intensity that it did this past summer when the contest was announced, but suffice to say that no fewer than five friends have emailed this video (or a variation) to me in the past week. It’s not a new project, but clearly, people are talking.
I really admire the folks at LifeEdited (and not only because they once featured our tiny space). Their video of Graham Hill’s Soho apartment is totally impressive and the space age-style transforming that the apartment can do is honestly mesmerizing. Pull out bunk beds for over night guests? Amazing. But, for folks who don’t already live in small spaces I wonder if the emphasis on gadgetry ends up being equal parts inspirational and paralyzing. When I see the video and look around my own space, there’s a part of me that begins to feel like long-term tiny apartment dwelling might only be tenable with highly designed furniture and moveable walls. 
To be clear, the site also focus on the more pressing issue of editing what you own (hear, hear). Their post about our space last summer was actually a testament to the idea that you don’t need special furniture to make living small work. But I’m interested to know what you think. Do you guys live in small spaces? Do you have transformer furniture, or do you make like me and drag your regular old kitchen table out from the wall to make yourself a desk?
PS. If you’re interested in seeing the extent of my own apartment transformer action, hop over to this morning’s post on Vine…wholesome live-action, friends.

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  • Reply Faith January 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    That table is darling! I am really enjoying this series. My hubby and I call our tiny Chicagoan apartment home.

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 2:37 am

      Thank you! Keep your eyes peeled: we found it on the street the day we moved into our apartment! Our old one didn't fit, so we carried this one home and put the one we had on the curb!

  • Reply Chloe Moon January 30, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Editing and throwing out is my biggest problems so seeing these moveable walls and taller living space to live well I guess Up seems like the only way to go to fit everything. But wow seeing the link of the apartment with the loft bedroom actually makes my place look big so I'm a little happy about that! =P

    Ergo – Blog

  • Reply Ashley January 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Personally, I think I prefer your space more than the Soho apartment featured. While all that flexibility in the walls make the space seem like more than it is, I have a feeling that many folks live in tiny spaces to live within their means or have a fixed budget. Normal sized furniture is incredibly expensive already, I can't imagine how much the transitional furniture would cost. One of my favorite parts of reading this blog is seeing how you adapt life and normal home things to fit your needs in a small space. I have a good amount of space in my own home, but your blog inspires me to keep things simple because I do get overwhelmed with all the 'stuff'.

  • Reply Milynn {Love + Whimsy} January 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    That soho apartment is pretty futuristic. I never would've guessed that wall was going to move. I think it is very interesting how creative people can be giving a small living space. But in them, it seems that a simplicity theme always emerges.

  • Reply Unknown January 30, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Sadly, my husband and I have our own desks and it looks clunky because there's our home office in the living room. I would love to do what you do, but I fear I've too much papes lying around. Which brings me to my question: how do you deal with pepers and paper clutter… bills, invoices, to-dos's, what about different notebooks for different big projects? Stamps, calculators, pens, various sundry mail, postits, staplers… you get the idea?? Where does it go? And how do you keep it handy without it becoming clutter.

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 2:56 am

      Hi there! I'm afraid my answer might not be very useful, but the honest truth is that I simply don't have a lot of this stuff. I digitize almost everything and I keep things really organized in digital files so that I don't have to keep hard copies. I do have a tiny stapler and a few pairs of scissors that I keep in tool boxes under our couch!

    • Reply olga January 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      no, this is helpful. we should move into the same realm. digitizing, it seems, is the way to go. thanks, erin!! 🙂 and sorry my comment accidentally posted as anonymous.

  • Reply Liane January 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    i like what you say here and fully agree, erin. i live in one room which is combined living room, bedroom and full time work space. i am very lucky to have a wall of built in cabinet and drawer space which makes a big difference but i find i have to move things around quite a bit (clothes drying rack in crucial living space while in use) and i have to be tidy (i eat and work on the same one small table and sleep on the sofa/day bed). i make do with the furniture i have and have chosen carefully. i most definitely can't afford special gadgets to maximize the space…i have to be creative and a good editor. and truth is, i don't really like space age multi use special gadgety stuff anyway. to each his own and i honor all creativity but living in a small space doesn't take money or special things in my experience.

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 2:58 am

      Liane, yes precisely. I suppose it goes back to a post that I wrote a while ago about my decision to keep our full sized dressers. Bottom line: I *like* them! And totally agreed: to each her own.

  • Reply Lauren Ashley January 30, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I'm a small space dweller as well – and it does make you think creatively about your use of furniture and I feel like I'm always "purging" belongings, which I think is ultimately good. The City of SF has also been developing "micro apartments," it'll be interesting to see if they catch on.

  • Reply Lauren January 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    The LifeEdited apartment is amazing and beautiful…but not very personal. It kind of reminds me of living in a college dorm, where you have to use their desk, bed, wardrobe, etc. I'm living in my own tiny apartment right now and one of the major perks of finally getting my own place for me was getting to pick out my own furniture and inherit a few family things that I loved. My kitchen table is an antique that my Grandmother rescued from the curb and it lived in my Mom and Aunt's first apartments. It has folding leaves which let it double in size when we have guests.

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 3:00 am

      Yes, I think I also feel a bit too strongly about the personal aspects of my home to streamline to this extent!

  • Reply Mary De Bastos January 30, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Whoa. These apartments are so awesome! We had an uber small apartment when we moved to Scotland 5 yrs ago. We could have really used something like this. All that technology and design really makes a difference. We just got rid of it if it didn't fit. Simplifies your life. I love small apartment living. I love that your bed is up high. If I lived in NYC, I'd do that. Heck my bedroom's in our apartment are so small we're going to have to do that for our son.

  • Reply Alexa January 30, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    having spent 2.5 years in a <400 square foot apartment, i sort of can't remember what it was like to have a ton of space before. tiny space living has done wonders for my priorities 🙂

  • Reply am January 30, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    i love that work space! where did you get that mousepad – i am in the market for one! thanks!

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 3:04 am

      It's actually a giant felt coaster!

  • Reply Amy January 30, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    It's a bit much. I don't think there has to be that much gadgetry required to live in a small space. You just adapt and realize that 2,500+ sq feet are not required. Our family of 3 lives in a tiny (1,100 sq feet) semi-suburban home by normal standards, but it's a charming 100+ yrs old home and it works just fine. I buy normal furniture and don't have unused space. I do dream of a larger closet, however. 🙂

  • Reply jodi January 30, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    I think that Jetson's apartment is very clever, but for those of us who don't share that aesthetic, it might look a bit cold. (And expensive!) I've lived in a 400-sq foot, one-room cabin for 20 years. There is a woodstove smack in the center and each wall serves as the kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc. So many people have commented over the years about how cozy, clean and surprisingly spacious my little home feels. Like you, I am a Jedi master of squirreling things away – which works great if you actually take the time to organize your stuff! For me though, I think more importantly is the fact that I don't pretend my space is something it is not. It's not the perfect house for hosting sleepovers, or large dinner parties, so unless it's summertime, we don't. Intimate dinners with a couple friends suits us during the winter months, larger gatherings that can spill out onto the deck and yard are perfect for warmer times. And yes, my "kitchen" table is about as transformer as it gets around here. Like you and Liane, it's where I eat, work, sew, and more.

    • Reply Erin January 31, 2013 at 3:02 am

      Agreed. Your cabin sounds delightful!

  • Reply Amy January 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I live in a 400 square foot cabin (off-grid), it is one big room with a sleeping loft. Living in Alaska I don't have access to creative furniture (unless i want to have it shipped), so we work with what we have. The best thing I've purchased was a fold down table from IKEA, we checked it and brought it back on the plane. I continue to pair down the stuff we own the longer we live in this space. I would rather look at the things I really love than have a lot of clutter.

  • Reply Kayleigh January 30, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    We live in a 2 bed/2 bath, 1200 sq ft condo and I actually love the size. I don't want to move into anything bigger for awhile because let's face it I don't want to do anymore cleaning then I have to. We moved into this condo from a 732 sq ft apartment and I actually didn't mind that size either. I love small spaces and think they are so quaint and comfy. I do have to say though ever since I started following your blog I'm now wanting to size down when it comes to the stuff we have in our condo. I love your tips and I don't think they just apply to people living in small spaces. Its nice to live simple and clutter free.

  • Reply Elizabeth Hope January 30, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    So much more value in character (for some of us) though…I'd take your tiny apartment over the Lifeedited one any day of the week!

    Also, interesting absence of showing the kitchen on the Soho flat..

  • Reply lisaathome January 30, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Yes, we live in a very tiny "trinity" style home in Philadelphia. We definitely stay true to simple living with basics done as well as we can. As for "transformer" type furniture… the only thing that can be considered that is our kitchen table that collapses into a tiny set of drawers.

  • Reply Ms. Dear January 30, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I recently rearranged my apartment, by putting my tiny couch on the close wall opposite my dining table / desk.
    Since I use my laptop as my TV, this set up has nearly revolutionized how I can enjoy my little apartment! 🙂

  • Reply Ginna January 31, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Wow, that was so interesting! While the modern style doesn't appeal to me aesthetically, I love the dual purpose and graceful functionality of everything, and can appreciate the incredible design. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic January 31, 2013 at 2:32 am

    I love that table, and I totally want one like it now. I think your question is an interesting one. I'm sure a lot of tiny apartment dwellers wouldn't mind having moveable walls and fancy furniture, but the fact is that most people can't afford those things (I know I can't). So I like your strategies better, which is working creatively with what you've got and getting rid of the stuff that you don't need.

  • Reply Rowan January 31, 2013 at 2:55 am

    That place was not my style at all.
    Our last apartment was 600 sq ft with two adults, two cats and a baby. We bought cheap older furniture since most standard stuff didn't fit through our prewar doorways. It was an exercise in prioritizing. My office is the top of a book shelf in my "dining room". I just stand at it to work which kills my feet after a while, but having a vertical workspace is all that works for now.

  • Reply Kimberley Stemshorn January 31, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I am a thrifty graduate student living in a tiny 300 sq ft place, luckily with 50 or so storage space that hidden from visitor eyes.

    I do however appreciate your realistic, work with what you have approach. As someone in a transition period in their life, with just a bit of money, I simply can't relate to these futuristic, million dollar homes. That's not saying I wouldn't love one myself!

  • Reply Lo February 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing. I'm now obsessed with this site. I don't have a tiny space issue, but I'm still currently trying to edit down my to the things I really need nonetheless. It feels so much less stressful!

  • Reply Carol GK February 2, 2013 at 2:56 am

    I find the microapartment to be depressing. It's so depersonalized. How could anyone live there and be happy?

  • Reply Sarah Dee February 2, 2013 at 3:32 am

    I currently live in a dorm (when you work for free rent it's hard not to). It's probably 250 square feet for just me and I find your space so inspiring in my endless struggle in containing all the "stuff"


  • Reply David Friedlander February 6, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    hey erin,
    thanks for checking us out. i've worked with graham on the project since the beginning and have stayed in the apartment many times with my wife and baby. it really needs to be seen to be understood. the white admittedly is not for everyone and our subsequent projects are going to be warmer. in terms of gadgetry though, the moving wall is made by a company that makes shelving for libraries and law offices–it'll be around a lot longer than the apartment. same goes for the beds, which are super high quality. while they're not essential to happy small space living, the division provides a lot (kinda like your loft bed). the apartment is also a bit of a laboratory–we wanted to see what could be done in a small space. our next project is going to be a lot more earthbound, and smaller at only 350 sq ft. we'll keep posted and keep in touch.
    david at lifeedited dot com

    • Reply Erin February 6, 2013 at 6:17 pm

      Hi David! Thanks for chiming in. It's so great to hear from someone who's been in the space. I definitely admire the ingenuity (how fitting that the wall was designed by a company that makes shelving for libraries–it does remind me of movable stacks). Really looking forward to seeing future projects. Thanks so much for being in touch.

  • Reply Inge February 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Our cabin is not as tiny as your apartment, but me and my boyfriend both work from home. I have a tiny room as my studio and my boyfriend used to have his workspace in the living room. He is a photographer and as his business grew, he needed more room to be able to take on bigger projects. So we bought a couch that transforms to a bed and now the bedroom is also our living room and my boyfriend has the former living room as a studio. I don't mind having to transform the couch every night, but it's not something I see myself doing forever. Also, the thing that absolutely helped the most is, like you said, to get rid of your stuff. It's amazing how much you don't need.

  • Reply Dan Speicher March 6, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    My wife and I are thinking about building a small cabin, and this is great information. More importantly, I love your table.

  • Reply Sheila May 8, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for giving me a space in your blog. I refer this to my close friends who are already seeking for the same .Thanks again guys…

  • Reply runningtindera July 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

    i love reading your blog because i can totally relate. we have this breakfast table that doubles as a counter top too when preparing meals. i also use it to prop my laptop when i need to do work or just surf the net. when not in use, i fold the table and roll it next to the closet. the cat lays on top of it sometimes to nap=) very useful and space economical investment for people with tiny apartments.

  • Reply Heather March 26, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Weird-o question maybe: what about the ants? Any idea if this attracts them to start trailing from the four corners of the earth?

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