The 298-square-foot condo
Developers are betting that higher land and construction costs will make such tiny -- but more affordable -- urban living spaces increasingly popular.
At the same time automakers are trying to come up with the next Mini Cooper, apartment and condo developers are shrinking their tiniest urban flats -- some to as small as 298 square feet.
Or in the case of downtown Los Angeles' tony Metro 417 project, as big as the former subway building's public restrooms: 345 square feet.
"I took a look at them and told my clients (the developers), I think we can make units out of these," says Metro 417 architect Daniel Gehman, of Thomas P. Cox, Architects.
Tiny apartments like these are nothing new in big cities such as New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Toronto.
But now this shoebox living is spreading as higher land and construction costs drive developers to think smaller in order to make downtown projects affordable. Of course at $1,450 per month, that 345-square-foot apartment in L.A.'s Metro 417 is hardly inexpensive for renters. But these studio units were among the first to be snapped up, Gehman says -- proof that for many, small is beautiful.
"People are beginning to adapt" to smaller living spaces, Gehman says. "Lifestyle has become more important than just accumulation."
Who will live there?
The right apartment in the right downtown location can put you within steps of the hottest shops, restaurants and entertainment. For many busy professionals or traveling corporate executives, planners say, small units are the perfect place to lay their head.
The 298-square-foot condos in the Moda project now under way in Seattle's trendy Belltown neighborhood near downtown sold out in one week, mainly because of their $150,000 price tag. "Most of the other high-end condos (downtown) were going for half a million to the $5 million range," says G. David Hoy, president of HMI Real Estate, the project's developer. "We thought there was a demand for reasonably priced units with high-end finishes."
The Moda studios -- "moda" is Italian for fashion -- have hardwood floors, stainless-steel appliances, granite or limestone countertops, ceramic tile in the bathrooms and a stacking washer-dryer unit. Hoy says that he had expected them to be snapped up mostly by younger first-time home buyers and traveling executives, but that ultimately, the units also were bought by some older police officers and retirees.
To get people to conceptualize how they might live in such a small space, Hoy built three full-size condos within Moda's sales office. "The buyers could tell it was fairly roomy," Hoy says. Of course, that's if your idea of roomy is big enough to house a bed and a couch.
Projects are controversial
Moda is the second downtown Seattle condo project to be built around small studios. The first -- the Montreux -- sold out quickly nine years ago, providing inspiration to Hoy.
But as successful as some of these small condo and apartment projects are, they are equally controversial.
When new zoning changes were proposed in downtown Los Angeles last year to allow for apartments as small as 250 square feet, community groups and downtown boosters balked, fearing congestion and overcrowding.
Nonprofit developers complained that the small units were impractical. They said they are hard for couples to share and out of the question for people with children. "I just think it's a bad idea," says Noreen McClendon of nonprofit development group Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. "It's like putting people in a fishbowl. Who are they really going to serve?"
Mike Larkins, for one. The 52-year-old Los Angeles prop maker has rented a 300-square-foot duplex apartment in Montrose for 13 years. Small feels good to him. "I've always lived in dinky places. I think that's why I like sleeping in a tent when I go to the mountains," he says. "The only thing I don't have in here is a dining table, and I don't care."
To be sure, Larkins' apartment would sound downright roomy to Greg Early. The 45-year-old New York artist, musician and composer rents a 140-square-foot single-room-occupancy apartment in Times Square for $600 a month.
Early's pad -- showcased on the site ApartmentTherapy.com -- is about 10 feet by 14 feet, with a tiny strip of a kitchen in the entrance, one room for bed and living area, and a tiny bathroom with a shower stall. There are no closets. Early took the door off the bathroom to make room for a cloth wardrobe.
"It's a challenge to make my place comfortable," he says. "But I had to make it work," because it was convenient and affordable. He has lived there for eight years.