Big ideas for diminutive dwellings (© none)Click to enlarge picture

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

When Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan was a college sophomore, he decided he didn't want a roommate.

The dorm he preferred didn't have single rooms, so he asked the college if he could live in the janitor's closet.

"I was right in the dorm I wanted to be in and around the people I wanted to be around," Gillingham-Ryan says, "and I could have a guest over and not have to mess with a roommate."

There couldn't have been much room for more than one guest at a time in the 35-square-foot space, but he made the most of the L-shaped closet by building a bed along the back wall. He even found a spot for a dresser. (Bing Cube: View tiny apartments)

Gillingham-Ryan, who founded the design website Apartment Therapy in 2007, says that living in a tiny space doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Most people who choose small spaces enjoy the simplicity or have priorities other than a large living space.

Slide show:  Big ideas for diminutive dwellings

"They have not only found out how to make them supercomfortable and unlock all sorts of potential," he says, "but what they're doing is either living in a (neighborhood) that they really love that may be hard to live in otherwise, or they're saving a ton of money and putting that money into some other part of their life."

Why so small?
It was all about the neighborhood for Maggie Frank, who lives in a 12-foot-by-15-foot apartment in the East Village of New York.

"I knew I could live in a place like that because I don't have a lot of stuff," she says. "And I love walking outside and being where I want to be."

Gillingham-Ryan says he feels the same way about New York's West Village, where he now lives. He says the only way for some people to live in their ideal neighborhood is to pick a small apartment. Their neighborhood, he says, is essentially an extension of the home.

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"There is a glorious trade-off that you may not see because it's not in the space," he says.

Jay Shafer designed a tiny house for himself in 1997 because he was "fed up" with maintaining more space than he needed. That house was 8 feet by 12 feet. He later designed an even smaller house, 6 feet by 10 feet.

"When I looked at my life closely, it didn't seem there was all that much that I needed that was actually making me happy," he says. "It was just a cost-benefit analysis, and when I considered how much energy it took to maintain things or store things, it wasn't worth the energy for me."

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As Shafer designed and built that first tiny house, his friends got interested. He soon realized that a lot of people might want to live in these tiny houses. He founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. and sells house plans, kits and ready-made homes that range from 65 square feet to 837 square feet.

Perhaps the biggest reason to choose a small space is the opportunity to snag cheap rent. Genevieve Shuler says she never thought she could afford to live in the West Village, so when she saw an online ad for a studio apartment for a mere $700, she jumped on it.

The 105-square-foot apartment is "a total steal for the neighborhood and not having any roommates," she says.

Money also was a big factor for Andy Wixon, who used to rent a shed behind a friend's Seattle home for just $145 a month.

"I liked how it was my own place, my own physical structure separate from the house where I had more leeway to do what I wanted to it and in it," he says.

But Wixon did have to leave his 9-foot-by-12-foot shed if he wanted to cook something or use a bathroom.