When is a home just too small?

Micro-apartments are seen as a solution for people willing to sacrifice space for location. But is there a limit to how small a home can go and still be comfortable?

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Mar 29, 2013 12:29PM

(© Pierre Rosberg/Maskot/Getty Images)We’ve written a number of blog posts glorifying tiny homes. Their charm is often in the ingenuity of their design, with furniture that multitasks and creative storage options.


But as much as we admire these clever tiny homes, would you want to live in one?


"I think it's different strokes for different folks," Graham Hill told journalist Bridget Moriarity, who recently wrote a piece for Curbed about smaller living spaces. "If you're a 22-year-old coming to New York City, you may be out a ton and not have much of a budget, so maybe you want to rent a 200-square-foot place that's closer to the center instead of having a bunch of roommates or having to live far out and commute all the time."


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Hill, the founder of Treehugger, recently published an op-ed piece in The New York Times about the joy of living with less stuff. But critics point out that he spent $365,000 to modify his 420-square-foot New York City apartment, for which he paid $287,000.

Many of the micro-apartment stories come from large, expensive cities: New York, San Francisco and even Providence, R.I., where enough residents are willing to trade space for a place in the heart of the city. Small-space proponents argue that the city around them is part of their living space. Plus, the new developments with small apartments also include some communal spaces, such as courtyards, movie screening rooms and terraces.

Writes Allison Arieff at The New York Times:

Small housing units can be well-designed, though their success is contingent on the success of the urban setting in which they exist. In other words, what’s outside the door needs to be compelling enough to make up for what might otherwise be internalized inside a larger home.

But it’s not only urban dwellers who are embracing the ethos of small spaces, at least in limited numbers. A family of four built a 168-square-foot house in Florida after they were hit hard by the recession. Two women in California built tiny dwellings to save money.


How well a tiny home will work depends a lot on your circumstances.

In recent years, I have downsized from a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house with a garage and lots of closets to a two-bedroom house to a one-bedroom house and now to a one-room loft apartment. For a single person, one large room works fine. If you had two people who slept at different times, or a baby, it wouldn’t work very well.


Marc Vlessing, a co-founder of Pocket Living in London, believes that there is a limit to how small a house or apartment can be and still be livable.


"I balk at anything below 300 square feet," Vlessing told Moriarty. "You don't want to become the new student dormers. This has to be a credible alternative to living in suburbia. If it just becomes too cramped, then I think people go, 'OK, it's terrible, but I'll do the commute.'"


What factors would compel you to live in a tiny space and how small would you be willing to go?


Oct 28, 2013 5:01PM
This is really funny. In  the rural South we had to live in tiny 3 and 4 room houses because we couldn't afford anything else. All the New Yorkers laughed at us and derided us because we had to live that way at the time. Now look what's happened............And they pay 10X to 20X for less space.....How trendy..... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA............
Jun 5, 2013 7:54AM
My parents' house is 8600 square feet, 6 BR, 5 bath, 6 car garage. And it is STILL not big enough for my mom and me to agree on what to make for dinner. We could never live there...I would need sedation.
Jun 5, 2013 7:51AM
When is it too small? When you have to walk out the door to change your mind. Can you say CLAUSTROPHOBIA?? These places are too small for my cats, let alone my husband and me.
May 4, 2013 5:44PM
If Obama gets his own way, then we EACH would live in a 10x10 prison cell.  This life is feeling more like a prison everyday anyway.  So much for the "American Dream".  Nothing much to look forward to than eternal rest.
May 4, 2013 5:07PM

"A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff." - George Carlin

May 4, 2013 4:42PM
Its hard for even just a married couple, who has any size family to have them over for a holiday meal, let alone have them sleep over. If you are a couple and have any friends or family, you need a least a 2 bedroom, 2 bath place. I would say 1,000 would be a minimum. But just like there are people who drive Smart cars, I don't think  it is a couple with 2 kids in car seats.
May 4, 2013 3:54PM
It depends on your stage of life. At 17 I lived in a barracks with a 100  men to a room in a double bunk and a wall locker for everything I owned and I thought it was great.  Now I am retired my wife and I are buying a vacation home with 3 beds and 2 baths and plan to add a garage to it for extra storage. Our regular house has 2400 square feet plus a 2 story detached garage and every inch is full of stuff.  When I lived in a barracks I did not have children and grand children visiting from out of town and I didn't need space for the grandkids stuff or loaner cars for guests.  In fact I didn't need a garage because I didn't own a car or needed space for snow blowers and riding mowers.  Also the older you get the more space you need for the collectible memorabilia you have accumulated and your library and video collections.  I need a private library as the public library collection carries few scholarly works and I refuse to use an electronic device. People who live in tiny houses especially if they have children are not paying their fair share of property taxes to support schools, police, roads and other public services. My wife and I pay the full property tax shot for two school systems that we have no children, grandchildren or any family members attending. If we downsized who would pay the taxes to support the 47% moochers and their illegitimate future criminal children. 
May 4, 2013 3:09PM
If we didn't have so much STUFF we wouldn't need tremendous houses. I have pared down from a 3 BR house to a 1 BR apt., got rid of anything I hadn't used or worn in over a year and have some dual purpose furniture. Everything is organized and there is little clutter. The lack of storage and organization is what can make a small place seem even smaller.
May 4, 2013 2:54PM
My husband and I live iin a 900 square foot house built in 1969.  When our daughter, her signficant other and our 2 granddaughters come over our small house becomes claustrophobic.  When it's just the 2 of us I love it because I can clean it in under 45 minutes!
May 4, 2013 2:38PM
My husband, my grown son, a lab and a guinea pig and myself live in a 1700 sf log house.  There are three bedrooms and one and a half baths.  Even though the view is good, (15 acre lake) it gets crowded when we have family over. We've been here eight years, but I'm ready for something a little bigger, maybe a 2000 sf.
May 4, 2013 12:11PM
950 sq ft-. half the size of my current house. 3 kids grown, one dog. mega mansions were silly but teeny for the sake of teeny seems silly too. but whatever works for you, rally
May 4, 2013 9:28AM
I live in a small four room house with no storage space and it sucks.  Gotta have storage space .  Anything lesss than 1300 sq ft is not gonna cut it.   A basement would have made it work.  Gotta move.
May 4, 2013 6:57AM

When you can cook eggs while still in bed, YOUR HOUSE IS TOO SMALL!


May 4, 2013 5:29AM
Now that I am 65 and retired (with my husband, dog, and cat) I prefer a smaller space. Large homes, especially those with  3 story vaulted ceilings are so NOT cozy and downright creepy. I like knowing for sure that no one else is lurking somewhere in the house with all the crap going on these days.
May 4, 2013 4:15AM
I reside in a roughly 275 sq ft apartment and though I was hesitant to rent at first due to the cramped quarters, being somewhat a frugal minimalist assisted me in making the decision to go forward with moving in.  The place is functional, I dont have what I dont need, and overall it took very little time to adapt.  I have room to work out, to sit at my wine bar, to fit a 50" tv, have adequate closet space, a desk on the wall to salvage some floor space and I thoroughly enjoy it.  

$599 monthly and all utilities are paid, in addition to cable and internet!  Good neighborhood, clean, and close to everything...it doesnt get much more convenient and affordable than that.  It could house two people temporarily for a month, perhaps two...otherwise one might begin feeling the walls caving in.  For overnighters or out of towners I keep a separate full size mattress within the apartment for myself, and give them the full size klik klak futon...still plenty of space, no walking over each other and not suffocating

...this enables me to save many thousands of dollars on an annual basis...sure I sacrifice size and some luxuries, but they come at a price that I am not willing to pay simply on account of having little desire or need for them at this point...Id much rather be capable of taking weekend getaways whenever Id like, while finding that budgeting is unnecessary, as opposed to residing in a more luxurious place at the cost of feeling much more limited in what I can do and having to be focused on watching my bank account.  The smaller space actually is more liberating!  And if I do happen to grow tired of the confines, it encourages me to get my butt outside and enjoy the community or the company of others.
May 4, 2013 2:31AM

We live in 600 sq ft, ground floor, & 300 sq ft, half floor. The house is old, though, so, it isn't set up to maximize space and the doorsills love to remind my elbows to keep clipped in to my sides. If we had the money to gut or raze (depending which option makes more sense), while living in a more modern apartment somewhere, we'd do it.


We lived in an apartment before buying this house that was 835 sq ft, but, it was a much better floorplan, and, it had closets, so, it seemed big rather than small like this house feels.


I think it comes down to space management and the tools (furniture & closets & cabinets) to do it. Small spaces are small, not necessarily inexpensive.

May 4, 2013 12:38AM

If you are single...a small space will work out just fine.  Being in the military, I was required to live in the barracks when first joined...it was a 10ft by 10ft room with a bathroom I shared with my neighbor and one small closet.  Down the hall was a communal kitchen that everyone on our barracks floor could use if we wanted.This was before wall mount-tv's were even invented.  My bed was along one wall, my desk and tv and computer.  It was ok, for "one" person.   I couldn't imagine two people living in it.  Now as a family of 5, anything less than a 3 bedroom couldn't possibly work.



That said, I also lived in Europe for 7 years and American's don't know what "small" is when it comes to living.  They don't have closets, you're lucky if you have a garage, and a bedroom may only fit the bed.  So you have to mount your storage on the walls above you in some cases.


I live in a small 640 square foot (16 x 40) house on 5 acres in the north Minnesota woods.  It has a living room, narrow dining area, bathroom, and a bedroom across the back of the house.  An Irish Wolfhound and 3 Whippets share the space with me.  Each dog has his or her own bed (the Wolfhound sleeps in an old sleigh-bed crib sans dropside that matches the living room furniture); I have invested in several wardrobe cupboards and pantries for storage, which is the biggest issue in a small home.  I do have an 8 x 16 deck/porch on the front of the house that extends the living space in warm weather.  I love this small house, especially now that I have an organizing system in place.  Great for a single person or a couple, but logisitcs for a family with children would be hard. And yes, I do have a never-ending Disney show of wildlife just outside for entertainment!

Apr 29, 2013 2:11PM
I'm just breaking ground in Florida, on a direct oceanfront lot, and I'm building a one bedroom, three bathroom, 1,080sf single family detached home, a mere 126 feet from the ocean.

Apr 9, 2013 9:45PM
Actually, there is absolutely nothing "amazing" about these apartments at all except the hype. They are all pathetic and like small prison quarters. You see, the real estate industry could build dormitories, or SROs (single room occupancy) or hotels and let people who wanted that small a space rent it.  BUT, NO, they are out to change the minimum legal size for an apartment so that they can get around tenant protections and what is considered minimally acceptable and healthy for human inhabitance and then they can charge more per square foot, squeeze bigger profits and treat tenants like animals caged for profit. 
This is a very wide sales promotion by the real estate lobby and industry to alter the minimum legal apartment size in New York City and elsewhere. They have the billionaire Mayor, who has several whole houses for himself, behind them and even set up a pr exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York to promote all the joys of cramming into smaller space!  If they can only make them smaller, they say, the apartments will be cheaper and more plentiful!  In fact if they could only set tenants up in refrigerators or coffins and make it sound cool, exciting and profitable, they would! This is a gross scam and should not be promoted on here or anywhere else. Stop real estate greed as it is a parasitical industry and just takes advantage of people utilizing all kinds of government supports: tax write offs, subsidies, abatements and what not, while claiming, naturally, that rents should be uncontrolled and "free market."  Housing is a human necessity and developers, real estate marketers and landlords seek a monopoly to corner markets and charge outrageous prices.   
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