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May 23, 2016

Micro is the New Black II

John Sheehan

As we noted last week, small is back in vogue in a big way – and it’s even extending to the spaces we call home.  As the U.S. population becomes increasingly urban, the inventory of conventional housing types is straining to keep pace with increased demand and rents are skyrocketing  – effectively pricing out the lower-earning portion of  another rapidly-growing demographic.  Micro-flats – rental dwelling units that are 300 square feet or less in floor area – are quickly currying favor amongst the leaders of major U.S. cities as a potential solution to this dilemma. Last week, we shared a list of 5 tips gleaned from our 25 years of designing compact, affordable units. This week, we conclude with a final five to anyone considering micro-flats for their city, or their home:

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6.) That Certain Quality

Flooring and finish choices are critical in a small space. Reflective, polished and light colored surfaces help to bounce daylight around and expand the space. Choose a single, high-quality flooring to run through the entire floor plan – breaking a tiny space into different zones (e.g. carpeted vs. tiled) only succeeds in making the room feel smaller. Kitchen, bath, and other built-in cabinetry should be of a single, simple and clean design. The fewer things that the eye is arrested by in a space (exposed hinges, face detailing, pulls…) the more “open” and airy that space will seem.



7.) Critical Dimensions

11 feet wide (although 12 is better) and at least 9 foot ceilings – these are numbers that resonate with real-world living and real-world development proformas; Space enough for typical furnishings and appliances while leaving nothing to waste. Ignoring these can make your crib feel more like a coffin. We have seen micro-lofts that offer 12 foot ceilings (and above)…sleeping platforms and high storage are possible if renters are willing to climb.



This is 12ft!

8.) “To sleep: perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub…”

On the subject of beds: Murphy’s are cool (and quite expensive), twins are for college dorms… The fact is that most adults in the US own a queen-size mattress. Plan for it. Floor plans that rely on convertible sofas or sleeping lofts don’t acknowledge the reality of the statistics. In our opinion, small units need to accommodate the normal, baseline condition – while also enabling more creative, space-savvy solutions.

9.) Bikes and other means of transportation

The population that is inclined to rent (or buy) a micro-flat is the same one likely to own a slick bike. Most zoning regulations require new developments to provide bike parking somewhere on site – but who wants to chain-up their pricy Fixed-Gear down in the garage? A spot to hang a bike inside the micro-flat is a great amenity, provided at little expense.  To accommodate residents who have not adapted to pedal-power, our clients are increasingly asking us to include a few designated parking stalls for shared cars and electric vehicles – we applaud that idea.


The location of his remote may have eluded him at times, but Jerry’s bike was always in its designated place

10.) Let it roll!

As architects, we are seldom asked to design furnished units – however one idea we keep promoting is that of an oversized armoire on casters. I lived in a loft in Boston the first year I was married, and every unit was provided with two large painted particle board “movable” closets. By pushing and shoving these beasts around on the carpeted floor, one could divide the loft up into two zones (sleeping and living/dining in our case) or push them against the walls to make one larger space. This would have been a lot easier had the closets been on casters – and may have encouraged us to experiment with other arrangements.




Wheels are good … Eh, mostly.

So – small is cool again. But how small is too small? Perhaps the old joke: “Her apartment was so small she had to step out into the hallway to change her mind” – offers a metric. Your thoughts?