Thursday, October 4, 2012

San Francisco Considers: Micro-Studios

Tiny-Small Dwelling Units in High Density Developments

Singapore, Boston, New York City, and other areas have them. Not everyone or families could live in them. Some planners in San Francisco think maybe 'The City' needs some micro-studios (200-300 square feet each) to house the currently large and growing under-served population of single-person households that want and can afford well-located and well-designed micro-studio housing.

A Tale of Other Cities

(Excerpt) "If [New York City] Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has his way, the city soon will have far more tiny apartments to accommodate a burgeoning need for smaller, cheaper living spaces.

'Today there are about 1.8 million one- and two-person households in the city, but there are only about 1 million studio and one-bedroom apartments. You notice the mismatch,' Bloomberg said in July as he announced a competition for designing a building dominated by micro-studios.

... [This] could create a new housing model for America's biggest city -- showing that small doesn't necessarily mean dark, dismal and musty. The winning design must include apartments no larger than 300 square feet, including a kitchen, a bathroom with a tub, and windows that look out on air, not air shafts … The winner will be announced later in the year.

Nationwide census figures bear out what New York officials say is a trend toward solo living. In 2010, 28 percent of U.S. households were single-person; in 1950, it was 9.5 percent. In New York City, the percentage of single-person households is 32 percent.

New York isn't the only city to experiment with micro-units. San Francisco is considering shrinking the minimum for rental units from 290 to 220 square feet. At the urging of Boston's mayor, some new buildings containing that city's version of a micro-studio -- smaller than 450 square feet -- are being built.

… by virtue of New York's size and influence [this concept] could prompt other high-density urban areas to address the need for 'right-sized housing,' as … [NYC’s] Department of Housing and Urban Development puts it.

'It makes sense to try this out,' Bloomberg said before walking over to a mock-up floor plan for one of the New York units ... in a 10-by-30-foot space.

What's tiny to some, though, is grand to people like Ryan Mitchell, who advocates drastic downsizing on his website,, and offers tips on how to squeeze yourself happily into 100 to 200 square feet.

'I don't expect and I don't think the majority of us will get to a point where we're living in that type of dwelling,' Mitchell said. 'But I think it's important to show there's an alternative to McMansions.'

Mitchell came to embrace the concept of tiny living after a job loss in 2008. He found another job, but unemployment made him averse to debt. Like many small-living fans, Mitchell also wanted to reduce his carbon footprint … and has been steadily weeding his belongings.

'I'm pretty lean in terms of what I have ...' [Mitchell] ... calls his de-cluttering system the "box method." He puts items into a box and revisits it after six months. Whatever hasn't been used is thrown or given away -- kitchen knives, clothes, dishes, pencils.

[Another potential micro-studio inhabitant, Scott Elyanow (a real estate agent and nearly 40)] … purges every six months with the help of a … professional de-clutterer who goes through his closet as Elyanow watches. Whatever hasn't been used, doesn't fit or is out of style gets thrown away or donated to charity ...

There are drawers beneath the bed; ottomans open to reveal storage hutches; big pillows on the bed hide a wall closet. Shoes go into the laundry hamper, and dirty clothes are taken every few days to the laundromat to keep the closet and hamper from getting too crowded. They aren't picked up again until he has a new batch of laundry to deliver. Pots and pans stay in the oven.

...The bathroom is also thin, but long enough to house a bathtub. He's divided the main room into four distinct spaces: the bed, the mini-sofa, the soft, white leather chair and a desk. Fold-up chairs in the building hallway provide additional seating for the regular parties he throws. He says a dozen people fit comfortably.

About the only area that even looks crowded is the kitchen, with its tightly packed shelves resembling a tiny, overstuffed grocery store. But Elyanow eats out most of the time … underscoring what tiny living fans say is key to success: making the outside world a natural extension of your home life.

'… the fact that people continue to clamor for such property shows that size doesn't matter if the location is great,' said Rick Bell, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Bell supports the mayor on the micro-unit proposal and once lived on a 200-square-foot houseboat on the Hudson River, where his luncheonette table could be lowered and used as a guest bed.

'People would rather have a small apartment in a great place than a huge house in the middle of nowhere,' said Bell, who predicts that older people whose children have moved on will be just as drawn to micro-units as recent college graduates or young professionals ...

'The cultural shift toward minimizing is not just about cars or cellphones," he said. "It's about the idea that super-abundance is a kind of selfishness our country can't afford anymore.'"

Source: "Small-space dwellers extol virtues of living well in tiny homes," by Tina Susman,, 9.27.2012

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