Intentionally Small: Urban Living in North Carolina

Hey there! Please excuse the lack of new blog posts lately. I have started taking my architecture professional exams to become a licensed architect! One test down, six to go!

New posts are in the works and coming soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen this video yet, it documents my story with small spaces – from my time living abroad and involvement with local issues, to my studio apartment and starting this blog. I hope you enjoy:

Thank you to Kirsten Dirksen of faircompanies for creating this film. Be sure to peruse Kirsten’s youtube channel for videos of the best small spaces and simple living stories.

Katherine and Brent’s 960 sqft Accessory Apartment

Katherine and Brents 960 sqft Accessory Apartment 02

  • size: 960 sqft
  • type: 2-bedroom accessory apartment
  • location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • inhabitants: Katherine and Brent Nobles
  • my info: @kgnobles

Katherine Nobles Plans

Describe your place:

My husband and I live in an apartment beneath a larger home in Chapel Hill, NC. The apartment has a private entrance and patio. The house is on a hill; so one side of our apartment has large windows facing the beautiful backyard. We’re secluded in a quiet neighborhood, yet we’re just over a mile from downtown and the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

Photo by Brent Nobles

Photo by Brent Nobles

What do you love about your space?:

I love the window in the living room and the view it provides of the backyard. It’s fun to watch the wildlife. So far we’ve seen an owl, hawk, and lots of deer, right from our living room!

I also love the cabinet storage in the kitchen. The large island provides plenty of space for kitchen gadgets, platters, and pots and pans.

Katherine and Brents 960 sqft Accessory Apartment 01

How would you improve your space?:

It’d be great to have a small dining room. Our gate-leg table folds up nicely as a sofa table when we’re not eating, but the lack of a true dining space makes it hard to have friends over for dinner.

Katherine and Brents 960 sqft Accessory Apartment 03

What do you like best about small living?:

I value the efficiency that comes with small living, as no space is wasted or excessive. I also enjoy the simplicity it brings us in our everyday lives. I spend less money and energy on decorating and cleaning. I don’t spend time looking for things or fighting with clutter because everything has a place. I don’t spend money on items I don’t really need simply for the sake of filling space.

Katherine and Brents 960 sqft Accessory Apartment 05

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Edit! Really think about what you need and what you love. We moved here from a 1450 townhouse, so we sold and donated a lot of furniture, clothes, accessories, etc. And we don’t miss it! We’ve learned to live without things we thought were necessities like a printer and a microwave. Now the things around us are those that are meaningful and/or purposeful, and that feels good.

Use space-saving storage items. When we moved in, we purchased a lot of “under the bed” and “over the door” organizers, for things like shoes, coats, towels, pantry supplies. In a space with limited storage, we had to think about other ways to stow the items that we just couldn’t part with.

Katherine and Brents 960 sqft Accessory Apartment 11

More about us:

I work as a career counselor, but have always had an interest in design. I studied interior design for a year in college and worked as a graphic designer for a couple of years after completing my degree in communication.

My husband, Brent, and I moved to Chapel Hill just over a year ago. We were seeking a change – a simpler life in a small town that offered good food, music, art, and outdoor activities. We’re happy that we’ve found it here.

Photo by Brent Nobles

Photo by Brent Nobles

A note from Nicole:

I had a lovely time visiting the Nobles residence. This apartment epitomizes what is so great about accessory apartments – they provide alternative housing types for renters in great locations, help the owner with some additional income, and create flexibility in the life cycle of the house and its inhabitants. This is not your ordinary basement apartment – the spaces are flooded with light from large windows. The plan is surprisingly efficient, including 2 bedrooms, 1 full bath, and 1 half bath, and it even includes a private outdoor living space. The Nobles did a fine job selecting functional furniture to fit their space while making it cozy. I loved the fluffy sectional couch that defines the living room, and the nifty collapsable dining table for two. I hope Raleigh will one day reintroduce accessory apartments into its code!

Photo by Brent Nobles

Photo by Brent Nobles

more pictures:

Abuela’s 540 sqft Attached Apartment

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 04
  • size: 540 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom attached apartment
  • location: Tampa, FL
  • inhabitants: Mercedes Alvarez (AKA Abuela)

Mercedes Alvarez Plans

Describe your place:

This is my grandmother’s home. She is 92 years wise, and lives in a one-bedroom, attached apartment in Tampa. My aunt, and her family of four, live in the main residence. The 2-car garage that once connected them was converted into a hair salon for my uncle’s business. It’s a really interesting and progressive living situation: both multi-generational and mixed-use.

There is an independent entrance for my grandmother’s apartment, and a second entrance that connects to the main house by a hallway. These doors are usually kept open during the day, to freely move from one space to the other. I love her apartment . She was able to make it her own, and it feels so appropriate. My grandmother brought her original furniture into the space. Although it can make the apartment feel crowded, she has space for all of her grandchildren and extended family to visit. It’s a common sight to see her dining table full of relatives.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 05

What do you love about your space?:

Abuela: I love that I am independent, but close to my family. I am able to keep my apartment as I like it. Although I might not have as much independence as I had before, with the added help I am able to rest or enjoy my time much more.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 03

My apartment has all the necessities – washer, pantry, kitchen, dining area that’s not big but can seat many. It’s more than perfect. Since it’s small, everything is within hand’s reach and accessible. My apartment is cozy.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 08

How would you improve your space?:

Abuela: I have a walk-in-closet, washer, kitchen… I am satisfied with the way it is. I would do absolutely nothing to improve my space. I wouldn’t change anything. It has what I need. I don’t need anything more.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 11

What do you like best about small living?:

Abuela: I use to have more space than was being used. Here I have less space, but I don’t lack anything. I didn’t use the space as efficiently before, so I have had to make this space efficient. I have adapted and made the space that I have, work for me. Now I clean less, and work less.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 13

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Abuela: It’s a lot better! I have had no problems. As long as you have everything you actually need, size doesn’t matter. This is a comfortable way of living. It is great for elderly to be close to their family, but maintain as much independence as they want.

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 14

A note from Nicole:

An attached apartment is a type of accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or a secondary residence on a single property. It can be used as additional living space, or rented out for extra income. They are commonly called “granny flats” or “in-law suites.” It is becoming more common for families of multiple generations (including grandparents and adult children) to live in the same house, or on the same property. This cuts down on costs, helping everyone involved.

The benefits of having a grandparent live in a secondary apartment, either attached/detached,  is starting to catch on locally. Read on:

Abuelas 540 sqft Attached Apartment 01

Raleigh Backyard Cottages

Today I am officially launching Raleigh Accessory Dwellings (ADUs), a website about ADUs or Backyard Cottages (BYCs) in Raleigh. I created this website as a resource for the Raleigh Community to:

  • explain what ADUs are
  • share their benefits, to the owner, renters, and community
  • discuss the current zoning/code changes in Raleigh
  • explain current and proposed regulations
  • share resources for more information

When I started the website, I didn’t expect that when the topic of ADUs came to City Council for review, it would become a heated discussion, with active and divided conversations from leaders and community members, both for and against ADUs in Raleigh. Now the website has evolved to also:

  • follow the current discussions about ADUs in Raleigh
  • notify of upcoming public meetings
  • explore both perspectives, of those for and against ADUs

This website is a continuously evolving project, and online resource for the Raleigh Community. If you would like to learn more about this topic, follow the conversation, or contribute to this public resource, please contact me.

The next Comprehensive Planning Committee Meeting, today at 2pm in Council Chambers, will continue the discussion of Backyard Cottages.

Why I am interested in ADUs:

An undergraduate architecture project initially sparked my interest in ADUs in Raleigh, and small spaces in general. Within the historic neighborhoods of Raleigh, in backyards and along the inner alleys, there are many old carriage structures or garages that have been converted into apartments. I fell in love with their intimate scale, efficiency, and sustainable life and housing cycle (see diagram above). These original structures were grandfathered-in, but construction of new ADUs has not been permitted since the 80′s.

I researched the subject further years later through my thesis, which led me to start Raleigh Accessory Dwellings to record and share my research. Since changing a city’s code and zoning regulations is a long and arduous process, I saw my online-resource as a way to engage the Raleigh Community in the meantime.

I was not expecting Raleigh’s proposal of legalizing Backyard Cottages to become such a heated subject.

Now I am an active member in the conversation of allowing BYCs in Raleigh. I spoke in support of Backyard Cottages (BYCs) at the last Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives during the public comments, from both supporters and protestors. The issue is still not resolved, and the Committee will be researching more topics to see if and how BYCs will be allowed in Raleigh. See a video of the meeting: visit City of Raleigh RTN, click “Other Government Meetings,” and find the video on November 14, 2012.

I will be at today’s meeting, and I will continue to contribute to Raleigh Accessory Dwellings. If you are interested in becoming part of the conversation, please contact me.