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.

“How We Live” Local Lecture Series

How We Live Lecture Series - Tina Govan How We Live Lecture Series - Nicole Alvarez How We Live Lecture Series - Georgia Bizios

Interested in attending a free architecture lecture in Raleigh this weekend?

The second of three talks in the “How We Live” lecture series is Saturday November 16 @ 10am at the AIANC Center for Architecture and Design. I will be joining the wonderful architects Tina Govan and Georgia Bizios in discussing “Today’s Home: Flexible, Efficient, and Connected.”

Find out more details about the event and reserve your free seat here.

Hope to see you tomorrow morning!

Do-Ho Suh’s 310 sqft NYC Apartment – An Art Installation

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 14

new doc

0 to 60: the Experience of Time through Contemporary Art is an exhibit by the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) and Penland School of Crafts featuring work from various artists exploring the theme of art and time. This is perhaps my all-time favorite exhibition at the NCMA.

I was particularly fascinated by Do-Ho Suh‘s piece, “348 West 22nd St., Apt. A, New York, NY 10011.” It is part of his “The Perfect Home” series where he creates full-scale replicas of his apartments – out of transparent nylon.

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 01

The nylon walls hang weightlessly from a minimal metal frame. Suh recreates every element of his Chelsea apartment, including windows, doors, fireplace, appliances, faucets, and all the light switches. He even stitches a brick pattern around the fireplace and a tile pattern in the bathroom. I was amazed by his intricate detail.

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 03

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 04

This series speaks to his transient life between Seoul and New York City, with the works resembling the surreal memory of space and place. Learn more about “The Perfect Home” through this video of his installation at the Tate Modern.

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 05

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 07

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 08

It was fun documenting this apartment even though it’s only a suggestion of space. I represented the space by a hand-sketched plan, and photographs capture the dream-like environment.  I was intrigued by the sense of being in this space, but also seeing the gallery and visitors beyond.

Since the 310 sqft apartment was only slightly larger than my studio apartment, I couldn’t help but compare the plans and the spaces they created. The layout was really efficient, with a bathroom and a comfortable-sized kitchen to one side, maximizing the rest of the studio’s living space. Suh’s apartment had a clearer definition of space, whereas the definition at my studio came from it’s length and added built-ins. I wonder how he arranged his furniture…

The exhibit is open through August 11, 2013, so make sure you stop by before it ends!

Do-Ho Suh's 310 sqft NYC Apartment - An Art Installation 11

See more pictures:

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 01

Cabin in the Woods

For Memorial Day weekend and my 27th birthday, Matt and I wanted to simply relax and enjoy each other’s company. We browsed through AirBNB for a small cabin in the North Carolina mountains, and found the perfect place for the most memorable weekend.

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 04

This 830 sqft A-frame cabin is located near Asheville in an “intentional community” of artists and professors. Inspired by a trip to Scandinavia, the family of four designed and built this exposed wood cabin as their peaceful retreat. The kitchen, dining, and living spaces blend into one, double-height space with a high vaulted ceiling. A spacious sleeping loft above the bedroom and bathroom look down onto the light-filled living space. The large deck extends the main space to the outdoors where we gazed at the star-filled sky or listened to the continuous buzz of bees.

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 07830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 03

I was fascinated by the space. The simple material palette let the space speak for itself. It didn’t need decorations or paint, it was intrinsically beautiful. The furniture that was there was functional – providing storage (like the antique hutch in the kitchen) or accommodating extra guests (sleeping up to 7 people). I especially loved observing how the cabin was constructed. I could easily read the structural logic of the exposed beams and columns.

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 09

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 10

The nights were chilly, so we made great use of the wood stove. It had such a presence in the cabin, with the contrastingly dark chimney stretching the full height of the space. Since we loved being in the main space so much, we actually slept on the futon. So we really only inhabited about 375 sqft of the cabin.

We had such a lovely stay. The weather, the cabin, the hiking, the food, the relaxing – it was absolutely perfect. Perhaps my favorite birthday yet…

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 13

830 sqft Cabin in the Woods 14

PS. The best part about our trip…

Nicole Alvarez and Matt Tomasulo are engaged

See more pictures of the cabin:

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:

Shannon’s 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 01

  • size: 770 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: Chelsea, NYC
  • inhabitants: Shannon Curran, her husband, and two cats

Shannon Curran Plans

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 03

Describe your place:

I had the pleasure of meeting “Aunt Shannon” in December while visiting her niece, my good friend Elizabeth. I had heard about this loft many times… including rumors of a previous resident, Cindi Lauper. As I toured the first Manhattan apartment I had ever visited, I was bursting with excitement. The most clever use of small space comes out of necessity and intent. This petite, 3-story apartment, is amazing!

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 06

What do you love about your space?:

“The fireplace, roof garden, 1/2 moon window in the dining room, and all the textures.”

Her fireplace is a work of art in itself, with detailed brickwork stretching the full height of the double story living space. Two levels of spiral stairs lead to a private rooftop terrace overlooking Chelsea. The warm wood floors, walls, and planters, contrast against the urban surroundings. One of the planters on the terrace disguises three low windows that cleverly bring light into the bedroom below. It was the rooftop that sold her on the apartment, back when the neighborhood wasn’t as sought after as today. In the dining room, the large 1/2 moon window tilts open so she can tend to her planter, while a long low window below is the perfect place for her cats to perch.

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 05

How would you improve your space?:

“I would widen the circular staircase and cover the wood panelling in the living room.”

Shannon has been working on the apartment gradually, having recently renovated the kitchen. She carved space out from under the spiral stair to create a pantry and provide for extra storage. Custom cabinets fill the excess space in the refrigerator nook. She was most excited about the glass tile brightening the space, and the smooth concrete counter with a deep backsplash as a ledge to keep her counters clear. She’s working on renovating the bathrooms next.

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 08

What do you like best about small living?:

“Less to do!”

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 10

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

“When renovating, steal ideas from yachting magazines. Great creative ideas can be drawn from their designs.”

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 12

Shannons 770 sqft Chelsea Rooftop Loft 13

more pictures:

Matt’s 960 sqft Downtown Flat

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 02

  • size: 960 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: The Hudson, downtown Raleigh
  • inhabitants: Matthew Muñoz
  • occupation: Partner and Chief Design Officer at New Kind
  • twitter: @matthewmunoz

Matt Munoz Plans

Describe your place:

The Hudson is sandwiched between Wilmington and Fayetteville St in downtown Raleigh. There are great things always going on, and I’m within walking access to tasty food, drinks, and cultural adventures. The space is above it all on the second floor, with my unit spilling onto an ivy-covered terrace. The big room contains the kitchen, office, and living area. At the center of the room sits a well-used, farm-inspired table. A long, book-lined hallway joins this room with the front door, bedroom, and bathroom.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 01

What do you love about your space?:

One word: Terrace. Beautiful place to sit outside, with two double doors that open into the living room, office, and kitchen. Perfect for a book and coffee or people and cocktails.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 04

How would you improve your space?:

Put a window in the bedroom.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 06

What do you like best about small living?:

It’s efficient — just the right size. I don’t have a lot of room for stuff, so I don’t collect much. With the clear exception of books. I LOVE books.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 12

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

It’s obvious, but in a climate like Raleigh, find a space that allows you to keep the doors and windows open for the seasons.

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 14

A note from Nicole:

Matt welcomed me into his home in November, and I immediately fell in love with the space!  He has since moved, so I’m glad I was able to capture his apartment as it was. The apartment is amazing in itself – in the middle of downtown, a private terrace, high ceilings, built-in storage, and wonderful daylight. He did a great job decorating the apartment. His furnishings are sparse and were carefully selected, feeling as though they belong in the space. Matt has truly mastered the editing aspect of small living, keeping only what’s important to him – well-designed furniture, bikes, succulents, and awesome graphic design posters. I can’t wait to see his new place!

Matts 960 sqft Downtown Flat 11

 

More pictures:

Adam and Auditi’s 1450 sqft Family Home

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 02

  • size: 1,450 sqft
  • type: 2-bedroom (one day 3-bedroom) home
  • location: 827 E Hargett St. Raleigh, NC
  • inhabitants: Adam Chasen and Auditi Hussain
  • pets: 2 dogs, 6 tropical fish, a conch, a handfull of snails, a starfish, and hermit crabs
  • twitter: chaseadam, 827ehargett, goober9
  • architect: in situ studio
  • construction team: Axiom Green Build and Dopko Cabinetry

Chasen Residence

Describe your place:

Auditi: Small but spacious, with more light than you can image.

Adam: Our house is located in East Raleigh. When I started looking for a house, I said I had to live within a 1 mile radius of the state capitol. I fell in love with the 827 location and got to know the neighbors. No other locations I looked at had a comparable proximity to downtown.

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 06

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 04

What do you love about your space?:

Auditi: The master bathroom shower, all the sunlight, and the downstairs heart-pine floors.

Adam: Open, compact, reused materials, natural light, pushing limits of space and materials, simple space with complex process.

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 07

How would you improve your space?:

Auditi: I’d love to include a proper mud room, i.e a space where we can dump our jackets and muddy shoes before we enter the house.

Adam: We need to work on finish furnishings (couches, chairs, etc.), and organization.

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 08

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 09

What do you like best about small living?:

Auditi: It keeps Adam and I from accumulating unnecessary stuff. Everything in the house is exactly and only what we need. We don’t believe in uni-taskers (besides the fire extinguisher and our currently used toothbrushes), so everything in the house must have a dual purpose.

Adam: Awareness of “stuff” (and limiting it). Small living doesn’t mean you can’t entertain. There is a lower cost of living (build price, tax, energy). Less to think about (decorating, etc.).

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 10

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Auditi: No uni-taskers allowed, besides a fire extinguisher, and ok, perhaps a toilet bowl cleaner. Everything should have dual-function.

Adam: Have less “stuff.” Be aware of your guest’s expectations of space. Be prepared to educate family and friends on “why.”

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 14

Anything else you would like to share?:

Auditi: Nicole rocks!

Adam: Thank you to Nicole for being involved in the process! Also, we bought all our kitchen appliances from Craigslist or through auctions. We have a solar hot water. The upstairs floor is a finished plywood subfloor.

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 05

A note from Nicole:

I admire the idea of making a home that you can grow into with your future family. It may not be “small” if you are strictly looking at square footage, but considering the lifecycle of the house and the future growth of your family, it is appropriate and responsible. This is what Adam and Auditi had in mind when they approached the architects about designing an affordable, modern home in East Raleigh. The Chasen Residence was one of the first projects I saw develop from concept through construction at in situ studio.

The house is compact, yet spacious. On the ground floor, the entrances, kitchen, 1/2 bath, closets, and stair are aligned to one side of the house, opening up the rest of the space for living and dining, from the front porch to the screen porch. A double-story living space at the front of the house fills the spaces with light from all sides, including the ceiling. A lofted office space looks down to the living space and out to the street. This loft can actually be converted into a third bedroom when the family grows, while the future closet space makes a perfect desk nook in the meantime. The master bedroom is humble in size and closet space, yet has wonderful views outside, including the Raleigh skyline.

Adam and Auditi bring a special character to their home: their bikes hang from the screen porch ceiling, the flexible living space accommodates small and large dinner parties enjoying their baking/cooking talents, and an extensive, large salt water fish tank separates the den from the rest of the living space. They have collaborated in making a custom home to suit their lifestyle. Thinking further about “aging-in-place,” they hope to build an accessory dwelling unit, or garage apartment, to rent and/or expand their living.

We were able to get creative with low-cost, special details. I especially love the reclaimed doors on tracks to hide closets and a bathroom. Read more about the house and see more pictures through in situ studio: the Chasen Residence.

Chasen Residence 1450 sqft 11

The Many Chapters of Small Living

Conversations about small living quarters have “made it big” in the headlines the last few months. It’s been both exciting and overwhelming – exciting that new people are exposed to this idea and overwhelming to try to keep up with everything that’s going on!

My interest lies in the many “chapters” of small living. As my posts begin to get more specific to each of these chapters, I thought it’d be helpful to precede with an overview:

Accessory Dwelling Units

An Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, is an independent, secondary residence to a single-family house – either attached or detached. There are many names for ADUs: granny flats, backyard apartments, in-law suites, carriage houses, backyard cottages, garage apartments, etc. Pictured above is one of my favorite ADUs in Raleigh. As an Architecture school project, I designed a backyard apartment, which exposed me to the alley networks of Raleigh’s historic neighborhoods and their many converted carriage structures. This is when my interest in small spaces began.

ADUs provide flexibility in living arrangements and a source of income for the owner, an affordable housing option near the city center for the renter, and more diversity and density for the neighborhood and greater community. In Raleigh, construction of new ADUs is prohibited, but this subject is currently under review in the new Unified Development Ordinance. Plenty more on this subject in posts to come.

Laneway Houses

Similar to ADU’s, Laneway Houses, or Alley Dwellings, are small residences in the back yards of single-family houses, but they are on their own lot. This usually involves an exhaustive zoning and permitting process of subdividing an existing lot, to create two independent lots, with the smaller lot usually accessible from an alley. A dwelling with its own address can then be constructed new, or existing infrastructure can be rehabilitated.

Pictured above is a proposal by in situ studio (where I work) and David Hill AIA for the HOME Competition. Our design of small, affordable dwellings builds on the idea of Laneway Houses. We leveraged the current zoning changes in Raleigh which will reduce the minimum size of a lot, and created a new zoning district, RA-50, made of the trimmed off excess land at the back of the lots. This would create an alleyway neighborhood in the centers of residential blocks. Learn more here.

Toronto is one of the leading cities of Laneway Houses, focusing on developing their inner residential blocks.  The Laneway House designed by Toronto architecture firm Shim-Sutcliffe is truly inspiring. I am equally intrigued by the alley structures that became homes at out necessity and accessibility, like Browns Court in Washington DC.

Tiny Houses

There is a growing number of people that have completely embraced small living, to an extremely small scale. Most commonly these are literally “tiny houses,” with gable roof and porch, scaled down in size to fit on a trailer for easy transportation. Pictured above is La Casita, the cherished home of Andrea and Cedric of Charleston Tiny House. Thanks to Andrea for the pictures. Keep an eye out for a post about La Casita coming soon.

Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has led the Tiny House movement by selling plans and organizing workshops that empower people to build their own Tiny House while joining a community of supporters.

Micro-units

Some US cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago, are revisiting the minimum size for apartments as a way of increasing housing options for singles and couples. The proposal of micro-unit apartment buildings in San Francisco as small as 220 sqft has stirred up both support and protest. Pictured above is a rendering of SmartSpace, championed by Patrick Kennedy. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg launched adAPT NYC, a call for designs of micro-unit apartment buildings.

The Not So Big House

Sarah Susanka, architect and author, has been writing since 1998 about the “Not So Big House” – a residence that favors quality over quantity by reducing square footage. She was at the forefront of this modern perspective of small living, which has spawned a movement where Americans are reconsidering the size of their homes. I have come across Sarah’s collection of books more recently, and am really enjoying reading them while relating to my own experience of living in a small apartment. I’m currently reading The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Live and The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, pictured above on my not-so-big sofa with a not-so-big pillow.

Simple Living

An edited lifestyle comes hand-in-hand with living in a small space. When you don’t have much space to store unused items, you begin to cut down on physical (and mental) clutter, and become more conscious of what you actually need to live. I realized a greater appreciation for a simpler life grew naturally out of living in my small space (pictured above). This is what interests me most about architecture – how a space can inspire your life.

CNN Small Space Questionnaire

Small spaces have hit mainstream news with San Francisco’s legal push for smaller living units, and NYC mayor Bloomberg’s call for micro-unit apartment designs. Although the hype is focusing on the “excessively small” (as I consider it), the conversation has introduced many to a new perspective of living.

After CNN’s recent coverage on the subject, they had an open call for small space dwellers to submit pictures and share their experiences. If you are interested, you can still submit by the end of the week. As a follow-up to my submission, they sent a list of questions. So I thought I’d share my responses here. Enjoy!

CNN Small Space Questionnaire:

1. Why did you decide to live in a small space? How long have you been there, and were you living in a small space prior to moving here?

I came to this apartment already passionate about small spaces. In architecture school, I designed a small backyard apartment. That project really invigorated my interest in small, intentional, well-proportioned, and efficient spaces. My studio apartment epitomizes these characteristics. It has huge, operable windows that bathe the space with light all day long, making the space feel bigger. And it’s located in one of downtown Raleigh’s most walkable neighborhoods with everything from grocery stores to yoga studios to my office less than a mile away. I’ve lived here for a little over a year, and I can’t help but tell everyone about my lovely studio apartment. It’s amazing how much of a positive impact it has had on my life.

2. What was your initial reaction to moving into such a small space? Are you able to entertain– If so, how do your guests react?

Although my 300-sqft studio is small, it was the first place I lived on my own, without a roommate, after graduating college. I was thrilled to move in, and really make it my own. I kept some old furniture, and acquired new pieces to fit the space perfectly.

One of the wonderful things about living in a small space, is it encourages you to get out and meet people in public spaces. And with tons of restaurants and bars within walking distance, I do just that! But I do occasionally have people over for a drink to start the night. People are really excited to see my apartment. It’s rather unique and urban for Raleigh. Since I love it so much, I constantly post pictures on social media outlets and have a website, so people love to hear about my studio. Now if they see an article about a small space, I’m the first person that comes to mind. It’s great!

3. What about living in small space do you appreciate the most?

Everything is intentional, and everything has its place. The built-in at the entry has hooks for coats and bags, a double-sided bookshelf, and an integrated pantry. Just outside the bathroom is a collection of shelves and cabinets and a closet, perfect to store shoes, clothes, accessories, and linens.

Living in a small space has really influenced my lifestyle. I am more selective when purchasing anything for my apartment, because it can easily become over cluttered. I am more conscious about my waste, recycling as much as possible, and I even started vermicomposting my food waste. And I walk more often! My small studio influences me daily.

4. Do you ever find yourself frustrated with living in small space? If so, provide some examples.

The only amenity that would improve my apartment would be a dedicated outside space like a balcony or roof terrace, to be able to relax outside or grow more of a variety of plants. But fortunately, I can walk 5 minutes to my favorite park in Raleigh, and commonly picnic there. So that park has become my backyard. And my window sill has become home to a collection of potted plants helping liven up my space.

5. How do you make the most of your small space? Any tips/tricks for fellow iReporters who either live in or want to live in a small space?

Living comfortably in a small space is all about editing out what you don’t need. I have minimal pieces of furniture, and bountiful built-ins for storage. Keeping a small space open and clutter-free really helps expand the space.

6. Anything else you’d like to add?

I have never been so excited about a place where I’ve lived. Living in this studio apartment has truly had a profound impact on my way of living and interest in space. As an architect, this studio has also influenced how I design for others. I can’t wait to design my own small space!