Intentionally Small Living

I had the wonderful opportunity of partnering with Liberated Wine to share my small story and what it means to live “intentionally small.” The following post was originally featured on Liberated Wine and I am so happy to share it here on my blog. Enjoy!

Intentionally Small Living

By now we’ve all heard something about the “small living movement” – whether it be about tiny homes on trailers, prefab micro-units in bustling cities, or baby boomers downsizing to enjoy their retirement. My personal interest comes from a different perspective, one that is ever-changing and redefined with each chapter of life.

My name is Nicole Alvarez. I’m an architectural designer living and working in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m on the brink of turning 30 years old. At 25 I started my blog Intentionally Small about small spaces and simple living. It was the perfect culmination of my studies, interests, and life experiences.

I studied architecture in college. While in school, one of my favorite projects was the design of a backyard apartment. It was the first time that I thought about how a small space and a person’s lifestyle and routines could influence each other. A year later I studied abroad in the South of France. I shared a small apartment, featured in this mini-documentary, in the heart of the city and walked everywhere. It was a surge of independence that I had never experienced, having grown up in a car-dependent American suburb.

Chapter One: 300 sqft Studio Apartment


It was my experience living in a 300-sqft studio apartment a mile from downtown Raleigh that motivated me to start my blog. It was the first place of my own, and exactly what I needed at the time. I was immediately captivated by the big windows, built-in storage, and the subtle differentiation of uses, live/sleep/eat, all bundled into one intimate space. Everything intentional, and everything within reach.

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It was the first time that I could walk to a coffee shop, a few bars, a yoga studio, even my job. I felt connected to my community in a way I never had before. I quickly realized that what I loved most about living in a small space was the way of living that inevitably followed. Less space meant less physical and mental clutter, and therefore more time to enjoy life.

Chapter Two: 960 sqft Downtown Loft


The time came to leave my lovely studio apartment when my boyfriend and I found an apartment to call our own. Our priority was walkability and bikeability, wanting to be as close to downtown as possible since that’s where we worked and played. We found the perfect place, a loft in an adaptive reuse of an old department store on the main street of downtown Raleigh.

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At 960 sqft , 1 bed and 1 bath, it was the smallest unit in the building, but at the time felt huge to us. The living space opened up directly onto a terrace, extending our space to the outside. Our memories are of entertaining our friends and family, having the city at our fingertips, and creating our first home together. We were able to live the vibrant lifestyle we had both admired from our time overseas right here in our hometown.

Chapter Three: 1,170 sqft Our City House


We got engaged, got married, and bought our first home, just blocks away from downtown. Our home is 1,170 sqft, only slightly larger than our downtown loft but a world of difference – 3 bed and 2 bath, filled with daylight from every side, and a large yard. We were able to maintain the urban lifestyle we loved, and made an investment in our future while growing firm roots in our community. It’s a small home, but it’s plenty for us at our current life stage, with room to grow.

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We have future plans of building a backyard apartment that we can either live in or rent to offset our mortgage. We’ve been living here for a year, and are taking our time making it home, along with our new family member, our pup Mayhem.

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Small is relative. It changes with the context of each city and its density. It is so personal, redefined with each stage of the individual’s life. Yet, every small story I have heard has a common thread – it is about living intentionally. For me, living small and an urban lifestyle go hand in hand. By choosing place over space, the city becomes my home, the community my family, and there’s so much more room to enjoy life. A liberated and full life.

Adam and Auditi’s 1450 sqft Family Home

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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