An Exciting Year!

Hey there! This past year has been quite an eventful and exciting year, which has obviously distracted me from my blog…

Architectural Licensing

Intentionally Small - Studying for Architecture Registration Exams

I’ve been focusing on my Architectural Registration Exams. In fact, I just took my third exam this week, phew! There are 7 exams total, so I still have a few more to go… slowly but surely checking them off. I’ll be a licensed architect by the end of the year, fingers crossed!

New Job!

Intentionally Small - New Job at Clearscapes Architecture in Downtown Raleigh

I am having a blast at Clearscapes! I’m inspired daily by my team in the most supportive environment. Clearscapes is an Art and Architecture studio in downtown Raleigh. We are currently working on some of Raleigh’s most exciting and influential projects: Union Station, Stone’s Warehouse, Chavis Park, and more. Coincidentally, Matt and I were living in a Clearscapes project, The Hudson, making for the most pleasant commute ever: a 2-1/2 block walk from city center to the warehouse district.

Newly Weds

Intentionally Small - Nicole Alvarez and Matt Tomasulo GOT MARRIED

Our wedding day was complete bliss. Everything came together so perfectly, with the support of family and friends. Our faces still hurt from smiling so much. So in love.

Our New Home

Intentionally Small - Our New Downtown Raleigh Home

As if that wasn’t enough major life changes in a year, we just moved into our new home in East downtown Raleigh. It still feels like we’re playing house since settling in will be a long process, but we’re thrilled to commit to our Raleigh community. At around 1150 sqft, it’s still intentionally small while leaving some room for the future. We bike and walk everywhere, and there’s plenty of yard to experiment with gardens, chickens, and one day an accessory dwelling (AKA backyard apartment)…

I started this blog three years ago as a way to explore my fascination with small spaces and simple living. With a recent feature by IKEA Family Live Magazine and being included in another small space article, I’m reinvigorated to continue to explore. So I just wanted to say that I’m still here, I’ve just been pleasantly distracted. Check back soon for new posts, and thanks for your support!

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Bethany’s 385 sqft Garage Apt

 

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Bethanys 385sqft Garage Apt Plans

Describe your place:

I live in a 1950’s, 1 bedroom garage apartment in north Durham. The garage is detached from the main house on the property with an unfinished workshop area downstairs and a one bedroom apartment on the second floor, accessible by an outdoor staircase. The neighborhood is a few miles north of downtown, near the intersection of Roxboro and Duke.

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 01

What do you love about your space?:

Everything! As soon as I saw the listing for this apartment online, I fell in love. Many of my favorite features are original elements like the wood floors, the bathroom fixtures, and the small, exposed shelves in the kitchen. There are also so many great touches added by the property owner. I love the stained glass “Welcome” sign in the front door, the small-scale stove and refrigerator and a beautiful painted metal bench outside. I love how much character the place has!

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 07

How would you improve your space?:

Many of the issues I had when I first moved in concerned the age of the property rather than it’s size. Old-fashioned features like 2-prong outlets, plaster walls, no garbage disposal in the sink, no dishwasher, no bedroom closet and no place for a washer or dryer made getting settled in a little more difficult at first but now I rarely even miss those modern luxuries.

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 06

I would also love to improve the outdoor areas. As a renter, I’m limited in what I’m allowed to change and what my budget can do. While the shared yard is meticulously maintained by the owner, I would love to freshen up the gravel driveway, repaint the siding and outdoor staircase and add a fence with some landscaping in the yard on the side of my house for my dog. But, despite the countless project ideas, I really am thrilled with the house overall and the very sweet, relaxed outdoor areas.

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What do you like best about small living?:

It may sound redundant given the name of this blog, but I love how living small makes every part of your life become very intentional. How many possessions you own, where everything is kept and the entire flow of your day is affected by the limited space. While large homes can feel spacious and open, I often find they lead the people living in them to fill space with more possessions, making things harder to find and, in a very real way, adding stress to regular routines. Running several small businesses out of such a small space can still lead to stress and chaos but I love being able to pay attention to every nook, cranny and detail which I could never do in a larger house.

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Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Storage and organization are key. As a housekeeper and home organizer, I made sure that everything in my little house has a place and that very little space gets wasted. This includes high up shelves and the space under the bed as well as my ottoman which I refinished to create storage space for blankets and linens. Leave no space unused, but keep it neat!

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 09

I also think that its also very important to have at least one area that is clutter-free and always clean. In a small space, a small mess becomes a big mess quickly. Especially since I use my kitchen and living area as work spaces for sanding, painting, sewing, crafting and many other hobbies, having an area that is always neat goes a long way to feeling comfortable and sane. For me, it is the bedroom. No matter how chaotic the kitchen, living room and bathroom are, my bedroom has little more than my bed, some books, my records and record player and my clothes neatly hung on the wall. Escaping to this room is always a welcome relief from a busy week or messy house.

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 12

More about Bethany:

I clean and organize houses for a living [www.YourHappyHomeSolutions.com], as well as making wood furniture and decor on the side [www.etsy.com/shop/aboveallgenuine]. Occasional jobs also include babysitting, pet sitting, seamstress work and home improvement projects. There’s always something to do!

I also have a booth at the Durham Craft Market across from the Farmer’s Market every Saturday between April and November from 8am to 12pm. Come out and see me!

Bethanys 385 sqft Garage Apt 05

A note from Nicole:

It was a pleasure meeting Bethany (and Elle!) and visiting their lovely home. Bethany was ecstatic to point out special elements that she loves and different DIY projects she undertook to make her place function better. She installed shallow shelves at every window – creating a deeper sill for potted plants, or creating storage opportunities above windows. She transformed a simple closet in the living space into a well-organized craft zone with hidden dog crate below.  In making her own home more usable, she has been able to turn her skills into a business, helping others organize and clean their spaces, and even selling spice racks that she first made for her own home. I love how passionate Bethany is about her small home!

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more pictures:

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.