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

NicoleAlvarez_StudioApartment

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.

NicoleAlvarez_StudioApartment 01

NicoleAlvarez_StudioApartment 02

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

NicoleAlvarez_DowntownLoft

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.

NicoleAlvarez_DowntownLoft 01

NicoleAlvarez_DowntownLoft 02

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

NicoleAlvarez_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.

NicoleAlvarez_House 01

NicoleAlvarez_House02

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.

NicoleAlvarez_House 03

NicoleAlvarez_House 04 liberated

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.

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!

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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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What do you like best about small living?:

“Less to do!”

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Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

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

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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.

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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

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