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.

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Hillary’s 703 sqft 1-Bedroom Apartment

  • size: 703 sqft
  • type: 1-bedroom apartment
  • location: Historic Oakwood, Raleigh, NC
  • inhabitants: Hillary Thomas and Darryl Jones
  • pet: Diego, our German Shepard mut puppy
  • my info: blog

 

Describe your place:

My boyfriend and I live on a lovely street in Historic Oakwood in downtown Raleigh. The apartment is located on the top floor of a turn-of-the-century house, so we get to take advantage of all the amenities historic architecture has to offer – high ceilings, wide woodwork, large windows, hardwood floors, fireplaces with grand mantles, and a claw-foot bathtub. We also get to enjoy a large front porch that I share with an amazing neighbor and a smaller private back porch with stairwell access to the backyard. We even have a portion of the yard, where we keep a veggie and herb garden.

Our space is a mix of art and flea market, estate sale and antique store finds. It’s pretty retro.

What do you love about your space?:

I love the historical nature of the apartment. I have always been more drawn to old living spaces, so I feel very at home here. I love the cracks, the creaks, the slightly crocked floors; every beautiful detail that shows the house’s age. These are constant reminders that my living space is unique and that it has history. I also really like the fact that, like so many houses in Oakwood, we get the privacy of our own apartment, with the closeness of a neighbor that we share a house with. (My next door neighbor and I have coined the term “semi-roomie.”)

I also love that we live so close to downtown. We are within walking and biking distance to restaurants, museums, food markets, bars, a yoga studio, an urban farm, a movie theater, our favorite cycling shop and many of our close friends who also live downtown.

How would you improve your space?:

I would love for this apartment to have a bit more storage space. We have only one closet, so we have had to explore other discrete options for storing our things. We have a mobile clothing rack that lives behind our bedroom door, our linens are housed in a couple kitchen cabinets, and we have some storage boxes under our bed. We also have a few colorfully painted vintage metal cabinet units around the apartment that serve for additional storage of toiletries and kitchen supplies.

What do you like best about small living?:

I really like that I feel close to the others that occupy the space with me. For example, if I am in the bedroom working, I can hear my boyfriend cooking in the kitchen while a record plays on the turntable in the living room and our pup is snoring in the hallway. It feels intimate and quaint. We entertain friends, raise a dog, host family meals and out-of-town guests, and complete countless large art projects all in this space so nothing about its size limits the way we live day to day.

I also like that living in a small space makes you reevaluate what is important to have and encourages you to simplify your possessions. In our case, we don’t have a television among other things. Coupled with our proximity to downtown, this allows us to get out more.

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Try to not to look at space limitations as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Be creative. Purge the things you can live without.

Living comfortably in a small space is all about editing out what you don’t need – both in your physical environment and your general lifestyle.

More about me:

I work as a full time graphic designer and marketing specialist for a company in Durham. I am also a freelance graphic designer and a volunteer with the Raleigh City Farm.

I have an unwavering sense of nostalgia. My love of all things vintage significantly influences where I choose to live and how I create a living space. I also lived in Spain for three years and my time there helped me better understand that living in a small space is fulfilling, practical, affordable, and green!

I restore vintage furniture and clothing as a hobby. I am a firm believer in purchasing second-hand as often as possible. In my first apartment, I made it my goal to not buy a single piece of furniture new, and I have never looked back. The goal has grown to include decorations, books, music, cookware, appliances and even the apartment itself.