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

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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

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.

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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

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

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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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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.

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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!

Margaret and Brandon’s 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 14

  • size: 485 sqft
  • type:  2-bedroom apartment
  • location: East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
  • inhabitants: Margaret Mason and Brandon Dunham, and 2 fish
  • website and blog: heymargaret.com

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt Plans

Describe your place:

I love the neighborhood we live in and all the conveniences it offers. My commute into the city for work is super short and everything we need is within one block of home.

We live on the second floor of a three story walk up that was built in 1910. It’s tiny to our out-of-town visitor standards, but it works out perfectly for roommates. My roommate Brandon is a friend from NC who moved in about a year ago.

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 02

What do you love about your space?:

I love the brick fireplace (nonfunctional) and the pressed tin ceilings. Although the apt is old, it has some of the original charm.

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 04

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 03

How would you improve your space?:

More closets – isn’t this on every New Yorker’s wish list ? And it would be nice to have direct access to our roof/the backyard.

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 09

 

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 08

What do you like best about small living?:

This apartment is actually the longest place I’ve lived in since I turned 18 and moved out of my parents’ house! I guess that means I like it!

Since I live in NYC and have a pretty busy schedule, it’s really important to me to have a peaceful place to come back to. Living in a small space creates that cozy comfort I need, plus it takes no time at all to clean it.

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 12

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Be creative in storage, stay organized, and toss out all that useless stuff.

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 13

A note from Nicole:

Margaret is one of my best friends, going back to our freshman college dorms :). I was so happy to finally visit her little Brooklyn apartment.

What I love most about Margaret and Brandon’s place is how lively they have decorated it – quite literally if you consider all the plants. There are selective vibrant splashes of color that really activate the space, most of their decorations are functional (floating bookshelves, old trunks, colorful storage shelves), and there are fun random items that keep you exploring every corner (pictures, magnets, relics). It may be small, especially for two people, but it is loaded with awesomeness!

Margaret’s hand-painted accent wall of arrows is the coolest!:

Margaret and Brandons 485 sqft Brooklyn Apt 06

more pictures:

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.

Stacey and Ben’s 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 14

Stacey and Ben Plans

Describe your place:

Our location is incredibly convenient. We love being within walking distance of most everything we really need. Our proximity to the downtown center allows us to spend less time in the car, which is always a plus. Our home is part of a community. We live in close proximity to others and share both a courtyard space full of beautiful, mature trees and lots of wildlife as well and secondary space for grilling and growing a garden.

With sun exposure on three sides, our interior space receives an impressive amount of daylight. With a little less than 1,000 square feet, we are strategic with our purchases and reduce clutter as much as possible. Because every inch counts, our place is filled with things that are truly our style.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 01

What do you love about your space?:

The quality of daylight that channels through our windows, its proximity to coffee shops and the park, and that it’s sincerely us. We are cultivating a life here.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 04

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 03

How would you improve your space?:

I would reduce clutter even more! While we have some amazing built-ins from previous dwellers, storage is always at a premium. Decorating has been a process. We are still rearranging and adding to our walls, in particular.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 06

What do you like best about small living?:

We like spending time together so we really love our cozy dwelling. Small living inspires us to spend our free time outside and really living rather than spending it in the confines of our home.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 07

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

Be strategic with storage and organizing your possessions. Invest in items that you love; after all, there is less space to fill. Tidy up each day. Reduce clutter as much as possible. If possible, choose a dwelling with access to a greenspace and within walking distance to your favorite spots.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 09

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 10

Anything else you would like to share?:

We make it work no matter the challenge. Our best stories involve building furniture in our living room or on the picnic table outside with extension cords galore. Small living encourages us to reduce our possessions and instead spend our days creating experiences.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 13

More about us:

Stacey: Day job – a designer working at Citrix. After hours – my favorite times are spent exploring the triangle, tasting confections at my favorite chocolatier (Escazu), practicing photography and delving more into the world of graphic design.

Ben: Day job – Product Manager. After hours – until recently he spent his after hours in graduate school, now he has rekindled his affection for running and spends his days cooking with fresh herbs from our urban garden, and partaking in local daily adventures.

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 12

A note from Nicole:

Stacey and Ben’s place has such a pleasant atmosphere. It is filled with daylight from three sides making the original wood floors glow. Functionally speaking, the layout makes for generously open living spaces, while providing ample storage (including a murphy bed!).

What I admire most is their long-term commitment in making this their home. This townhome is a comfortable size right now for a couple, and it will be able to accommodate a growing family in their future – a truly sustainable model. They have taken their time selecting furniture and decorations that are beautiful, meaningful, and fit their home perfectly. Everything is in its right place!

Stacey and Ben's 920 sqft Raleigh Townhome 11

more pictures:

I’ve Moved!

It was so hard to leave my Lovely Studio Apartment! If you know me, you know how obsessed I was with that place. I mean, heck, I started a blog because of it!

But… I do have a greater love in my life: my boyfriend! So when Matt and I decided to move in together, we set out to find a new place to make our home. I had one condition, I couldn’t move unless we found a place that was absolutely amazing and equally as inspiring.

Nicole Alvarez and Matt Tomasulo

We found it! You may recognize the space from a previous post. Yes, it’s larger than anywhere either of us has ever lived, but it’s also right in downtown Raleigh, in a renovated department store, with a lively community, it’s super walkable … and we have our own terrace! We absolutely love it!

Nonetheless, my 300-sqft apartment will always have a special place in my heart. It has forever influenced the way I think about space and life – encouraging me to cut out the excess to leave room for only what matters.

Cheers to you, my Lovely Studio Apartment, and to our many memories:

Matt’s 653 sqft Live Work Apt

Describe your place:

My apartment is in a mid-century office building above an eyewear center and a dentist. It’s one of four apartments tucked away in the corner of the larger commercial building. We have entrances along Saint Mary’s Street and in the back parking lot. The building is across from Broughton H.S. and next to Fred Fletcher Park. Cameron Village and Glenwood south are both a 10 minute walk away. Lastly, it’s only one block away from my girlfriend’s apt (interesting tip: it’s Nicole – the author of this blog).

As far as my apartment goes, it opens up to a main foyer, which often times I store business stuff in, hence live/work. The CityFabric studio is located in my living room.  I have a physical and a digital work desk perpendicular to each other, situated next to the windows for maximum daylight.

What do you love about your space?:

I love being able to work, host and live in my space. The apartment feels bigger than the square footage because the space is divided into so many different areas. My bedroom is in the back and easy to close off which makes office visits feel more professional. The space is versatile – place to meet and greet and host without it feeling like my apt. I have three large closets that really help organize all my business stuff. The built-ins help with storage and de-cluttering.

How would you improve your space?:

Bigger Windows: Even though the apartment is a couple flights up, there is not too much natural light due to smaller windows and a large, old-growth tree. Better Ventilation: The ventilation is not so great either since all the windows are along the same wall.

No carpet! I would have hardwood floors for cleanliness reasons and light.  Open up the kitchen: would help make socializing while cooking much easier.

What do you like best about small living?:

Location location location!  Having the choice and the ability to walk or bike around town, grabbing food, meeting up with friends, having a drink, or just wander through the adjacent park is much more important to me at this point in life than doing yard work.  Living closer to a lot of different people allows for the casual encounter or spontaneous interaction throughout my neighborhood and park.  They are unplanned and wonderful.

Lastly, living in a smaller place forces you to be selective with what you own and it keeps life simple.

Tips for fellow and potential small-space dwellers:

A lot of natural daylight and big windows really helps make a space feel welcoming.

It helps to play around a lot with furniture. My living room ended up being much cozier after simply shifting the coach 3 feet after living there for a full 5 months.

More about me:

I run CityFabric, a small business focused on stitching together people and places through civic and social innovation and design. We have a full line of civic-minded products, and have recently launched a few projects focused on walkability called WalkRaleigh and Walk [YourCity]. Currently, this apartment is CityFabric Headquarters, with satellite offices scattered throughout downtown coffee shops, most commonly Helios, within walking distance.