Hotel Churchill, circa 1930
  • Hotel Churchill, circa 1930

Title: Threshold

Address: blog.studioearchitects.com

Author: John Sheehan, Josh Hoffman, et. al.

From: Bankers Hill

Blogging since: Sept. 2010

Post Title: Small is the New Black, Part 1

Post Date: April 19, 2013

Small is cool again. The Fiat 500, “small bite” menus, microbreweries…

This cultural tendency toward the tiny has even extended to the multifamily development world, which is abuzz this spring with discussions about micro-flats. There is an increased demand for smaller, less-expensive living quarters for one- and two-person households that is not being met by the available supply of conventional housing types — particularly in urban centers. Indeed, this demand is so great and so underserved in major cities that the mayors’ offices of both New York City and Boston held competitions/exhibitions last year to promote the production of downsized digs.

So, what does a person really need to know about the design and development of these diminutive dwellings? At Studio E Architects, we have done quite a lot of noodling on (and designing of) compact units over the past 25 years. From our experience in the trenches, we offer these tips to anyone considering super-small apartments:

1 - Definition, please?

There is small…and then there is small. In California, 160 square feet is the legal minimum size for a dwelling unit. There are folks out there experimenting with ultra-compacts in that range — however, most developers are looking at units that average between 250 to 400 square feet. Experience tells us that 350 to 425 square feet is a sweet spot for avoiding special (i.e. smaller and more expensive) appliances and fixtures.

2 - Bathing (and other essential activities)

“Euro-baths” and wet rooms (think motorhome bathrooms) are neat ideas that don’t really fly in the States. Too messy. Hard water leaves scale and spots on fixtures and walls. ADA requirements make it difficult to squeeze down the overall dimensions. We have seen SRO (single-room occupancy) units that relied on a common sink shared between the bathroom and the kitchen. Definitely a space (and cost) saver — but does anybody really want to brush their teeth where they drain their pasta? Splurge on two separate sinks!

3 - Go Vertical

Floor-to-ceiling storage is a must. We all have stuff — it has to go somewhere. Getting things up off the floor in a small space makes it feel larger. Upper kitchen cabinets should extend all the way up to the ceiling. Storage above the toilet is another opportunity. We also like built-in shelving and closets with low drawers.

4 - A Room with a View

Big windows — that open. We like using sliding-glass doors. These can open up the whole end of a room. They can open onto a small balcony — which extends the living space. We also like bay windows, which offer a sub-space within the overall unit that can be used as a sleeping/sitting niche or dining alcove.

5 - The Social Network

As unit size diminishes, pressure grows to provide alternate venues for gathering and socializing. The best new micro-flat developments offer places to mix, mingle and rub elbows. Gyms, “business centers,” “screening rooms,” billiard lounges, party kitchens, shared decks, terraces, patios and rooftops — should all be considered in any good design scheme.

— John

Post Title: More Big Thoughts on Living Small

Post Date: October 4, 2013

Micro-fever is catching here at Studio E Architects, with two projects on the boards that will offer two distinct approaches to living small.

The first is Sunnyvale Studios in Sunnyvale, California, a 61-unit micro-unit project in the mold of Archer Studios. The second is the renovation of the historic Hotel Churchill in downtown San Diego: a seven-story, 73-unit single-room-occupancy residential hotel in downtown’s East Village, built in 1913 in anticipation of the Panama-California Exposition....

— Josh

[Post edited for length]

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