NEW YORK, N.Y. - Sam Neuman jokes that he doesn't casually throw off his coat when he gets home at night — it would take up half his apartment.
Such is life in his walk-up studio a few blocks from Manhattan's bustling Times Square, which at 280 square feet is barely the size of a one-car garage, with just enough space for a bed, a desk, a TV stand on one wall and a kitchen against the other.
"I've developed this weird Stockholm Syndrome, which you identify with your captors," said the 31-year-old publicist. "When I go to other people's apartments, I think, 'Why do they need more than one bedroom?' I'm really very happy here. There's not really time to let things accumulate because ... where would I put them?"
The Big Apple is legendary for its legions of residents who live in really, really small apartments. Many of them are fiercely proud of it and can even find the humour in their cramped quarters. Now the city is about to see just how small New Yorkers are willing to go.
With the population and rents expected to keep climbing, New York City planners are challenging architects to design ways to make it tolerable — even comfortable — to live in dwellings from 350 square feet to as small as 250 square feet.
The city wants to incorporate those designs into an apartment complex to be built on Manhattan's east side next year featuring mostly "micro units." The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation's most expensive real-estate market.
LOOK: 11 Incredible Tiny Homes
In 2009, the average American home was 2,343 square feet, well more than double the average in 1950. While new home sizes have dipped slightly during the recession, it's also true that more and more architects and builders are recognizing that small really can be beautiful. We see this in efficient, affordable modular design, and some folks are even going so far as to move into repurposed shipping containers. Some small green homes are envisioned as rustic cabin getaways, while others are on the cutting edge of style and amenities. The new book Small Eco Houses (Universe, $35) by Cristina Paredes Benitez and Alex Sanchez Vidiella is a wonderful survey of beautiful small homes that are packed with sustainable features, from use of recycled and local materials to natural lighting and landscaping. Many are inspiring examples of what's possible if we think outside the old mantra that bigger is always better. Related: Amazing Homes Built from Shipping Containers
70 square feet FLOAT Architectural Research and Design Wren, Oregon Built for a writer who wanted to channel his own inner Thoreau, the tiny Watershed House has got to offer some of the most stylish living available in 70 square feet. Reducing a cramped feeling, the cabin has lots of openings to let the light and the scenery in. According to the book Small Eco Houses, Watershed is built in a prefabricated process that reduces waste and disturbance to the site. The polycarbonate roof provides shading and diffuses the light, and the windows are double paned for insulation. The cabin even features a small, rain-fed reflecting pool to enhance the aura of contemplation and connection to nature. Think about that the next time you hear someone complain about their small apartment! Related: More Amazing Examples of Prefab and Modular Designs
325 square feet Obie G. Bowman, Chris Heath Gold Beach, Oregon This small, off-grid cabin was designed as a guest house, and visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Its "A-frame" shape helps it weather a demanding climate, including winds up to 90 miles per hour. The small home is powered by solar panels and features gorgeous, locally sourced cedar. The dark concrete floor slab serves as a thermal mass that helps store heat during the day, releasing it in the evening. Beams channel rainwater into a holding tank, where particles are filtered out. Related: The 3 Best Solar Panels for Your Home
387.5 square feet Hangar Design Group Mobile Moving up slightly in size, Small Eco Houses considers a prefab home that was envisioned as a mountain or vacation retreat. Would you believe that this space-efficient design features two bedrooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms? The small-but-comfortable house is prefabricated off site from recyclable metal cladding and wood. Several skylights provide illumination and ventilation, and the plumbing and electrical systems are designed to leave no visible mark on the terrain should the house be picked up and moved to a new vista. Related: 19 Super-Simple Winterization Tips
830 square feet Andersson Wise Architects Polson, Montana Perched on pillars near a granite and slate outcrop in the pine forests of Montana, this small wood cabin blends nearly seamlessly with the picturesque landscape. The open plan is comfortable inside, and the wood floors extend to a deck and small bridge over the natural sloping terrain. The small house was built off site and installed with minimal disturbance to the land. It is off the grid and takes advantage of "passive" heating and cooling, without the need to burn a fuel. Large windows reduce lighting needs and showcase the forest. Related: 7 Easy Ways to Save Energy at Home
845 square feet Jason Langkammerer, John Barone/@6 Architecture Berkeley, California Moving to a decidedly more urban environment, Small Eco Houses features an addition to the Martin's Bay Area home that boasts a bedroom, bathroom, and living area. The modular panels that make up the exterior are prefabricated from fiber-cement, and the large south-facing windows serve as passive heaters during the winter. Inside, bamboo panels offer a natural look. Some rooms are set off by translucent polycarbonate walls, which let in natural light. Related: 6 New Awe-Inspiring Green Homes
960 square feet Taliesin Design/Build Studio, J. Siegal, M.P. Johnson Design Scottsdale, Arizona If you're thinking the Taliesin Mod.Fab house looks like a mobile home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, you'd be on the right track. According to the book Small Eco Houses, the groundbreaking architect had actually experimented with modular designs early in his career, but adoption of the resource-saving concept was reportedly cut short by the disruption of World War I. The Taliesin (also featured on page 1 of this feature) pays homage to Wright while showcasing sustainability. It's built with so-called SIPs, structural insulated panels, which make installation quick. The house is designed to work well off the grid, using natural lighting and ventilation and optional solar panels. Related: 11 Amazing Treehouses From Around the World
1,130 square feet OFIS Arhitekti Stara Fuzina, Slovenia This stylish mountain cabin was built in a small village inside Slovenia's Triglav National Park. It is constructed from beautiful local materials and is oriented for passive heating and cooling, although it also boasts a central fireplace that warms both levels. Black foil was placed inside the walls to absorb heat and direct it toward the inside. The chic cabin features a modern kitchen and a wood-paneled sauna. Related: Gorgeous Green Furniture
1,184 square feet Max Pritchard Architect Ashbourne, Australia According to Small Eco Houses, the Bridge House was built for a client who didn't want to spoil the natural beauty of their property. So the architects came up with a rectangular design that bridged over a small stream. The main windows face north and south, facilitating passive temperature control. The black cement floor serves as a thermal mass and the windows are double paned. The reflective steel cladding and surrounding trees help with cooling in the summer. There's also a pair of solar panels. How would you like to live over a stream? Related: 6 Surprisingly Comfortable Cave Houses
1,300 square feet Craig Steely Architecture Big Island, Hawaii Perched on a lava field 10 miles from the active volcano Mount Kilauea, the airy Lavaflow 3 house provides views of the Pacific from every window. The home needs no air conditioning, owing to the windows that take advantage of ocean breezes. Screens, curtains and louvers regulate the air flow and provide privacy. The small home was designed to minimize impact to the sensitive post-volcanic landscape. All water used is collected from the rains, and stored in a concrete cistern under the living room. Related: 7 Cool Homes That Float
1,507 square feet Marc Koehler Architects Amsterdam, the Netherlands With a bold, contemporary look, the Ijburg House by Marc Koehler Architects occupies a small lot on a densely populated street in suburban Amsterdam. The home is made from recyclable bricks in a monolithic style that calls to mind the acclaimed Amsterdam School of the 1920s. The three-bedroom house features a garden, terrace and artist's studio. It is oriented for cross ventilation, and is designed to support a green roof and to encourage plants to climb up its exterior walls, in order to provide shading (and even to grow some food). Related: One-of-a-Kind Recycled Home Décor
18 Amazing Small Green Homes Incredible Homes Built from Shipping Containers 11 Amazing Treehouses From Around the World 7 Things You Don't Know About Home Lighting (But Should) 7 Cool Green Homes That Float Follow The Daily Green on Twitter and Facebook. Republished with the permission of Hearst Communications. All rights reserved.
If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 400 square feet. Smaller living is a concept already endorsed by some cities. San Francisco recently approved construction of apartments as small as 220 square feet. And Tokyo and Hong Kong have long offered tiny units.
As a way to get New Yorkers to think small, the Museum of the City of New York is opening an exhibit Wednesday featuring a fully furnished 325-square-foot studio apartment that incorporates the latest space-saving designs. There's the bed that folds out over a couch, a padded ottoman containing four nesting chairs, a fold-out dinette table tucked neatly under the kitchen counter and a TV that slides away to reveal a bar.
Neuman was amazed at how much more spacious and airy the demonstration apartment felt than his own flat.
"If they hooked up the cable and plumbing, I'd move in tomorrow," Neuman said during a walk-through of the exhibit with a reporter. "You could actually have a cocktail party in there without it feeling like the subway at rush hour."
Other amenities in the 12-foot-by-24-foot model include a cute bathroom that is 5 feet 9 inches by 7 feet 9 inches, a refrigerator and separate freezer tucked under the counter, and the holy grail of New York apartments, a dishwasher. The Murphy bed, like most of the features, glides out with only a light touch of the hand.
"It's almost like a space shuttle or an ocean liner in how it's designed," said Donald Albrecht, the co-curator of the exhibition.
On Manhattan's west side, it doesn't take long for 67-year-old school finance director Jack Sproule to give a tour of the studio apartment he owns with his wife. At 290 square feet, there's just enough room for the bed that folds into the wall, a kitchenette and an adequately appointed bathroom, which Sproule jokes is the only place to escape when there's an argument.
But the signature feature is the picture window at the far end of the unit.
"Look at that view," Linda Sproule said, pointing to the sprawling expanse of Central Park, with the reservoir, the great lawn and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the distance.
The let's-get-small initiative taps into that trade off — an ultra-tiny apartment for the opportunity to live in one of the world's great cities.
It grew out of a confluence of sobering statistics. New York City, which already has 8.2 million people, is projected to grow by about 600,000 people by 2030. A third of the city's households consist of just one person, a percentage that climbs to 46 per cent on the island of Manhattan. Residents face average market-value rents of $2,000 a month for a studio apartment and $2,700 a month for a one-bedroom.
Newly constructed tiny apartments, depending on location, are expected to go for the price of a current studio but would have the added state-of-the-art amenities.
Sproule said living small has personal benefits.
"It helps us focus on one another," he said. Without a lot of maintenance, "it's amazing how much free time we have to be with one another. It also allows us to explore New York more."
Neuman would not say how much he pays for his tiny studio, other than it is less than market value for his neighbourhood.
After five years of living there, claustrophobia has been replaced by a much different fear.
"Maybe every two years I have some version of an anxiety dream where my apartment is enormous," Neuman said. "It completely terrifies me."