What Can Other Cities Teach New York About Micro-apartments?

Over the past few weeks, Manhattanites have had the opportunity to view, tour, and argue over a tiny model apartment on exhibit at the City Museum of New York. Not much bigger than a display at IKEA, the winner of Mayor Bloomberg’s adApt micro-apartment design competition will soon house real, live New Yorkers in a development on East 27th Street. New York is not the first city to try to integrate micro units into an already crowded cityscape, nor is it the first city to fend off controversy over how many luxe features cash-strapped residents can afford. So what can New Yorkers learn from micro-unit developers and residents around the country? First lesson: Play music while you’re in the bathroom.

Images courtesy Bruce Carscadden

Vancouver

Building: 18 West Hastings Microlofts
Price: $850/mo, heat and electric not included
Size: Under 320 square feet

Kyle Thiessen moved into 18 West Hastings in April of last year to start working as the building’s manager. He thinks he was selected because, at age 26, he is about the same age as his tenants. The building is home to a mix of Vancouver film students and single people working in the area (many at community non-profit organizations). “People have compared it to dorms,” Thiessen says. Residents have barbecues on the roof deck, or congregate at the bar on the ground floor to socialize with friends. Since the apartment is miniscule in size, he says “it helps to be single.” Thiessen admits that many tenants (himself included) have moved into 18 West Hastings after a breakup. But before you get too excited about the micro-apartment singles scene — Kyle hasn’t heard of anyone hooking up, Melrose Place-style, yet. He does, however, joke that the building would make an excellent setting for a reality TV show.

Architect Bruce Carscadden designed the 18 West Hastings units with young singles in mind. He insisted on making sure that each unit had plenty of light. In looking at the plans for the New York micro units, he notes that those apartments are designed around a central corridor, while his have no hallways at all. The Vancouver apartments feature bathrooms with frosted glass walls to give tenants the feeling of being in a larger unit. I asked Thiessen whether it was awkward to have guests use his bathroom. He told me it’s no big deal — but it helps if you play music.

Thiessen’s stereo was the only major appliance he brought with him to 18 West Hastings. He was glad to save money by using all the built-in furniture — but insists that if he’s careful not to buy too much, he could still add new pieces over time. Thiessen says that he isn’t eager to add too many more objects to his home: “The things I’m interested in aren’t really in my apartment.”