Micro-Apartments Put Squeeze on Urban Living
NEW YORK — New York City’s first “micro” apartment complex is open for business, challenging the limits of minimalist living. What the tiny dwellings lack in square footage, they try to make up for in amenities.
Carmel Place, a 55-unit complex that opened June 1 in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, represents the first time in decades that the city has allowed apartments to be built this small –ranging from 260 to 360 square feet. That’s roughly the equivalent of a one-car garage.
It’s the latest entry in a national trend toward smaller urban housing. The rise in single-person households — now nearly a third of New York City’s households — and ever-higher rents led the city to approve the experimental project. Carmel Place got city land and a waiver from New York’s 400-square-foot minimum on new apartments, set in 1987.
Frank Dubinsky of Monadnock Development, which built Carmel Place along with the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association, said there would probably be more new micro-apartments in New York soon.
Compared to other modern buildings in its neighborhood, Carmel Place offers relatively modest rents, and services and amenities — such as multi-functional furnishings — that are aimed at making small-scale living a little easier. Architectural elements like 8-foot windows and nearly 10-foot ceilings are also meant to make small spaces more livable.
The complex of services and amenities were put together by a company called Ollie, its name inspired by the words “all inclusive.”
“Just because people need a living room and a bedroom doesn’t mean they need a designated living room and a bedroom. They just need the functionality of both rooms,” explains Chris Bledsoe, co-founder of Ollie, which did design work on the apartment interiors as well. The firm nArchitects designed the interior and exterior of the building.
The amenities are meant to save tenants time and money, and create a sense of community, he said. Carmel Place is “a more plug-and-play living experience — one that solves a housing need for the next two years of someone’s life, not forever. You don’t need to buy your own furniture or hire a cleaning company. Everything is set to go,” he said.
In addition to Internet and Wi-Fi, rent includes a weekly tidying service and a monthly deep clean, along with dog walking, dry-cleaning pickup and even a butler app called Hello Alfred, for customized errands. The nine-story complex also includes shared spaces.
Thirty-two of the units are market rate, with rents from $2,446 to $3,195. Another 14 apartments have rents set by affordable-housing programs topping out at $1,490 per month; 60,000 people applied for those in a lottery.
“In cities, space is at a premium and the only real solution is to make living spaces smaller,” said Lisa Blecker, spokeswoman for Resource Furniture, which provides most of the furniture included in the micro-apartment units.
The furniture — much of it made by the Italian company Clie — emphasizes slim lines and multi-functionality. The 9-foot-long sofa converts into a queen-size bed. A tiny cube of an ottoman transforms into dining chairs. A slim console table expands to seat 10.
Although the pieces are pricy — Resource Furniture’s Swing wall-sofa-bed surrounded by cabinets costs between $10,000 and $15,000 — Blecker says clients see savings in housing costs and “the realization that 350 square feet can feel luxurious if it’s well designed with the right furniture.”
Bledsoe said micro-apartments’ convenience and affordability can be particularly appealing to young singles, empty nesters, long-distance commuters, and baby boomers in transition or looking for an urban pied-a-terre.
Of course, tiny apartments in New York are not exactly new. Veteran appraiser Jonathan Miller estimates there are about 3,000 older apartments citywide that measure less than 400 square feet. And some real estate agents say New York’s young professionals are increasingly seeking small studios, willing to sacrifice space to be near work and away from roommates.
Cities from San Francisco to Boston have OK’d some micro-apartments in recent years, seeking to address housing squeezes.