New York Times February 27 2013

Must Haves for the Micro-Pad

Published: July 11, 2012

SO you’ve finally made it to the Big City, and all you can afford is a mini-apartment. Such is the situation outlined this week by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg when he announced a competition to design a building of so-called “micro-units,” no bigger than 300 square feet, presumably tailor-made for single adults, childless couples or really, really good friends.

Building such a micro-pad is only half the battle, of course. After the paint dries, you still have to furnish it. But despair not: while you may be living in an area smaller than your average motel room, some experts say outfitting such tiny surroundings can actually be good for your soul.

“What people have noticed is that it’s stressful to deal with a lot of things,” said Janel Laban, the executive editor of Apartment Therapy, the home-design Web site. “Living more simply, as you’re forced to do in a small space, you can find that life is less stressful.” After all, who needs the pressure of having a closet? (Mr. Bloomberg’s planned apartments might not include such luxuries.)

Beyond psychological encouragement, Ms. Laban also offered a series of practical tips: emphasizing natural light, for instance, and using high-gloss paint and glossy surfaces to reflect it. Wall-hung bookshelves are good; bookcases are not. Also, just as at a newspaper, editing is crucial, if sometimes painful. That means keeping two wineglasses around, not a dozen. Ditto for plates, vases and clothes hangers.

“You’re going to need less of everything,” Ms. Laban said. “And while you might have people over, you’re not going to be having many sit-down dinner parties.”

Seth Herzog, a downtown comedian who long lived in a 115-square-foot room (and that is not a misprint) on West 29th Street, also emphasized the positive side of puny apartments. “Everything you need is within arm’s reach,” he said in an e-mail, while acknowledging that you also need to lower your expectations.

“I used to say to folks before they came over, ‘I live in a small space, it’s very compact,’ ” he said. “ ‘Now, whatever you’re imagining as small, halve it. Now, halve it again. One more time. Now, you’re close.’ ”

That said, Mr. Herzog, whose pad had no kitchen or bathroom but a sink, also recognized the challenges of such surroundings, and admitted to sometimes using his sink as a urinal.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “Get over it.”

Um, ew. Mr. Bloomberg’s plan won’t call for such deprivations (the micro-apartment will include a bathroom), but it will call for some creative downsizing. To help, we have compiled a short list of small solutions.


It’s difficult to imagine any small space being complete without a trip to Ikea. For all of Ikea’s spirit-deadening vastness, the company makes some dandy functional furniture (and not a bad meatball). One example is the PS Havet, which comes in sofa ($449) and even smaller chair size ($279). Both Havets curiously come with wheels, which are apparently meant to allow for easy cleaning underneath, but would also make it easy for you to roll them out on the sidewalk when you buy something more expensive. The company also has all manner of other studio-friendly apartment gear, including underbed storage.

Putting together Ikea furniture requires a good tool kit, and Trademark Tools makes a 22-piece set (about $8), complete with essentials like a wrench, pliers and a tape measure.

Less-handy (i.e., literary) types may prefer not to assemble their own furniture. They will also need a desk. The Uruguayan designer Claudio Sibille has a sneakily cool version that looks like a simple wood caddy, but hides a table top, drawers and a full-size chair (it is still in prototype, but will soon be available to buy, the company says).

The rounded low-slung tables ($1,500 for a set of three) designed by the architect Eugene Stoltzfus also tuck away nicely, one inside the other, or between your legs when sitting on your sofa bed.

Ms. Laban, of Apartment Therapy, also recommends using the height of a small room to your advantage. “Think tall,” she said. To that end, there is the single-stack Sapien bookshelf ($298), which can hold dozens of books and takes up only about a square foot of floor space. (An e-reader would take up even less, but that’s another story.)