How Small is Too Small?

By Adam Harding, AIA, LEED AP – Colorado AIA10 Chair

How small is too small when it comes to living? New York, Boston and San Francisco are among the first in the US to push the boundaries on the micro-apartment concept. With single units ranging from 250-375 square feet, it doesn’t give one much room to move. But this new trend is very intriguing to young professionals who want to live in an urban environment where rental prices for a studio can run as high as $2,500 a month. Living in one of these units isn’t for everyone though. Let’s say you have a large collection of plastic toy pony’s, this will not work for you. Or perhaps you like to leave things out and not put them away in their rightful place, just a few items and you might be considered a hoarder by friends that come over to visit.

The layout of these micro-apartments is a lot like living in an RV or boat. Rearranging furniture to create a dining space or a sleeping space is the name of the game. You must be committed to cleaning up your dishes after you drunkenly eat a burrito at 2am in the morning on a Saturday night in order to go to bed. Do you have what it takes?

It’s true, your private space is small, real small. To make up for this lack of private space, most of the micro-apartments have a adequate amount of shared space such as roof decks, lounges on each floor, rooftop gardens, cafes, fitness rooms, larger lounge areas for dinners and events, laundry rooms and additional storage.

Now this concept isn’t new, Europe and Asia have been doing this type of housing for many years now. For instance, Paris has a 130 square foot studio that used to be the master bedroom of a larger apartment. Yikes! Just think of the thought and detail that has to go into planning a space like that in order for it to be livable. Every item in the space must have a function, every inch of space must be thought of.

Denver is also beginning to think about these micro-apartments. For instance, there is the Micro-Housing Ideas Competition that will be taking place this spring/summer. “This is an ideas competition inspired by a concern about the lack of innovation evident in Denver’s existing multi-family housing market where many banal apartment, townhouse and condominium complexes are springing up throughout the area. With this competition, designers have the opportunity to explore the future, question the past and re-invent the notion of responsible affordable housing with an emphasis on thriveability and regenerative design (defined as a design approach that transcends sustainability while addressing higher principles of societal health, human sustenance, site integration, energy production and appropriate materials and building systems.)” This competition is a great opportunity for the Emerging Professionals of Colorado to think outside the box and come up with solutions that might be the new normal in Denver living in the years to come. Plus, there is $3,000 in cash awards… that doesn’t suck. Registration has already started for the competition and ends May 1. For more information go to:

So how small is too small when it comes to living? For those looking to save on rent and are able to live lean, a micro-apartment might be the answer in order to enjoy life in the big city.

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