Living small: micro homes on the rise

This is supposed to be the land of the quarter acre block, where the average Aussie lives in a three-bedroom freestanding house.

So why, all of a sudden, has the micro-apartment become so fashionable?
When did small suddenly become big?

There are obvious logistical and practical reasons why small apartments are becoming popular. As populations in cities continue to rise something has to give, and increasingly that’s becoming the size of our homes. So there are simply more small apartments being built.

Australians are used to enjoying larger apartments than in most parts of the world, but that’s changing.

According to census data, between 2006 and 2011 there was a 15% jump in the number of studio apartments, up 5,000 to 37,600. Most of these studio apartments are in our big city centres, like Darlinghurst, Elizabeth Bay, Rushcutters Bay or Potts Point in Sydney, Carlton in Melbourne, West Perth, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, or Adelaide’s New Port.

Given that less space usually (but not always) means cheaper prices, small apartments can be a way to get a foot on the property ladder while living in a prized central location.

But the notion of ‘cheap’ is relative. The entry-level median price for studio apartments in inner Melbourne is over $300,000, which buys you just 34 square metres on average.
An international trend

The popularity of small apartments is not unique to Australia – in fact it’s being driven internationally, especially in mega-cities where space is at a premium.

While the current minimum size for an apartment in New York is 400 square feet (or 37 square metres) Mayor Bloomberg has rolled out a pilot programme to allow smaller apartments in New York City – from as little as 25 square metres.

Many Australian developments are keen for unit sizes to be reduced here too.

You only have to glance at an Ikea catalogue to know that Europeans often live in tiny studio apartments. And Asia has long understood the practical need for small apartments to house large populations in small spaces.

Long before the local hipsters got their tiny architect designed crash pads, Tokyo was home to the amazing Nakagin “Capsule” Tower, constructed from a series of space age pods designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa in 1972.
So tiny just got cool

Some lovers of small apartments have a green approach – less space, less stuff, less carbon footprint. Others see it as a reaction against the excesses of the McMansion’s of suburbia.

Travellers and students are sometimes happy making do with a tiny crashpad because they’re rarely home.

We’re also staying single longer, and having kids later in life so we can often make do with smaller spaces.

But one of the big drivers of the small apartment craze is the design factor.

Tiny apartments have been getting a lot of attention because they’ve become uber-hip with the design brigade. Architects, interior designers, DIYers and others are catching on to the fact that living small, creates a design challenge which means you can come up with creative ways to incorporate storage and functionality.

Some designers are even capturing the small market, seeing it as a great way to showcase their skills.

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