Small Space? No Biggie.

Flats Chicago model unit by CB2

Smart, efficient designs make every square inch count.


While she completed her residency in emergency medicine, Sarah Ahmed lived in a spacious two-bedroom, two-bath town home in Quincy, Ill. When she accepted her first job as a physician, in Aurora, she moved to a smaller Woodridge rental.


Then she had an epiphany: She was willing to trade space for location. More than willing, actually. “I wanted to live in the city,” Ahmed said. “I knew my place wasn’t going to be huge, because I was on a budget, but that was OK.”


She found and purchased an 850-square-foot condo in a high-rise in the Streeterville neighborhood.


Ahmed isn’t alone in making the trade-off of location for space.


“Chicago is one of the country’s biggest cities and hottest real estate markets,” said T.J. Rubin, managing broker of Chicago-based Fulton Grace Realty, which specializes in residential real estate sales, leasing and management. “Prices are higher here. There’s no doubt that people are looking for ways to maximize their bucks.”


In times of tight budgets and high living costs, square footage comes at a premium — especially in highly desirable locations. But urban professionals, retirees, students and others who live in tight quarters are finding that living with less square footage can be living well nonetheless.


To maximize her square footage and create a soothing retreat from her hectic work life, Ahmed hired Lauren Warnock, an interior designer with PROjECT Interiors. Warnock came up with a plan that addressed Ahmed’s wish list while staying within her budget.


The plan called for opening up a wall between the living and dining areas to create the illusion of more space. Cushioned-covered benches installed in window nooks and banquette seating in the dining area provide resting spots without gobbling up real estate on the floor.


One of Ahmed’s favorite touches is a fabric curtain placed over her glass shower door, which allows guests to use her lone bathroom without gawking into her shower, giving the bath the feel of a powder room.


In the suburbs, where bigger apartments and single-family homes tend to be easier to find and square footage tends to be more affordable, the situation is a little different. In the western suburbs, where architect Shawn Gordon works, “Some folks would still rather have lots of space,” he said. Yet, Gordon, principal of Gordon Architecture Inc. in Wheaton, sees growing enthusiasm for the idea of paring square footage while ramping up quality.


Doing so requires “not building spaces you use two times a year,” Gordon said. Each room must serve dual purposes, often with separate areas designated for each activity — cooking, reading or doing homework, for example.


When designing small, Gordon uses long sight lines. For example, a window placed at the end of a hallway creates an aura of openness.


Mary Cook, president of Chicago-based Mary Cook Associates, said she is also seeing more people embrace the idea of living with less, creating the need for designers who can put together efficient and attractive small spaces.


“People living in smaller spaces live differently,” she said. “They eat and entertain differently — they even have different-sized dogs.”


When square footage is scarce, every piece of furniture needs to have a purpose — if not two or three. For example, a dining room table might convert to a work-at-home space or a craft center after mealtime. Outdoor areas are also nice, Cook said, because they provide a place to stay connected to nature.


“There’s more support now for the idea of living close to work,” she said. “Young people aren’t willing to make the two-hour commutes their parents made.”


As private spaces get smaller, restaurants, gyms, social clubs and theaters tend to take on more importance, bolstering a sense of community, Cook said — something she sees as a welcome development.


Scaled-down square footage and ramped-up amenities was the idea behind a collection of rental properties scheduled to open this year. Flats Chicago consists of seven properties in the Uptown neighborhood, the smallest of which are 350-square-foot studios and 430-square-foot one-bedroom apartments, said Jay Michael, chief creative officer for developer Cedar Street Cos.


Flats units, with rental rates starting at $800, include walk-in closets, granite counters, stainless steel appliances, security systems, wood floors and other luxe touches. All of its buildings have gyms, while the larger ones also have restaurants, retail space and library lounges, providing residents nearby places to work or socialize beyond their own four walls.


“Even our tenants who have a lot of money like a good value,” Michael said. He added that each unit comes with a washer and dryer because “nobody likes to schlep their laundry.”


When it comes time to decorate, Flats Chicago renters can get design tips from a one-bedroom model appointed with furniture and accessories from a contemporary furniture company. Flats residents can purchase the entire setup, right down to the sheets and towels used in the model, at a discount and have it delivered to their new place, Michael said.


Another Chicago building that takes this “less is more” approach is K2, the final piece in the Alta at K Station complex, scheduled to open in April. K2 will have 9-foot ceilings, granite countertops, backsplashes, hardwood plank flooring and other luxury amenities, said Randy Fifield, vice chairman of developer Fifield Cos.


The building has a theater with stadium seating, pool and spa areas, outdoor grill stations, party rooms and a fitness center.


Another perk, Fifield said: Residents will have access to professionally designed templates to guide them in placing furniture and arranging their space.


Built-ins and closet space become even more important when you are living small. RMK Management, which oversees 9,800 rental properties and condos in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, includes pantries and plentiful linen closets in its smaller units, said RMK Executive Vice President Diana Pittro.


Studios and convertible apartments (which convert from a studio to a one-bedroom with the use of a built-in screen) are about 350 to 400 square feet.


Renters appreciate RMK’s built-in computer niches in the kitchen, she said, which eliminate the need for a freestanding desk. Pittro also suggests inquiring about separate storage so you won’t need to house luggage or holiday decorations year-round.


A perpetual concern for those living in tight quarters is how to prepare for company. Storage and organization can help with this, Rubin said. Choosing a futon or daybed instead of a traditional mattress can make a studio apartment look more polished when company calls. Alternatively, small-space dwellers might use a cube-shaped bookcase or divider to separate sleeping and living quarters, he said.


After all, “No one wants to have people over and ask them to sit on their bed,” Rubin said.


To read the original article, click here.

Published by Kari Richardson on February 1, 2013

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