Small, Cool Living Spaces

Small, Cool Living Spaces

Apartment Therapy's 2011 Small Cool Contest features stunning design ingenuity

I’m not the type of person who needs a lot of room to live. For most of my life I’ve been cloistered in small apartments and dorm rooms, and that’s been just fine with me. I’m a small person easily kept in a small habitat. But then there are those who have mastered the art of living with a square foot shortage. Every year, Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool Contest showcases the most efficiently utilized tiny living spaces in the country.

This year, the contest received its smallest entry to date. At just 78 square feet, this Manhattan room is barely more than a walk-in closet. Most bedrooms are bigger than this entire apartment. But Luke, its inhabitant, has outfitted it with clean, zen décor that makes it feel entirely livable. He built his own combination full-sized bed/couch inside the room, like a ship inside a bottle. His kitchen amenities consist of no more than a mini-fridge under his desk and a microwave on the windowsill, but when the whole of Manhattan is your front yard, what more do you need in your home than a place to sleep?

Most people scoff at those who try to make it in New York while still young, claiming that in order to live affordably, you’d have to fit your whole life into a box. But the Small Cool Contest demonstrates that a box can make for a fun, beautiful home. With clever divisions of space, ingenious storage solutions, and décor that creates the illusion of depth, these tiny apartments belie a lot of creativity on the part of their inhabitants. Most of the spaces in the smallest contest division, “teeny-tiny,” comprise no more than one room plus a kitchen area/bathroom. They’re not all in Manhattan, either; San Diego and San Francisco boast plenty of compact apartments clustered together, and several entries hail from Chicago and DC. These city dwellers have capitalized on lifestyle efficiency and are able to enjoy some of the best cities in the world without going broke on rent.

Even the larger contest categories, “tiny” and “small,” include some fantastic use of design. I’m a big fan of the use of wall space to store kitchen supplies and larger personal items, like guitars. When your floor footage is so limited, you have to start to think in three dimensions. Tall, stacked, narrow shelves are also frequent players in this contest. As someone who’s about to downsize her living space in a month, seeing clever storage solutions so elegantly implemented has given me plenty of inspiration for fitting myself into my new, tiny home. I like to think of it as playing Tetris in three dimensions and with my entire life. 

The winner of the 2011 contest also hails from New York, although she hangs her hat in Brooklyn. At 460 square feet, Jordan’s one-bedroom falls into the “tiny” category. I like the way a rustic color palette has been encapsulated in a small urban space. The old hardwood flooring with its wide boards and aged amber tone makes a nice base for a homey, vintage feel.

For you city kids who want to maximize your use of the box you call home, the seventh annual Small Cool Contest provides a smorgasbord of design inspirations. All the featured apartments pack a lot of personality into rather tiny rooms. Even those who need room to breathe in their homes ought to appreciate the ingenuity in the arrangement of these spaces.