Living in smaller spaces isn't the hell that some make it out to be

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      An opening confession: I've lived in relatively small spaces for 30 years. Since 1990, my homes have never had more than 850 square feet. For most of the time, including in recent years, they've been a lot smaller than that.

      Perhaps this is easier for me than some others because of my relatively minimalist lifestyle. I don't need a lot of stuff, let alone furniture.

      This is why I'm sometimes taken aback by the intense criticism that invariably arises whenever a project with smaller housing units comes before Vancouver city council.

      The inevitable chorus of criticism can come across as so...bourgeois. After all, Parisians have been living in small urban spaces for generations.

      Nowadays, it's easy to store documents in the cloud, meaning there's less need for vast filing cabinets. Music is downloaded.

      And while I love my books, I don't need to keep all of them forever. I can drop them off at local used bookstores and someone else can enjoy them in the future.

      That's the circular economy.

      In addition, smart designers have figured out ways to maximize spaces in ways that developers of 1960s-era and 1970s-era walkups never considered.

      Anthill Studio redesigned a new condo in the Olympic Village with a view to making the most out of a 600-square-foot apartment.
      Anthill Studio

      Some formerly homeless people are building a sense of community in temporary modular housing. These units are even smaller than the one above.

      The biggest beef I've heard from occupants of temporary modular housing is not the space. It's the rules imposed on visitors.

      This form of housing is not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, allowing managers to issue arbitrary fiats to residents with no independent oversight.

      But there's no denying that temporary modular housing is filling an important need in our city.

      Check out the City of Vancouver's video below.

      In December 2018, the City of Vancouver posted this video explaining how temporary modular housing is built.
      City of Vancouver

      The director of Liveable City Planning, Michael Mortensen, has been using his Twitter feed to try to educate people about how smart design can make a monumental difference for those living in smaller spaces.

      He recently sent me a quote from a 1977 architecture book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.

      In it, coauthor Christopher Alexander declared: "The valuable space around the bed is good for nothing except access to the bed."

      Mortensen pointed out that bedrooms are eight-hour spaces—and by compressing or introducing flexibility, that can make a home more livable.

      "We need to move beyond square feet and volume when designing smaller homes," Mortensen wrote last year on LinkedIn. "Thinking about time is also essential - I've come up with a metric of 'Square Feet Hours' to describe how well a unit functions and offers value over the 24 hours of the day.

      "For example, a bedroom is only 8-hour space, so why do we give over almost half an apartment to areas that are only used one third of the day?"

      Visit Mortensen's page to learn more about how "4D design makes small homes big".

      After doing so—and watching the video below—ask yourself: why can't childless couples find happiness in a 550-to-650-square-foot unit?

      Check out some Italian space-saving furniture ideas.