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US Big ideas for tiny New York apartments

Property Here - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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AS small space becomes the new black in fashionable living, apartment designers are out to see just how tiny we are willing to go.

Where once only big was considered beautiful in keeping up with the Joneses, and a studio apartment would never have cut it, micro units are now a chic way to live in the world's largest cities as cramped becomes cool.

And in the wake of Australia being named this week one of the least affordable countries to buy property, compact housing may just be the answer for many home buyers who would otherwise struggle to afford real estate in our capital cities.

New York is setting the pace. Its planners are challenging architects to design ways to make it comfortable to live in dwellings from 32 square metres to as small as 23 square metres.

The Big Apple is legendary for its legions of residents who live in really, really small apartments. Many of them are fiercely proud of it and can even find the humour in their cramped quarters.

Such is life for 31-year-old Sam Neuman in his walk-up studio a few blocks from Manhattan's bustling Times Square. At just 26 square metres, it is barely the size of a one-car garage, with just enough space for a bed, a desk, a TV stand on one wall and a kitchen against the other.

Mr Neuman jokes that he doesn't casually throw off his coat when he gets home at night - it would take up half his apartment

"I've developed this weird Stockholm Syndrome, which you identify with your captors," said the publicist.

"When I go to other people's apartments, I think, 'Why do they need more than one bedroom?' I'm really very happy here. There's not really time to let things accumulate because ... where would I put them?"

New York planners want to incorporate similarly compact designs into an apartment complex to be built on Manhattan's east side next year featuring mostly "micro units".

The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation's most expensive real estate market.

If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 37 square metres.

San Francisco recently approved construction of apartments as small as 20 square metres. And Tokyo and Hong Kong have long offered tiny units.

As a way to get New Yorkers to think even smaller living, the Museum of the City of New York is opening an exhibit tomorrow featuring a fully furnished 30-square-metre studio apartment that incorporates the latest space-saving designs.

There's the bed that folds out over a couch, a padded ottoman containing four nesting chairs, a fold-out dinette table tucked neatly under the kitchen counter and a TV that slides away to reveal a bar.

Mr Neuman was amazed at how much more spacious and airy the demonstration apartment felt than his own flat.

"If they hooked up the cable and plumbing, I'd move in tomorrow," Mr Neuman said during a walk-through of the exhibit.

"You could actually have a cocktail party in there without it feeling like the subway at rush hour."

Other amenities in the 1-metre-by-2-metre model include a cute bathroom that is 1.75 metres by 2.4 metres, a refrigerator and separate freezer tucked under the counter, and the holy grail of New York apartments, a dishwasher. The Murphy bed, like most of the features, glides out with only a light touch of the hand.