The Hot Seat

Micro Apartments Are the Best Thing to Happen to the Planet

While they have spurred heated debates across the internet, living in under 300 feet can be both comfortable and full of social benefits
Micro Apartments Are the Best Thing to Happen to the Planet

As a resident of one of New York City’s many micro apartments, Alaina Randazzo—a short, 5'5" content creator—can’t lay horizontally across the floor of her Manhattan home without bending her neck. Washed in a hazy pink glow courtesy of a neon sign that reads “Girls Girls Girls,” her unit is only 80 square feet and considered one of the smallest in New York City. She moved into her home, which costs $650 a month, in January of 2022 from a high-rise luxury building so she could invest more funds into travel. “It’s completely a choice to move into an apartment like this,” the social media personality tells AD. “Plus, I’m saving a ton of money.” Inside she has a small kitchenette (made up of a mini fridge, a two-burner stove, and a microwave), a lofted bed area, a skylight, and a small living space, which Randazzo has outfitted with a mini couch and table. She also has a private bathroom in the hallway, though she says it’s nothing glamorous. “I’ve tried to decorate it, but stick to taking showers at the gym I pay for, which is a really nice gym, that I’m thankful to have the budget for because of living in a small apartment.” 

Randazzo says that finding a small-enough sofa to fit her living room was one of the biggest challenges of living in a micro apartment.

Photo: Alaina Randazzo

In September of 2022, her pint-size home made a huge splash on the internet when Caleb Simpson, a TikToker known for his videos highlighting New Yorkers and their homes, featured Randazzo in a post that quickly went viral. “I expected some sort of reaction since this is such an unusual living space and figured a few people would be in shock,” she says of the video, which has now been viewed over 45 million times. “But I never imagined this sort of reach and impact.” 

Randazzo’s home is not the first micro apartment to go viral on social media. The 95-square-foot apartment of Axel Weber, another content creator, made the social media rounds in early 2022 as did a woman’s 97-square-foot Parisian unit. Often the homes that garner the most outrage look like a landlord’s poor attempt to squeeze as many people into—and money out of—a building as possible, and are frequently seen as a compromise for or a consequence of living in a big city, but this isn’t always the case.

Though small, Randazzo’s home is outfitted with a kitchenette, a lofted bed space, and a small couch.

Photo: Alaina Randazzo

“If strictly speaking, a micro unit is something that’s around 250 to 400 square feet, and they are manifesting in various forms,” says Frances Anderton, author of Common Ground: Multi-Family Housing in Los Angeles and former host of the radio show DnA: Design and Architecture. This could mean ADUstiny homes, dorms, co-living, and even some retirement homes. Although small living is often met with mixed reviews, there’s a case to be made that this kind of setup could be—and maybe should be—a standard for everyone.

“Because of climate change, if we want to live in a decent world in the next decades, architecture has quite a big role to play,” says Matthieu Torres, an architect based in Paris who lives in a roughly 258-square-foot apartment. He purchased the unit in an unlivable condition and used his background in architecture to create a lofted sleeping area, a small closet, a bathroom, and a kitchen. “Many experts actually recommend that we stop building,” he says. Currently, the built environment contributes about 40% of global CO2 emissions between construction and operations. 

The kitchen and dinning room in Torres’s apartment.

Photo: Matthieu Torres

A small green couch makes up the living room. The bed is lofted above the built-in bookshelf, which the bathroom and closet are also behind. 

Photo: Matthieu Torres

Still, with an ever-growing population, ceasing construction completely isn’t always possible, so building less becomes one of the next-best choices. “There’s no need to be the cleverest man in the world to know that there is less impact if your space is smaller,” Torres quips. Smaller homes use fewer materials, minimize construction waste, require less energy to heat and cool, and reduce urban spread, which decreases the need for cars. “It’s just a simple fact of scaling your energy and material needs,” he says. Since they often cost less to build, micro units have a higher probability of using high-quality materials. 

Of course, micro apartments can be undeniably tight, but there are many solutions that make this arrangement more comfortable. Consider co-living, which Anderton describes as the “close cousin” of micro apartments. “They’re all micro units,” she says. “However, they are micro units offset by shared amenities.” She points to a building in Los Angeles, called Treehouse, as a model. Here, residents have the option of renting a room in a shared flat or a private studio—all with a relatively small footprint—and they get access to multiple amenities like an art studio, a recording studio, a gym, a library, a rooftop, a dining hall, and a lounge. Projects like these mean that each resident, roughly 50 people, gets access to the type of spaces often only found in larger homes without having to build 50 mansions, which are not only unsustainable, but often unaffordable to many.

Although small, the apartment feels bigger than it is thanks to its minimal decor. 

Photo: Matthieu Torres

There are other ways intentional design can make micro living more enjoyable for residents. “We found that increasing volume is the least expensive way to have the biggest psychological impact,” says Eric Bunge, cofounder of nArchitects. His firm designed Carmel Place, the first fully micro-unit apartment complex in New York City, which was completed in 2016. The building was originally designed as part of a competition looking to find innovative solutions to address the housing crisis. At Carmel Place, smaller homes make the units more affordable and don’t compromise livability. Each unit in the building ranges between 260–360 square feet, but they have 12-foot ceilings, which are substantially taller than most apartments. “The experience of just adding another two feet of ceiling height was profound in terms of the feeling of space,” he says. 

Carmel Place, the first micro-unit building in New York City. 

Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy of nARCHITECTS. 

Each unit also has ample storage—equivalent to what would be found in a 2–3 bedroom home—so residents can keep the space tidy, a big factor in making a small space feel bigger. “We also made sure to have at least one eight-foot-tall sliding door window in every unit,” Bunge says. “Open it, and the whole living room suddenly feels like it’s semi-outdoors.” Together, all of these small changes make the apartments feel much more spacious than they are. Although the building had critics when it was being developed, once construction was complete and people got to step foot inside the homes, Bunge says many were ultimately won over. “It was really interesting to see that shift,” he adds. 

Inside an apartment at Carmel Place, which features ample storage, a large sliding door window, and high ceilings.  

Photo: Pablo Enriquez. Courtesy of nARCHITECTS

When it comes to decorating, Randazzo recommends using mirrors, as they can make a space appear larger. “Small but cozy decorations such as rugs, pillows, blankets, wall decor, and candles go a long way,” she adds. If you’re able to do renovations like Torres, he recommends lofting the bed, if possible, to keep it out of the living space. He also suggests focusing on enhancing the areas that are of most importance to you. For example, he has a more substantial kitchen and dining space, but a smaller living room area. 

Still, everyone who spoke with AD on this topic agreed that living at this scale may not be possible for everyone, particularly families with children. Torres lives with his girlfriend and a cat, and said that at times, it can be difficult to live in a small space together. Randazzo adds that it can sometimes be a struggle to get dressed in the morning when she’s running out the door and would sometimes prefer a little more separation between her bedroom, kitchen, living room, and dining room. “Everything is just combined into one space,” she says. 

However, micro apartments can serve as a valuable lesson and prove that most can live with a lot less than what we often deem as standard. “We’ve been acculturated to believe that we have to move on from that short term, relatively small rental dwelling into the starter home, and from the starter home into the bigger home,” Anderton says. “But this is just a sales concept.” When living on the smaller side can be as pleasurable as something bigger, constant increases become not only unnecessary, but also wasteful. And as Torres adds, “I like the cocoon aspect of the apartment; it’s really sweet to have your entire space around you.”