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Micro heroes

London is following New York’s lead – with space at a premium and many young professionals looking to live and work in the city, micro homes are neatly filling the housing gap. Lettings Director Marc von Grundherr says: “It’s unsurprising that micro homes are becoming popular in London, smaller units means that tenants can enjoy prime central locations at lower costs.”

In our latest tenant survey, 76% of respondents stated that location was the priority and 63% said they would be willing to sacrifice space in favour of location.”

These affordable apartments for singles or couples maximise the available space in ways that can be astonishing, offering a realistic city rental or first-time-buyer solution in the process.  Also known as micro apartments or compact homes, they are a one roomed, self-contained living space of between four to ten metres squared. That doesn’t leave much space for sleeping, bathing, living, kitchen and dining areas – that doesn’t even leave room for the basic furniture and utilities – so the magic of micro homes lies with clever interior design.

Every inch of the floor, walls and ceiling is used; features include storage, mezzanine levels, foldaway/hideaway furniture and optical illusions to make the most of the space. For example, this former taxi office in North London was reimagined by design duo Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama. They began by thinking of the functionality of an apartment and what could be dispensed with, without losing any comfort. The results are surprising and though this is an extreme example, it does show what can be done with the tiniest space.

You don’t have to be a designer however, to make the most of a small apartment. Here’s the insider’s guide to making a small space, great.

Light and bright

Floor to ceiling windows bring in the maximum amount of light and increase feeling of space by borrowing the landscape from the outside. If the apartment doesn’t have large windows, then use mirrors to bounce what light there is around the room. Mirrors also create an optical illusion that there is more to the apartment than there is.

Martine Davis, owner of Balcombe Street Window Box Company agrees that bringing the natural world inside is a great way to borrow the landscape from outside. “With property sizes shrinking, you need to get your proportions right when decorating your home. Adding some green to a property whether it’s big or small makes a huge difference, especially in urban environments.

“If you have a Juliette balcony, it may not be the largest outside space but you can still hang a window box on the railing with a balcony bracket. Apart from saving ground space it also means the plants and flowers are at waist height so they will be viewed from the inside as well as out. If you are trying to save space on a balcony, again hang a window box on the railing. When using pots in small spaces use pots that are narrower at the bottom than the top which will save much needed ground space.

Light and neutral decor will also create an illusion of size and tranquility. The neutral tones will harmonise the different items of furniture and help make the apartment feel less cluttered. 

Smart thinking

Even large apartments and homes suffer from the need for storage – and the more storage you have, the more you end up storing. Micro-homes then can be a blessing, forcing the dwellers to be ruthless in keeping only what they really need. But storage for the bare essentials still needs to fit into micro-apartment living.

Bespoke storage units or modular systems will make use of the whole wall including any odd-sized spaces. The units themselves can become part of a feature wall especially if there are any open shelves where things can be displayed beautifully. Or they can serve as a screen to help section the apartment into areas creating different ‘rooms’.

Sometimes the things that need storing can become a feature in their own right – a collection of hats will make a striking feature wall or, perhaps even with the drive in London to get more people to use bicycles, a few wall-mounted bikes and spare parts could look uber stylish as a feature wall.

Practical solutions

Wall space in a micro apartment can’t be wasted on radiators so under-floor heating is a much better option. Or, if you don’t mind sparing some wall space for mirrors, there are some clever ones that double-up as radiators.

micro home example
Studio conversion, Brompton Road, Knightsbridge

Creating levels within the apartment is also a great way to enhance the space – if a ceiling height doesn’t allow for a mezzanine level then a bed suspended from the ceiling or a bunk bed will have a similar effect – though reminiscent of a child’s bedroom, the adult versions are far from childish. Sleek lines and sophisticated materials will create a separate ‘bedroom’. Alternatively, the bed becoming something else such as a sofa bed or lifting and folding into a wall of shelves are space-saving solutions. This studio conversion in Knightsbridge shows just how effective clever design can be in a smaller space. Read more space-saving tips in our blog ‘How to maximise space in your rental property‘.

The one practical element that links all micro apartments is the need to keep them tidy and in good order. Everything should have its place, without a system the apartment will feel cramped and cluttered. Declutter coach Juliet Landau-Pope of JLP Coach explains the challenges facing renters and buyers alike: ‘You don’t have to be a minimalist to appreciate the benefits of living with less clutter – it’s a major source of stress and contributes to tensions within the household. The key to managing clutter is to develop systems and shift habits as well as surplus stuff.”

Design touches

Bespoke fold-away furniture to fit the area is a design staple for micro  homes however, it is the touches of designer flair that give the space the ‘wow’ factor; such as use of pattern or well chosen, eye-catching pieces that move the eye around the room and hide its true size.

Pattern isn’t for everyone and can have the opposite effect, drawing the room in and making it feel busy. An easy solution is to use a monochrome colour scheme – white and black will help everything to feel as though it belongs there, it will blur the lines between different pieces of furniture or utility items and it will feel very sophisticated.

Companies such as Viaduct specialise in flexible or multi-functional furniture such as folding chairs, dual-use storage, sofa beds, dual-use sofas and items such as this installation piece by designer Muller Van Severen are micro-living at its best.

James Mair, founder of Viaduct, explains his fascination with micro living: “Anyone who lives in London knows the challenges facing a new generation of city dwellers, to make quality design accessible to all, and to fire up a debate on housing in this city. We don’t want to lose a generation because they can’t afford to live and work here.

“Urbanisation is predicted by the UN to grow at an ever increasing rate from 54% today to 66% by 2050. We already see the effect of this trend in inner city living, the housing market, the lack of space not just in London but globally. As space becomes more and more of a premium, we have to rethink how we live and how we organise our living space.”

It isn’t just interiors that are being revolutionised either; Dr Mike Page at the University of Hertfordshire set his mind to home energy efficiency solutions and ended up designing a micro home called the Cube Project. “There were two trains of thought for energy efficiency: either you carefully control the energy efficiency of a big house, only lighting or heating the room you are using and so forth, or you only use a single room and make it adaptable for multiple living functions. That then became the design challenge, to make the space comfortable and ensure that none of the functions interrupted each other. It’s been hugely enjoyable, finely adjusting the dimensions and functionality. The end product or rather products QB2 and QB3 have been featured on Channel 4, George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Many people have commented that they could happily live in one which is the ultimate testament to their success.”



Function and form

A company which strives to combine both aesthetics and practicality within its range of revolutionary sanitary ware is TOTO. Celebrating their centenary this year, TOTO are the original pioneers of toilet technology and creators of the world’s first integrated shower toilet, the Washlet, which cleverly combines the functionality of both a WC and a bidet.

Floyd Case, UK Specification and Projects Manager at TOTO Europe comments: “TOTO focuses on people and their wellbeing and develops products that are responsive to the needs of its customers. For TOTO, it is important that technical elements are performance enhancing, intuitive, well integrated and discreet. Taking an example from TOTO’s home market, the ‘micro’ apartment market in central Tokyo – which was born out of the genuine need to build convenient and comfortable crash pads for workers and business people commuting weekly into its fast-paced business hub – is defined by their space saving design and integrated functionality.”

For the long haul

Micro apartments are here to stay; they can be built quickly and are affordable for first-time buyers and city renters who are willing to trade space for location. In fact, according to our latest tenant survey of 1,382 respondents, 31.4% are living in an area where they cannot afford to buy.

This is true of US too where the demand for affordable apartments is huge. New York has just opened a nine-story micro apartment block in Manhattan, 60,000 people applied for just 92 apartments renting at £600 a month in comparison to the £2,200 rental normally commanded for a one-bed apartment in Manhattan. The units are 23 metres squared which, with some clever interior design, will feel bigger than a one-bedroom apartment. With micro apartments, it seems less is definitely more.



About the Author

Established in 1958, Benham and Reeves is one of London’s oldest, independently owned property lettings and sales agents.  With specialism in residential sales, corporate lettings and property management in prime areas of London, the company operates from 19 prominently located branches and 8 international offices.