Manhattan's first micro-apartments just won a prestigious design award -- here's what it's like to spend a night in one

MicroLeanna Garfield/Tech InsiderA micro-apartment at Carmel Place in New York City.

People often assume that New Yorkers live in shoe-box — sized apartments.

But Manhattan’s first (and only) official micro-apartment building at Caramel Place takes small to a new level. The units have less space than an average studio — but they’re much better designed. The idea is that the minimalist, chic design makes ultra-tiny living possible.

Designed by nArchitects, Carmel Place recently won a prestigious 2017 Honour Award from the American Institute of Architects, the US’ biggest architecture association. On January 13, the jury announced that “Carmel Place represents a new housing paradigm for the city’s growing small household population.”

Completed in early 2016, the units at Carmel Place range from 260 to 360 square feet. For comparison, the average Manhattan studio is twice that size, and a standard one-car garage is about 200 square feet.

To make the limited square footage more livable, developer Stage 3 Properties enlisted the help of the lifestyle design company Ollie and Screech Owl designer Jacqueline Schmidt. The team meticulously designed 17 of the 55 units with space-saving furniture and accessories.

Unlike most apartments in Manhattan, the ones at Carmel Place are designed from the ground-up for minimalist living, Schmidt told Business Insider. In June 2016, when Carmel Place’s first residents moved in, I spent a night in a 308-square-foot furnished apartment.

Here’s what happened.

Carmel Place is located in Kip's Bay, a neighbourhood on the east side of Manhattan near the East River.

Google Maps/Leanna Garfield

The nine-story building features 55 units. The first 36 tenants moved in June 1, 2016, Ollie co-founder Andrew Bledsoe told Business Insider.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

About half of the building's studios are furnished by Ollie. The service also includes WiFi, cable, and subscriptions to the events club Magnises and the butler service Hello Alfred.

Every week, a Hello Alfred employee makes the bed, changes the linens, grocery shops, mails packages, replenishes household staples, and drops off laundry and dry cleaning.

Depending on whether the apartments include Ollie's amenities, monthly rents range from AUD$3,247 to $3,976 (US$2,450 to $3,000).

When I walked in, the apartment looked stunning. The majority of the furniture was white, which made the room seem a lot larger.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

The space featured plenty of convertible furniture. The two tables could both extend to become larger in a matter of seconds.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

Succulents populated the space. This makes a lot of sense for a micro-apartment, since they don't require much light or maintenance.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

The shelves by the couch (which folds out into a bed) had bags for easy storage. If I actually lived there and didn't have time to clean up whatever was on the floor, I could just throw it in a bag.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

Every kitchen appliance -- the microwave, fridge, dishwasher, and electric stovetop -- was miniature. There was a toaster oven, but no actual oven (bummer).

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

I could imagine having a small get-together with a few friends, but I couldn't entertain a large group or cook Thanksgiving dinner here. The apartment is definitely only designed for one.

The bathroom was spacious, though.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

During the evening, the building hosted a rooftop party featuring a DJ and a bartender.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

As I made the rounds, the crowd seemed to be half real estate brokers and developers (dressed in suits) and half residents.

One 33-year-old resident named Trey says he chose to live at Carmel Place because it's three blocks away from his work. He doesn't imagine himself getting married and doesn't entertain friends much.

For him, the apartment is more of 'a place to crash' -- except more fashionable than what he'd likely find on Craigslist. Trey's thoughts mirrored what several other residents said: they don't plan to spend much time inside the apartment.

After the party was over, I went upstairs and folded down my bed from the wall.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

It only took about two minutes, but it would probably be cumbersome to do every day. If I lived there, the wall bed would likely stay down most days.

I then walked down the street, grabbed a chicken shawarma, propped up the adjustable table, and watched some TV.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

Carmel Place isn't the first set of tiny homes in NYC. Thousands of closet-sized apartments were built prior to the city's 1987 zoning standards, which requires units to be at least 400 square feet (Carmel Place got a zoning waiver). But the building is the first micro-apartment development done in partnership with the city. Some
22 of its apartments were divvied up in an affordable housing lottery, with eight going to veterans, Bledsoe said.

The development is testing whether micro-apartments can be both comfortable and affordable for New Yorkers, Bledsoe said. Though the Carmel Place apartments are expensive, you're not just paying for the square footage.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

When you do the maths, living in one of Carmel Place's furnished micro-apartments costs about $13 per square foot. Unfurnished studios in the neighbourhood cost anywhere from $3,048 to $4,241 per month for twice the square footage.

But at Carmel Place, you're also paying for Schmidt's design eye, Ollie's amenities, the building's gym, and the fact that everything's new.

'We're noticing that people are willing to trade off space for a better experience,' Bledsoe said.

Leanna Garfield/Tech Insider

In my adult life, I've never lived without roommates. I was actually a little lonely in that small apartment.

But that's not to say that the apartment isn't live-able -- if I could afford to shell out $3,313 a month, it'd be easy to live there. The beautiful room, complete with butler service and curated furniture, felt more like a hotel than an apartment.

I'm interested to see how a lived-in micro-apartment looks after months or years of wear, though. When you're working with 300 square feet, every inch of floor space counts.

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