Condo Design Tips from an Award Winning Designer!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Small Suite - A review of shrinking residential condominium suites, and their liveability

Matthew Slutsky
November 10, 2009

Designers, developers and builders are getting better at building small suites. Is it just an illusion or have new designs and technologies made such suites more livable and spacious?

Before delving deeper into my thesis of better small units, its important to note that one bedroom suites are in fact becoming smaller. Whereas 1,100 square feet for a one bedroom was common in the 1980s, the market standard is now at about 550 square feet for a one bedroom – that’s a lot of lost space!

Opposed to the 1980s, in the current market, small condo units are mostly purchased by first time buyers and young professionals - not the affluent downsizing market of the '80s - who want to own but cannot always afford the high price of single family homes. While suite sizes are shrinking, the livability of these suites is not diminishing.

"Small spaces are not for everyone, but with the right location a small condo unit can be one of the best investments you can make" says Carmen Dragomir, Principal Designer of esQape design inc.

"Many condos have irregular shapes and while most people may be afraid of a room that is not a perfect rectangle, I actually think that could be a huge benefit. Because all these corners and nooks can become highly usable once you consider a built in." Dragomir further states, "need more shoe storage or a small desk and bookcases? Consider a built in. Not only you can utilize the full height and width of each wall of the room but you make your unit functional and unique!"

Cityzen Development takes much of their inspiration for small suites from European influences, and they often travel to Europe scouting out new design technologies. "The Europeans are the leaders in space planning, from their kitchen and furniture designs to appliances," says Sam Crignano of Cityzen Group, "they have for years designed rooms for various uses, a dining room converts into a bedroom; a kitchen is used for laundry." Much of these European influenced designs can be seen in the smaller suites of Cityzen's The L-Tower,London on the Esplanade, and the Absolute Towers.

"Design is the big issue," says Jim Ritchie, VP - Sales and Marketing at Tridel, "open concepts eliminate the number of rooms making for a livable and airy design." With the open concept design, as Ritchie says, "less is more". With fewer rooms and walls, the units become more efficient, not wasted hallways and space. Further, with the open design, and large windows, suites become filled with light making for a spacious feeling unit. Tridel has very livable smaller one bedroom units available in 300 Front Street West, Verve and the James Cooper Mansion.

With the open design, the suite becomes mixed use. There is no finite "live" space or "eat-here" space. With regards to the kitchen, Dragomis says, "we go there to cook, eat, entertain, and even do homework. It's a receptacle for all sorts of things. Let go of duplicates, one serves the function."

In fact, Tridel has perfected the open concept linear 24-sqaure foot kitchen (12 feet long, by 2 feet wide). This design, coupled with new technologies has made the kitchen a usable and efficient place to cook and hang out.

One of the biggest space savers in kitchen technologies is the "micro-wave vent hood combination". No longer do you need to find a countertop or a cupboard to fit your microwave... no longer is the vent above your stove useless space... with the microwave/vent combo, the microwave sits above the cooking element and the vent is attached. Brilliant!

What about the smaller design issues that most people wouldn't think about?

According to Ritchie, there are small design aspects that will make small units appear more spacious, and feel more livable. Two examples are the, "single floor product" and higher ceilings. By making the majority of the unit in the same floor product, the open concept layout feels even larger as different flooring products are not breaking the flow of the unit. Think about 9-foot ceilings over 8-foot ceilings, thus increasing the volume of the unit.

Don't buy it? Well, if you are still concerned about small square-footage, don't forget that condominiums are now built with a plethora of amenities that act as an extension to personal space. Tridel is adamant about ensuring that its buildings contain both great Health and Wellness amenities along with impressive Social amenities.

However, Tridel has a very unique three-bedroom 822 square foot layout, as pictured below. What is so unique about this layout? So much! It is a perfect example of how design and technology has created livable smaller units. One of the most amazing aspects of this unit that there are no interior bedrooms; in fact, each bedroom has a window. This is the perfect suite for a budget conscience family.

There you have it... It is no magical illusion! The 550 square foot unit is in fact livable thanks to designs and technologies new to the North American market!