Design for small homes and apartments can benefit from the hotel industry, which is finding success with small rooms but expansive public areas, such as this Yotel in New York City.
Design for small homes and apartments can benefit from the hotel industry, which is finding success with small rooms but expansive public areas, such as this Yotel in New York City.

The world is feeling smaller as technology allows us to be more connected, and the built environment is following suit. The average office space is now 150 square feet per person, down from 250 square feet just a few years ago and the trend toward micro unit apartments seems to be exploding. At Sphere Trending we have identified three big picture trends that define the future of small space living:

Bold and relevant. We are accustomed to small, efficient spaces that aren't necessarily stylish, but now we are moving to a new level that gives small spaces permission to look good, too. Micro-hotels, where rooms are often called cabins, have seen great success in New York City, boasting 5% higher occupancy rates over traditional hotels as reported by the Wall Street Journal via hotel data provider STR, Inc. Outside of the sleek, tech-savvy rooms, guests will find vibrant common spaces inviting them to play and socialize during their stay. One such micro-hotel, Yotel, even boasts the largest hotel terrace in the city. Automated check-in allows staff to be more available for guests from their “mission control desk” and flips the function of the lobby space from one of perfunctory obligation to unexpected fun. The lesson for residential building is that outdoor spaces are now considered as relevant as interior living for square footage appreciation and usage, and hallways will become unexpected places of surprise and delight with new functions added. 

Useful pragmatism. In this connected economy, developers are becoming useful pragmatists, changing focus to communal areas where residents can spread out and socialize to make up for their smaller quarters. A floor plan is no longer a selling tool; it is supplemental information to the real draw of the vertical community. Via 6 in Seattle, for example, includes a first floor assembly hall of restaurants and coffee shops, a community hangout with air hockey tables, an indoor/outdoor pavilion, and a movie and gaming room. It even has its own bicycle club and shop on site. Living space options range from studios to two-bedroom units, with studios starting at a tiny 500 square feet. We will see more practical space definition as smaller homes are built for our newest adult homeowners, Gen Now (ages 19-37).  For example, prep kitchens will be off to the side for the messy parts of cooking and the living kitchen will become an integral part of the living area – gathering and connecting functions versus preparation.

Raising the sightlines. In the future, each generation will make its mark on innovative small space floor plans in different ways. As walls shrink, expect to see Gen Now look to the ceilings as a blank canvas to create an effect we call "Raising the Sightlines." Adding color and creative decorative solutions to this underutilized area helps to draw the eye upward and create the illusion of a larger space.  Zoomers (ages 48-68) and Prime Timers (ages 69+) may use the ceiling in combination with technology to support their needs.  Proper lighting, for example, becomes more important as the eye ages. The Havenlichten, developed by Goof van Beek of Rotterdam, is a crane-like light that can be controlled with an app and programmed to follow a daily cycle from the breakfast table in the morning to the sofa in the evening. It takes up no floor space and could offer a single task lighting solution for small spaces. 

The underlying constant in the next generation of small space living is prioritization. Homeowners are rethinking what they want from their lives and how their spaces will reflect that. The shrinking space we are experiencing elsewhere--from hotels to offices--has helped make us more comfortable with this new reality and realize the benefits that can be gained by living small.  Small spaces can be both bold and relevant, they can still be awesome as well as practical, and they can utilize design to bring new perspectives to floor plans. As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention." As home sizes shrink and urban living swells, we anticipate this new wave of small space living to be a catalyst for creative reinvention.