Urban living in a shoebox—a very chic shoebox.
By Marene Gustin
Micro dwellings are not new. When you think about it, didn’t our ancestors live in small caves, and even smaller teepees and igloos?
But as man progressed, his domiciles became steadily larger—until everyone wanted a multi-bedroom homestead, and those with the wherewithal wanted mansions and palaces. Huge ranch homes sprawled across the American West, and luxury penthouses stretched across downtown skylines.
But now it’s getting to be too much. Too much space, too much stuff, too many natural resources consumed. That’s why micro dwellings are coming back in style. In densely populated cities like Tokyo, Barcelona, and New York City, tiny apartments—some as small as 200 square feet—are popping up like Central Park joggers on a spring day. For both country dwellers and active urbanites who travel light, micro units are hitting the market and selling like hotcakes.
So why don’t we see more micro-condos in Houston’s high-rise developments? Is it because everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas?
“When you tell an average Texan you’re selling a 350-square-foot condo,” laughs Jason Franklin, the sales manager for The Ivy Lofts planned for downtown’s EaDo neighborhood that will be the first of its kind in Texas, “they’re like, ‘Um, no.’”
But that would be before Franklin starts singing the praises of micro dwellings.
“This isn’t a new product,” he says, “just a new market. When you think about it, you only live in 300 square feet at a time. You live in your bedroom, your kitchen, your living room. You can’t be in two rooms at once, so what if you had one room that can transform into other rooms?”
And that’s what The Ivy Lofts is offering. The 24-floor high-rise will have 550 units ranging from 350 square feet to over 1,000, with prices starting in the low $100s. (At press time, the Lofts had not yet determined its annual HOA fees.) The units feature movable walls and transforming furniture (sofas turn into beds, and counters into desks).
“It’s about owning property that doesn’t own you,” says Franklin. “Millennials and empty-nesters want to live differently than the old norm. They don’t need a lot of space and a big mortgage and spending on utilities and maintenance. They want to spend money on eating out and traveling. I hate to say this, but this will be a very ‘New York City’ property. [In Manhattan] you don’t have a 12,000-square-foot Kroger on every other corner. You walk out of your building and there’s your coffee shop, your dry-cleaner, and your little grocer. It’s very personal.”
The Ivy Lofts will have all of that—and all from local vendors, by the way—in the building’s 15,000-square-foot ground-floor retail space. Parking will be above that, and then the condos start. As Franklin explains, even the first floor of condo units will have a view because it’s a hundred feet in the air and every unit has a balcony. It’s within walking distance of Discovery Green Park (with its restaurants, The Grove, and The Lake House, as well as its dog run and lake) and is just minutes from other downtown eateries such as Kim Son, Moon Tower Inn, and Weights + Measures.
There will be six basic floor plans, all customizable by the buyer. So far, the most interest has been in “The Tokyo,” the smallest 350-square-foot plan, priced at $139,900. Others include “The New York” (519–541 square feet; starting at $214,900), “The Barcelona” (698–720 square feet; $244,900), “The Paris” (869–891 square feet; $389,900), “The London” (1020 square feet; $384,900), and “The Houston” (1113–1114 square feet; $584,900). All have floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize natural light, all-in-one washer/dryers, LED lighting, and stainless-steel appliances. Customized options would allow a fashionista (for example) to have extra built-in closet space, a gourmet to have a pullout dining table for four, or a home-office worker to have a built-in desk. The project was designed by Powers Brown Architecture, an award-winning Houston firm.
“We’ve invested in a million-dollar sales center that properly showcases the ingenious design and superior quality we offer at The Ivy Lofts,” Franklin says. “Prospective buyers can walk through built-out floor plans and view a scaled building model, allowing them to fully understand the micro-dwelling concept and envision themselves living this lifestyle that is redefining urban living nationwide.”
“We specifically chose EaDo, because it’s going to be the next Heights,” Franklin adds. “The land is still reasonable now, but it’s just been booming since the BBVA Compass Stadium was built.”
But will Houstonians buy into the micro-dwelling craze, even with all of these amenities and close proximity to dining, sports, and culture?
Even before the sales office opened, Franklin found that the answer would be yes.
“The response has been ridiculous,” he says. “Before we even had models open, we were 20 percent reserved.
“This is the project Houston didn’t know it needed.”
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.