During a recent tour of Carmel Place, New York Citys new micro-apartment complex, Ammr Vandal, project manager for nArchitects, explained how design can generate a sense of roominess in even the smallest spaces. We were standing in the buildings three-hundred-and-two-square-foot second-floor model unit, one of its mid-size micros. The other apartments range from two hundred and sixty to three hundred and sixty square feet, all of them featuring a full bath and a compact but complete kitchen. High ceilings are essential, Vandal said, as is lots of natural light; every unit at Carmel Place, which is in midtown Manhattans Kips Bay neighborhood, has a large window that opens to a Juliet balcony. Vandals firm also designed the entry areas to be distinct from the living space. How do you make something feel bigger? By making it smaller, by dividing it up, she said. Even the light reflecting off the glass-tile backsplash in the kitchen was meant to play a part in extending the space.

The complex was conceived out of adAPT NYC, a design competition hosted in 2012 by Michael Bloomberg, then the Mayor. The aim was to pilot a new type of housing for the citys growing number of small households. Micro-apartments and tricked-out tiny houses have become trendy elsewhere in the U.S., but Carmel Place has been controversial in advance of its opening this spring, partly because, in New York, small living quarters have historically gone hand in hand with substandard conditions. In 1987, the city passed a law forbidding the construction of apartments smaller than four hundred square feet, but Bloomberg waived the rule for Carmel Places fifty-five units, prompting criticism from those who feared that cramped quarters would once again become normal. Its important that its illegal to live in a place that small, the writer Fran Lebowitz said, in a memorable rant at McNally Jackson Bookstore, in Soho, soon after the design competition launched. Its important because laws show the values of the country, of the city. So we say, we have a value: our value is that people shouldnt live in a shoebox. Its not good for human beings. Historical examples to support her case abound. In New York during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous immigrants squeezed into dark tenement buildings, and a family of four might have occupied only two hundred and fifty square feet. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, single-room occupancies (or S.R.O.s), once a reputable form of accommodation for newcomers, became mismanaged and fell into varying degrees of squalor.

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