Essential to the livability of the “small house” format is the ingeniousness of today’s furniture design. A small space can feel cramped and isolated without careful thought to the interior design and its contents. As spaces get smaller, so much greater is the need for innovation in furnishings.
Resource Furniture is a New York-based firm that has made a name for itself in the growing niche field of small unit design. Its focus has been upon the so-called microapartment—a unit of 300 to 400 square feet, in specially designed urban apartment buildings.
Today’s projects, such as those now going up in New York and San Francisco, are aimed at appealing to young professionals, both singles and couples, who seek affordable housing choices within highly expensive cities. To date, Resource Furniture has concentrated most of its efforts toward meeting that marketplace.
But the concepts involved are highly adaptable to a senior housing market growing ever more needful of similar choices, says Steve Spett, company co-founder. “Though it’s not a trend yet, we’re seeing signs of a growing appeal, especially for empty-nesters who are actively planning for old age,” Spett says.
“We aim to make 300 square feet seem like 600 square feet, with plenty of options for living, sleeping and dining. And these apartment dwellings accommodate the recognition that seniors as they age still need ready access to amenities, common spaces and social opportunities, as much as anyone else.”
One need the new microapartments strive to accommodate is that of storage, of particular concern to seniors attempting to downsize or, as Spett puts it, rightsize. “We start by asking the senior to make the hard decisions about what they need now, what they can do without, and what they need to store. These days family photo albums can be stored electronically, and filing cabinets full of necessary documents can be scanned onto thumb drives. Then they have to decide what they can do without, such as outdated items of clothing.”
The microapartment designer goes to the limit in cleverly designing good storage space within the unit. Space can take advantage of varying floor heights and stairways, while other storage can be created within and around multi-functional furniture that can be easily lifted, folded or otherwise moved out of the way.
“Getting each piece of furniture to do two things, sometimes three things, is key,” says Spett. “A coffee table can be converted to a dining table or a desk, an ottoman can be folded out as seating for five, beds can become sofas or simply folded into a wall, partitions can be moved to enlarge or reduce a living space, and so forth.”
The design ingenuity on display in many of today’s accessory dwelling units is amazing. But adding to their feasibility as places for aging in place is the advent of new communications technology that both monitors and supports seniors in their daily living tasks—motion sensors, voice-activated servers and more.
Smallhomesforaging.com will track all this as it develops for seniors and their families in coming weeks and months. The days of super-expensive and not always helpful housing for seniors and their families may well be numbered.