An influx of residential buildings with smaller homes and bigger amenities are making it easier for residents to work remotely, live simply, and declutter their lives.
Living efficiently, reducing your footprint, downsizing, call it what you’d like. Renting or owning a home that’s under 1,000 square feet has never been so popular. Multifamily housing permits in Portland set a record in 2017, and about a third of the 6,639 new multifamily units were added to the city center, which includes the Pearl and is Portland’s fastest-growing neighborhood. “Smaller units have been a trend across the market, but they are of particular interest to younger millennials who are active, engaged, and working in creative fields, such as sports apparel and tech,” says Gus Baum, director of development at Security Properties, a Seattle-based developer.
The company owns the new Heartline Apartments, off historic 13th Avenue, which contains 218 homes, about a third of them studios or “urban one-bedrooms” between around 530 and 600 square feet. Pleasing its many work-from-home residents, Heartline abounds with handy perks, such as 1-gig fiber optic. “If you have efficient living spaces, you need to provide generous amenities,” he says.
Heartline also has a rooftop deck with gas barbecues, a community garden, and lush landscaping and water features. “Residents can book a movie night in a state-of-the-art media theater, work out in the fitness room, attend a cooking class in the demonstration kitchen, and book the conference room for meetings,” says Baum. One resident even elected not to install internet in his unit so he’d work and socialize more in the common spaces.
“Most renters coming into an urban setting have already pared down their belongings,” he observes. If you’re still figuring out this process, local businesses can help. Room & Board carries many products geared toward saving space, such as stackable chairs, benches and ottomans with storage compartments, wall “ledges,” and small sleeper sofas.
Renee Russo, owner of retailer and design firm EWF Modern, says her staff loves to talk about decorating smaller spaces, citing its modular sofa sectionals as a prime example. “A client can start with a couple of pieces to create a small love seat and ottoman, and then—if they move to a bigger space—add more pieces to create a larger sofa sectional.” She also suggests “choosing unique pieces that are built to last, with attention to detail. Buy once and make it special.”
Heartline resident Chantal Pesulima recently moved from Amsterdam for her job at Nike. She settled on an urban one-bedroom. “The Pearl was the easiest option with public transport, restaurants, and grocery stores nearby. It reminds me of Amsterdam, where everything is walkable or bikeable.”
Pesulima initially considered a larger one-bedroom at Heartline. “It was beautiful and had a walk-in closet most ladies would die for,” she says, but she preferred the open, loft-style layout of her eventual home. She was drawn by the stylish kitchen and its giant island, which makes it practical for cooking and eating with friends. She also loves the huge floor-to-ceiling concrete wall. “It makes the space look bigger than it is—it made me think of so many decorating ideas the minute I saw it.”
Her apartment lacks a balcony, but she enjoys the communal rooftop as well as Heartline’s big common kitchen and living room (“perfect for having bigger groups over, and you don’t want to cram them into your apartment”), and that there’s a guest apartment her family can rent when they visit.
With a background in interior decorating, she was undaunted by her new home’s cozy dimensions. “I sold most of my furniture and traveled overseas with three suitcases and a small air freight of personal things.” She’s come up with creative storage solutions. You might find boxing gloves or Christmas ornaments in her kitchen cabinets, for example. And she found a divider with a “cool palm print” to create separation between her bedroom and living room.
Opened in April at the corner of 15th and Glisan, The Rodney stands out for its exceptionally inviting common areas. With attractive street-level work pods and a 15th-floor rooftop lounge with 24-hour access, the building has been a hit with telecommuters. About 50 of the 230 homes are on the small side, but even the 561-square-foot units—there are about 30 different configurations—feel ample with their lofty ceilings and expansive windows.
At the new 21-story Vista North Pearl, which overlooks the Fields Park, more than a quarter of the 153 units are one-bedroom. Buyers usually want more space than renters, and the one-bedrooms here range from about 780 to well over 1,000 square feet—“You can easily fit a king-size bed in even the smallest of them,” says Marilyn Andersen, with Hoyt Realty Group, the developer. There’s also one storage unit and at least one parking stall per home.
Vista North’s first occupant, retiree Chuck Rahaim bought a 797-square-foot one-bedroom. Having downsized from a two-bedroom home in Salt Lake City, he added features to maximize his comfort, including a built-in desk in the bedroom, custom shades and shutters, and state-of-the-art closet organizers. “I just had it appraised, and already the $10,000 I invested in extra features has brought me back $9,100 in added value,” says Rahaim, who resides with his dog and was drawn to Portland’s “upbeat and accepting” attitude, and Vista North’s proximity to the streetcar line. He’s found it surprisingly easy to transition to a smaller home. “I think a lot of people buy more space than they need,” he says.
At sustainably designed Vista North, features that help residents live happily with less square footage include a huge fifth-floor terrace with a striking fire table, sweeping mountain and Willamette River views, and a community room. There’s also a dog-washing room, a bike-store room with maintenance station, an exercise room, and two lobbies at street level, one with a reception desk staffed 24/7.
If these nifty home options have you considering a downsize, Heartline’s Pesulima has this advice: Keep your home “organized for the eye.” She avoids leaving clutter out and about. “I hang my coat in the closet when I come home and keep up with laundry,” she says, adding that it’s also helpful when selecting bigger furniture to go with colors and styles that you’ll be happy with for a while. If it’s going to be hard for you to store furniture or move it to a different room, “you don’t want to change your mind too often. I change up my pillows, artworks, and accessories every now and again to freshen the look, but my base color palette stays the same.”
Seating and carpeting can be great focal points to design around, and local shops like Perch (for sofas) and Lapchi and Tufenkian (for rugs) can work with you to custom-design products. Kerry Smith, president of Lapchi, advises thinking about how your rug will function within your home. “At Lapchi, we view rugs either as ‘surfaces’ or as ‘objects,’” he says. “Surface rugs are designed to help bring together all of the different design elements in the room into harmony. Object rugs are strong design elements unto themselves.” He has good news if you’re buying for a compact space: “Smaller rugs can be custom-made much quicker, thus reducing lead time,” he says, adding that Lapchi doesn’t up-charge for these services.
The move to smaller living can be a great liberation for the right resident. “I think that if you’re choosing the urban lifestyle, you need to truly embrace it,” says Baum. “For me, that means ditching your car, jumping on the bike and making the city an extension of your home.”
– Andrew Collins | Photos by Paul Wagtouicz, Mario Gallucci, Jennifer Gillette