Lots of apartments in New York City are micro, but Carmel Place—the prefab building that’s now being leased after two years of development—will be the city’s first official micro-apartment complex. The distinction comes down to zoning: when the Bloomberg Administration announced in 2012 that it wanted to experiment with this new, tiny housing model, the Department of City Planning granted the project a waiver, allowing it to build studios with floor plans smaller than 400 square feet.
Three years on, we’re finally getting our first real glimpse inside these tiny homes. Carmel Place apartments range from 260 to 360 square feet in size. The concept for the interiors comes from Stage 3 Properties, a housing-solutions platform for rental units, and a partner in the Carmel Place project along with nArchitects and Monadnock Development, whose micro-apartment design won the city’s adAPT NYC competition in 2013. This is the first foray into micro-housing for the last two companies says Chris Bledsoe, a founding partner at Stage 3. As for his company, he says, “we’re specialists. That’s what we do.”
The apartments have neutral, minimal furnishings—there’s a lot of white, gray, and pale wood—and are unobtrusive. It’s about what you’d expect to see in an apartment that’s trying to make 300 square feet feel like 600. The more interesting features here are the ones you can’t see. Bledsoe says Stage 3’s work on outfitting micro-units isn’t just about living in a small space, but about living life well in a small space. That’s why, along with sofas that turn into fold-out beds and extendable kitchen tables, the new New York City micro-apartments will come rigged with a new lifestyle brand. It’s called Ollie, and Stage 3 is unveiling it in tandem with the leasing and eventual opening of Carmel Place.
Ollie (a word play on “all inclusive”) is a lineup of quality-of-life services that will come included in the rent at complexes like Carmel Place. It includes high-end furniture sourced from Italian designers, a housekeeping service, Wi-Fi, cable, and a weekly errand handled by a personal “butler,” coordinated through a partnership between Stage 3 and Hello Alfred, the on-demand assistant service. The first set of units will rent for between $2,500 and $2,800 a month, Bledsoe says. For reference, the average rent right now for a studio apartment in Manhattan is $2,738, and $3,499 for a one bedroom.
New York City lags behind other metropolises when it comes to institutionalized micro-living, but it needs it: According to a press release issued in 2012, when then-Mayor Bloomberg launched the adAPT Competition, the city had 1.8-million one- and two-person households, but only one-million studio and one-bedroom apartments. Nonetheless, Manhattan is notorious for its shoebox-sized apartments. “Small-space living is not new,” Bledsoe says. There’s been a certain glamour attached to it in recent years, especially in the media, but, New Yorkers have been cramming into small dwellings for decades. In other words: With Ollie, Stage 3 isn’t inventing this housing model. They’re streamlining it. “On Craigslist, [the ‘Rooms and shares’ sub-section] has become the de facto market for people moving to New York City for the first time,” says Bledsoe. “Half of what you find is furnished, so I don’t think that furnished units, among this group… is a totally foreign concept.”
But Stage 3 will soon launch a more unique feature of Ollie, that it’s calling Bedvetter. (You read that right; it’s a pun.) It’s a “compatibility driven household formation” service that will let landlords at Ollie residences facilitate roommate match-ups in shared suites. The platform sounds like a cross between a dorm room assignment form and a dating app, although “I feel that it’s more important that you have a matchmaking algorithm for cohabiting than dating,” Bledsoe says. “You’re skipping right over dating and going straight to living together.”
Matchmaking algorithms aren’t bulletproof, but Bledsoe’s Bedvetter idea speaks to the rise of a larger lifestyle trend in co-living, namely the “dorm-ification” of cities. Startups like Common and Commonspace are trying to supplant the Craigslist subletting market by making safe and clean room-rentals as easy to find as co-working spaces. Bledsoe says these kinds of services are an “equally important aspect of addressing housing affordability,” in that they help establish fair, above-water renting practices.
But they also come with a funny side effect: By redesigning how we find our homes, these companies hint at a version of the future in which our homes, themselves, are less designed than ever—at least, by us. These new apartments are homogenized, because they need to be. After all, the “essence” of Ollie properties is to “bring micro-studios to market and eliminate all the hassle and conveniences that come with that,” Bledsoe says. “It’s more like hotel branding.”