Nicole Alvarez has some very big ideas about life in small spaces.
Her experience living in tiny apartments in Prague, France and right here in Raleigh has informed her life both personally and professionally.
Everything that Im passionate about is about being in a space thats appropriate in scale so you can make room in life for everything else, said Alvarez, who grew up in Cary and now works as an architect in the Triangle.
She also maintains a blog called Intentionally Small that explores small spaces and simple living, offering photos and descriptions of how people have made their small spaces into cozy, functional, beautiful homes.
Among all the other profiles on the blog is a post about Alvarezs first adult apartment a tiny studio atop a dentists office near Broughton High School in Raleigh. At 306 square feet, it was roughly the size of many standard hotel rooms.
Luckily, the place came with a generous amount of built-in shelving and nooks for storage, so Alvarezs biggest challenge was with furnishings and décor which she quickly found to be one and the same.
She nestled the head of her double bed into a wide, shallow closet space, displaying framed photos on the closet shelf and hanging a piece of statement art from the hanger rail. She kept other furniture small in scale to match the space, scoring a petite green sofa from a yard sale and a table with fold-down leaves on Craigslist.
Having these smaller pieces were more appropriate to that space and didnt make it feel too cluttered or too tight, she said.
For accents, she arranged her books both horizontally and vertically on their shelves, accented by knick-knacks, and brightened up the place with white string lights. Houseplants arranged on the windowsills breathed life into the space while also offering splashes of color against the large windows.
In many cases, form and function overlap in a small space. When Alvarez bought a set of four espresso cups, she couldnt find a good place to store them stacked, they hogged space in her cabinets, and counter space was out of the question. So she installed hooks underneath the kitchen cabinets and hung the small cups over the sink, making for a whimsical ode to her love for espresso as well as a handy storage solution.
Its decorating with what youve got, she said.
Replace, not add
Not surprisingly, a key to small-space living is keeping the clutter monster away.
The biggest challenge to living in a small space is to eliminate unnecessary items and keep clutter out, said Cabell Cummins, a charlotte-based interior designer. As you purchase an item, then toss an item. This discipline will help maintain a neat home.
Alvarez confesses to hating shopping, because every purchase has to be carefully thought through to make sure its really a necessary addition to her home.
My question always is, Am I going to be able to keep this forever? she said. Its just the idea of making sure what youre investing in is important and is going to mean something to you in the long run.
In January, Alvarez left her beloved 306-square-foot apartment to move into new digs, a 900-square-foot apartment in downtown Raleigh that she shares with her boyfriend. They have a little more space to spread out now, but that doesnt mean theyre going on a buying spree.
We both are trying to minimize collecting things and spending more time, more money, more focus on the things that matter, she said. That would be just being together, enjoying our company, being with our family, being with our friends, going out to places and going to music concerts. Its more about experiences than things.
Her experiences in small spaces have affected her work as an architect at the most basic level, Alvarez said.
Its been able to teach me how to ask what people want from their space, she said.
It makes me think about the details of how certain elements come together, just the smaller scale of being in the space and experiencing that space. It makes me think on a smaller level.
And shes found shes not alone in embracing small-space living.
With the recession, people have been more thoughtful about where they want to spend their money, so theres a general shift to rethinking what the American dream is and what you want out of life.
Its natural, she said, to want as much square footage as your housing budget will allow, but scaling down might allow you to put more money into each square foot in the form of nicer appliances, furniture or flooring.
A small space can also change your whole worldview, she said.
It changed the way I thought about how we should live and what you should really put your energy into, your money into, your time, she said.
Thats more about the intangibles of life rather than the tangible space that youre living in.