Chapel Hill News

Small, sensible, stylish

When she lived in New York City, she rented a space the size of a walk-in closet. When she graduated from architecture school in 1987, she bought and renovated “a tiny mill house in Hillsborough.” “I took out a few strategic walls and put in a huge south-facing window that lit up the whole house,” architect Arielle C. Schechter said. “After renovation, that 850-square-foot house felt brighter and more open than houses many times its size. I put money into details that made a difference, like better materials. It was built in the early 1900’s, but renovating it in the late 1980’s taught me a lot about what a small house could be.”

That renovation was the inspiration for Micropolis Houses — tiny houses that Schechter began designing for fun in 2007, when she noticed that there were a lot of tiny house companies creating traditional designs, but not many for those with modern tastes (see

“I thought, this is what I would like if I were building right now,” Schechter said. “Houses don’t need to be as big as they are So many people want a different way to live.”Schechter, like her father architect Jon Condoret, was born in Algeria and has traveled extensively, including Europe, Scandinavia and Japan. Her study of architecture in Japan proved to be an inspiration about the simplicity of life and small structures.

“Many tiny houses in Japan were like glowing jewels inside,” Schechter said. “My hope is that people here could really make their own glowing jewel with one of my Micropolis House designs.”The Micropolis Houses Schechter creates have clean lines, large windows for great views and diffuse natural light. Storage is built into each house — proportionately to the overall square footage — so there is a certain amount of room for necessary and favorite things, but no room for junk accumulation.

These small, modern houses are fully customizable and very affordable to build for a custom design ($200 per square foot), Schechter says. The homes — ranging in size from 150 to 1,500 square feet — can work as small offices, art studios or guest quarters. Any small space imaginable can be part of a Micropolis House, Schechter says.

She now has more than 20 designs, each with variations. If somebody wants a higher, lofty space, she can design it. Got a tiny city lot where you can’t build out, but you can build up; Schechter has imagined a three-story house to fit such spaces. Long, narrow lot? A long, thin cool house design by Schechter could be the answer.

“I like to be flexible,” Schechter says.

When she attended the Orange County Senior Housing Expo last fall with examples of the Micropolis Houses, she said many people told her ‘if there were a development of these, I would move there’ saying they liked the clean lines and Asian quality to the designs.

Several people said they wanted two tiny houses and a link in between. She is now working with a client on a 150-square-foot Micropolis House as a backyard retreat for the homeowner.

Want Schechter to handle design and building? For Micropolis Houses, she will work with NewPhire Building of Chapel Hill, owned by Kevin Murphy, “one of North Carolina’s best green builders,” Schechter says. Want to build it yourself or have your own favorite builder? Buy a basic set of plans, which includes: floor plan, foundation plan (slab or crawl space), elevations, one or two cross sections and a few details starting at $2,000. For more information or to purchase a set of plans, email Schechter at or call her at 919-933-1400.