Living Small: A Tiny Manhattan Apartment Becomes a Home

Living Small: A Tiny Manhattan Apartment Becomes a Home

People living in New York City are forced to make the most of small spaces, but it is unlikely that many have done it as gracefully and inexpensively as Mark Robohm, a drummer and Web designer. The tiny home, which doubles as an office for Mr. Robohm, is actually a small studio apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood, measuring just 400 square feet.

Mr. Robohm did the gut renovation largely by himself for less than $12,000. He built an entertainment unit with the drop-down slot for the television over a long weekend for $150. He installed the translucent window in the wall between the bathroom and the living room, which brings natural light into the bathroom during the day and creates a soft glow in the living room at night. He spent about $1,800 on the kitchen, plus $1,000 for a new stove a fact that could make a person who has paid a more typical Manhattan fee to remodel a kitchen (say, $30,000 and more) want to open the window of this little second-story Chelsea walk-up co-op apartment and jump. Perhaps just as impressive, Mr. Robohm lived in the space for the year and a half it took to do the work, a cost-saving move that required him to vacuum the bed before he could go to sleep.

Mr. Robohm received a degree in environmental science from the University of Vermont and has been doing household repairs ever since his parents bought an 1840s Vermont farmhouse when he was a child. Several years ago, he moved to Manhattan, where he rented a sixth-floor walk-up studio on West 22nd Street for about $1,300 a month. He often went to open houses for fun, with no intention of buying. Mr. Robohm doubted that he could really afford to buy any kind of living space in Manhattan. However, one winter day in 2002, when the New York real estate market was suffering fom the effects of Sept. 11, he saw this small studio apartment on West 21st Street.

The entrance was uninspiring: there was a wall four feet from the front door that supported a loft bed and blocked out much of the natural lighting. The ceiling over the entrance and kitchen area was only eight feet high, creating a claustrophobic feeling. The nonworking fireplace occupied the prettiest spot in the studio, by the tall windows that faced the street. But the price ($220,000) was right by Manhattan standards. Mr. Robohm realized that buying the apartment made much more sense than making improvements to his rental unit and then leaving them to the landlord. He took possession of the apartment in the following early Spring, had a party that evening and by 8 the next morning had begun gutting the apartment.

Living Small: A Tiny Apartment Becomes a Home

Joyce Wadler has written a detailed article about Mr. Robohm’s renovation in The New York Times. Interested readers can access the entire article here.

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26 Responses to “Living Small: A Tiny Manhattan Apartment Becomes a Home”

  1. bgraef Says:

    400 square feet?……….good grief!!……Human beings werent meant to live like this.
    Makes me feel lucky to live in Canada.

  2. Small? Says:

    OOOH 400 sq ft? PLEASE. My studio in Manhattan measures 256 sq ft occupied by two adults and two cats. Its not luxurious but it works.

  3. 400 Sq Ft Living in Manhattan « No Hassles Says:

    [...] Check out this video of a guy who built a livable 400 sq ft apartment. It has come great ideas on cheap construction for high-end looking fixtures. [...]

  4. jeremy Says:

    I’m kinda getting into this small living thing too. I like the idea of actually going out into the world most of the day instead of sitting at home watching TV. Of course there’s always something to do in Manhattan, hence the $220,000 price tag. Oy.

  5. That’s what I’m talking about « Low impact, middle income, and living the high life in NYC Says:

    [...] 28th, 2007 · No Comments Just found this great post over at Et Cetera about an artist who bought a 400 sq ft Chelsea 1-bedroom and lived there while he renovated it into [...]

  6. writeitoutplease Says:

    A man’s/woman’s home is their castle. Who cares about the size (if you aren’t rich). I would like to work on remodeling my own apartment as well. His looks very luxorious and crisp.

  7. raincoaster Says:

    bgraef, I live in Vancouver, and I’ve lived in smaller spaces than this, though nowhere near as well designed. As density increases and our society becomes increasingly urban (Canadians are the most urban people in the world, as a percentage of the population) learning to live in tiny spaces is going to become a life skill. My roommate is currently looking into house plans for houses under 500 square feet, and the demand is healthy enough that those plans are actually more expensive than floor plans for larger houses. He’s going to build it on the patio.

  8. susan Says:

    I’m all about living small – it looks like he’s done a great job of maximizing his available floor space. Definitely gives me ideas for living here in downtown Chicago.

  9. krsnakhandelwal Says:

    In Mumbai (India) people live in smaller places along with the family members. I know a family who has a similar size apartment and is lined in by six people with right type of interior work. If mega cities are going to still grow , this is going to convert in to an art,I mean, doing up small places for living.

  10. grownANDsexy Says:

    This is pretty hot. Very inspiring.

  11. WildKat Says:

    When we were looking for a condo, we were considering one that was just over 500 sq ft and thought it was tiny! Being a wheelchair user it wasn’t very practicle at all for me, but luckily we found another one in the same building that’s almost 2000 sq ft. The funny thing is I still only really use like a third of the condo even though we have all the space!

  12. jenrandom Says:

    as inspiring as this story is, i am glad i am past my tiny apartment days and moving freely in a home. he did a great job, though, it looks stunning.

  13. nineslashes Says:

    Well I don’t know about living in New York, but I live in Helsinki in a 17 square metres (don’t know how much that’s in square feets, do the calculation) and I can’t say I’m miserable about it.
    If my math is correct, 400 sq ft isn’t that small at all. Of course this is a matter of opinion too.

    However, I think this article was more focused in creativity. When there’s not enough space, creativity must come in. I think the expenses of this renovation were in comparison the prices we have here. All in all, wonderful job with the renovation and wonderful looking apartment!

  14. links for 2007-09-29 « Newsbong: Because News Matters, Kinda Says:

    [...] Living Small: A Tiny Manhattan Apartment Becomes a Home « Et Cetera: Publick and Privat Curiosities [...]

  15. aphroditeagain Says:

    Looks great ! I know a family of three members in Mumbai who had a purchased a one room apartment, they converted the loft into a bedroom for their son ! Its amazing what can be done with a little creativity.

  16. Doug Says:

    That’s pretty nice, but 400 is hardly small

    I run a fully functioning, successful pizzeria out of a little less than 400 sq ft.
    I also make everything from scratch

  17. jewwishes Says:

    What a great job! It looks as if the space was maximized and utilized to its fullest in the remodel. I like how open it looks.

    Congratulations.

  18. Ultra Minimal Says:

    [...] after reading and viewing things about living in small places—like this article/video about turning a tiny Manhattan bachelor suite in a slick, modern home—I’m kind of tempted to buy a bachelor suite condo and see what I can do with [...]

  19. tina Says:

    Cool post:)!

  20. Marie Says:

    The apt looked amazing… but I didn’t see the bathroom. Where did they fit it?

  21. lol... Says:

    >Small? Says:
    >September 28, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    >OOOH 400 sq ft? PLEASE. My studio in Manhattan measures >256 sq ft occupied by two adults and two cats. Its not >luxurious but it works.

    Lol, I’m in an even smaller 225 sq ft studio with my girlfriend and two dogs! woof woof!!! There are apartments in Japan which are even smaller. Most of us are really wasteful with all the extra space… as long as you can get outside every now and then a small space is very manageable.

  22. Luis Says:

    Oh my god!!! I can’t believe how small people can adapt to live. My living room here in the island (Puerto Rico, USA) is a confortable 30 feet by 40 feet that connects with the dinning room which is another 30 by 20 and anexes the kitchen in an open 30 by 10. So it turns into kind of like a great room. My celing is about 12 feet tall and i can’t begin to tell you how huge and brigh my windows are, and so I felt unsure about moving into what I thought was a small a apartment until I saw your article. I am amazed at his creativity and impressed by how much “stuff” he was able to fit. Very inspiring and eye opening!

  23. Larry Says:

    Nice sense of style. Lots of neat stuff. Would have liked to see the bathroom and bed.

  24. Merika Says:

    Great design layout and good use of materials, etc. If you were to pay a contractor for this type of work you would of been paying a lot more and probably way too much! Most ppl though don’t have these kinds of skills needed in order to pull off such a flip! So congratulations on your creativity and know how! Great space!

  25. nick chan Says:

    the loft bed is such a wonderful idea. its perfect for low height aparment. mine is also 400sql. i’m so inspired by his ideas.

  26. Small Small Space Says:

    Compared to what westerners call ‘Tiny’: That looks pretty damn spacious to me.


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