Real Life in a Small Space: How This Couple Makes a Tiny Studio Work

Real Life in a Small Space: How This Couple Makes a Tiny Studio Work

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Adrienne Breaux
Sep 21, 2016
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Andy, Danielle and two cats share a 325 square foot studio in Chicago. Yes, you read that correctly: 325 tiny square feet. They not only do it stylishly, as evidenced by their house tour, but considering their big smiles (and the fact that they're still living in the apartment together), they also share it successfully! I love this couple and their home, and had to ask them more questions about how they manage in so little square feet. They were generous to give away some of their small space sharing secrets.

Is this the smallest home you've ever lived in? Is this the smallest home you've ever shared with someone?

Danielle: With the exception of the tiny dorms at our alma mater UNC Chapel Hill, this is definitely the smallest place I have lived.

Andy: Yes and yes! The house we moved from was an 800 square foot two-bedroom cottage on a wooded acre of land. There was even a stream.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Did either of you have to persuade the other to take the small space plunge together?

Andy: We were both pretty enthusiastic about downsizing.

Danielle: Studio life was one of the things I was most looking forward to with the move to a big city. Our home in North Carolina was great, but too much space for me.


"One might think that the design of the space or how you interact while in the space would be the major factor here, but really all of that is secondary to your relationships, hobbies and activities outside of the space."


So, what's the secret to harmoniously sharing a small space with someone?

Danielle: Honestly, it is as if we are hanging out in a living room all the time. We refer to our bed as "upstairs" so I feel like we are in a two story apartment. Ha! But in all seriousness, we are both laid-back so our personalities mesh well in our small space.

Andy: One might think that the design of the space or how you interact while in the space would be the major factor here, but really all of that is secondary to your relationships, hobbies and activities outside of the space.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

What's the best thing about sharing a tiny space with someone else?

Andy: It has forced us both to be more organized (every item has its place), and while we both love the aesthetic of femme clutter, we only have things that we love and/or use regularly.

Danielle: Our tiny space is conducive to cozy cuddles!

The worst thing?

Andy: Cooking together makes the kitchen very crowded. Also, when the oven is on the apartment is so hot. It's great during Chicago winters but not in July.

Danielle: Initially, the worst thing for me was that when one of us woke up early for school, work etc, the other person would be disturbed. But actually, now it serves as a great way for us to spend the mornings together. On the days that Andy wakes up for work, for instance, we make breakfast together. Once he's gone I can go back to sleep if I want to.


"I was surprised to find myself not really wanting more space, except for in the kitchen. If we had more space, we'd fill it up with some nonsense that we don't really need."


Is there anything that surprised you about living in a small space with someone else?

Danielle: We have people over all the time. I did not know how we would be able to entertain. Friends from out of town sleep on our futon and it's like a cute queer sleepover. We have people over for dinner and drinks multiple times a week — lots of mimosas are made on our drop leaf table. We host feminist political studies, Dungeons & Dragons game sessions, clothing swaps, reading groups, etc and we have been able to squeeze 12 people here at once. It just feels like a nice sized living room, especially because the bed is lofted. Our secret is that we have foldable chairs hidden throughout the space (under the futon, behind the papasan, in the closets, etc etc) that we bust out to seat everyone. I'm very grateful that are friends love being cozy with us.

Andy: I was surprised to find myself not really wanting more space, except for in the kitchen. If we had more space, we'd fill it up with some nonsense that we don't really need (laughs).

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

How many times do you guys hit your heads on things when moving around the space?

Andy: I rarely hit my head, but our ceiling fan overlaps with the north-west corner of our loft bed. A constant peril that somehow we (mostly) avoid.

Danielle: If I'm leaving the bathroom and Andy is in the closet, I usually whack him with the door.


"I have definitely almost fallen off the ladder — my life flashed before my eyes."


Has anyone fallen off the bunk bed or ladder yet?

Andy: I have definitely almost fallen off the ladder — my life flashed before my eyes. Also it took the cats a while to get adjusted to the ladder. Miss Fluffy figured out very quickly how to climb up and down. Zeus, on the other hand, didn't get the hang of it for a while. And instead of climbing down the ladder, he jumps from the bed onto the futon. Perch, wiggle, leap, thump. It's a very silly sight to see. He stares down and meows if someone is sitting on his landing spot when he wants to descend.

Danielle: A couple of months ago we changed our sleeping configuration so that we could enter and exit the bed easier (post Andy's near-death almost-fall). My biggest fear now is hitting my hand on the ceiling fan (which happens more often than I'd like to admit).

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Do you guys work together to control the influx of "stuff" into the house...or is one person sneaking stuff in or out when the other isn't looking?

Andy: I compulsively turn interesting glass containers into terrariums. Dani had to put a moratorium on new ones.

Danielle: We thrift and dumpster-dive a lot more than we should, so we are both responsible for bringing in more things than we need. But the compromise is that we always try to donate something in exchange. The funny thing though is that we constantly have a bag full of things to donate just sitting near front of the door. It doesn't get donated as quickly as I would like. Ha!


"I compulsively turn interesting glass containers into terrariums. Dani had to put a moratorium on new ones."


What advice do you have to anyone considering moving into and designing a small space that they'll be sharing with someone else?

Andy: Before you move into a small space with someone, travel somewhere with them. If they can go with the flow, take things in stride, adapt to changes in plans, compromise, etc., and still be pleasant to be around, there's a good chance they'll make a good tiny-roommate. If they get flustered and frustrated at slight inconveniences, beware. For our honeymoon, right before we moved to Chicago, we spent six weeks backpacking through Europe. I learned very quickly that living small with Dani would be great.

Also, something I've learned is that physical space is less important (at least for me) than mental space. If we agree to have some quiet time so that we can get work done or read, it doesn't matter how near each other we are. For instance, when Dani works on her thesis, she plugs in her headphones and listens to Clocks by Coldplay on repeat. For us, our proximity doesn't matter as much as respecting each others time.

Danielle: The designated spots are crucial, but at the end of the day we are usually just lying on the couch with the cats nearby while watching Netflix. We can't always escape how close in proximity we are, and I find it to be a wonderful healing space that I learn so much from. I have embraced it all: the smells (both human and cat), the lack of kitchen counter space, the squeakiness of the bed whenever Andy moves during his sleep, how quickly dishes accumulate, and how frequently the litter needs scooping. Living in this small home with a partner I treasure has taught me how to interact with others, respect boundaries, and communicate my needs.


"Living in this small home with a partner I treasure has taught me how to interact with others, respect boundaries, and communicate my needs."


How long do you guys think you'll make this space home? Would you ever move to another small space again?

Danielle: Recently, for maybe five minutes, we considered moving into a bigger apartment, but we quickly decided against it. Our lives are hectic right now. We have grad school, activism, jobs, friends, cats, and we go back home a lot. 325 square feet is very manageable for me right now (cleaning doesn't take that long!). I have learned that I do not need much more than this. We have agreed that we will probably always live in a small space, even if we allow ourselves to have more than one room.

Andy: We have a built-in timeline for this space — I graduate from my Nurse Practitioner program in 2018, and after that we will move to wherever Dani's PhD aspirations takes us. We are both set on smaller spaces for life — I don't think I'd like to live anywhere larger than 1000 square feet. There's also a 15% chance that one day I'll get the compulsion to build a mobile Tiny House in the back of a pickup truck for us.

Danielle: Pickup truck house might be too small for me, haha!

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