I love a tiny, cozy space. My apartment's no palace, but it's plenty of room for me. But when I invite people over, it's painfully clear that I don't have a lot of square feet to work with. So when two people (and a dog) call a 350-square foot studio apartment home, I've got to know their secrets to pulling it off. Thankfully, Robyn and John were willing to spill the beans on small space sharing.
Is this the smallest home you've ever lived in? Is this the smallest home you've ever shared with someone?
Robyn: Yes, this is by far the smallest home I've ever lived in and shared with someone. We moved from a 2,500 square feet house that we shared with one roommate to our current 350 square foot studio loft. It was definitely a big change but a welcome one because it's our own personal space close to the beach.
John: Yes to both, not even a close second in sight.
How and when did you first consider sharing a space this small with someone?
Robyn: When we decided to move closer to the beach, we were willing to move to a smaller space as long as we had a backyard and the landlord allowed a dog. We hit the jackpot with this space because the studio, backyard, tenants in the front house, location, and the landlord are absolutely wonderful! John and I both agreed that this move would be a good idea.
John: We were living in a much larger space, but with a roommate, and we wanted to have our own space. Robyn found the place and we both liked it a lot, and considering how competitive the housing market is here in Santa Cruz we jumped at the chance for a cool place in Seabright with a big yard where dogs are welcomed.
"The secret, if there is such a thing, is respect. Everything is a common space, and every mess is shared, so we both try and keep the place tidy and respect each other's space whenever possible."
So, what's the secret to harmoniously sharing a small space with someone (without driving each other mad!)?
Robyn: John and I already knew that we would be able to live together in a small space because we were roommates (just as friends) in college in a small apartment and we got along great. The most difficult part about our current space is that there is no dividing wall to the sleeping loft so if one of us stays up later or gets up earlier than the other, we have to be conscientious about making noise so we don't wake each other. We are both good sleepers so it hasn't been much of an issue. It's also surprising how much dog hair and dust collects in such a small space but it sure does! Dividing cleaning tasks is essential and we're both willing to help each other out so it works out well.
John: We lived together platonically years ago in college, but even back then we never had much trouble sharing a space. The secret, if there is such a thing, is respect. Everything is a common space, and every mess is shared, so we both try and keep the place tidy and respect each other's space whenever possible.
What's the best thing about sharing a tiny space with someone else?
Robyn: Since we both work from home sometimes and live together in a small space, we have gotten to know each other on a different level. Our silliness and humor are at their finest when we're in our studio, and we're there for each other at our worst and best!
John: Cheap rent? It sure keeps the need for material belongings in check, no room for clutter! It's a stepping stone for us, I think we would both agree that a little more space will be a welcomed change when we can make it work.
The worst thing?
Robyn: Agreeing on what furniture and art to purchase for the studio loft was a bit of a debate due to our differing styles. John is also 6'6" so the smaller scale furniture that fits in our small space isn't the most comfortable for John. It would be ideal to have a big comfortable couch but the size of the living space doesn't allow for it. Also, music! I can't stand the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Tool and John can't stand country so we have friendly music duels!
John: Lounging space. We don't have room for a nice big couch, or a comfy chair. Luckily there's a hammock outside and we're right down the road from the beach.
"I had nightmares about people coming over and sitting on our bed to have a meal or play board games. It would have felt too much like college!"
Is there anything that surprised you about living in a small space with someone else?
Robyn: When we first came to look at the studio before we moved in, I was worried that we wouldn't have enough room to have people over and that we would feel claustrophobic. I was adamant about putting our bed in the loft, even though there isn't much vertical space. If we had put our bed in the main area below, the bed would have taken up the majority of the space.
I had nightmares about people coming over and sitting on our bed to have a meal or play board games. It would have felt too much like college! When we moved in, we put the bed in the loft as a trial run and luckily we both didn't mind the low height. With the bed in the sleeping loft, we have room for a sitting area (futon and three chairs) and functional desk space in the main living area. We have people (and friends' dogs) over all the time!
John: I think the biggest surprise is how easy it has been for both of us. Robyn's interior design intuition definitely helped keep the space feeling open. I'm generally pretty easy going, so it's been nice to see that we work together in a situation that makes a lot of people imagine going crazy.
How many times do you guys hit your heads on things when moving around the space?
Robyn: I bump my head on the ceiling in the loft probably every other night.
John: At first? A lot in the loft. After the first week or so you get the hang of the space and now I don't ever hit my head on anything.
Has anyone fallen off the sleeping loft ladder yet?
Robyn: No! Thank goodness! There have been a few close calls however.
John: Not yet, but I've had two close calls that I can remember. A couple of cocktails definitely makes the ladder a bit more of an adventure, but so far no serious falls.
"At first I was leading the charge of getting rid of stuff that we didn't need. We had a serious intervention moment at the Goodwill giving a couple bags of Robyn's clothes away, but she was brave."
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?
Robyn: Before we moved in, we got rid of large furniture that was too big for the space. Once we moved in, we realized that I had much more clothes than John and it took up over 75% of the shared closet. We sold some of it at Crossroads Trading Company and the rest of the items that I didn't wear very often went to Salvation Army. One of the best things about living in a small space is that you pretty much have to say no to everything that people offer or that looks appealing at a store. The answer is always: there's no room! I have definitely become a minimalist. It would be impossible to sneak stuff in because you can see everything in our studio from the front door!
John: At first I was leading the charge of getting rid of stuff that we didn't need. We had a serious intervention moment at the Goodwill giving a couple bags of Robyn's clothes away, but she was brave. Robyn definitely likes to pick up knick-knacks, paintings, and decorations that I wouldn't think to (luckily she has great taste), but we've both realized that in a small space there's very little room for fluff.
What advice do you have to anyone considering moving into and designing a small space that they'll be sharing with someone else?
Robyn: I highly recommend space planning with your existing furniture to see what will comfortably fit before moving in; if it won't fit, it must go! Also, it was important for us to be open about what we like and don't like about each other's stuff. When you own such few items, it's important that you both like everything in the space because you have to use and look at it everyday. Sometimes these conversations were not fun, but they were essential. And now, we're used to being open about our opinions and can come to joint design decisions more easily. Compromise is key!
John: Sharing a small space leads to most of the same problems that any relationship would have, but I think it has the potential to amplify them. Make sure the person you're moving in with is truly someone you care about and want to make a future with. It takes patience, respect, understanding, compromise, and a good sense of humor to make it work. Separate from that, if you like to have a lot of stuff, I wouldn't recommend a small space, but if you don't mind keeping it to the bare necessities it can be great!