The Future of DC Real Estate is Single & Small- Featuring Design Tips for Living Large in Smaller Spaces

You may have noticed from my recent blog posts that I love to examine societal trends- both nationwide and those specific to the District- to see how they have affected and will continue to affect DC real estate.  My hope is that by understanding the “Why,” GTJ’ers will look at DC real estate differently and make more informed choices about the “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “How Much” when making  their real estate choices.  Today’s post tackles another trend that is reshaping the real estate market in DC and is largely driven by young professionals*: the rise of the single person household.

In 1950, 10% of all American households were one-person households.  Today that figure is 28% nationally, around 45% in DC, and continuing to rise*!  While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to this long term trend- people marrying later in life, divorce rates increasing, the rise of the economic power and independence of women, urbanization, etc.- what I find most interesting is how this trend affects what we buy and where and how we live.  DC is looking more and more like Europe every day (Stockholm is over 50% single person households) with little Fiats, Mini Coopers, and Smart Cars zipping around the streets (don’t even get me started on the Vespas and bicyclists!).  While a lot of these changes can be ascribed to our society going “greener,” I believe that sheer pragmatism is just as significant of a factor in more people “going small.”  More single-person households means less need for 4 doors (if you’re single, how often do you really use the rear doors of your car?) and a huge trunk to make Costco runs (if you live alone do you really need to buy toilet paper by the pallet?).  Put simply, the trade-off of space for cost and efficiency is simply easier to make in smaller households.

Outside of auto manufacturers, we are also seeing real estate developers and urban planners responding to these trends with denser developments and ever smaller condo units.  With 1,100 new residents entering the District each month (70% of them under the age of 35!)**, DC city planners have entertained a host of ideas to increase density, including a recent proposal to increase the maximum allowable building height above its current 160 ft threshold (By comparison Tulsa, OK has 17 buildings over 200 ft…even Fargo, N.D. has two!) and introducing the Fiat of real estate development, the micro studio, to our housing mix.

RISE OF THE MICRO STUDIO

At sizes ranging from 220 – 375 square feet, the “micro studio” is now being introduced to the DC market by some intrepid developers who feel that DC’s changing demographics will create an increasing demand for smaller living.  To make these smaller spaces more attractive, developers are not only using architecture and design to make spaces feel bigger and function better, but they are also creating community amenities and bringing in businesses that provide residents “living” space outside of their micro-units in an effort to foster connective living.  From a design standpoint, this translates to higher ceilings, larger windows that are angled to pick up viewing area and capture more light, smaller appliances, and incorporating multi-functional furniture (think Murphy bed units that transform into couches, entertainment centers, desk space, and storage….check out this video!)

From a community standpoint, having business centers or coffee shops that are accessible to residents reduces the need for a home office or secondary living space in the unit.  Having local grocery stores or encouraging farmers’ markets where residents can get easy access to fresh food reduces the need to have large kitchens to store food.  By building self-sustaining environments that foster connectivity while creating interior spaces that maximize functionality, developers and city planners hope to attract DC’s growing single person households into denser and denser communities at price points they can afford (think below $250,000).

THE FUTURE OF DC REAL ESTATE IS SMALL

Will micro-studios catch on?  We may get our first glimpse at the answer to this question when PN Hoffman-Madison Waterfront delivers its $1.5 billion, 35 acre redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront, which will feature units ranging from 330-380 square feet (see rendering above).  Even if micro-studios are not the ultimate answer to the need for denser living, the demographic trends are hard to ignore.  With a growing population of single person households streaming into the District, smaller and smaller condos will become a greater percentage of our housing mix.

DESIGN TIPS FOR LIVING LARGE IN SMALL SPACES

If the future of DC real estate really is small, how can we deal with it?  For that answer, I reached out to Wendy Danziger (www.DanzigerDesign.com), a prominent interior designer in the DC Metropolitan area whose work was recently featured in Home and Design Magazine and in the DC Design House, for some simple tips for living large in small spaces.

1. Use Color to Make Spaces Look Larger.
If the ceilings are over 9ft, paint them a fabulous color and leave the walls light and the wood floors pale.

2. Conserve Visual Space with Minimalist Interior Design Choices.
Keep window treatments minimal.  Check out these Matchstick Blinds:

Consider furniture that “disappears” like the Victoria Ghost Chair, which takes up less visual space than wood or upholstered chairs:

3. Maximize Storage and Space with Multi-Functional Furniture.
Invest in a bed that has a high profile mattress and boxspring to create greater storage space underneath your bed or consider beds with drawers underneath.  Check out the Stratton Bed from Pottery Barn:



If you don’t have room for a bed, consider Murphy Beds or Sleep Sofas:

Use banquette seating with storage in a kitchen nook:

If your kitchen cabinets do not extend to the ceiling  use this area to store rarely used items:

Surfaces should double as storage pieces.  Need a coffee table? Check out the Hunter II Trunk from Crate & Barrel:

Consider storage ottomans for seating and storage.  Check out the Vanguard Storage Ottoman from Vanguard Furniture:

4. Shelves Everywhere!
Some space that is often underutilized is over the bed, over the toilet, and even in the corners of rooms:

Danziger Design is a full service Interior Design Firm serving Maryland, Virginia and DC.  Wendy listens to her clients and works with them to design beautiful and livable spaces.  Visit Danziger Design on the web at www.DanzigerDesign.com or contact them at 301-365-3300.

* Eric Klinenberg on Going Solo: The surprising benefits, to oneself and to society, of living alone Smithsonian Magazine, February 2012.
**Statistics from the DC Office of Planning

David Abrams, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He received his M.B.A. from Emory University in 2009 and currently works as a realtor specializing in DC’s emerging neighborhoods with the BergerSandler+ team (www.bergersandlerplus.com) at Evers & Company Real Estate.  David is licensed in DC, MD, & VA. For more on DC Real Estate, check out David’s real estate blog at www.TheCapitalLine.blogspot.com.