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10 Cases of Incredibly Small Spaces

Jay Karlson . . . Comments

In the developed world, when it comes to our homes, conventional wisdom dictates bigger is better. But why? So we can spend years slaving away to pay off a mortgage for a house that may not appreciate in value? And then go further into debt furnishing and maintaining it, all the while saddling the planet with an environmental impact grossly out of proportion to our needs?

And that’s if we can afford, or even find, the room. For much of the developing world, living space is at such a premium people spend ridiculous sums of money to live in quarters smaller than some prison cells. And they, too, slave away to keep even that. Submitted for your approval are 10 cases of living in small spaces, some ingenious and enlightened, others not.


Little House in Toronto


Smaller living may be coming into fashion, but it’s definitely not a new idea. Sandwiched between two normal-sized neighbors, the Little House is the smallest home in Toronto, Canada. The land on which the house sits was originally designed as an alley for one of the neighboring homes. City officials never approved the curb cut, so in 1912, contractor Arthur Weeden decided to make use of the land and built a house on it (in which he and his wife lived for 20 years).

With only 312 sq. ft. of space, the Little House is a neighborhood favorite, and stops traffic from time to time. American celebrity Ellen Degeneres was so won over by its charms, she expressed interest in one day owning it. An engaging and detailed history of the home can be found at The Little House Website.




Located in the heart of Seattle, WA, Videré is a rooming house that’s getting big by going small. The rooms in the complex range from 90 to 168 sq. ft. The smaller units are only slightly larger than a parking spot.

Each apartment consists of a single room and a small attached bathroom. The units are furnished and cable-ready, but without a private kitchen—each of the complex’s six units share a communal kitchen on the first floor. Rent is between $500 and $700 per month, with all utilities and Internet service included. Jim Potter, a partner in Videre says the target clientele is “young people, who don’t do much more than sleep in their apartments. (They) have a living room somewhere else.”


Best Smallest Apartment


In 2009, developers converted New York’s 535 W. 110th Street building to a co-op. They gutted the top floor and carved out three decently sized one- and two-bedroom apartments, but ended up with 175 sq.ft. left over. They didn’t know what to do with the unused space, so they decided to make the “best smallest apartment ever”.

The resulting “micro-studio” is 10 x 14 feet, with modern conveniences and a private bathroom. A queen-size bed would take up 20 percent of the entire living space. The flat is not without its quirks, either—to reach the front door, the tenant must exit the elevator one floor below and ascend a separate flight of stairs. The current owner paid $150,000 and uses the apartment as a premium pied-à-terre while in New York (thus saving a fortune in hotel costs).


Narrowest House


With no formal architectural training, Brazilian Heneita Minho designed, and still lives in, what many recognize as the narrowest house in the world. Her three-story home is a svelte 1 meter wide by 10 meters tall. It’s so thin she cannot fully extend her arms when she walks in the front door.

Despite its radical appearance, the building is a fully functioning home with 2 living rooms, a kitchen, 3 bedrooms with washrooms, and a verandah. At first, city officials sought to block construction, but relented when the original plans were revised to a more conservative design. The house has since become a minor tourist attraction.


Smallest Apartment in the US


Felice Cohen is a professional organizer, and she’d better be. That’s because she’s living in what many say is America’s smallest apartment. Her whole life must fit into a 90 sq. ft. flat, with no kitchen and a loft bed in which the ceiling is less than 2 feet from her face. The bathroom is so small she sits on the toilet sideways, and she had a panic attack the first night she slept in the apartment.

So why does she suffer these indignities? The appeal is a mix of economy and location. The former Bronx resident pays just $700 a month to live in New York’s tony Upper West Side—Central Park and Lincoln Center are just blocks away. Her neighbors pay $3,000 a month for the same location. Cohen attributes her extreme frugality to her father, whom she remembered in ‘What Papa Told Me’.


Tumbling Tumbleweed


Jay Shafer is the creator and resident of what he claims is the smallest house in the world, affectionately named ‘Tumbleweed’. His decision to live in just 96 sq. ft. arose from his concerns about the environmental impact of a single person living in a larger house.

Shafer’s entire home is smaller than a typical bathroom, but is still wired for electricity powered either by an AC plug or via a solar electric system with an inverter. It has a two-burner stove, an under-counter refrigerator, a bar sink, on-demand hot water heater, and a propane room heater.

Tumbleweed is very well insulated, making it a dream to heat and cool. In fact, Shafer spent less than $170 to heat his tiny house during the brutal Iowa winter. He now sells plans for, and builds, tiny homes from 50 to 500 sq. ft., all available for purchase from his website, Tumbleweed Houses.


Domestic Transformer


Life in Hong Kong can be cramped and hostile, and nobody knows that better than architect Gary Chang. So he transformed his tiny one-room apartment (which once housed his whole family and a renter) into an innovative, eco-friendly space that can transform into 24 different configurations. Spatial flexibility is achieved through the multiple operations of clever partitions.

Mr. Chang hopes his home’s innovations can improve domestic life in Hong Kong, where the population grew by 500,000 in the last 10 years. Reports of child, spousal and elder abuse have doubled recently, and social workers attribute this rise, in part, due to social pressures caused by the city’s ongoing space shortage.


The Egg

Screen Shot 2011-04-09 At 8.44.39 Am

In Beijing, affordable housing is hard to find, if you weren’t already born in it. Dai Haifei, 24, learned this after landing a job at a Beijing architectural firm after college. Unable to afford rent, he built a tiny egg-shaped mobile house and parked it on the sidewalk outside his office.

The 2 meter tall egg cost 6400 Yuan ($960 US) to build, and was made of bamboo strips, waterproof materials and sacks stuffed with processed wood shavings. Grass seeds covered the exterior walls and roof. It even had a window for natural light and solar panels to generate electricity. Inside were a single bed, a bookcase and a pressurized water tank for hygiene and sanitation.

Living in the egg was easy, since Dai built it to perfectly suit his needs: he worked until midnight each day and returned to the egg only to sleep or relax. A nearby gym provided shower facilities, and he ate at nearby restaurants. Neighbors were impressed with the young man’s ingenuity, diligence, and green construction methods.

Sadly, on December 1, 2010 the Haidian District Urban Management Division decreed that any roadside building without a permit is considered an “unauthorized construction” and must be removed. Two days later, nearby restaurant employees noticed office personnel moving the egg at 8 p.m (while Dai was working). Dai wouldn’t comment except to say that he would sleep at a friend’s house that night.


Capsule Apartments v3.0

Screen Shot 2011-04-09 At 8.44.52 Am

Originally built for the urban poor, “capsule apartments” are a new alternative for Chinese singles desperate for affordable urban housing. The first versions (top: that’s TWO units, not one) were barely larger than a closet, had a chain-link ceiling, offered 2 square meters of space, and cost 230 Yuan a month. For that the tenant got a single twin-size bed and a wall shelf. Pictures of the apartments hit the Internet, and embarrassed officials destroyed the flats for violating a hastily drafted regulation for a minimum 10 square meters for personal living space.

Original architect Huang Rixin (retired) has now returned with Capsule Apartment 3.0 (bottom), which meets the new code and costs only 200 Yuan a month, easily within reach of people with monthly incomes of only 1,500 – 2,000 Yuan. The new apartments cost only 3,000 Yuan to build, with costs dropping substantially when mass produced. Mr. Huang has repeatedly stated he has no commercial interest in the capsule apartments, and only wants to provide affordable housing for the next generation.


Roman Holiday


The recognized smallest apartment in the Western world is a former porter’s closet in the heart of Rome, offering a mere 55 sq. ft of living space. The flat consists of a ground floor bathroom, shower and sink. A ladder grants access to a sleeping platform just large enough for a single twin-size bed. The tenant must climb over the bed to see out a small window.

The apartment is generously described as a “compact bedsit”, and the leasing agent claims several serious inquiries. The appeal is location: the flat is very near the Piazza di Sant’ Ignazio, a gorgeous city square overlooked by a Renaissance cathedral. Just a block away is the Palazzo Grazioli, the current mansion/private residence of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.

And it can all be yours for 50,000 Euros. It helps if you don’t think of how many capsule apartments that could buy.

  • Wide spaces

    As a claustrophobic this list makes me very uncomfortable

    • Nattuli

      Me too. I hate the thought of living in a small apartment. Especially that egg makes extremely uncomfortable…

  • Very cool list. I just read about tumbleweed houses a week or two ago, and I’ve been interested ever since. Makes my 168 sq. ft. dorm seem positively roomy. Though it does seem unfair that I’m (read: my parents are) paying so much for this room when I could just have an egg hidden somewhere on campus.

    • Arsnl

      Living in an egg on a campus. Really? Can you actually imagine the level of pranks you’d be enduring?

      • Aside from getting rolled on to the freeway or into Lake Michigan, I don’t think it would be too bad ;) Plus that’s why I said “hidden.” I have no idea where I would hide it though…

      • Sche

        i live in an egg that’s why i got more of my allowance than my classmates have. ^_^

  • Bren

    #4 has a video on YouTube that I am too lazy to find
    I think it’s “Chinese transforming apartment” or some crap like that

  • magoopaintrock

    Awesome list by Jay about an interesting and important social topic. Higher density living can help solve a lot of sustainability problems and creative design is the way to do it.

    • Arsnl

      Ugh. NO. High density “living” sucks. You are constantly forced to stay outside cuz you feel like you’d go mad. Hey as a student you can make it work. But try raising a family in such an environment. The solution is to makecuties wider and transport faster. Not stacking more people in the same space. We’re not Benders you know

      • magoopaintrock

        Like I said, design is the key. If it sucks, then it’s a bad design.

  • Silver

    Wow I pay less rent for a 4 bedroom house with a nice size yard then some of these people do for their little apartments. I could never do it, not with 1. claustrophobia and 2. a 1 year old who needs plenty of room to run around.

  • andrewtpepper

    Is number 9 really owned by James Potter? Has he got a son called Harry? Perhaps it’s only small on the outside!

    • Nikkie

      I love you.

  • randomizer

    # 5 and 6 make me feel claustrophobic and not being able to extend your arms thats just nuts. IMHO homes need to be comfortable.

  • Metalwrath

    I’m not claustrophobic at all and I think I’d feel quite cozy in some of those. I live in a 30 meter square apartment in a big city and I find it simply too big for me alone. I’d probably prefer a simple small studio. Nonetheless, I would want a big house outside of city once I’m older :)

  • emjay


  • Will Trame

    Definitely a weird and fascinating list. The Egg reminds me of something that artist Roger Dean might have designed. Even though it does not fit the characteristics of this particular list (due to its rather large size), Dean once designed an extremely surrealistic “house” which was depicted in his art book “Magnetic Storm”.

    • @will trame: “The Egg reminds me of something that artist Roger Dean might have designed.

      —–the egg reminds me of something that mork from ork might have designed.

      • Will Trame

        Your egg reference was pretty good. I almost forgot about Mork. But wasn’t his egg actually designed by Orson?

        • oooo………….

          ya got me will………

          so mork laid an egg and it grew and 65 yar old jonathan winters hatched as the kid and aged backwards, benjamin button style.

          that almost makes it seem like the egg designed itslf.

          the other thing is that orson — he assigned the mission that put mork in colorado in the first place ….. because humour was looked down upon on ork. he assigned subsidiary missions after that.

          really, him designing the egg would be similiar to george w bush designing the tanks that rolled into bagdad in ’03.

          but, honestly, i’m not quite sure……..

  • Armadillo

    The Tumbleweed houses are really cute !!!

    #1 is dumb though, I would rather live in a bigger appartment far from the plazza and the cathedral and buy myself a metro card or a Vespa or something to go see it whenever I want. The window seems so out of reach that you wouldn’t even have a good view of all the beautiful stuff anyway…

  • nostradamus

    These are pretty large spaces compared to the Philippines’. Here in the Philippines, poor people live inside a cardboard box. lol

  • Arsnl

    Hmm. This list is deffo too short. Or the main assumption is horribly wrong: that in the developped world everybody lives in big apps. Let me tell you, in Paris, you’d see a lot of studios that are the same size as that NY “app”(13 sq m). And there are figuratively tons of studios that are 17 sqm (just 40% bigger).

  • Julius

    As someone who grew up on the country with the nearest house more than a k from ours I can’t imagine ever living like that…

  • oouchan

    I would take number one in a heartbeat! I just need to find a way to get there first. :)
    What a cool list! I like the idea of such small places as I have no need for extra space. I don’t like living quarters to be so large except the kitchen area. I like to cook so that would be the only downfall to those tiny places.

    Interesting list.

    • mom424

      That little house in Toronto has a full kitchen – last time it sold it went for around $150,000. They spent a fair sized chunk of change to update it after that. It is tres-cute. I could definitely live there – it has a garden – and I don’t care much for stuff.

  • Auburn Tiger

    Number 10 was my favorite, but I fail to see the merit in living in any of these.

    • Julius


      • xilebat

        Julius is right.

        Zhang Qi was the first resident of the version 2.0 capsule apartments, and paid $35 Yuan a month for rent. She sent the savings to her widowed mother. Ms. Zhang also purchased a home and was renting it out for 1,200 Yuan a month. She and her mother bought it for only 130,000 yuan, and it’s now it is worth 220,000 Yuan.

        Not sure what she did after authorities demolished the version 2.0 apartments, but I bet she ended up okay. She seems like a lady with a plan.

  • I don’t think I’d have an issue living in many of these, or certainly not when I was single! I lived in a studio apartment that must have been 3 metres by 6 with a bathroom of less than 2 metres square for two years with my partner and three cats! Though, to be fair, it was a garden entrance and therefore I felt I had more space because I could just step outside through my front door rather than step into a building (and it meant the cats could have their cat flap and go out when they wanted). I think I could have lived in any small space as long as it had an entrance that was its own and not into the middle of a dense complex. Now I couldn’t – Even though I’m not a hoarder and am very unsentimental when it comes to chucking out things, I’ve amassed way too much stuff!

    I remember watching an episode of a panel show based on random trivia here called QI and it was said that people in the UK live, on average, in the smallest houses/spaces in the developed world. The one comedian on the panel summed up everyone’s thoughts by saying “well, it didn’t bother me until you told me!”

  • Alex

    Please please please make an iPhone app for listverse!

  • Lifeschool

    Slow day? Not a bad list, and a very good premise and some interesting places. I guess Tumbleweed stands out among the rest. The smallest places around here are called Bedsits (as mentioned on the list) – they are only large enough for one single-sized bed which doubles as a sofa – hence Bed-Sit. :) Also agree with the ‘carboard boxes’ comment.

    • I am surprised at the low number of comments on this list as I thought it was very interesting.

  • Ciril

    You should include my apartment.
    9 square meters. Plenty of places like mine in Paris. WC down the corridor

  • mom424

    Excellent list Jay. Does a great job of illustrating just how spoiled/fortunate we are in North America. I hear of people living in cardboard boxes in the Philippines or South Africa, places where people would be happy to have 80 square feet of indoor space. We just don’t have that type of poverty – we have social ills; alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness – only those that can’t live within the rules live in cardboard boxes. That’s a far cry from living in them because there is no other choice.

    Personally I could live in a much smaller environment – well, once the kids finally leave. I do insist on some yard though – the garden could be my living room. Material possessions aren’t my thing – books and art and cooking stuff excepted. So I do need a kitchen…..

    • Arsnl

      “once the kids FINALLY leave”. What a caring mum.

      • mom424

        Extremely – my kids are 19 – 24 years of age and all working. They still live at home because they have it easy – I cook with cheese!

  • wow this list is a real bore

  • deeeziner

    If you live in any one of these teeny tiny bedspots just having a full semesters of textbooks would qualify you as a hoarder.

    You better live somewhere temperate too, because you don’t have a lot of space to store the “winter gear”.

    I think people who live in such tiny “homes” miss their mommy’s womb.

  • Rasputin

    Is anybody else noticing a rather anti-capitalist and anti-west coming out of the listverse these day.

    “So we can spend years slaving away to pay off a mortgage for a house that may not appreciate in value? And then go further into debt furnishing and maintaining it, all the while saddling the planet with an environmental impact grossly out of proportion to our needs?”

    The most blatant example of this came on the 10 Good Reasons to Embrace Poverty list which had this intro:

    “We have been indoctrinated since birth to try to attain things. Success is measured by social status, and that is frequently established by your wealth. OK, maybe sometimes status can be established by your natural abilities, like athleticism, or knowing how to play the trombone better than anybody else, or maybe even stunning good looks. But if you’re just average in all that, and don’t even have the talent it takes to inherit wealth, then teachers, parents and other relations, friends, casual acquaintances – everybody will push you to “improve” your lot in life. So you work hard, put in lots of hours, scrimp and save your pennies, and, 30 years later, you have a spouse and kids, a mortgaged house, car and credit card payments, retirement just around the corner, recession, ulcer acting up, lawn mower is on the fritz, plus you’ve just discovered the heartbreak of psoriasis caused by stress. But you’re “successful” because you have a bigger house than your parents had.

    Well, maybe not. Imagine all the opportunities that would be open up to you if you decided from Day One to just chuck that whole idea. Here are 10 darn good reasons to duck the rat race.”

    The items on this list were bizarre, but many have said the list was tongue-in-cheek. My guess is it was serious, although masquerading as tongue-in-cheek (see the apparent not knowing the sayer of “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven”).

    Mr Frater, is this intentional, coincidental or am I reading to much into this?

    • AlphaBase1

      I have noticed it, but not from J. Frater – who’s a pro. Its these guest writers.

      Hey Jay Karlson, just do the list without the enviro-preaching.

      • xilebat

        Nobody’s proselytizing here, AlphaBase1, just introducing arguments from smaller living advocates as background for the reader. I was just fascinated by the solutions some people came up with to live how and where they want.

        If I was preaching smaller living to you and others, I’d first have to put myself on the ’10 Cases of Conservative Hypocrisy’ list. I have TWO houses: I rent out a 2900 sq. ft. home while living in a 3700 sq. ft. money pit. Not exactly candidates for this list.

    • Entirely coincidental – I am indifferent to capitalism and generally opposed to socialism. It just happens that a few of the recent lists have given that impression. We have also had the very opposite reaction in the past from lists that seemed pro-capitalism :)

      • Arsnl

        Isnt christianism a religion that seems very much linked to socialism and communism. Or some of their main ideas.

        • eumesmopo

          At a first glance, it may seem like so, specially when you look at Jesus’s positions about poverty. But that is not the case. Communism is not about helping the poor, it is about fighting the domination of the lower classes by the higher classes. In that sense, religion is nothing but another tool that the dominant classes use to manipulate the oppressed classes. It is impossible for Marxism and Christianism to get along too well.

          • Marxist Hypocrisy 101

            “Communism is not about helping the poor, it is about fighting the domination of the lower classes by the higher classes.”

            Well that’s odd, considering it’s preferred method of doing so entails centralizing totalitarian power to the wealthy oligarchs and dictators in the government to better enslave and murder the civilian populace.

  • vanowensbody

    Great list

  • james___uk

    I recognise a few of these from videos; Item 10 looks pretty nice inside, item 5 looks really cool and cosy inside and item 4 is really impressive when you see it in action

  • Adrian

    In Japan too there are also a lot of people that live in extremely small places. For example, apparently “micro-homes” are becoming popular. You can take a look on this website.

  • mkoua

    I’m very happy with my paid off, 4,000 sq’ of home.

  • I was born ‘n raised and still living in Toronto, but have never heard of #10! Now I’m curious and want to check it out one day.

    • xilebat

      The website gives the address as 128 Day Avenue.

  • edgeratedr

    That’s not quite a feat. If you do live in poverty a family of eight can just live in less than 20 sq. ft. patch of land. Eventually they are called squatters. And how come igloos are not represented? They count for habitats, right?

  • OZZY

    to each his own. but living in a closet is not my idea of living.

  • General Tits Von Chodehoffen

    Best list in forever!

  • Princess711

    This was actually a great list! Interesting and unique topic!

  • nice!!

  • Jessica

    Very nice list for a change :)

  • Rorschachinstein


  • Andrea

    What about an RV/caravan?

    And has no one yet realized how much more personal space one would have in a crowded city if they just shared a kitchen and bathroom with others? It seems pretty wasteful to me to have millions of toilets and sinks when you could share.

  • Andrea

    What about an RV/caravan?

    And has no one yet realized how much more personal space one could have if you just shared bathrooms or kitchens? A million sinks and toilets seems wasteful in comparison.

  • Name

    Jeez. My house is 800 sq mt and I think it’s just alright. Making people live in 20 sq ft is just cruel (or crazy)

  • raubtier

    And no mention of Lady Gaga? I’m shocked and ashamed

  • Martin

    I live in a 11 square meter apartment (118.4 sq ft.), and it is not that bad actually, I live alone so I do not need that much room.

  • It’s always interesting to see how people solve space constrains. Being an efficiency junkie, I would love to get ahold of something like #9, #8, or #6.

    Just to think of all the crap I could throw away when “forced” to!

  • For your consideration, I present The Popcorn Store. A really, really small store in Wheaton Il. Simular to the Toronto house, it was built in an alley. It is still in operation today.

  • Mabel

    Oh HELL no. My house is only 784 square feet and at nearly six feet tall, I feel cramped already. I want something bigger! These tiny things would stress me out so badly.

  • pirly

    That lady who pays $700 a month for 90 sq. feet is crazy!! So what if your living on the Upper West Side!! Is it really worth it to pay that kind of money for such a nothing space. She nerds to get off her high horse and move to Brooklyn. For a couple hundred dollars more she could get like more than 10 times the space!!

  • how to work from home

    Working from home is more stress free, then working at a 9 to 5 job. Doing this is a great way to make money.

  • Alan

    Ridiculous. Why not just live in your car?

    Jay Shafer will no doubt make a small fortune selling his $40,000 Tumbleweed trailers to back-to-the-land types who only later realize they need to PARK the thing someplace. City street? Get towed. Parking lot? Get arrested. State park? Pay entrance and user fees.

    The LAND is what’s valuable, not the house. Can’t afford the city? Move. The mortgage, taxes, and insurance on my two-bedroom two-bath house on 1/3 acre in Florida is still less than Felice Cohen pays to live in a bathroom.

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  • house designs

    Hey as a student you can make it work. But try raising a family in such an environment. The solution is to makecuties wider and transport faster house designs

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  • Jones

    JUST $700? In oklahoma city, 700 a month with get you a 800 square foot 2 bed 2 bath in a nicer part of town

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