Downsizing - whether it’s about companies, houses, or cars - is often a euphemism for doing less with less of everything. But consider the iPhone. When we downsized the fax machine, the scanner, the phone, the weather channel, and a GPS into one device that weighs less than five ounces, we valued it as a luxury item. Today it commands four times the price of a regular phone, though that’s still significantly less than the sum of all of the devices (or functions) if they were purchased separately.

When it comes to houses and apartments, we tend to focus on size, assigning a monetary value to the number of square feet in a dwelling. Until recently, downsizing in housing simply meant fewer square feet and a loss of function (much like in this 90 square foot micro-apartment that lacks the ability to invite a friend in for a conversation, let alone space to cook). But that may be about to change. In an increasingly urbanized world with resource constraints and rising costs, value will shift toward the measurable function a space provides.

LifeEdited, a New York firm that partners with real estate developers and investors, set out to design a living environment that packs the function people want from a more sizable apartment within a smaller footprint. They used the constraints of urban living to prototype what “luxury with less” might look like – and it looks good.

The company’s first effort, LifeEdited Apartment #1, packs “1100 square feet of function in 420 square feet.” The design of the apartment takes behavior and needs into account and enables spaces to be used efficiently for multiple purposes. Walls move, beds drop down out of walls, tables expand, and closets reach the ceiling in every available space. The result is a studio apartment with a spacious feel that can be used to host a dinner for 10.

The apartment was also designed to function as a system. Three of the four radiators, which carried excess heat and noise into the apartment, were removed. For cooking, the apartment relies on portable conduction cooktops, rather than a large stove with a pilot light that throws off waste heat in the warm summer months. The furniture is largely built in to fit the space and to offer the precise function that’s needed when it’s needed. Gone is sentimental, awkward furniture purchased for one space but ultimately destined to be locked up within the nation’s $22 billion storage industry, well cared for but never used.

While the initial design is aimed at a certain demographic (young professionals), it’s a model that can be adapted to a much larger audience. Consider a study featured on LifeEdited’s website that shows how people use the living space on the first floor of a typical single family home.  If you look closely at the summary diagram, you’ll see that over the course of two weeks, the dining room was barely visited and the formal living room was scantly used. The door to the porch was never even approached. Whole rooms in our homes serve little more purpose than a storage unit. So while we put a value on total size, we clearly behave in a way that shows that the functionality of a space really matters. And in the typical single family home, there’s definitely room for improvement.

The value proposition behind LifeEdited’s apartment will only become more attractive as resource pressures increase and more people move to cities. 1100 square feet of function in 420 square feet effectively means 680 square feet that doesn’t have to be heated, cooled, lit, cleaned, or otherwise maintained. For the person who lives there, it also means paying taxes on 680 fewer square feet.

Ultimately, what’s different about the thinking behind LifeEdited’s apartment is the introduction of a new value system that prioritizes function per square foot over measured square foot – in the same way the iPhone demonstrated that it’s not owning a camera and a bunch of other devices that matters, but it's the utility from each device that matters.


Photos courtesy Matthew Williams for LifeEdited.