Chicago Tribune

Linda Bogot, Lawrence House resident posing in her studio micro apartment.

Making the most of 300 square feet: Micro-unit apartments and condos becoming more common in Chicago

Linda Bogot had to get rid of her lobster pot when she moved into her Uptown studio apartment. There’s simply no room for it.

The same goes for a full cookie sheet. And as for a junk drawer, that too is a no-go in a space less than 300 square feet.

“I’m in a room where if I’m on my bed reading, I’m looking at my can opener. And if it’s a junky, cheap, old can opener, I’m staring at it, so it needs to be beautiful, and I need to love it. That goes for everything around me,” said Bogot, who lives in the Lawrence House, a rental building just east of the Lawrence Red Line stop.

Bogot lives in what real estate agents and developers are calling a “micro-unit.” If a typical studio is 450 to 750 square feet, a micro is markedly less. Bogot has no storage unit or locker where she can keep things she used to have — a vacuum, ski equipment, etc. A resident of Lawrence House for three years, the former 1,300-square-foot Ravenswood condo owner downsized to the rental space that she lovingly describes as “Restoration Hardware meets the ’70s.”

According to a recent analysis of apartment sizes by RentCafe, newly built apartments, in general, are 5 percent smaller than those built 10 years ago. The average U.S. unit built in 2018 boasts 941 square feet, down roughly 52 square feet. According to the study, Chicago ranks third in the nation for the smallest average apartment sizes (a tie with Manhattan at 733 square feet). But small spaces can have big benefits.

“I’ve always loved small spaces ever since I was a kid. … The last car that I had was a Mini Cooper,” said Bogot, who has found a community in the Lawrence House because much of her time in the building is spent in its common areas. The rehabbed 1920s hotel has more than 300 units, ranging from studios to three bedrooms — the majority of the floor plans similar to Bogot’s.

Micro-living in Chicago
Linda Bogot sits in her micro-unit home, a small type of studio apartment March 20, 2019, at the Lawrence House in Chicago. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune)
“If a typical one-bedroom is in the range of 700 to 850 square feet, we think a one-bedroom could live similarly in 500 to 600 square feet,” said Mark Heffron, managing partner of Cedar Street, the development firm that owns Lawrence House. “What’s important to us is that our one-bedroom at 450 square feet has all the bells and whistles of the nicer unit — has great design, is well-programmed, has good flow — and we can offer that unit at a good discount to what other new product is coming online. We call it ‘small and mighty.’”

Micro-units are becoming more numerous in Chicago with various rental and condo properties offering the option. SONU Digs in Lincoln Park has studios starting at 336 square feet up to 438 square feet. Gateway West Loop’s studios start at 399 square feet and go up to 463 square feet.

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Chicago Tribune | Darcel Rockett
Published online and in print on April 4th, 2019, 5:00 AM.