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What it's really like to live in NYC's first micro-unit building

A resident of Carmel Place shares his experience living in one of the development's 300-square-foot micro apartments

It's been a few months since residents started moving into Carmel Place, New York City's first apartment building devoted exclusively to micro units. The development has garnered plenty of attention since it was first announced back in 2013, but now that people have actually started to call it home, we wanted to find out what it's like to live in a building that's purpose-built to be tiny.

According to Dan Tomita, who moved into Carmel Place earlier this summer, it's not really all that different from a typical New York City apartment. Tomita moved to New York from Chicago to attend graduate school at Pratt, and had cycled through a series of not-so-nice apartments in the ensuing years—a basement apartment in Kips Bay, a small West Village pad shared with several roommates, and the like.


It was during his time at Pratt that he first learned about the Carmel Place development; his class visited the Capsys factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where the building's modular units were being manufactured. "At the time I was living in a basement, so I remember being like, 'Aw man, I could totally live in one of these buildings,'" he says with a laugh.

After graduating, Tomita ended up getting a job at Ollie, a company that bills itself as "an innovative housing model" that promises "all-inclusive living experience at accessible prices." Coincidentally, the first New York City building that Ollie was working on was Carmel Place. The company launched its services, which include free Wi-Fi, housekeeping, and even grocery shopping, along with an on-site "community manager" to foster activities, with the Kips Bay rental, and once Tomita found that out, he decided he wanted to test out tiny living. "I was very happy to move in," he says, though he insists that he's "just a guy who lives here," even though he works for Ollie.

Downsizing to an apartment that measures just about 300 square feet wasn't an issue for Tomita; if anything, he now finds that he has too much storage space, since the unit comes with a custom-designed murphy bed with built-in storage, along with a plethora of closet space and shelving. "With each move [in NYC] I was getting rid of more and more stuff," he says. It took only one trip—and one car—to move his possessions, including knick-knacks from his travels and his clothing, to the apartment. "I basically moved my clothes and some electronics," he explains.

carmel place dan tomita

So what have his first couple of months in micro housing been like? "I had to buy a sound machine because it’s so quiet," Tomita says with a laugh. That speaks to one of his few issues with his new living situation, which is loneliness; after so many years of living with roommates, living alone has been more of an adjustment than he was expecting. The apartments are basically designed for single renters, which explains why there are so many communal activities at Carmel Place—a roof deck, which Tomita frequents, along with movie nights and cookouts and other events. Still, there are some perks to living along: He's currently studying for his architecture licensing exam, and finds that the solitude helps with getting work done.

There have also been some adjustments to the apartment itself, particularly the kitchen, which has a two-burner electric stove, a mini-fridge, a dishwasher, and a microwave. "I could use a larger stove," he admits, noting that the two pans he brought with him are too large for the small cooktop. He also uses the dishwasher as storage space more than anything else, preferring to wash dishes by hand.

And of course, there's been the expected curiosity about his living situation, especially among his fellow architects, who've obviously been following the building's progress. Tomita also recalls a moment when he was standing by the window of his apartment making a phone call, "and there was this woman who was waving and me, and she was like, ‘How do you like living there? I just read out about those!’ And I was like, 'It's great!'"

As for those who critique the building's all-inclusive, kind-of-like-a-hotel lifestyle, Tomita says he's not bothered by it. "If I’ve had a really long day and I just want to come home and not have to clean everything up, it’s amazing to come back and have it already done," he explains.

I had to buy a sound machine because it’s so quiet!

Still, Tomita doesn't necessarily see his current living situation as a permanent one; he admits that for him, "the end all is always to have more space," he says. But visiting his brother, who lives in Japan, helped him get used to the idea of living in smaller, pared-down spaces, so for him it’s nothing new. And the lifestyle works: He can still entertain (he says he's fit "eight or nine people" in the apartment), he's close to his office, and the price and the size are right—for now, anyway.

"I think it’s a good kind of movement," he says of micro-living in general. "This is a new, more well-thought out, well-executed kind of living, as long as people don’t abuse it—you know, jam as many people as possible in … that I wouldn’t agree with. It’s perfect for one person."

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