After this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 3, 2013. Melissa McCarville, Regional Public Relations Manager, emailed "this is a fantastic piece about Lincoln Park! Love you detail and the places you mention are just perfect. Great, great, great story. You captured the essence of living there - and I can say that because I did for 4 years!"
By Richard White
How small could you go?
How small a space could you really live in and be happy? And not just for a weekend getaway – but on an ongoing basis. The current craze in the condo development community seems to be who can create the smallest condo! In Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, 400 square foot condos i.e. the size of two parking spots, is becoming quite common. And Vancouver’s new development called Balance boasts the smallest condo in Canada - a 297 sq. ft. micro condo.
I didn’t think I could live in anything under 1,500 sq. ft. – that’s, until I spent a week in a well-designed 475 sq. ft. suite at the Hotel Lincoln in Chicago. Now I am really rethinking how much space I need after spending a week in their chic, contemporary junior suite. It had two bathrooms at opposite ends of the suite, which works well for couples getting ready to go out at the at the same time. The suite was open concept - a full king size bed at one end and a sitting area at the other (comfortable sofa, chair seating and coffee table) at the other. Tucked along the wall was a desk, small coffee area and wall mounted swivel TV so it could be viewed from the bed or the sofa. It all worked very well.
Downstairs was Elaine’s Coffee Call, a great place for a morning coffee and toast (I think I could live on their PBJ toast, with its pecan butter) and people watching – it was a happening place. Who needs a big kitchen when there are cafes, pubs and restaurants just outside your door? The key to living small is to have lots of amenities nearby.
If we lived at the Hotel Lincoln, I think we would have soon considered Nookies as an extension of our home. Located just a block from Hotel Lincoln (in funky Old Town) – we loved the home style cooking and ambience. In fact, you can bring your own wine and they don’t charge any corkage and if you don’t finish your bottle, you can just take it home. How good it that? We learned that is not uncommon in Chicago.
Who needs a big screen TV and media room when it’s so easy to wander over to the local sports bar, cheer as loud as you want without your spouse shouting “don’t make me come down there.” Bonus there are no empties or mess to clean up either.
On our first night in Chicago we headed to The Old Town Pour for dinner and to watch the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stanley Cup playoff game. We have never been in a bar that was so loud and so full of energy – who would want to stay home when, instead, you could be part of that!
Not a sports fan? More into comedy? No problem. Second City is located just a few short blocks away, with performances nightly, with many nights offering multiple performances. Forget reruns of Friends, Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld; enjoy live comedy instead with a room full of kindred spirits. Living small is about living in your community.
The Hotel Lincoln was perfectly located for living without a car. Bus stops are just steps outside the door, as is the huge Lincoln Park with its free (yes free) zoo – yes free! Imagine… walk out your door down the street and in five minutes you are wandering in a hundred year old (1868), 35-acre zoo… beats having a cat or a dog in my mind.
Or, head to the beach in the summer. It too is only a few minutes walk away. It is almost like having a pool in your own backyard. The closest that you might get to this in Calgary would be those living in the condos near Hotel Arts! (Did you know that you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the Hotel Arts pool? I just found out!)
Who even needs their own little balcony or patio when you can hang out on you own roof top patio? We were able to experience what this would be like at the Hotel Lincoln as they had one of the coolest and most popular rooftop restaurants in Chicago. It doesn’t get much better than to come home, sit back and have someone serve you your favourite adult beverage.
Calgary doesn’t make enough use of its rooftops (office or condos) for restaurants. An exception will be Qualex-Landmark’s new condo Mark on 10th, which will have a rooftop patio that I suspect with become the residents’ second living room. You don’t need a large space if you have the right amenties both on site and on the street.
What about laundry you say? Chicagoans have that figured out too; a local dry cleaners on every block. Well maybe not every block but just about. On our way to Nookies for example we passed a dry cleaners/tailors that would have made it easy to just drop off our cleaning at our convenience (or I expect they would pick up too).
And to top it off, every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer a Farmers’ Market in Lincoln Park is literally right across the street. No need for your own garden when you have all the fresh fruits and vegetables you can imagine, as well as breads, jams, honey and flowers across the street.
Living small in Chicago I think would be easy. I’d recommend that if you are contemplating buying a small condo, that you rent a hotel room in the area for a month so you can see if there are sufficient amenities to make small living realistic. I am thinking condo developers would be wise to have a couple of furnished room that they rent out for a month to prospective buyers – consider it a test drive.
Condos in Calgary are definitely getting smaller, many in on the 500 sq. ft. range. A well-designed 500 sq. ft. space might just be the ticket for a single first time buyer, or someone who travels a lot, or a true urbanite who really lives and embraces their local community.
P.S. Don’t forget the big benefit of small living is that it takes no time to clean up, leaving you more time to play!
JT writes: "I would easily live in 500 sf in the middle of any city if it was just me. It would be even better if it was central Chicago and with a healthy budget. I'd add this wrinkle - add a person and you add 500 sf of space need. A family of four gets you to 2000 sf. Try living with that size of family in 1000 sf like we did as kids- it is not fun, especially when you have the option of living in bigger.
The small solution is a great one to populate urban spaces but the band of potential residents is narrowed to the singles with enough disposable income to live a lifestyle of spending in the public realm.