Living in A Small World

As rents rise, tenants in the D.C. area find ways to do more with less space


Grad student Theodora Danylevich downsized from a shared two-bedroom apartment to a 225-square-foot studio near restaurants and nightlife in Dupont Circle.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to live in a great location, you better be ready to pay a boatload in rent.

Or is it?

Renters in the D.C. area who want to live in a great location for not a lot of money can sacrifice something else: space.

Theodora Danylevich, a literature Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University, left a shared two-bedroom apartment in favor of a tiny efficiency in Dupont Circle. The entire apartment — living area, kitchen and bathroom — measures 225 square feet.

“A lot of people, when I was moving in, were like, ‘How are you gonna make this work?’ ” she says.

Living in a studio the size of a “Real Housewife’s” closet isn’t for everyone, but Danylevich was willing to trade space in favor of a better price and location.

“I’m a city person,” she says. “I’d rather have a smaller space and have [the location] be walkable,” she says.

Danylevich pays $1,325 a month. “For a Ph.D. student that’s a little high,” she says. But living small offers other ways to save money: The tiny space means lower utilities, and the great location means less spent on transit to school.

Plus, she just likes small spaces. “I don’t like having to walk too far to the kitchen or to the bathroom. It drives me crazy,” she says. “I’m lazy.”

The key to happily living small is using what you do have for more than one purpose, says D.C.-based interior designer Christopher Patrick. “It’s always about double-duty,” he says.

Almost everything in Danylevich’s apartment has more than one use. Her vast wooden desk serves as both a workspace and as a media center. She can sit on her couch, which is pushed against the opposite wall, and watch movies on her computer.

Another table sits at a right angle to her desk, forming an L-shape. It gives her more space to work but also doubles as her dining table.

Danylevich admits that keeping both desks was a bit of a space splurge, but she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of either.

This attitude worked for Danylevich, but it’s not what experts would advise. “Edit,” Patrick says. “You’ve gotta be good about keeping only the things that you use.”

And when you can’t edit any more, add more storage. “Get as much furniture as possible that has secret storage,” Patrick says. He recommends looking for ottomans or beds that offer storage underneath.

Danylevich took the “storage under the bed” idea to another level, lofting her bed high to fit the two desks underneath.

Of course, sleeping up high has its drawbacks. “One of the real compromises is the ceiling fan,” she says. Her bed is so high that turning on the ceiling fan holds the risk of injury. She keeps it turned off, but some danger remains: “I’ve hit my head on it twice,” she says.

You don’t have to sleep near the ceiling to save space. Down in the Southwest Waterfront, Alison Maassen, 26, and her boyfriend decided to snooze on the floor in sleeping bags to free up valuable space in their studio, which Maassen estimates at 350 to 400 square feet.

“Once you put a bed into a space like a studio, it really becomes a bedroom,” Maassen says. “If you don’t, it becomes whatever you want it to be.”

During the day, Maassen stashes the bags behind the TV, turning the entire studio into living space. “At first we thought it would be a temporary solution,” she says. “Then we realized it was actually brilliant.”

Danylevich had to use that kind of ingenuity to conquer her tiny kitchen. When she first saw it, “I was a little horrified,” she says. “A two-burner range, half a fridge.” And worst of all: No oven.

So she purchased a countertop convection oven and is learning to cook in it.

“I had just perfected roasting an entire chicken” before moving in, she says. “I guess I’ll have to cut back to pieces of chicken.”

Danylevich admits it wasn’t just the kitchen that was almost a deal-breaker when she first viewed the apartment. “I was like, ‘Whoa, this is — I wanted it to be small, but this was smaller than I thought,’ ” she says.

But it only took one great feature for the tiny apartment to win her over. “I went into the bathroom, and I was like, ‘Ooh, claw-foot tub … I think I can make this work.’ ”

When it comes to living small, sometimes it’s the little things.

Beth Marlowe is a senior editor at Express. She has written for The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Television and other publications.

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