Mini-apartments appeal to renters who can't pay retail for prime neighborhoods

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By McClatchy Tribune
Saturday, June 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- Timm Freeman's Santa Monica apartment has 17-foot ceilings, granite countertops and a guitar collection hanging on the wall. He has a built-in microwave, dishwasher and central air-conditioning.

All in 350 square feet.

Freeman's coffee table is also his dining table. His desk is three steps from his sitting room. And three paces from his stove.

"Everything is within three steps of the next thing," said Freeman, 40, a graphic designer.

In a region known for its sprawl, diminutive dwellings are finding a toehold among renters who couldn't otherwise afford to live in choice neighborhoods.

Freeman's apartment might be smaller than many suburban master bedrooms, but rents in his apartment complex are comparatively small, too: $1,110 a month at the low end, and the beach is just a mile away.

Prospective tenants need to get on a waiting list: The 165-unit Olympic Studios complex has been filled since it opened in late 2008. The developers are building a similar complex nearby, and a pint-sized apartment project is planned for the Palms neighborhood of West Los Angeles.

The units are about the same size as a large recreational vehicle and have the same design imperative: Fit as many features as possible into a small space, but don't make it claustrophobic.

"It's like a Rubik's Cube," said Jim Andersen of NMS Properties, which built Olympic Studios. "It's a geometry problem." Freeman's living areas -- kitchen, desk area and TV nook -- flow from one space to the next, unimpeded by doors or hallways. The only interior door is to the bathroom. He climbs 14 carpeted steps to a landing big enough for his double bed and a closet. A wide ledge over his stove and refrigerator holds some of his paintings.

"It feels like more than it is," Freeman said. "It's just right for me." When Freeman's 7-year-old son, Gear, visits, he sleeps on the fold-out couch.

Freeman, recently divorced, had to pare down his clothes and other possessions before moving in. Residents can rent a storage cabinet in the underground garage for $60 to $100 a month, but he didn't feel the need.

"Getting rid of stuff I didn't need helped me untether myself," he said. "It was a gift rather than a punishment." There wasn't room to keep Freeman's collection of 12 guitars in a closet, much less on stands on the floor like he used do, so he hung them on the walls. Nontraditional families like Freeman's were in the minds of the Olympic's architects. "Families are not two and a half kids and a dog anymore," said Wade Killefer of Killefer Flammang Architects.


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