I wouldn’t mind living in a bathroom if it was the one in Jessica Alba’s family home, which has more windows (five) and showerheads (two) than my airless apartment in Queens. And Rainn Wilson’s pet pigs, who sleep in their own casita with a Dutch door — aptly called the Pig Palace — have already fulfilled my pastoral fantasy and desire for more breathing space.
For many of us, the last two years of the pandemic have brought many desires to life: baking bread, adopting cute mammals and, in my case, spending countless hours on Zillow and watching videos of visits to home on YouTube, dreaming of mansions that I’m no more likely to afford than I am to wake up tomorrow as a porcupine. At the start of my obsession, I developed a mental tic: each time I passed a pretty brown stone, I guessed its price and encouraged my friends to do the same, an exercise that usually left none of us we feel good.
And by God, did my search history betray my sense of deprivation. It was filled with series like Architectural Digest’s celebrity home tour series (“Inside Tommy Hilfiger’s $50 Million Plaza Hotel Penthouse”), highlights from Netflix’s “Selling Sunset,” and a slew of videos offering sneak peeks at inside Manhattan’s so-called Billionaires’ Row. I learned a lot: Zedd the DJ has a Skittles machine in his house, Tan France from “Queer Eye” has a surprisingly tedious clothing categorization scheme, and there’s a moon rock in the living room gallery. slash art by Serena Williams.
What I lacked was not more square footage but a dose of play.
Soon I had some sort of dysmorphia around my one-bedroom shared rental unit, whose sunlight is blocked by a tall, intimidating skyscraper across the street. The ugliness of my improvised home office with blackout curtains and bookshelves as partitions annoyed me.
Then one day, through an algorithmic blip, I came across a video from a YouTube channel called Never Too Small. It featured a 247-square-foot unit in Melbourne’s Art Deco Cairo Flats apartment complex. At first, its Kinfolk-esque aesthetic alarmed me because the web was already awash with this kind of minimalism — often exemplified by modernist interiors or the sleek bohemianism of luxury Airstreams. But I was amazed at how the unity of Melbourne, through a sort of architectural wizardry, was everything one could want in a home. It might as well have been a pretty hand-crumpled piece of origami in unbleached paper. Nothing superfluous. Nothing missing.
Next, I clicked on a video from the Apartment Therapy channel featuring a 590-square-foot Oakland home — the winner of its 2020 Small/Cool contest — with many items in the house hand-built by the owners. To solve the problem of limited storage space, the couple measured the height of their favorite olive oil and tea canisters to build a shelf that would fit them perfectly.
There is something adrenalizing in works produced under creative constraints: haikus, black and white photography, Brompton bicycles and the lipogrammatic novels of Georges Perec. Perhaps that’s why, even among celebrity home videos, it’s Amy Sedaris’ goofy one-bedroom apartment – complete with a lampshade made out of hair samples – that sticks out to me. marked the most. (“Sometimes there’s frizz when there’s humidity in the air,” Sedaris says of her shade. “I spray it.”)
Prior to discovering the tiny home videos, I had condemned my current living situation as purgatory, a preliminary stage before a “fuller state” of owning a single-family home. It’s the kind of happiness deferral that I – and perhaps you – do in many other areas of life, usually phrased as “My life will truly begin once I reach X”. But what struck me looking at the couple with their carefully measured shelves wasn’t a particularly brilliant idea, but something I intellectualized but never fully felt: there’s no dress rehearsal in life. . Let’s take a look here. Look around you, we are already on the air. This – the moment we are in – is all there is. That’s it.
What I lacked was not more square footage but a dose of play to meet the challenge of housework under duress. I remembered that ten years ago, when I was serving in the army in South Korea, I lived with 24 people in a room of about 500 square feet (not a misprint). For two years, each of us had a dull, two-foot-wide metal locker that held everything we owned but customized nonetheless. In college, I lived in my 80 square foot single, where I was never in danger of misplacing my phone. Throughout my childhood, I never felt deprived growing up in apartments with no yard or porch. And I had also learned that extra space does not necessarily lead to happiness, during a stay spent in a large, unmanageable house in semi-rural Canada whose vast size and creaking wooden floors, I thought, made it an ideal place for a day session.
So my girlfriend and I reclaimed our apartment, scavenging for second-hand art at an antique store where she lassoed an affordable piece of found-object art. I unlocked doors, installed floating shelves and glued pieces of octopus wallpaper for subtle humor. Like many other rituals of the pandemic, watching videos of tiny homes restored some of what had been taken away — a sense of comfort and control, which videos could remind us we never lost. It was as if we were solving a puzzle – but a puzzle in which the missing pieces were part of the final image.
Sheon Han is a writer and programmer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and other publications.