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NYC museum puts micro-apartments to the test

Visitors look on as a murphy bed is

Visitors look on as a murphy bed is lowered inside the micro-unit apartment installation at the Museum of the City of New York, part of the museum's "Making Room" exhibit. (Aug 13, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

It is projected that 600,000 "new" New Yorkers, many of them single young professionals, will move to the city by 2030, a trend that has architects and designers creating 350-square-foot micro-unit apartments to accommodate them.

Now, the Museum of the City of New York is putting micro-unit living to the test. One unit, with a different resident living in it each day until Sunday, will be on display in an exhibit, "Live Large while Living Small."

Five real people will demonstrate how to live in close quarters as a single person or as a couple -- cooking, organizing, decorating and even throwing a dinner party.

The unit turns into a 180-square foot living room that morphs into a bedroom where a built-in couch doubles as a Murphy bed. In the kitchen is a folding table with wheels that can be stowed away underneath the counter. When it is pulled out, it rolls onto the floor. Four fold-up chairs hang on hooks at the unit's entrance.

In the living room, a boxlike coffee table has four seats inside and its table cushions detach and can be used as seat cushions. The closet and desk are built into the wall, and a sliding flat screen TV hangs on a built-in shelf with a small bar and martini set.

"It's one-thing-at-a-time living. We call it a task-oriented design," said Lisa Blecker of Resource Furniture, which sells the Italian-made furniture.

Museum visitor Paula Pinskey, 52, of San Jose, Calif., said, We [Americans] have a lot of wasted space. The fall down bed makes a lot of sense. But I still can't wrap my head around the space."

Emily Miranker, 27, is one participant who will spend 24 hours in the unit, tweeting about what it's like to live alone in a small space. The micro unit's uncluttered decor and functional space design "works for me and is pleasing to the eye. I like clean surfaces," she said.

Miranker said micro-unit living is feasible if it's affordable. As a young professional living on entry-level wages, "you never stop worrying about making ends meet," she said.

Donald Albrecht, the museum's curator of architecture and design, said: "This exhibit searches to solve these problems. We want to keep New York urban, dense and not have young people leaving."

Fifty-five prefabricated micro-rental units are being built by Monadnock Construction in Brooklyn's Navy Yard. Construction is expected to start by year's end and finished units will be stacked on a city-owned vacant lot on East 27th Street.

Monthly rents for 22 of the affordable units will be $940 for anyone earning between 80 percent and 155 percent of the city's Area Median Income of $83,000, and the other units will rent at $1,700 to $1,800.

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