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A pair of new L.A. homeowners try to squeeze into 552-square-foot home

Not long ago, my wife and I were hate-watching a TV show about tiny homes.

“Who would,” we asked each other in our 1,100-square-foot apartment, “ever want to buy something that small?”

And then we started to seriously shop for a house in Los Angeles.

Although Sarah and I did a cursory search for homes near our spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Sawtelle, the area’s median price per square foot of $860 meant that we were priced out of our roughly $600,000 budget. So almost before we knew it, we were signing the paperwork on a much more affordable — and much smaller — newly renovated home in Echo Park.

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When the pair feel cramped in their 552-square-foot Echo Park home, they enjoy their patio.
When the pair feel cramped in their 552-square-foot Echo Park home, they enjoy their patio.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

How small exactly? 552 square feet, half the living space of our old apartment. We had just bought a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, hundred-year-old tiny house, and now we had to figure out how to squeeze our lives into it.

We weren’t exactly novices at living in small spaces. Sarah had made do with about 300 square feet during her years living in Brooklyn, and I had spent the leanest years of the Great Recession hunkered down in a minuscule studio in East Hollywood.

Even so, we weren’t quite prepared for the huge adjustments we’d have to make.

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To begin with, there was all of our stuff. Old paperbacks, clothes, a framed photo of the Clash squirreled away since college — all of it had to go.

Sarah told me about Marie Kondo, the bestselling author who promulgates a simple method for decluttering: Throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” So while we waited for escrow to close, that’s what we did.

We congratulated ourselves on dumping the clutter and moved into our new house in September. Within hours, we realized we hadn’t been thorough enough. The new house, with its narrow galley kitchen and small rooms, felt more like a cramped Public Storage locker than a home.

Storage space is even used next to the space-saving washer/dryer.
Storage space is even used next to the space-saving washer/dryer.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

Phase 2 of the purge began. This time we targeted furniture, getting rid of everything dark-colored (eats light in a small space like a black hole) or big (every square foot counts when you have fewer than 600 of them). If a piece couldn’t store something, it went, too.

Once that was done, in came the white Ikea shoe cabinets, which we installed in the dining room in lieu of a sideboard and in the master bedroom instead of a bulky dresser. Our dark-wood, midcentury-modern bed frame and matching bedside tables gave way to a white wire-frame headboard and narrow side tables with deep compartmentalized drawers.

We stuffed storage bags under the couch and bought a new light-gray cover to replace the darker original one, put rolling storage boxes under the bed and mounted the TV on the wall.

And then we learned to fit ourselves, and our overactive cat, into the new space.

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Like cars driving through the narrower streets in the Hollywood Hills, someone has to stop to let the other person pass through the kitchen. We now have to share a bathroom — and all the complex scheduling and impatient door-knocks that come with it.

Even Kibby lost his roomy igloo-style litter box and now uses a Scandinavian cat cube he has to enter from a hole in the top.

We’re now a few months into living here, and it’s beginning to feel like home. When it starts to feel a little cramped inside — and it does! — we can sit out on our patio, admire the (extremely) partial view of downtown from our back deck, or head down to Bar Bandini for a glass of wine and a breather.

We may be accidental tiny-home owners, but only by going smaller were we able to buy in L.A. in the first place. We’re grateful we have a place to call our own — and at least it’s not a yurt.

hotproperty@latimes.com

Click here for a Spanish version of this story

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