Behind closed doors: Life in a one-bedroom apartment
Published 22/12/2011 | 06:00
Lisa O'Hara has noticed a growing trend. The relationship counsellor is seeing increasing numbers of couples who cite cramped living environments as a catalyst for their arguments.
And with more and more couples effectively trapped for financial reasons in one-bedroom apartments -- the ultimate legacy of the Celtic Tiger -- her services are in greater demand than ever.
"The lack of space can have a detrimental effect on relationships," she says. "Couples who only intended to stay in one-bedroom apartments for a short time before moving to a bigger space are finding they are sometimes stuck where they are when money is tight.
"The combination of not having money and living on top of each other can heighten underlying problems in a relationship. Previously, money -- and perhaps bigger living spaces -- could paper over the problems."
The Relationships Ireland [formerly the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service] counsellor says couples who live in such small flats can feel like their lives are on hold.
"You do hear about people who feel they can't have children when they'd want to because the apartments they bought are too small and there's a shortage of money to enable them to live elsewhere. It can be really tough on people who feel like their living situation isn't going to get better any time soon."
The thousands who bought one-bedroom apartments during the boom years will have been dismayed by recent reports which confirm that their properties have suffered more than any other type in recession.
The sales of one-beds have been extremely sluggish this year, and their perceived lack of value is highlighted by AIB's insistence that would-be buyers stump up a deposit of 25pc of the total price.
Rowena Quinn, director of retail sales for the Dublin-based Space Properties, says one-bedroom apartments have become especially difficult to sell.
"They're not seen as good investment properties now and people are becoming far more discerning about what they want to buy," she says. "Larger two-bedroom apartments and houses are now within the budget of people who mightn't have been able to afford anything other than a one-bed five years ago.
"I'm finding that one-beds are selling to people who wish to have a mid-week base in Dublin or to parents who are thinking about accommodation for their children when college comes."
Yet, she says these units remain attractive propositions in the lettings market. "The prices are very competitive. In Dublin, you can rent a large one-bed in a good area close to the city for about €900 per month, and that's including a car space. Many people don't want to live in a three-bed semi in the suburbs. Depending on your lifestyle, an apartment in a certain area can be a far more attractive proposition."
Quinn, her husband and young son live in a large two-bedroom apartment and she says the arrangement works for them. "Lots of people are bringing up children in apartments in Ireland, and it can work well as long as there's adequate storage space," she says. "The newer apartment blocks that have come on stream offer a huge improvement on what was put up in the '80s and '90s and that's because people have higher expectations for apartment living.
"To be honest, if we were living in a house with a garden I'm not sure if we'd be spending any time at all in the garden with a 14-month-old child. You'd be far more likely to be walking around a park with the buggy. That said, it would be very difficult to bring a child or children up in a small apartment due to the amount of kids' stuff accumulated, but there's no doubt that lots of parents are having to do that today."
Paul Kearns knows more about the one-bedroom apartment phenomenon than most. A planner with Dublin City Council and the author of ReDrawing Dublin, he believes such properties, if judiciously managed, can help revitalise urban centres.
'Estate agents are so hung up on the idea of bedroom-number," he says, "rather than floor-space. Many people need just one bedroom, but they also need a good-sized living space and excellent storage possibilities and the problem is many one -- and for that matter two-bedroom -- apartments have tiny living spaces and no storage areas.
"Up to 1998, it was legal for developers to build 38sqm one-bedrooms, and 45sqm two-bedrooms. The planners didn't live in apartments, and didn't see them as long-term living options. But there's been a substantial improvement. Now, the minimum floor space permitted for a one-bedroom is 55sqm."
Kearns and his partner live in Dublin's north-inner city and converted a drab 70sqm two-bedroom apartment into a bright, contemporary one-bedroom affair.
"We've probably devalued the property in purely fiscal terms, yet it's a far, far better place to spend time in. Rather than a cramped living area, we now have about 50sqm of open-plan space that's pleasant and sizeable enough to have friends over.
"The one-bedroom apartment has been much maligned -- often deservedly so -- but, if done properly, it can be an ideal space in which to live."