Thursday 12 December 2019

Why is the world going micro?

While Ireland seeks to make apartments bigger, the world trend is for cleverly designed miniature homes for singles.

Micro managing: G-Suite’s project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester in the UK has proved popular with students looking for compact accommodation.
Micro managing: G-Suite’s project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester in the UK has proved popular with students looking for compact accommodation.
The luxury micro home concept makes the most of limited space.
Micro flats can address the shortage of affordable rental accommodation.
Donal Buckley

Donal Buckley

THERE'S not enough space to swing a cat - literally - but the owners don't care. Tiny is terrific for the buyers of the miniscule "micro" apartments which have been becoming the talk of the UK's property market following recent launches of developments in the big cities.

Owing most to the cleverly designed multifunctional interiors of modern caravans and yachts where space is at an extreme premium, the luxury "micro" home concept has recently moved from the Far East to meet the shortage of accommodation just across the water from Dublin to Liverpool, Manchester and Oldham. Meantime micro apartments are also taking off in US cities, like San Francisco.

Micro flats can address the shortage of affordable rental accommodation.
Micro flats can address the shortage of affordable rental accommodation.

Behind the UK projects is developer G-Suite with an Asian-Pacific headquarters based in Hong Kong, which is developing the units ranging in size up to a maximum of 35 sq metres.

But their minimum size of 20 sq m is less than half the 55 sq m minimum size which is permissible for newly built Irish one-bedroom apartments.

Unlike the old-fashioned Dublin bedsit, each G-Suite apartment is self-contained. In the smallest apartments all the facilities such as cooking area, sleeping area and relaxation area are open plan with only the bathroom/toilet separate. The latter is usually located, like in hotels, next to the door.

In some micro flats a built-in study desk is located next to the kitchen worktop area. The larger 35 sq m units, unlike studio apartments, can accommodate two beds, and sliding doors separate the one bedroom from the living/kitchen area.

To enhance their space these doors can be opened up and the beds folded away into the walls to transform the bedroom into a living area.

Alternatively the beds can be left down and the doors closed, but full-length frosted glass in the bedroom doors allow natural light into the living area. With Dublin's shortage of rental accommodation for single people as well as a shortage of student accommodation, provision of micro apartments could well curtail the city's rising rental trends. In addition, larger houses currently being shared by single people could be freed up for use by families.

The luxury micro home concept makes the most of limited space.
The luxury micro home concept makes the most of limited space.

But currently regulations here are going exactly the other way.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council (DCC) dismissed the suggestion of allowing micro apartments be built in Dublin. "The city already has an oversupply of micro apartments built in the 1990s and 2000s," he added.

Micro managing: G-Suite’s project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester in the UK has proved popular with students looking for compact accommodation.
Micro managing: G-Suite’s project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester in the UK has proved popular with students looking for compact accommodation.

It seems just as our neighbours are embracing tiny ultra designer homes, Dublin's local authorities are seeking bigger sizes.

Lifestyles

Initially the Government set a minimum of 38 sq m size. Just as the property boom was ending, they increased it to the current 55 sq m minimum size for one-bedroom flats. More recently they have embarked on a campaign to clear Dublin of its very smallest self-contained homes - the flatland bedsit. The closures are the reasons why so many older sub-divided homes are now coming up for sale at bargain basement prices.

A council spokesman said: "In the heart of Dublin's north inner city, in an area extending from the North Circular Road to the River Liffey and from Amiens Street to Dorset Street, over 46pc of all homes have just one bedroom or less. Half of these homes were built over the past 20 years."

But not everyone agrees and efforts are being made from some quarters to persuade the Dublin local authorities to row back and allow new small style apartments be developed along the styles of some of the most imaginative new housing developments that are being built from New York to Hong Kong and from San Francisco to Liverpool.

With Ireland seeking to attract some of Europe's brightest IT people to work here, we need to offer them accommodation that suits their lifestyles at prices they can afford, says John O'Connor, chief executive of the Housing Agency.

"Many young people don't want to share two and three bedroom units most of which are not designed for sharing," he adds.

Fintan McNamara, a spokesman for the Residential Landlords Association of Ireland also disagrees with current policy on tiny dwellings.

He is convinced that micro flats are needed to address the shortage of affordable rental accommodation because so many bedsits have been taken out of the market since the authorities banned the division of old houses into flats which shared bathrooms and other facilities. The 2011 census showed as many as 11,575 bedsits - all of which have already been or are now in the process of being eliminated.

However demand for micro flats also appears to be identified by recent research from the Irish Government's own Housing Agency which estimates that more than 21,400 new homes will be needed in Dublin city and county to cater for one and two person households between now and 2018. The agency says that such small households would account for 57pc of demand over the period.

Another increasing segment of the market is the growth in overseas student numbers for whom the micro apartments could cater. Indeed this demand has already attracted three UK developers into the Dublin residential rental market and one of these, Knightsbridge Student Housing, is undertaking one of the few new residential developments in Dublin city centre.

"From our experience of developing student accommodation in the UK, we know that older postgraduate students don't want to share flats and require their own private space," a spokesman said.

The developer considered including small flats to cater for such students in the mix at its development off Thomas Street in Dublin City centre. However, he was told that the minimum size would be two bedroom units. Consequently most of these flats have three or more bedrooms.

G-Suite declined to disclose the prices for the Oldham flats, but the recent reports suggest that Oldham is far from being the hottest property market in the UK as its average house prices, at around ¤110,000, are about half the national level.

Architects Falconer Chester Hall designed G-Suite's project at Cardinal Court Oldham, near Manchester and its managing director Adam Hall said: "This type of accommodation has already proved popular elsewhere in the UK for those looking to take their first step on the housing ladder, such as key workers and postgraduate students, and will help open up the residential market to a wider spectrum of society."

Luxurious

To complement the compactness of each unit, the G-Suite design is described as luxury with Italian furniture and fit-out. But residents can also enjoy the use of other facilities in the apartment complexes such as the communal space. A bar and clubhouse are located on the top floor with outside seating and panoramic views, while a fitness gym with changing facilities is also located at this level.

With laundry facilities located in the waiting areas on a number of floors, there's no need for a washing/drying machine.

Smart key cards provide access and security features include a CCTV system for common areas and elevator cards, as well as 24-hour security and concierge service. All floors also have WiFi coverage. Depending on the type of unit, each flat is also equipped with a space-saving flat screen TV in addition to a refrigerator, microwave oven, induction cooker, dining table and writing desk with chairs.

G-Suite is selling the flats to Chinese investors including some in Hong Kong who are happy to rent to students and young professionals.

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