Gianluca Polenzani, 6, knows exactly what he wants out of an apartment. There has to be a bed big enough for sleepovers. Two bathrooms would be nice. And he requires at least one air-conditioning unit, preferably a brand he knows and trusts.
“Missoobishy,” he scrawled in Crayola marker across a somewhat abstract drawing of a Mitsubishi air-conditioning unit on Sunday, figured on one outer wall of his tiny cardboard diorama of a tiny apartment. Unfortunately, the apartment’s single inhabitant, Danny, a button-and-Popsicle-stick man, was far too large to fit in the unit’s mini-door, and seemed doomed to overheat.
Gianluca and a dozen other children had just toured the Museum of the City of New York’s “Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers” exhibition, which showcases a 325-square-foot studio apartment similar to those that will fill the city’s first building of micro-units, set to open in 2015. They looked on in awe as a sofa disappeared under a Murphy bed that swung down from the wall, as a museum guide turned a striped ottoman into a coffee table and stools, as a chair became a stepladder and as a flat-screen TV slid to reveal shelves full of toys. (The shelves normally hold liquor bottles, but the museum decided to replace them with more age-appropriate possessions for the day.)
Then — in an instance of Kids Draw the News come to life — the young city dwellers set about constructing their own tiny apartments from a palette of buttons, pipe cleaners, construction paper, markers and foam stickers. The results, inevitably, were almost all unlivable — some lacking toilets, another entirely filled by a grand piano — as their young creators grappled with the grown-up problem of too little real estate for too many things.
Not that their definitions of “tiny” were all the same.
Olivia Steger, 8, designed a modest but bright studio containing a foldout bed, a night stand with storage for cushions and clothes, a small kitchen and bathroom. She had even remembered to include a power outlet and a book.
Asked what Olivia looked for in a home, she said, simply, “A place to live.”
“But not too tiny,” she added.
Among the others who took the space restriction seriously were Bonnie Skiena, 12, and her sister, Abby, 9, who have their own bedrooms in their family’s home on Long Island but sleep on the floor and the couch when they come to their one-bedroom city apartment on weekends. Envisioning a similar situation for her own micro-apartment, Abby had designed a huge double bed for her parents that filled most of the apartment but conveniently transformed into a dining table and a shower area, complete with a ceiling fan that doubled as a shower head.
Bonnie had constructed two twin beds that folded out from the wall like ships’ berths. “It’s a house for two,” she explained.
Her and her sister?
“Definitely not,” she said, with a wrinkle of her nose.
At the other extreme were several apartments that approached McMansion dimensions, like the triplex of Talar Ajemian, 11, and her sister Lori, 8, who gave their single inhabitant two stories and a rooftop terrace, reachable by floating staircase. No need for convertible furniture here. But where was the bathroom?
“We were going to put that in, but we forgot,” Talar said.
Some, perhaps deciding the space restriction was simply impossible to work with, had blazed new trails in apartment design. Nico Polenzani’s micro-unit could spray fire and ice. Lopen Zuo, 5, had festooned his two-box house with traffic signs and a driveway; he said his house could move when cars approached.
Zachary Buman, 4, had decided to decorate his box with splashes of Crayola coloring. “It’s a tower,” he explained.
“Is it the tower of leaning Pisa?” inquired his brother, Ben, 7.
“Yes, there’s a pizza in here,” Zachary replied serenely, before sweeping away all space concerns with a regal wave: “My tower can become anything.”