By Sarah Trefethen
Before Terri Lee could start a cooking demonstration at the Museum of the City of New York last week, she had to demonstrate a few other things.
Her audience was clustered, confused expressions on their faces, in one end of the 325 s/f model apartment in the museum’s third-floor gallery. Some people were standing in the kitchen area itself, inches from Lee’s elbows.
In a matter of minutes, however, folding chairs were produced from a rack by the entryway, and a small ottoman unfolded to produce five low stools.
With half of the 20 or so visitors now seated, Lee could proceed with her tutorial, billed as a seminar on cooking in a small space. She was somewhat confounded, however, by the space. It was small, for sure, but somehow there was twice as much counter space as can be found in this writer’s kitchen, which is twice as large.
“This is kind of a magical small-space kitchen,” said the creative director of Great Performances, a catering company that happens to run the museum café.
Much of the magic can be attributed to the refrigerator and freezer, two separate units that sit under the counters, a simple shift from the current norm in American homes that has drastic implications for kitchen layout.
Lee showed off the cooling units, as well as the upward-swinging cabinet doors before returning to a discussion of choosing utensils and preparing ingredients before cooking.
The model apartment is part of MCNY’s “Making Room, an exhibit dedicated to the design of small apartments to accommodate the city’s growing single population.
The exhibit was first suggested by the Citizen’s Housing & Planning Council and not intentionally timed to coincide with the Bloomberg administration’s recent foray into allowing apartments smaller than the current minimum of 400 s/f, according to the exhibit’s curator, Donald Albrecht.
“The idea was in the air,” he said.
And the timing was fortuitous.
In January, the mayor announced the winner of the “adAPT NYC” design contest at opening of the exhibit, which showcases examples of small-footprint homes from around the world as well as the submissions to the city contest.
Visitors have generally responded positively to the exhibit, Albrecht said, but there have been some common concerns.
“A lot of people are wondering if this is just an excuse for developers to make more money,” he said.
The concern has been echoed by some observers of the winning proposal by Monadnock Development, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and nARCHITECTS.
According to the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, the proposed rents for the development, to be built on city-owned land in Kip’s Bay, are above market-rate for the area on a per-square-foot basis.
Another concern, Albrecht said, is that the days of tenement housing will return, though he was quick to dismiss that idea, pointing out that the space per person minimums in city law will remain unchanged in the smaller units.
And finally, he noted that many of the designs call for a large amount of common space to make up for the cramped quarters. Visitors have wondered who would be in charge of running that space.
“There’s a kind of dorm quality, and they wonder without a den mother how it will work,” he said.
But the response from visitors to the model apartment, where Lee gave her cooking demonstration, were generally admiring on a recent afternoon.
Arlene McGowan, who lives in Stuyvesant Town in an apartment about twice the size of the demo, admired the finishing of the mocked-up space.
“I like the newness of it,” she said, adding later, “It’s cozy. You need to be organized.”
The space is furnished by the Italian company Resource Furniture, which specializes in space-savers like the expanding ottoman, and a rolling side table that folds out to sit six for dinner.
“It’s been surprising to us how popular the show has been,” Albrecht said. “New Yorkers love real estate.”