Just how much space do you really need?

It does no harm for young people to live in smaller spaces when they are busy socialising

Have you ever asked yourself: What is the minimum amount of living space I actually need?

In London recently, a German architect called Patrik Schumacher attracted criticism for suggesting that one solution to the ongoing housing crisis was simply to build smaller flats, smaller indeed than the 38 sq m (409 sq ft) minimum required for new builds in the UK. It was, he said, the demand for space to build larger flats that was partly responsible for the ever greater expansion of cities, gobbling up precious green space.

In turn, this logic provoked a backlash with some opining that millennials deserved proper flats, not one room peasant homes without living rooms.

That rather strange figure of 38 sq m stuck in my mind. Who exactly had come up with that? Is this really the minimum amount of space a single person needs?


Over the years, I’ve lived in vastly different scales of living accommodation. The largest building I own today is an early Victorian building of 3, 000 sq m (32,291 sq ft ), but most of that is divided up into flats. I occupy, as my office just one wing of it, though even this contains a period reception room of a whopping 100 sq m (1,076 sq ft) - large enough for parties and out of which you could comfortably craft an apartment. I won’t pretend that I don’t love luxuriating in all this space.

Yet twice a year I pack up and head off to a small bolthole overseas. This house has a total floor area of just 72 sq m (775 sq ft). It’s also a rather strangely constructed house - despite its small size, it is three storeys high.

Every time I return to this house I double-take slightly at just how small its four main rooms are – none of them are anywhere big enough to swing the proverbial cat. Indeed the house has just one bedroom.

But I love this little house and although I find it challenging to spend more than three weeks there with my whole family, I always long to get back. In fact, I don’t particularly think about this as a “small” house at all.

I will never forget the time 12 years ago when my still-single self first bought this house and collected the keys. It felt exhilarating to have so much space to myself. And the reason for that was that for the previous 10 years - when I was living as a student overseas - I had rented a small apartment of just 27 sq m (290 sq ft) and so was moving into somewhere nearly three times as big. The notion of having three floors and a separate lounge and dining room and even a little study for my books is a sense of luxury that has never left me.

Space and luxury in a small space

But you must be thinking that 10 years in a cramped apartment of just 27sq m must have been quite onerous? Quite the reverse. These protracted student years were some of the happiest of my life, and that apartment was just the job. When you opened the door, you discovered immediately on your left hand side a space for a washing machine and a small kitchenette area with a single hob (never used in my 10 years occupation as I always ate out at cheap eateries). Opposite the kitchenette was a bathroom with a shower unit and a lavatory, and the hallway lead on to the main room, which had a large built-in closet and balcony.

I can also remember the first time, in my 20s, I took occupation of this little apartment and the exhilaration I felt then too. What I thought at the time was not that it was cramped, but rather how spacious and luxurious it was compared to many of the places I had lived previous to that. I had earned my spurs in my early 20s living for years in rooms that were truly teensy, just 7.5 sq m (80 sq ft) or 10 sq m (108 sq ft) in space.

One thing I notice about myself is that I quickly adjust to the living space around me - tending to be far more ruthless in my disposal of unwanted items when living in smaller spaces and generally living a “simpler”, more stream-lined life.

Is there really some absolute minimum of living space that every human requires or is everything just relative to your stage of life and sense of expectation? I think there assuredly is a minimum of space that we all require for basic comfort - anyone who has ever occupied a seat on a long haul flight can surely attest to that. But I don’t think it does any harm for young people to occupy smaller living spaces at times of their life when they have yet to acquire many belongings and are often busy out socialising.

My 72 sq m second home will always remain in my eyes a luxury item - the yacht of my dreams - a private paradise that is seven times bigger than some of the rooms I used to call “home”, even if it is 40 times smaller than the building in which I now spend much of my working life.