You may have heard of the microapartment trend, a 200-to-300-ish square foot dwelling for people looking to decrease their space and consumption footprints. But have you ever heard of someone living in a pico-dwelling? If you haven’t, that’s because there’s only one man (to our knowledge) who does.
Steve Sauer is an engineer and a dad who lives part-time in 182 square feet of converted storage space in Seattle, informal capital of American micro-housing. "Pico-dwelling" is a term he coined, with a prefix that means exponentially tiny (all the way to the negative 12th factor). His space, which you can tour below by video, thanks to faircompanies.com, contains three levels, with an open kitchen, a bathroom, a bed space, two bikes, and a dining room table that can seat six.
"I found the space that I needed kind of on a lark," Sauer tells Co.Exist. "I needed a storage space and found that I could make an experimental small dwelling in it."
Sauer’s pico-dwelling is a feat of engineering, to say the least. Unlike Graham Hill’s famous 420-square-foot Soho microapartment that can transform itself into different rooms depending on how you flip the walls, Sauer’s features are static, yet stacked. Still, Sauer says his biggest challenge wasn’t actually living in the space or even designing it—it was his "frightened" neighbors who sent a city engineer to inspect what Sauer was doing. After all, the space that Sauer found belonged to a co-op (and a city) with its own rules about living in the building. Eventually, Sauer got his pico-dwelling approved by the city, but the process took a full two years.
It wasn’t cheap, either. Sauer invested upwards of $50,000 in the materials used to build up the place, which he did himself. They include custom powder-coated steel shelves and fixtures, a single dishwasher drawer, and a fiber EcoTop counter. Sauer also raised the ceiling from eight to 10.4 feet, and installed a soaking tub beneath an inch-thick lid made partly of recycled plastics on the floor. His bathroom has a shower, a toilet, a sink, and steel towel racks, but lacks a door.
"It ended up being absolutely perfect," Sauer says. "In some ways it designed itself. I have essentially every little kind of workspace that I need. Each one is really comfortable."
The pico-dwelling did backfire, though, in one sense. Sauer designed the place for himself and his daughter, who was six years old when he started building. By the time he was allowed to move in, Sauer’s daughter was 14 years old and didn’t want to live in something so small. A disappointed Sauer now splits his time between two homes: The pico-dwelling and a condo.
One day, Sauer hopes to design a luxury apartment building that welcomes pico-living. He imagines smart sensor systems that can alert coop boards to issues with the plumbing, and apartments jam-packed with high-quality materials. Still, pico-dwellings probably wouldn’t be places for kids, Sauer acknowledges, or the elderly, who would have to climb among levels.
"The world has always seen luxury as big, especially in America," Sauer says. "I just get a kick out of using the smallest thing I can to get somewhere, pushing those engineering limits." In addition to living in a pico apartment, Sauer also rides a scooter to work on the highway. "It’s the smallest possible vehicle you can get on the highway, and it’s kind of terrifying and I kind of love it."