Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 1st, 2013

A life lived in tiny flats

The UK has some of the smallest new homes in Europe. How can people cope living in a small space?

Small is beautiful? Ask a studio flat dweller how beautiful he does feel.

The UK has a housing crisis. A shortage of homes has pushed prices out of the reach of many hoping to get onto the ladder. But once they get there, they may be disappointed – the UK has some of the smallest properties in Europe.

Research from the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) says that lack of space is the most common cause of dissatisfaction that people cite in relation to their homes.

Almost half of people surveyed (47%) said there wasn’t enough space for furniture they owned, 57% said there was not enough storage space and 28% felt they couldn’t get away from other people’s noise.

Tom de Castella posted on BBC News Magazine this April 19, 2013:

Interiors and exteriors of QB2

“There are minimum space standards for social housing, which covers council and housing association properties.

But while many people might associate London with tiny properties, the capital is the only place with minimum regulations for private new build homes.

Floorplans of two one-bed homes

Riba cited research showing that new homes in Ireland, Holland and Denmark were respectively found to be 15%, 53% and 80% bigger than those in the UK.

The average UK one-bedroom home is 46 sq m (495 sq ft), according to Riba. That works out at a mere 6.8m x 6.8m or 22ft by 22ft. And that’s the mean average. There are plenty of people living in smaller flats.

The 46 sq m figure is 4 sq m (43 sq ft) less than the minimum standards set by London.

‘Like Tetris living’

New-build always looks very shiny with designer kitchens and bathrooms.

It’s only when you unpack that you realize there’s nowhere to store things.

I had to give my CDs to my parents to look after and we sold our books. The bedroom was so small one of us had to sit on the bed if the other opened the cupboard.

It was like Tetris living, trying to fit things around other things. The living room and kitchen were open-plan and if I put on the extractor fan my partner couldn’t hear the TV.

The soundproofing was terrible, you could hear the neighbours walking around two floors up. We had to wait for them to go to bed before we could sleep.

In January we moved to a 1930s semi-detached house. We’ve got rid of so much stuff that it looks cavernous.

Riba found the average three-bedroom home is 88 sq m (947 sq ft), which is 8 sq m (86 sq ft) short of the recommended minimum.

These may sound trivial amounts, but 4 sq m is equivalent to having a sofa and small computer table in your house, Riba argues.

And 8 sq m is big enough for a single bedroom.

In the current drive to create more homes, Riba president Angela Brady warns against builders producing “another generation of poor quality homes without adequate space and natural light”.

The UK’s reputation for cramped new homes has led to what the Daily Telegraph dubbed “rabbit hutch Britain”.

Edwin Heathcote, author of the Meaning of Home, says that the volume housebuilders “try to squeeze in” as many units as they can into urban sites.

And unlike other countries, houses in the UK are sold on the number of bedrooms rather than square footage, he says. The result is a lot of small rooms.

And UK consumers like gardens, which leads to smaller houses.

The rise of solo living is another factor. People wanting to live alone trade space for having their own flat.

Housebuilders reject the criticisms and claim that minimum space standards would push up house prices. “If you specify that rooms have got to be bigger you will drive the price up,” warns Steve Turner, from the Home Builders Federation.

Happily living in a small home is first of all about psychology, says Hannah Booth, homes editor at Guardian Weekend. “You can live without much more than you think.”

Apartment dwellers in New York and Japan know the secrets of this lifestyle, she says. “They’re the masters, they eat out a lot, spend a lot of time in the park. In the winter your home can be a nice little cocoon.”

Demonstration studio flat
A wide angle lens is crucial for viewing some properties

Once you’ve taken that on board you need to de-clutter. There’s no need for book- or CD-hoarding – many younger people have realised digital devices can cover that.

Booth is in favour of beds that pull down from wardrobes that are fully made up and ready to sleep in. Wooden drop-leaf and gate-leg tables – which date back to the 16th Century – are a testament to a historic lack of space in British homes. They’re still very popular now.

But while clutter is a problem, strict minimalism isn’t the answer, she says. A strategically placed rug or sofa will act as dividing line between kitchen and living area. A key tip is to show as much of the floor as possible – so chair legs are better than chairs with a chunky base.

Surfaces can be creative – chopping boards on oven hobs when the cooker is not in use. Light is important to creating a spacious feel so blinds are better than curtains. And it makes sense to paint above the picture rail in another colour – it creates a sense of airiness.


There are people who relish the chance of creating a small but liveable space.

Dr Mike Page, an engineer and psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire has created a prototype with this in mind. The QB2 is 4m long, 3m wide and 3m high. Designed for two people to live in, it will be available to buy.

Instead of lots of different rooms it has one multifunctional space. “I’m a sailor and boats are designed like that,” he explains.

Tips from the experts on making the most of small spaces

  • Use fold-up beds or divans with built-in storage
  • Decorate with light colours to give the illusion of space
  • Use mirrors to add depth
  • Build shelving up to the ceiling
  • Tidy up

There is an appeal to it linked to minimalism, he says. “Compact living will not appeal to everyone, but for me there is a beauty to be had in an efficient use of energy and space, a pleasure in being able to live comfortably in a sufficient space, constructed almost entirely from sustainably sourced materials.”

The government’s changes to housing benefit – nicknamed the “bedroom tax” by Labour – will raise questions about housing space, Heathcote argues. “Do you need spare rooms or space somewhere else?”

“The existential meaning of home hasn’t changed much. We still crave natural light, floors, doors and windows.”

What has altered is how we want that space divided up. He says it makes sense to prioritize shared spaces like kitchens where people now spend much of their time at home.

Heathcote is less keen on the rise of the multi-bathroom house. “There are too many bathrooms in modern houses taking space away from more important rooms.

“It’s completely insane when every bedroom has en suite and then there’s a family bathroom as well.” More:

“Thank you Beirut”. For what ya 7abibteh? Don’t mention it…

 published in the Huff Post World this April 28, 2013

“Before I left for my trip to Lebanon this December, my 84-year-old neighbor told me about the fantastic nightlife in Beirut.  She had visited the city after World War II, while her husband was stationed in Europe.  She told me about Beirut’s unique blend of European sophistication and liberal leanings in an Arab milieu.  Just about 150 miles from Cyprus on the Mediterranean, Beirut served as a gateway to the Middle East.

Flash forward to today.

A generation of Lebanese disenfranchised by 15 years of civil war, a technical state of war with Israel, the presence of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the war in Syria have contributed to the decline of Beirut as a safe, reliable point of entry into the Middle East.  As a result, the soul of Beirut’s Western-leaning temperament was mimicked in Disney-esque style by the city of Dubai. And it’s a crying shame.

It’s sad because Dubai is now viewed as the preeminent, “culturally westernized?” city in the region.

Dubai, as an urban personification of the West, is the spoiled little boy who has to have the biggest piece of candy. It’s a place with Texas-inspired adoration for the new, big and sparkly; a town with a New Yorker’s greed to have more.  Cops drive in Lamborghinis.  Visitors party at nightclubs imported from Las Vegas, Amsterdam and… Beirut.

Yes, “Music Hall,” Beirut’s hippest nightclub, just opened this January in Dubai. And although Condé Nast travelers ranked Dubai’s hotels and resorts as the best in the Middle East, Beirut was listed as the best city. In fact, the quaint but touristy town of Byblos in Lebanon was ranked ahead of Dubai.  The city’s pitiful score in the category of “culture” is what dragged it down in the rankings.

Why should Americans care?

Because the continued chaos of the Middle East has frightened us away from visiting this pivotal region of the world.   Like it or not, Americans are part of one global family.

We need to know our brothers and sisters. Places like Lebanon, not Dubai, should serve as stepping stone to help us appreciate and experience some of what the Middle East has to offer. Putting the region’s current military strife aside, what do Americans miss by traveling to Dubai instead of Lebanon?

The resiliency of Beirut, a city that’s been destroyed and rebuilt 7 times.

A place that’s been infused with an independent streak since Constantine turned the Roman Empire Christian, yet many still flocked to the pagan outpost of Baalbek to celebrate the gods of Jupiter and Bacchus.  Yes, Bacchus.  Because wine was first cultivated in the Beqaa Valley.

Over a thousand years before Dubai is mentioned in historical record, the Phoenicians were trading shiploads of wine with Carthage. It’s a country where you can ski in the morning and be on the beach in the afternoon. And that’s right, the food and the nightlife are incredible.

Americans have the power to wield our military might on whomever we deem as terrorists, or friends of terrorists, or factions who might help terrorists. We’ve agreed that the War on Terror is a boundary-less fight; we’re no longer fighting nations, but radical sects.

Yet the presence of the Hezbollah in Lebanon has seemingly damned the entire nation as a country riddled with terrorists. It’s a double standard, applied to one of our closest ally’s enemies.

Yes, the Hezbollah has perpetrated horrible crimes against Americans, and their radical destructive approach is unacceptable. To the Lebanese, they are an accepted political party, holding 14 of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s Parliament. They wield a fair amount of power for a variety of reasons.

Lebanon’s parliament operates in a delicate tension as its seats are pre-determined based on religious affiliation. However, the composition of those seats doesn’t match the religious distribution of the populace.  The infighting this construct creates enables other players, like the Hezbollah, more latitude than might be expected.

Importantly though, the Hezbollah provides support for a selected component of the Lebanese population in a way its government cannot. And their radical message is also, for whatever dark reason, attracting members. Without a stronger Lebanese government, supported by a more robust economy, power in factions such as this will continue to grow.

Lebanon needs our help. The majority of the Lebanese would prefer to stay out of the Syrian war next door, but the madness is seeping across its borders.

Lebanon has yet to fully recover from its own civil war, and may very well be drawn into this one. This will only make it harder for Lebanon to build up the economic power it needs to reestablish its presence in the Levant.

Rather than invest in another rock star-themed restaurant in Dubai, I challenge an American coalition to help build a national railroad in Lebanon. This basic infrastructure will open the country to trade and tourism, and alleviate the miserable traffic that hampers the country’s efficiency. A stronger economy will empower the government.

The government’s renewed strength can help control radical factions which seek to bring harm to members of our global society. Lebanon can reassert itself as a welcoming place for Americans. And Americans can learn to become citizens of the world, not just of our country

Note: If not for Hezbollah resistance against Israel preemptive wars on Lebanon in 2006, Lebanon would have disappeared from the political map.




May 2013

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