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NYC 'micro maximalist' turns teeny-tiny apartment into work of art

Sherry Smith has lived in her tiny New York apartment for twenty years. The above interactive panorama is a composite of 16 separate images blended together with software to give an immersive view of Sherry Smith’s small home. Smith’s cat, Chloe, appears three times in the panorama because she moved around during the photography. (John Makely/ NBC News)

 

In Manhattan, most folks manage just fine in tiny spaces. Then there’s Sherry Smith’s apartment: 242 square feet, one cat, 50 pairs of shoes, wall-to-wall tchotchkes, stacked suitcases stuffed with designer clothing for her side business and, just for grins, a piano.

Friends can squeeze into her home – the current record is 10 – but “they can’t wrap their heads around it,” Smith said.

“People are astonished. They can’t believe there’s this room and nothing else,” she added.

Nothing else? How about, say, everything else? Including: “Reservoir Dogs” action figures, a Jack Bauer doll (from TV’s “24”) poised in a shadow box, a framed and autographed photo of Pee Wee Herman, an Eiffel Tower replica and a see-through, headless female manikin. But really, that’s the mad genius of Smith’s pop-funky style and her zany (we’re using that as a compliment) skills at putting all those odds and ends (and odds) in tidy, if not fascinating, order in an ultra-versatile room that is something of a walk-in art piece. 

“It is attention-deficit wonderland,” said Smith, who works as a publicist. “I frequently refer to it as ‘Pee Wee's Playhouse for Girls.’ 

“While I've seen smaller, most people haven't.”

But in some real estate markets, little is big.

John Makely / NBC News

Sherry Smith has lived in her tiny, 242-square- foot apartment in New York for 20 years.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed that some dwellers consider super-downsizing their lives. He’s not recommending a new batch of Sherry-Smith-sized abodes -- but he comes close. Bloomberg challenged architects in July to design apartments spanning 275 to 300 square feet to help fill the city’s lack of decent and affordable homes for the Big Apple’s rising population of singles and couples without kids. 

Out west, San Francisco officials are considering a tweak to that city’s building codes to allow construction of apartments as small as 220 square feet. Lawmakers there are expected to vote on the idea in November. And in London, an 8-by-10-foot flat, originally listed for $145,000, has drawn bids as high as $280,000, in part due to its proximity to the famous Harrods department store, reports CNN Money. 

Smith, who’s been ensconced in her micro-roost for 19 years, is influenced by the same economic force propelling the price on the pint-sized London pad: location. Her Chelsea neighborhood is the hip home to chic restaurants and art galleries. But her rent is just $1,075 a month – a massive bargain for Manhattan.


“At this point, I’m nested in here,” Smith said. “I kind of can’t move unless I buy (a home). And until I fall over $100,000, that’s probably not going to happen.”

So, how about a tour of Smith’s place? Should take all of about 12 seconds.

The first-floor unit is actually a slight step down from the sidewalk, which is the view she has out her window. 

The upright piano – in need of tuning – abuts her two-step entry. The main room is adorned with busy bookshelves, a television, a computer, a black-painted dresser and a couch that converts to a bed. Smith uses the room for exercise as well as for displaying her eclectic tastes: a vibrant painting of the Last Supper, a cookie jar made to look like a metallic skull (used for holding phone chargers), and the transparent store-display torso that she’s dubbed “my photo assistant, Claire.”

“I’m a quirky chick,” Smith said. She also describes herself as a "micro maximalist." 

She has a small bathroom bedecked with a Marilyn Monroe shower curtain. And there are two closets – the first is for “perma-storage stuff,” she said, like old linens and Halloween costumes; in the second, boots hang from the ceiling - which is about 8½ feet above the floor.

“I have eked out every inch of storage in those closets that you can figure out how to eke out,” including finding room for some of those 50 pairs of shoes, she said.

She also runs an eBay business out of the apartment, selling gently used apparel online. She acquires clothing and shoes “by various means” and sells them around the world, Smith said, adding: “It does take up a chunk of real estate in a really small apartment.”

Cities such as New York and San Francisco are developing living spaces that are 200 to 300 square feet for residents willing to pare down to the bare essentials. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

Finally, we turn to the slightly recessed kitchen. That space is draped in the upper corners by white beads and separated from the living room by a see-through display case holding more books. It contains a sink, a full-sized refrigerator and a 20-inch oven. 

"People are like: Are you against microwaves? I say, no, I just don't know where I would put it. But," she adds, “I don’t have to mop the floor. A sponge is just fine."

She has one dish cupboard and shelves that serve as her food pantry. 

Anything else in the kitchen? 

"Oh, yeah, there are more shoes."