How a 50-year-old business analyst lives in under 400 square feet
José de la Peña, 50
Where: Cabbagetown-South St. James Town
How big: 367 square feet
How much: $189,000
Since moving to Toronto from Mexico City in 2000, José has always lived around the Church-Wellesley Village. “It’s my lifestyle. You don’t want to get out of the bar at 3 a.m. and have to get on the TTC,” he says.
Seven years ago, he decided it was time to graduate from renting. He began his hunt with two instructions for his agent: he didn’t want to spend a dime more than his $250,000 budget, and all prospective condos had to be within walking distance of his favourite neighborhood. He hoped to net a one-bedroom plus den, but every unit he viewed seemed claustrophobic. “They looked like shoeboxes, and none of them had workable layouts,” he says.
After over a year of searching, Toronto prices were still surging, meaning his budget was growing less adequate by the day. When his agent urged him to take a look at a studio in a 1972 high rise, José agreed. The unit was dated, but it had potential. “I loved it the second I saw it, because it was so horrendous, so ugly, that I would have no remorse destroying it completely and building it from scratch,” José says.
He went into reno mode after snagging the place for its asking price. He binged on YouTube videos about small living hacks and decided that the key to packing his life into 370 square feet was going to be designing a dynamic space. Between new appliances, materials and the services of an electrician, José spent $35,000 on his one-year reno project. He kept costs down by doing most of the grunt work (like pulling up the parquet floor) himself.
The DIY revamp wasn’t without incident: when José knocked down a wall to open up the kitchen, he found out, to his dismay, there was electrical wiring running through it. As a result, he went without heat for three months, during winter, until the renos were completed. “Luckily the heat from above, below and the sides was enough to keep me alive,” he says. “Still cold, but alive.”
“I don’t think I want anything larger,” he says. “This place is easy to carry—the mortgage, the maintenance fees and taxes are manageable. I want to have a life, to be able to travel.”
Everything in his apartment is modular, or multi-functional. The coffee table opens up into a full-sized dining table, which José mounted onto casters, so it can easily be wheeled away for impromptu dance parties:
The table seats six:
For dinner parties, it helps that the kitchen has (relative) heaps of space, thanks to the under-the-counter fridge:
Instead of dropping thousands on a Murphy bed, José built one himself:
Folding the bed away gives him space for a wee corner office:
The most versatile of his DIY creations is his closet, which does triple duty as a wardrobe, bar, and TV stand (wiring the TV onto the sliding door was particularly tricky). The artwork on the wall to the left is by local artist Julius Poncelet Manapul:
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