“It was perfect for one person.”
So said Jason Ho, of the cozy, 540-square-foot condo he shares with his wife, Ida Zhou, who moved in at the end of 2015.
Ho lives at Westside Gallery Lofts on Sudbury Street, an industrial-style space with concrete walls and exposed piping and ducts in the West Queen West neighbourhood.
Ho bought the “soft loft”, described as 1 plus 1 — although the “den is really just a little nook, an indentation in the wall” — in 2007, waiting a full three years until it was move-in ready.
“I was anxious but pretty excited. My challenge was seeing what kind of furniture could fit into this little 540-square-foot condo,” said Ho, a Princess Margaret Hospital research technician who works out of the MaRS building.
Fast forward five years later, and Ho had a new challenge — fitting his bride-to-be inside too.
“I think it’s a pretty good space for one person — it’s kind of tight for two,” said Zhou, an accountant.
Along came a dresser — and that was it
Zhou said she couldn’t bring in much when she moved in, except for a dresser.
“Initially he wouldn’t let me bring the dresser because it was going to take up too much space, but I insisted because there was nowhere else to put my stuff,” she said. “We put it half blocking the entranceway to the bedroom. It was kind of in the way but we got used to it.”
Ho went on a tear and purged a whole whack of clothing to make room in the sole closet.
“Storage space for two people’s clothes is tight,” said Ho, adding he also got rid of his car in favour of Zhou’s, as they only had one parking spot.
Zhou said the “unfinished feel” of the loft wouldn’t have been her first choice.
“I thought (the condo) was, uh, different. The loft style, the unfinished feel … it was unlike what I was used to seeing in my friends’ condos. Jason warned me before I came over that it was a different type of space.
“Plus, also, before meeting him, I would never come this far west,” she laughed.
Zhou had been renting an apartment with two girlfriends at Yonge and Eglinton, so luckily, she said, she didn’t have too much stuff to begin with.
Aside from storage, the small space poses a few other challenges.
“Because everything is so open, and the walls don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, if he is watching TV or on the computer I can still hear him.”
Too much sports
But Zhou’s biggest qualm (aside from the one bathroom)? “Right now there is a lot of sports on and we only have one TV — ahhh always too much sports.”
Zhou said the condo really only feels small when the couple would quarrel.
“When we are fighting there is just nowhere to go,” she said, adding she sometimes just has to leave.
Toronto therapist and marriage counsellor Tammy Laber says before condos and lofts became common starter homes, couples living in houses could shake things off by retreating to another room or floor if a fight were to occur.
“There were all these different spaces in a house where a person could go and feel like they were in their own space.”
Blow off steam
Condo couples do have the ability, however, to easily jump downstairs to the amenities spaces to blow off some steam.
“In a small condo, use the facilities — even if it’s just going for a walk, or walking through different hallways and using stairs to get to another floor,” Laber says. “Say, ‘I’m going for a walk, I’ll be back in a half hour’. As long as you don’t abuse it and, at the end of the half hour, you come back and talk in a more reasonable fashion.”
Laber says that once someone starts raising his or her voice, that’s a sign the hormones are flooding into the mix and it’s best to take a break.
“You should calm down enough to make it a useful, solution-oriented discussion, rather than a ‘venting at full volume’ kind of discussion.”
Ho and Zhou, who married in August 2016, both agree that the close quarters are preferred, even though they say they can’t really have a lot of people over.
“Many couples wouldn’t be able to do this, but we’re kind of sticky — we like to be close, we don’t like to leave each other,” Ho says.
House three times the size
The couple will soon have to deal with having some distance between them — they recently bought a house three times the size of their condo in Vaughan.
“There will be more housework and work to be done, so that will take more co-ordination for us,” says Ho. “We have different levels of tolerance for dirt or tidiness — I am more OCD, she’s more relaxed.”
Agreements help with chores and reaching an equilibrium about tidiness — a sticking point that Laber says is one of the most frequent, and most contentious, for many couples she works with. Smaller spaces might mean less to clean, but also means clutter can quickly become overwhelming.
Laber says couples are best to reach a compromise about how the condo is expected to look, day to day, or perhaps split chores so that the neat-freak can be in control of common areas and overall tidiness levels. Failing that, hire a cleaning service — a solution that keeps both sides happy.
Ho, who has lived downtown for seven years, is looking forward to having a bigger kitchen and an outdoor space, and suggests that in a few years, when and if the market calms down, they may find themselves moving back down to the city.
They say they will miss downtown life, but the trade-off of moving to the suburbs is having the space to host friends and family — “if they’re willing to make the trek all the way there.”
With files from Nina Dragicevic
This is part 2 in our series, Love In Small Spaces. Next week — find out how a couple with a major height difference navigate their small condo. Oh, did we mention they met on public transit? Read about their big Toronto love story next Monday, June 19.
Have you found bliss and balance in a small space? How do you stay sane and in love? Condo or apartment dwellers, and couples living in that GTA shoebox, we want to hear from you. Your story may be featured in our ongoing series. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet us @torontostoreys, or connect with us on our Facebook page.