New Yorkers have a reputation for tolerating small and unusual apartments in the name of love for our fair city, but one Hell’s Kitchen resident’s home may take the cake. Step inside Alaina Randazzo’s $650 a month, 80-square-foot studio on the West Side.
A third-floor walk up without windows (save for a skylight), the cozy living space features enough room for a futon-couch and a mattress, but not much else (the bathroom is down the hall). Collapsable table space, wall shelves and a micro-kitchen complete the teeny-tiny footprint of the unit.
Alaina, who moved to the city from Los Angeles last August, didn’t initially plan to set up shop in the smallest square footage possible. “I had just gotten a job opportunity here and I thought, ‘Why not try New York while I’m young?’ It would be cool to try out a fast-paced city,” she said.
Alaina had previously only visited the Big Apple a few times before taking the plunge. Left with a tight deadline, she started her search for sublets on Facebook, parsing through listings on the Upper East Side and Financial District until settling on a high-rise sublet at The Victory on 10th and W41st Street. “Wall Street was too quiet and felt very vacant during the day, and while the Upper East Side was quiet and nice, I had to decide if I wanted to be away from everything or in the middle of it. Hell’s Kitchen seemed upbeat, lively and fun,” she said.
“When I told people I was moving to Hell’s Kitchen, they said, ‘Oh, good luck!’ because it is a little hectic — you’re near Times Square and a lot of tourism, but it’s also a good thing,” she added. Alaina quickly found a sense of home in Hell’s Kitchen go-tos like The Jolly Goat Coffee Bar, Hudson Bagels, 44&X, Mamma Mia and the neighborhood’s many Italian restaurants: “I’m Italian, and I feel like I’m not biased, but I have to say the Hell’s Kitchen Italian places are really good.”
After living at The Victory for a six-month lease takeover, Alaina loved the neighborhood — but not her rent. “Sometimes someone tells you a base price but you end up paying immensely more at the end of each month — I was originally told $1,900 a month, but after utilities it ended up being $2,500.”
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She started looking for a new place during the dreary winter months, “I had friends telling me how much they pay for rent, and it was significantly cheaper,” said Alaina. “I decided to set a budget of anything lower than $2,500 a month, and at first I was sort of joking, but I wrote down $700 a month. I told my friends, ‘I really don’t want to pay more than $700,’ and everyone said ‘Good luck with that.’” She took it as a challenge, and started to look at the kind of apartments that go for $650 — small ones.
“I found two apartments in SoHo and the Lower East Side also that were micro-apartments and going for around $1,300 a month,” said Alaina, “and then I found this one on Streeteasy and it was so convenient and close to me.” She added, “Even though a lot of people in my age group are on the Lower East Side or SoHo, Hell’s Kitchen is fun and creative — I wanted to stay and get to know it more.”
Considering a move to the West Side micro-apartment, Alaina decided that it would be feasible given that “I’m never home,” she said. The proud owner of a puppy named Pimento, she preferred to take the dog out with her as much as possible, limiting her time in the apartment. Additionally, “it feels crazy to pay what can be upwards of 50 grand a year for rent.”
She moved to the unit in typical New York style — dragging multiple suitcases up and down the streets of Hell’s Kitchen — until she was settled in and started figuring out where to put everything. “Yes, this apartment looked much bigger before it had everything in it — and the more I brought in, the more I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I am going to have room for nothing,” said Alaina. Despite the challenge, over the course of several rearrangements, she was able to fit most of her belongings in the space, with a bit of decluttering and creative organization. “It took three or four months to really organize it,” she said. “When you’re in a small space and you don’t have room for anything and you have to work and you have to live in this space, you have to make it work.”
She’s managed to make the apartment home while balancing work at a fashion industry job, hosting a podcast, creating lifestyle content on her social media and taking care of Pimento the pup. “He’s had to adjust to the space,” Alaina said. Pimento is too large to climb the ladder to the loft, “but I think I’ve spoiled him a bit in making sure I take him out enough and taking him to daycare. Now when I do leave home and I don’t take him with me, he’s like, ‘hey lady, where are you going?!’” she laughed. The two love to spend time at Hell’s Kitchen’s dog-friendly cafes and parks.
When it comes to hosting humans — be it friends or guests on her podcast, the upcoming Craft Podcast where she interviews creatives about the practice of their craft — Alaina’s micro-apartment poses a few additional challenges. “I tell friends that come and stay with me how tiny it is, and it still works,” she said, “but it’s not the kind of place I can have multiple people over. Shortly after I moved I invited five girlfriends over before going out, and we were just laughing the entire time because no one had room to move!”
When it’s just Alaina and Pimento, she’s found a few sound strategies to make the most of her 80 square feet, rearranging the under-loft closet to stack lesser-used items in the back and finding recipes that don’t require the use of an oven (the apartment’s mini-kitchen features a mini-fridge, small stovetop and microwave only). “If you boil pasta, the steam hits the shelf right above it, so you have to use the vent fan — it’s a whole process” she added. “I definitely cook less, but I’m a pretty simple, healthy eater — I find ways to make it work.”
For some who’ve caught Alaina’s now-viral apartment tour, the small space seems like a surprising choice. “But people who know me are like, ‘Oh this is totally something that Alaina would do,’” she said. “I’m glad it worked out the way it did, and a lot of people have said, ‘she’s making it work and she’s saving her money.’”
“I feel like I was living out of my means and over what I needed at the luxury high rise,” said Alaina. “I want to be smart with my money while I’m young and put my efforts into things like my projects, my creativity, instead of holding this facade of ‘Oh, I just really need all the nice things,’” she added. “Because I don’t need those things right now — I’m OK without them. “
While she hasn’t decided if she’ll renew her lease yet — “I do love a change of atmosphere” said Alaina — “I do want to find something on a similar budget, maybe another micro-apartment somewhere.” But for now, she’s happy with her petite New York pad, and would encourage others to give it a try. “It’s definitely a lifestyle change, but it’s about honing in on what you need and what you don’t. I think that we all truly need a lot less than we think we do.”