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San Diego
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Hillcrest Micro-Apartments Are Little Jewels

DEVELOPMENT: Project Makes the Most of a 'Postage Stamp' Lot

Studio E Architects has designed a micro-apartment building in Hillcrest that manages to squeeze 16 loft-style apartments in a four-story building on what Studio E Principal Eric Naslund described as a “postage stamp lot.”

Eric Naslund
Studio E Architects

Known simply by its location – 7th and Robinson – the project developed by MHS Construction at the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and Robinson Avenue was designed to make the most of the 4,500 square-foot lot on which it’s built, Naslund said.

As their designation as micro units suggests, the apartments are small – ranging from 469 square feet to 530 square feet – but the open loft design with 12-foot tall ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass makes them seem larger, said Mathilda Bialk, a principal of Studio E.

“You feel like you’re always outside in this building,” Bialk said. “Each of the units is almost all glazing with a large balcony door, and they have storefront rather than little windows, so it’s more like a commercial ceiling with large storefront windows and they each have their own private balcony.”

The apartments have a very open look inside and out.

Mathilda Bialk
Studio E Architects

“The living space is really flexible and large feeling,” Bialk said. “The units themselves feel special in comparison with most other units in town.”

Because of the tall ceilings, “we’re able to fit in some interesting storage above the kitchens,” Naslund said.

The storage space is even big enough to serve as sort of a bedroom.

“You could put a bed up there and sit up there,” Naslund said. “You can’t stand up, but you could put a bed up there.”

A Cool Place

The building has a gated lobby with a walkway that leads through center of the building.

To conserve space, a stairway was located on is on the west side of the building’s exterior instead of inside the building.

“One of the big decisions early on was not to have an elevator, since it’s such a small site,” Bialk said. “That made a big impact on what was available and the efficiency of the site.”

An exterior corridor also is open to the outside, adding to the outdoor feel of the building.

“There’s lots of reasons to do that, but we have the climate for it and it’s a vibrant area of Hillcrest so you can feel like you’re part of the community, just living in the community,” Naslund said.

The apartments are stacked, so the building has the look of little towers.

“We’ve arranged it so every single unit has an amazing view, facing north or facing south,” Bialk said. “Toward the north, you can see Robinson and 8th Avenue and kind of the life of Hillcrest. To the south, you can see the (Balboa) park.”

Because of its small size, the building has none of the amenities that are often found in larger projects, “except for a really cool place to live,” Bialk said.

“You want to go to the shops or to the grocery store or to a restaurant, to Balboa Park – everything is within reach. A big concept for this site was to provide the best place you could possibly live when you come home to go to sleep or to rest but otherwise, you step out your front door and you’re in Hillcrest.”


In a different touch, the project includes what Naslund said is a “shopkeeper” unit on the ground floor that is a flexible space that could be used as an apartment or as commercial space.

“This is a commercial zone so that shopkeepers office in the bottom can have someone that lives there but also can showcase their work in some way,” Bialk said.

Naslund said that changes in San Diego zoning regulations have encouraged construction of smaller apartments like those in the 7th & Robinson project and that Studio E has been working on “a bunch of them”

“This one is a bit of a jewel because it’s so small. Most of the other ones we’re doing are a little bigger,” Naslund said, adding that they include an eight-story apartment project on Park Boulevard with 194 apartments and a 175-unit apartment building on Adams Ave.

“I think you’re finding people who really want to have their own place, who don’t necessarily want to be in a bigger unit shared with several roommates, and this gives them kind of autonomy,” Naslund said.

Studio E Architects

Founded: 1987
Principals: Eric Naslund, John Sheehan, Mathilda Bialk and Maxine Ward
Headquarters: Bankers Hill
Business: Architects
Employees: 25
Contact: 619-235-9262
Notable:  The firm has received numerous design awards, including three National American Institute of Architects Honor Awards, Two ULI Global Awards of Excellence, and two Chicago Atheneum American Architecture Awards. Two of the office’s projects were showcased at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.


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