Providence, Rhode Island has a hot new development in an elegant old building.

When it was built 188 years ago, the Arcade Providence was America’s first shopping mall, hosting boutiques on all three floors. Now those shops have been transformed into 48 tiny apartments and a mix of businesses, including restaurants, a coffee shop, and a new hair salon.

Redesigned by Northeast Collaborative Architects, the three-floor building boasts classical Greek architecture: columns, stone walls, and a large central atrium lit by skylights.

The renovation converted the top two floors of stores into micro-apartments, ranging from 225 to 775 square feet (and priced from $800 to $1,800 a month). Most measure 300 square feet or less. For comparison, a standard one-car garage is about 200 square feet.

“Our tenants only need to show up with two suitcases, and they are good to go,” NCA Principal Michael Abbott tells Business Insider.

The Micro Lofts at The Arcade Loft interior Photo Credit Ben Jacobsen

Ben Jacobsen/Northeast Collaborative Architects

Micro-apartments have grown in popularity in an effort to accommodate the growing number of single people moving to cities. The number of Americans who live alone has risen steadily since the 1920s. In the past 90 years, single-person households have gone from 5% to 27% of the US total.At the Providence Arcade, each fully-furnished micro-space includes an elevated full bed over a four-drawer dresser, a small kitchen table, a sofa, a 50-inch flatscreen TV, and a full bathroom. Larger apartments do not come with a built-in bed.

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The studio-size apartments feature an open layout, with no full barrier between the bedroom and kitchen. A door for the bedroom would violate Providence’s housing code, because it would create a sleeping space that the city deems too small, Providence Arcade developer Evan Granoff told Fair Companies.

mall apartment

The kitchens are equipped with a mini-fridge, sink, dishwasher, and microwave — but no ovens or stovetops. In a recent tour video by Fair Companies’ Kirsten Dirksen, a new tenant says she doesn’t mind not having an oven. Since she’s doing a fellowship in international emergency medicine, she doesn’t spend much time in her apartment. She eats a lot of Lean Cuisines and canned soups.

The complex sits in the heart of downtown Providence, so residents theoretically could easily eat out for meals they can’t zap in a microwave. The architects also preserved the central atrium as a space for shops, bars, and restaurants.

Micro Lofts at The Arcade Providence Living Room Photo by Ben Jacobsen

Northeast Collaborative Architects/Ben Jacobsen

“Not only does it [the central atrium] provide filtered light to the units, but it becomes the ‘public street’ connecting neighbors,” Abbott says.On the first floor, there is a common room with a TV, seating, and laundry room. On the second floor, there is storage space to park bikes or keep other belongings that don’t fit in the apartments.

The building had several lives before the micro-apartments. Almost 250 of the original windows were covered with cement over the years, but NCA restored all of them.

arcade providence

Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Archive Collection

The mall (formerly called the Westminster Arcade) was built in 1828 and was the first indoor shopping mall in the US. Operating only two hours a day (11am to 1pm), it featured a food court and boutiques by local vendors who hoped to sell to a growing suburban population. In 1976, it was declared a national Historic Landmark.Since it didn’t have an elevator, shoppers didn’t want to venture to the second and third floors, Abbott says. These retailers weren’t seeing much business, and the mall closed in 2008.

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Six years later, it re-opened as the micro-apartment complex after a $10 million makeover funded by private investors.

They rented everything out immediately, Abbott says.

The Micro Lofts at The Arcade Providence Loft Interior and Atrium Photo Credit Ben Jacobsen

Ben Jacobsen/Northeast Collaborative Architects

Rent at the Arcade Providence (starting at $800 per month — a $250 hike from when it opened in 2014) is a bit expensive for the area. On Craigslist, you can easily find re-furbished lofts, ranging from $800 to $1200, with more than double the space.

Demand for the apartments remains high. More than 4,000 people are on the waiting list.


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