From Bankers Hill to Vista, local developers are refining small living with big, bold ideas. Think meticulous layouts without a wasted square inch, indoor-outdoor living, and amenities that rival boutique hotels, all in highly walkable neighborhoods. Scaling down has never felt so next-level.
Before he built Hillcrest’s Cayuca residential community, Curtis Micklish made a major lifestyle change. The designer and his wife, Christina, who runs Urbanist Guide San Diego, downsized from 1,800 square feet to just 400. “It allowed me to understand what was really necessary for two people to live comfortably in a small space,” he says.
The 370-square-foot units at the eye-catching Cayuca feature lofty ceilings, expansive glass sliders, private decks, and lots of clever built-in storage, as well as curtained sleeping quarters tucked away in a cubby. “Every inch counts,” says Curtis. “Removing clutter is critical to creating a sense of space.”
He found design inspiration on his travels to densely populated cities in Japan, and hopes scaling back will become more appealing to San Diegans. “For many people, small living is a short-term experiment, but with the right balance of functionality and detail, it is a sustainable life that affords less costs, less maintenance, and a unique closeness to your significant other.”
Banking on It
Auda & Auda
For developer Scott Murfey, sacrificing cool good looks for the sake of affordability simply wasn’t an option. At Secoya, a stylish new eight-story, 100-unit project in walkable Bankers Hill, Murfey Company managed to achieve both. From kitted-out kitchens to truly hangout-worthy communal spaces, Secoya offers maximum return on modest square footage.
Hip local firm Tecture designed the interiors for the building’s shared areas and its residential units, which include full-size kitchens and bathrooms—most of them boast a balcony as well. The retail-oriented ground floor will feature a North Park Brewing Company taproom with eats that’s set to open by fall. And on the roof: views of neighboring Balboa Park, the city skyline, and the bay.
“What we provide is an affordable place to live in a great location,” says Murfey. “It’s entry- level workforce housing, not super high-end, but we wanted to make it really cool for young people.”
The tallest mural in North County stretches 60 feet high on the facade of the 42-unit Found Lofts building, lending a huge splash of urban color to Vista’s booming downtown. For developer Lev Gershman of Tideline Partners, the neighborhood is perfectly positioned for increased density and smaller living.
“Vista has a clarity of vision for community planning,” says Gershman, who has other projects in the works there. “They know that density will support unique, eclectic local businesses—the mom-and-pop ones.”
Found Lofts, part of Vista’s walkable Arts and Culture district, has a boutique-hotel feel thanks to touches like concrete floors, Pottery Barn bathroom fixtures, spacious balconies, and cutting-edge tech. “It was a steep learning curve, but we leaned into technology as a way of creating efficiency and sustainability,” Gershman says. “Every tenant has a smart home.”
At 435 square feet, the building’s studios required a municipal code change. “The smallest units rented in two weeks,” he adds. “We demonstrated a need and addressed it.”