D.C.'s Fanciest Micro-Housing Project Is Meant for Millennials

The Patterson House, a historic mansion in the District of Columbia, is being converted into very small units for young one-percenters. 

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Patterson House, 1927. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington)

The Patterson House may be one of the finest private structures in Washington, D.C. The mansion was designed in 1901 by Stanford White, a partner with McKim, Mead and White who also designed the Boston Public Library McKim Building, restored Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia, and erected the original Penn Station in Manhattan.

The white marble, glazed–terra cotta, Italianate neoclassical Patterson was built for the editor of the Chicago Tribune and served as the home of President Calvin Coolidge (while the White House was being restored in 1927). Stanford White would know from executive commissions: His firm renovated the White House's West Wing and built its East Wing.

Soon, the Patterson House is getting new tenants. The Washington Club, the longtime owners of the manse at 15 Dupont Circle NW—a very tony address—put it on the market last year for $26 million. The Sotheby's listing suggested that it could be for an "embassy, foundation or association headquarters, social club or, once again, as a personal residence." 

Instead, it's going to the Millennials. Wealthy Millennials.

Following the $20 million sale of the Patterson House last month, developers SB-Urban plan to turn the mansion into a micro-housing apartment building. The Patterson House is one of three SB-Urban micro-housing developments in the works in D.C.

Developers at SB-Urban are tightlipped about their plans, and they declined to comment for this story. But according to architects working on the plans, they're being designed with shared amenities in mind. 

Amenities, which in the case of the Patterson House, include this ballroom.  

The Patterson House Ballroom, 1971. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

And this library.

The Patterson House Library, 1971. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

These grand spaces won't be carved up to make way for the project's 92 housing units, according to Graham Davidson, a partner at Hartman-Cox Architects, the firm that is renovating the Patterson House as well as adding a small addition to the building. That newer building will house most of the roughly 350-square-foot living units planned for the development. Some of the upper floors of the primary Patterson House will be converted to micro-apartments too, though. "Each one of those units are going to have to respond to the architecture inside the house," Davidson says. 

The Patterson House micro-housing plan—and the developer's two other micro-apartment developments in Washington, at the site of the former Latham Hotel in Georgetown and at a former warehouse space in Blagden Alley—centers around studio units under 400 square feet in size. The project replacing the dilapidated Latham Hotel, which will be torn down to build a new development with storefront retail, will accommodate 140 micro units. The Blagden Alley project will house 125 units, the majority of which will be new construction (an industrial warehouse space will be retained in the design by Hickok-Cole Architects).

The Rockwell Group—a firm that is the face of corporate hip, responsible for the TED Theater in Vancouver and co-designer of New York's Culture Shed, among many other projects—will design interiors and branding for all three projects. And according to Steve White, an associate at Hartman-Cox, the amenities in each are meant to be shared among tenants of all three.

"The idea is that when this hits the market, if you live in one unit, you have a shared membership in different parts of the city," White says. 

The Patterson House in 2010. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Each project is catering to single persons between the ages of 20 to 35, according to White. The firm is designing the units to "attract a Millennial generation—people who are doing startups, people at the beginning of their careers." And both White and Davidson say that the leases are meant to be shorter term: 6 to 9 months on average, and possibly as short as 90 days.

Such a short-term lease fits the template for corporate housing. But when Brook Katzen, a developer with SB-Urban, was asked about the target demographic during a presentation on the Blagden Alley project to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission in May, he declined to make any bright-line distinction between college graduates and business travelers. The young professionals earning between $150,000 and $200,000 that SB-Urban aims to attract with furnished micro-units and shared (and historic!) amenities may well be Millennials.

(Just not these Millennials.)

Still, even if these three micro-apartment projects don't fit the typical micro-housing profile for young professionals who can't afford more square footage, there are some commonalities. SB-Urban managed to secure the development rights in Dupont Circle without adding a single parking unit. Community stakeholders in Georgetown are still haggling with the developers over parking requirements. 

In a housing market as irritable as Washington's, a micro-housing project meant for a top fraction of income earners is bound to upset some. The corporate hotelization of housing has been the subject of controversy in San Francisco. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, residents of one luxury condo development in Williamsburg are staging a rent strike over a perceived failure to deliver on promised amenities.

The Patterson House won't have that problem. Whether these historic D.C. sites–turned–luxury micro-housing projects attract long-term Millennials or short-term disrupters (or both!), they will no doubt add a new layer to the ongoing debate about housing supply and income inequality. 

"I couldn’t tell you what they’re doing for a living," White says. "But these are really exceptional sites."

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously a senior editor at Architect magazine, and a contributing writer to Washington City Paper and The Washington Post.