Yanan Wang, Washington Post
By now, the high price of rent in and around San Francisco has become at once a familiar lament and an easy punchline. In 2014, BuzzFeed highlighted nine private islands that cost less than an apartment in the California tech capital; a year later, a local website found the same of five castles.
Along with the cheeky comparisons came clever workarounds: a backyard tent in Mountain View, a garage in Palo Alto, a refurbished FedEx van at San Francisco University.
In October, The Washington Post even spoke with a Google engineer who has made his home in a truck at company headquarters.
With the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment at $3,670 a month, the city’s housing crisis has pushed frugal renters to the edge of their comfort limits.
From tents to trucks, the next logical step in San Francisco has taken shape — in the form of a literal box.
This makeshift bedroom, which its owner prefers to call a pod, is no larger than a wide bookshelf and inconspicuously stationed at one corner of an apartment living room in the Sunset District neighborhood. Its exterior resembles a large crate, while its inside houses a twin bed, a fold-up desk and some LEDs.
At 8 feet long and 4.5 feet tall, the wooden box requires Peter Berkowitz to duck to get inside, but he assured The Post in a phone interview Monday night that his new home is “honestly very comfortable.”
“I really don’t feel like I’ve taken a hit in terms of my quality of life,” said Berkowitz, 25. “I don’t really notice I live in the pod anymore.”
Berkowitz moved into the box two weeks ago, after an attempt to find affordable housing in the city proved futile. Fortunately, he had “very generous” friends who allowed him set up “this contraption” in their living room.
The box sits in an apartment where the roommates living in conventional bedrooms pay about $1000 for rent. For $400, Berkowitz lives in his pod and has full access to the amenities. Constructing the pod cost $1,300.
The freelance illustrator and University of Chicago graduate moved to San Francisco after working as a cook at New York’s Gramercy Tavern. He grew up outside New York City, where admittedly “the real estate hunt isn’t fun” either.
But for Berkowitz, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the box isn’t so much a sign of desperation as it is a creative solution. He isn’t in “dire straits,” and his decision wasn’t “fueled by poverty.”
“It seems silly, and people have this dystopian take on it, like, ‘Is this what it’s come to?’” he said. “But I firmly believe that it makes a lot of sense. There should be some kind of middle ground between having a bedroom and sleeping on a couch.”
I firmly believe that it makes a lot of sense. There should be some kind of middle ground between having a bedroom and sleeping on a couch
The design of Berkowitz’s pod was inspired by Japanese “capsule” hotels, inexpensive lodgings the size of cubicles. When he was 12 years old, Berkowitz climbed inside a capsule hotel model in an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, in New York, and the experience has stuck with him ever since.
Despite its location in a living room, the pod offers ample privacy, Berkowitz said, and he is working on fully soundproofing its walls because he is “pretty neurotic.” A fan and built-in ventilation help air travel through.
The most difficult part of the endeavor so far has been perfecting a method for putting his pants on without standing up.
As for sharing the humble abode, Berkowitz said he is currently single and promised to direct any visitors to The Post for comment. “When I have an overnight guest, I’ll let you know,” he said.
He anticipates living in the box for “the foreseeable future.” If he ends up building another pod, though, he plans on making it at least as tall as he is.