Russian Language Blog

Russian Living Spaces — Tiny Before It Was Cool Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 in Culture

If you have visited Russia or some of the neighboring countries, you have probably noticed that the average family home is much smaller than, say, in the US. There are both cultural and economic reasons behind that. As a result, several space-saving strategies have developed to make homes livable and maximize the little space available.

Small Living Spaces

As you may know, most people in Russia live in apartment/condo buildings (многоквартирный дом) as opposed to single-family homes (частный дом). It is important to understand that an apartment (квартира) in this case does not necessarily mean rented accommodations. As of 2013, the average Russian apartment was 58 square meters (624 square feet), with an average of 2.5 rooms and 3.1 residents

But what is a “room”? you may ask. When talking about Russian apartments, a room (комната) is any space in the apartment with the exсeption of the hallway (коридор), balcony (балкон), bathroom (ванная/туалет), large walk-in closet (кладовка), or kitchen (кухня). That is, any bedroom (спальня), living room (гостиная/зал – apparently, regionally known as большая комната), or any other living space within an apartment counts towards the room total. In other words, your average Russian family does not live in a 2.5-bedroom apartment; it lives in a 1.5-bedroom apartment. Most likely, the other (non-bed)room serves as a living room by day.

Multigenerational Housing

Traditionally, housing was relatively scarce in the USSR as many people rapidly moved to the cities due to rapid industrialization. As a result, many families ended up in cramped quarters (by Western standards), sometimes even sharing apartments with other families in what is known as a communal apartment (коммунальная квартира).

It was not uncommon for several generations to live together since you could only get new housing through your job; otherwise you lived with your parents. This did not necessarily end with going to college or marriage, and children would often bring their new spouse to live with their parents. This legacy may still be seen in Russia today, when you can have three or even four generations sharing an apartment.

Space Saving Tricks

Having to live with their relatives for a large part of their adult lives, people came up with many space saving techniques to make the most of their limited Living space. First of all, rooms are multi-use. So, one and the same room may serve as a living room, a dining room, a study, and a bedroom, depending on the needs of the family and the space available.

As a result, furniture needs to be collapsible and easily retractable. Foldout beds (диван-кровать, раскладной диван) are immensely popular. Having a full bed is often considered a waste of space. During the day, the sheets are folded and put away, the bed is folded and may be used as a couch.

In addition, space outside the apartment proper is often utilize to store things. Balconies are converted into a room of sorts, or as the Russian call it, лоджия, by installing glass panels all around it. Both landings (лестничная площадка) and balconies are used to store bicycles, skis, and other odd items, often in violation of fire codes.

Sounds like a pretty bleak existence so far, doesn’t it? I would actually like to conclude by saying that these resourceful inventions, which came out of necessity in Russia, are actually making a comeback in the more well-off countries, where people pursue what’s called living small. This is basically downsizing your living space by choice, which inevitably makes you get rid of some of your possessions and make your space multi-use. So, I’d like to think that Russian “cramped” spaces may actually be a source of inspiration to downshifters around the world. Take it from the person whose couch was in the kitchen of our 1-room (zero-bedroom) apartment as I was growing up.

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Nina Kirkland:

    Using the room counting logic, if I understand it correctly, then I live in a 3 room частный дом because I have 2 bedrooms and a living room in my house.

    When the square footage is calculated, is it only for the ‘rooms’ or does it include all space inside the 4 surrounding walls? For instance, the 3 rooms in my house are a total of 454 sq.ft. But when I add in the halls, bathroom, kitchen, porch it grows to 927 sq. ft.

    That aside … I visited Russia in 1992 and saw firsthand the smallness of the spaces,the clever furniture and the multi-generations living in the space. Everyone I visited had a marvelous full-wall cabinet and counter system for storage and display made of fine wood. It was their major place to store things and always had an open area in the middle (or so) where a large mirror would hang. I also admired that lounge chairs that opened up into single beds … that were actually comfortable to sleep on, as were the couches.

    • Maria:

      @Nina Kirkland Nina, thank you for your comment! Yes, if you have 2 bedrooms and a living room, that would be a 3-room house (трёхкомнатный дом) by Russian standards.
      Well, that’s an interesting question about the square footage, because realtors will use terms like общая площадь (total area) and жилая площадь (living area). The funny thing is that the Housing Code does not have a legal definition of the living area (, but it uses coefficients for areas like balconies and storage rooms. For example, a 10 m2 “loggia” is counted as .5 x 10 = 5 m2 when adding up the area of the apartment. I hope this makes sense!
      Oh yes, especially back in 1992, many more apartments would have had the traditional Russian look — with the glass display cases for the porcelain and rugs on the wall. Nowadays people in large cities try to go for what they think European design looks like (paint instead of wallpaper, plastic instead of wooden windows, etc.). The other thing, too, is that Russian apartments don’t come with built-in closets, so cabinets and wardrobes are a necessity. And yes, I never slept on a traditional bed until I was in my twenties and living outside Russia. Couches and foldout beds were it until then.

  2. Sue:

    Yes, I have been to Russia twice. I was there in ’94-’95 and then just last winter, 2016. I do admire how the people make good use of their space.