Member Spotlight: Curtis Micklish Has a Big Vision for Small Living

Curtis Micklish, the man behind Micklish Studio, joined the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF) because he wanted to feel part of the local design community. Impressed by SDAF’s Orchids & Onions, PechaKucha and Open House programs, Micklish relishes the sense of belonging he feels through SDAF.

“SDAF gives the design community a voice to be heard and allows us to appreciate the great designs of San Diego’s past and present,” Micklish says. “We’re a big city that still feels small, and SDAF events really bring that out. There’s a certain level of intimacy to them that makes them special.”

Also special are the talents and expertise that members like Micklish bring to SDAF. Through their artistry and professionalism, SDAF members are helping to shape San Diego’s built environment. And as a building designer, Micklish plays a key role in that.

For Micklish and his wife, Christina, who heads up Urbanist Guide San Diego, it’s been a dream to be able to create a home in Hillcrest. They established roots there two-and-a-half years ago, and it’s a community they have embraced at every turn.


Big Ideas Create a Bigger Feel

So it’s all the more gratifying for Micklish, the building designer behind The Jackson and The Duke, to know that his next project, Cayuca, will be in Hillcrest.

Cayuca will be a small-living residential community that embraces concepts such as Hygge, a Danish and Norwegian word meaning “mood of coziness.” It aims to bring more happiness to daily life through simplicity and sustainability.

“I started to realize that we could do it smaller,” Micklish says of his vision for the residential development. “There definitely is a ceiling on larger apartments in San Diego. They’re getting too expensive, only attracting a certain type of person. When people can no longer afford it, that’s when it starts to shift for me.”

Micklish is intent on staying on budget so Cayuca can be affordable for buyers. To keep costs down, he chose to focus on small-space living.

Breaking ground on Cayuca in August, the complex at 10th and Robinson will consist of 25 units — eight two-bedrooms and 17 studios. Usually, the scale of the building would be 20,000 square feet, yet Cayuca will be nearly half that — 12,500 square feet.

Micklish found inspiration for Cayuca in the renovation of his home. The previous owner had split the 750 sf + garage into four small living spaces. Inhabiting just 150 square feet of space himself, he rented the other three units.

“It inspired the idea of carving out unique niches for bed spaces, so you feel like you still have this nice living space but you’re living in smaller square footage,” Micklish says. “It’s livable, but your rent and utility bills are a lot less. Those are some of the pieces that inspired Cayuca.”

Sustainable Materials Help Reduce Costs, Carbon Footprint


A rendering of what Cayuca will look like


From that vision, Micklish started to integrate sustainable elements into the mix. With the escalation of global warming, he feels a responsibility to do his part to combat it. It’s required ingenuity and a shift in mindset.

In practicing sustainable strategies such as partnering with Habitat for Humanity, Micklish is deconstructing the existing buildings to recycle building materials. In doing so, he receives the benefits of a tax rebate and reduces Cayuca’s footprint in the heart of San Diego.

“It’s a key to creating the housing that San Diego needs right now and to making it affordable,” he says. “We’re doing that by making things smaller and more sustainable.”

For Micklish, a self-described building designer and builder, every project starts with a vision that slowly evolves into a design. Driven by a desire to improve the feel of spaces, he aspires to create a place he’d like to live in.

“It takes a lot to be able to guide and execute a vision,” he says. “I work on a project from start to finish. I don’t know if I could do it any other way.”

The Power of Effective Design

Micklish’s father was a carpenter who worked himself up to management and who “gave everything” to his work. Growing up a witness to his father’s passion, Micklish learned to care deeply about his own design process.

He candidly professes that design is an addiction for him. It has been since he first felt inspired by a design magazine at age 19. It stirred something in him, and it wasn’t long before he built a coffee table for Christina. Carving out a vision, quite literally, “felt magical to me,” he says.

“That’s why people want to be carpenters, you can transform the space,” he adds. “Design is transformational, too. Cayuca is an example of how design can transform how you feel, how you live and how you connect with your community.”

Moving back to Hillcrest from Mount Helix even made the Micklishes feel more connected to each other. Redesigning their 400 square-foot Hillcrest home to make it more livable put them more closely in touch with their priorities.

“Small space is not for everybody,” Micklish says. “But it does cause us to reflect on what we want out of life. It frees us from this idea of excess. It’s quite liberating in that regard.”

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San Diego Architectural Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to education and promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

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