I wanted to wrap up some recent posts on one of our biggest lifetime expenses, housing. I recently wrote about the requirements for my ideal house in Small Scale Living in a Large Scale World. There were some great comments on that post, thanks readers!
I loved the comment about adding the old fashioned idea of a root cellar, to be able to keep root vegetables and squash throughout the winter. I also received some pushback on my requirement of two bathrooms in such a small house (1,250 square feet), which I reconsidered.
Then I wrote about the Siegels, chronicled in the must-see documentary The Queen of Versailles, who are on a quest to build a 90,000 square foot house. An eye-opening peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family driven by greed, overconsumption not to mention extremely tacky taste!
After watching that train-wreck, I ran across a documentary that served well to counterbalance the Siegels. Freely available, We The Tiny House People invites us into the tiny homes of people searching for simplicity, self-sufficiency, minimalism and happiness by living in caves, converted garages, trailers, tool sheds, river boats and former pigeon coops. Here’s the whole movie on YouTube:
I loved it! Filmmaker Kirsten Dirksen, from *faircompanies.com, first discovered the small house movement in Sonoma County, California. Her parents had moved there and she soon found it was the hometown of tiny house patriarch Jay Shafer – of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company – and his 89 square foot home.
Dirksen soon began trotting the globe, documenting the lives of tiny house people, from New York City, to France, to Spain and back.
Many of the homes in the documentary were previously profiled in standalone videos, my favorites I cover below. However, the 80 minute video showcases several other projects therefore I’d recommend curling up on the couch with some wine and enjoying this free film!
Austin Hay’s 130 Square Foot House in Santa Rose, California
We find Hay, an industrious 16 year old, in the middle of building the Fencl from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in the backyard of his parents’ home.
Hay’s intention is to forego dorm life, and it’s cost, and take his bachelor pad with him to college. He tells us, “I don’t think bigger is better necessarily, too many chores. Living small means less bills, living big means more bills.”
Damn, this kid figured it out light-years before I did! Mad props.
Luke Clark Tyler’s 78 Square Foot Apartment in New York City
Tyler’s shoebox-sized apartment is nestled in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. We find out Tyler, who was previously residing in a slightly larger 96 square foot apartment, chooses such small quarters because he wants to be in the thick of it all, taking full advantage of life in New York City.
As we can see in the video below, he makes the best use of limited space with custom-built storage areas and furniture. Surprisingly, he even puts up his family when they’re visiting!
Eric Schneider’s 450 Square Foot Origami Apartment in New York City
With design help from architects, Schneider invests in a giant custom-built cabinet of wonders that contains a Murphy-style bed, fold-down desk and built-in closet. This large piece of furniture transforms his 450 square foot living space into four different functional rooms, storage included!
Jeremie Buchholtz’s 441 Square Foot Converted Garage in Bordeaux, France
We find that Buchholtz is able to transform a dark junk-filled garage on a historic alleyway in Bordeaux into an awesome small-sized pad. He carves out a small patio, allowing natural light and ventilation, that can either be open to the street or hidden behind a sliding wooden façade.
To free up space inside the living space, Buchholtz enlisted help from an architect to create a giant cube that contains a sofa bed, a workspace, a closet, cupboards and inside of it all a bathroom. Perched on top like a nest is his sleeping area.
Christian Schallert’s 258 Square Foot Converted Pigeon Coop in Barcelona, Spain
Schallert’s apartment is typically an empty cube. But when he needs to cook, dress, eat or sleep we find that he transforms his living space by pulling something out of a wall.
As shown in the video below, to cook he clicks a spot on the wall and a spring-loaded door swings up to reveal an instant kitchen that includes a countertop, sink, double-burner, dishwasher, and microwave oven. A full-sized refrigerator and freezer also click open from the wall. Awesome!
Johnny Sanphillippo’s 480 Square Foot house in Hawaii (Built Without a Mortgage!)
My absolute favorite. Johnny Sanphillippo, who lives in Hawaii, was able to build himself a very comfortable home to live in on his housekeeper’s salary of $20,000.
I love the way Sanphillipo went about this by first buying the land – paying $3,000 cash for it – and then over the following 10 years gradually erecting the home as cash becomes available (this part cost him about $30,000).
No instant gratification, and no mortgage!
We should also give him major credit for this tactic: after the city frowned on his plan to build a very small house, he submitted plans for a conventional house with a two-car garage. He proceeded to build the garage first, with a bathroom. After securing permits for the garage, he shelved the plan to build the house and turned the garage into his home. Sanphillippo you’re brilliant!
If nothing other than “house porn”, I think We The Tiny House People is a must see. My hope is that these stripped-down homes will challenge us to re-imagine the essence of what a home is. I want to conclude with this quote from Sanphillippo:
“I highly recommend that people investigate the older inexpensive small towns and small cities in their particular region. Over the last thirty years all the new investment has poured into ever more distant subdivisions and strip malls on the far edges of things. That process has left behind huge chunks of older neighborhoods full of perfectly respectable homes that are selling at deep discounts. As newer McMansions continue to lose value and gas becomes increasingly more expensive these older historic neighborhoods will become desirable again.”
What do you think about the small house movement? Is it something for you?