Thinking big by living small
What packing-challenged, organizational junkie hasn’t fantasized about something that can hold all the comforts of home in a small and portable package-say, like Mary Poppins’ magical bottomless bag?
James Stuart, founder of Nanaimo-based Twelve Cubed Homes, wasn’t thinking of Mary Poppins when he began doodling his designs for a micro-home.
Still, he was looking to make something big in a small package.
After reading a disturbing story about a Vancouver homeless woman who had burned to death trying to keep warm, Stuart and several friends began discussing how small one could make a house. And not just a shelter, rather someplace a person could call a home.
A stack of napkins and several prototypes later, Stuart emerged with two surprisingly spacious, but remarkably small, homes: the Cappuccino, measuring 12 cubic feet and, after a bit more careful trimming, the Pure at 10-by-10-by-12.5 feet. As far as he knows, his cubed concepts are the smallest complete homes on the market today.
Stuart says that when they sat down to design the cubes, the goal was to come up with a cost-effective plan that would produce the least amount of waste possible, be environmentally conscious and house two people in as small a space as would be practical and comfortable.
By choosing a 12x12 size, they were able to capitalize on the fact that many standard building materials come in eight-or 12-foot lengths. The cubes exceed code requirements for insulation, utilize FSC-certified wood wherever possible and include other eco-friendly staples such as low-flow fixtures and on-demand hot water. They use no particle board.
From the outside, it is difficult to imagine how the little houses, which are quaint and contemporary, can possibly accommodate a living space, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, let alone purportedly generous amounts of storage in 144 square feet. Closet kitchens and airplane bathrooms immediately come to mind.
As Stuart notes, though, the trick is to think cubically. Using an innovative system of movable f loors, the cubed homes successfully provide two f loors with approximately 288 square feet (for the Cappuccino) of livable space beneath a 12-foot high roof.
“It’s a simple design that can be easily tweaked,” says Stuart, who swears that by converting the living area and storage, one could even sleep up to five people (very cozily) in a pinch.
Stuart moved into the pilot 12by-12-foot cube in Nanaimo several months ago to do a six-month test to prove just how comfortable and cosy the home could be, during even the coldest part of the year.
“I rented my house, put most of my stuff in storage, and have begun to adapt to my ‘cubic’ life,” says Stuart. “It’s a space I’m proud to bring people into.”
Having made a wager with several friends who doubted he could live in a space that small, Stuart says he is looking forward the approximately $4,000 he will have to donate to the Salvation Army at the end of the six months.
While each municipality has its own requirements around building sizes, setbacks and the like, initiatives and incentives around ecodensity, which are encouraging carriage and laneway homes, make the cubes a convenient way to create much-needed housing and revenue sources for homeowners.
For example, the City of Victoria is considering a bylaw that would allow carriage homes and detached suites.
Due of the current shortage of affordable housing, the city is offering a subsidy of up to $5,000 to people who will put in legal suites and then agree to rent them for five years.
In the city of Nanaimo, the 10by-10 Pure unit can be installed without a building inspection or permit on city lots that already have a primary house.
The more spacious 12-by-12 Cappuccino unit requires a fully inspected foundation and permits and falls under the current carriage house regulations, allowing it to be constructed on a corner lot, a lot with laneway access or on property over 10,000 square feet.
The cubes can be built in part-or in the case of the 10-by-10 Pure model, entirely off-site, making it possible to deliver them on a flatbed truck, and installed in minimal time.