Think in­side the box

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­sign re­sults in cosy, com­pact home

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Kim Davis

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 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet and, af­ter a bit more care­ful trim­ming, the Pure at 10-by10-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 12-by-12 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 lowflow 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 floors, the cubed homes suc­cess­fully pro­vide two floors with ap­prox­i­mately 288 square feet (for the Cap­puc­cino) of liv­able space be­neath a 12-footh­igh 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 12-by-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 eco-den­sity, 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 10-by-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.

While Stu­art says that you still need a qual­i­fied elec­tri­cian and plumber to han­dle the power, wa­ter and sewage (which is con­nected to the pri­mary house), he re­ports that many peo­ple can put the pieces to­gether with lit­tle more than a wrench.

“It’s lit­er­ally a big Allen key that bolts the whole thing to­gether,” jokes Stu­art. And yes, IKEA fans ev­ery­where, the com­pany is fu­ri­ously work­ing on a flat-pack de­sign.


While you prob­a­bly won’t see the cubes on the shelves of IKEA any time soon, their small foot­prints and mod­est costs — $24,500 for the 12-by12 model, or around $85 per square foot — have at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion: every­one from col­lege stu­dents and house­boat en­thu­si­asts to lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and dis­as­ter re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Next Thurs­day, the com­pany will meet with the City of Ab­bots­ford to dis­cuss the cube homes.

It also has re­cently part­nered with Pal­la­dium De­vel­op­ments on Van­cou­ver Is­land to build the homes; two cube show homes, one of each size, will soon avail­able for view­ing. For more, visit


While Twelve Cubed Homes are mod­er­ately priced them­selves, Stu­art says peo­ple looking to build car­riage houses or laneway homes are of­ten shocked at what they have to pay in hy­dro con­nec­tion fees.

While the com­pany’s 10-by-10-foot Pure unit typ­i­cally costs around $500 to con­nect, the 12-by12-foot Cap­puc­cino model could start at around $7,000. In re­sponse to this, Twelve Cubed Homes of­fers a so­lar model.

While the so­lar com­po­nent adds around $3,000 to the cost of the cube, it not only elim­i­nates the hy­dro fee, but fur­ther re­duces one’s al­ready mod­est util­ity bills.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

The kitchen, left, bed­room and bath­room in a model of a 12-foot cu­bic home cre­ated by James Stu­art, founder of the Nanaimo-based Twelve Cubed Homes.

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