Tiny Homes

Why size no longer mat­ters when it comes to your home.

Good - - Contents - Words Liz Han­cock

Size no longer mat­ters

There’s an an­cil­lary TV game in our home called ‘Bath­room Bingo’ for view­ing house build­ing and ren­o­va­tion pro­grammes like The Block, House Rules and Grand De­signs. Be­fore the in­evitable walk-through of the plans, you have to shout out the num­ber of bath­rooms you think the aspir­ing home­owner will in­cor­po­rate into their build. Points given for the cor­rect an­swer, ex­tra points if that an­swer is un­fea­si­bly high. Be­cause it seems that a large per­cent­age of mod­ern Western liv­ing as­pires to en­large the foot­print of ev­ery­day homes to palazzo pro­por­tions, with­out heed to true need nor sus­tain­abil­ity im­pli­ca­tions. So when a fam­ily of three builds a home with an en­suite in ev­ery room plus one ex­tra for guests, that’s seen as the new norm.

Yet a pull in the op­pos­ing di­rec­tion has been build­ing over the past 20 years, in an­swer to pop­u­la­tion growth, hous­ing short­ages, eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, in­creas­ing con­cerns for sus­tain­abil­ity, and the “stuffo­ca­tion” of our con­sumerist life­styles.

Mini me

Orig­i­nat­ing in the USA, the tiny house move­ment takes in as­pects of ar­chi­tec­ture, sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial change, and refers to small-foot­print homes that are no greater than 37m2 (400 square feet), some­times off-grid (self-gen­er­at­ing power and wa­ter sup­plies), and ei­ther on wheels or fixed on a foun­da­tion. Ap­peal­ing to anti-es­tab­lish­ment types and reg­u­lar home­own­ers look­ing for a life­style change, tiny homes can now be found around the world, as can sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Amer­i­can Tiny House As­so­ci­a­tion (amer­i­cantiny­house­asso­ci­a­tion.org). Costs range vastly de­pend­ing on build ma­te­ri­als, but ac­cord­ing to lo­cal blog and in­for­ma­tion por­tal weemakechange.co.nz, set up by a Napier-based me­chan­i­cal de­sign en­gi­neer, a ba­sic build comes in at around $20,000.

Sim­i­lar to the tiny house move­ment, the small house move­ment refers to homes that are usu­ally fixed, and are some­what larger, rang­ing up to 90m2, of­ten pre­sent­ing flex­i­ble work and in­come or shared hous­ing op­tions.

Com­pared to tra­di­tional home sizes, both tiny and small house op­tions equate to ap­prox­i­mately 18-44 per cent of the typ­i­cal new New Zealand home. Ac­cord­ing to Cather­ine Fos­ter, author of new book Small House

Liv­ing: De­sign- Con­scious New Zealand Homes Of 90m2 Or Less (Pen­guin Ran­dom House), the av­er­age new-build home in this country is the third largest in the world at 205m2, just be­hind Aus­tralia and the US at 241m2. The grow­ing tiny house and small house move­ments, how­ever, seek to turn th­ese fig­ures on their head.

“It’s a zeit­geist move­ment driven by a num­ber of fac­tors com­ing to­gether, the in­creas­ing cost of land val­ues un­der­pin­ning it all,” says Fos­ter. “Home own­er­ship has gone out of the realm of most buy­ers. Mean­while, you have baby boomers down­siz­ing or look­ing for ways to help the younger gen­er­a­tions of the fam­ily to build fi­nan­cial and emo­tional se­cu­rity around a home.”

Lit­tle and large

In her book, Fos­ter presents ex­am­ples that range from com­pact apart­ments and homes to baches, stu­dios and mod­ules. “They are all in­cred­i­bly good ex­am­ples of ad­dress­ing dif­fer­ent prob­lems or so­lu­tions,” says Fos­ter. Stand-outs in­clude Nine Tsubo House in Welling­ton, an open-plan, two-storey home cre­ated by Wire­dog Ar­chi­tec­ture that, de­spite its diminu­tive 50m2 size, con­tains an open-plan liv­ing area, kitchen, dou­ble bed­room and study, plus closed-off bath­room/laun­dry, through the use of well-placed win­dows and clever stor­age op­tions built into walls and stairs to max­imise space from a small foot­print.

Sim­i­larly, Bach­e­lor Pad in Christchurch, cre­ated by CoLab, dis­plays flex­i­ble use of space in a nar­row 62m2 build. It in­cludes a mul­ti­func­tional garage that con­nects to the main liv­ing area with in­ter­sect­ing slid­ing doors for ad­di­tional en­ter­tain­ing space when needed, and a sec­ond bed­room that ma­te­ri­alises with con­cealed slid­ing doors.

Fos­ter her­self re­cently down­sized from her big fam­ily house into a very small apart­ment, so un­der­stands the chal­lenges with not just a change in space, but also build­ing con­straints. “Not all banks will loan on small houses, and not all coun­cils will al­low them within their plan­ning struc­ture,” she ad­vises. “If the banks see a 60m2 home on a 100m2 site as some­thing they don’t want to lend on, then peo­ple are stuck.”

Rewrit­ing the rules

Th­ese com­mon con­straints are some­thing that build­ing de­signer Mal­colm Hal­ley of The Draw­ing Box and his wife Pauline Mann un­der­stand. For most of their home­owner lives, the cou­ple have jointly-owned houses and land with oth­ers, as a way of mak­ing it fi­nan­cially pos­si­ble.

“We’re quite re­laxed about own­ing things with other peo­ple,” says Hal­ley. “If you can’t bor­row a lot of money to build a house, it’s a way for peo­ple to get a start and have a bit of an ad­ven­ture.”

For the past 35 years, Hal­ley and Mann have co-owned a 3.7 hectare piece of land in North­land, on which a kind of vil­lage has evolved over time, in which their own 90m2 home sits at the top of a three-apart­ment build­ing. “We are mod­el­ling a more re­laxed way of liv­ing that trans­lates into a more af­ford­able and richer way of liv­ing,” Hal­ley says.

Co-pur­chased as a way of be­ing able to af­ford a nice piece of land with beach ac­cess, the prop­erty is oc­cu­pied by friends, all of whom have built their own houses there. “The main rea­son we’re all here is be­cause this way we could af­ford to do it. When we went to coun­cil and said we’d like to get more houses on the land, it seemed like we had to float some la­bel on what we were here, and we didn’t want to be a ‘com­mu­nity’ or an ‘eco vil­lage’ as they seem to be set up to be di­vi­sive through the some­times loaded po­lit­i­cal or eco­log­i­cal con­texts peo­ple bring to such self-styled ven­tures. We didn't want that, so we thought ‘art vil­lage’ was the truest thing we could say, be­cause some of us have been in­volved with art prac­tise in­volv­ing the lo­cal com­mu­nity here over the years. We came to un­der­stand it was quite a magic term, be­cause artists are sanc­tioned to live on the edge and break the rules.”

On the prop­erty there is also a tiny house called Jan­dal Cot­tage that’s cur­rently be­ing used as a ther­apy room by an oc­cu­pant, but could even­tu­ally be­come ac­com­mo­da­tion. “Liv­ing in very small spa­ces, it’s prob­a­bly a pen­du­lum swing against the kind of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion so­ci­ety has right now,” says Hal­ley.

The ex­pe­ri­en­tial­ists

This is some­thing echoed in re­cent book Stuffo­ca­tion, writ­ten by Bri­tish author and fu­tur­ist James Wall­man (Pen­guin). The think­ing, as he ex­plains, is this: “We face a prob­lem in the world to­day. The run­away suc­cess of our throw­away, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic cul­ture has led to a sit­u­a­tion where mil­lions of us have so much stuff – and record lev­els of stress and sta­tus anx­i­ety – that we are ques­tion­ing cap­i­tal­ism, con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­ment, and feel­ing stuffo­ca­tion.” The so­lu­tion Wall­man pro­poses is to make a cul­tural switch from ma­te­ri­al­ism to ex­pe­ri­en­tial­ism, “To dis­card our throw­away cul­ture, and re­place it with a new way of liv­ing that’s based on the sim­ple truth that the best place to find hap­pi­ness, iden­tity, sta­tus and mean­ing is not in ma­te­rial goods, but in ex­pe­ri­ences in­stead.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle, Amer­i­cans are in­creas­ingly choos­ing to spend on ex­pe­ri­ences over goods, with sales on travel and restau­rants up, as re­tail sales ex­pe­ri­ence a pe­riod of con­tin­ual de­cline.

“Liv­ing in small spa­ces, it's prob­a­bly a pen­du­lum swing against the kind of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tioin so­ci­ety has right now." Mal­colm Hal­ley

Small liv­ing so­lu­tions

Along with of­fer­ing an an­ti­dote to such cul­tural stuffo­ca­tion, the tiny house and small house move­ments also pro­vide emerg­ing ur­ban gen­er­a­tions that are al­ready frozen out of the prop­erty mar­ket, with an al­ter­nate liv­ing op­tion in pop­u­lar cities.

In­creas­ingly, large global home brands like Ikea and Muji have be­gun to ex­plore eco­nom­i­cal com­pact liv­ing so­lu­tions. Swedish flat­pack fur­ni­ture ex­pert Ikea has pro­duced a num­ber of con­cept pro­to­types for small liv­ing spa­ces, and has part­nered with ar­chi­tec­tural firms in Swe­den and the US to cre­ate small kit­set house projects with min­i­mal foot­prints of around 70m2.

Com­pact liv­ing is al­ready pop­u­lar in Ja­pan’s large cities, so it’s lit­tle sur­prise that lo­cal cloth­ing and home­ware brand Muji re­cently in­vited three of the world’s lead­ing de­sign­ers to en­vi­sion small houses. The Cork Hut (01) by Jasper Mor­ri­son, the Alu­minium Hut

(02) by Kon­stantin Gr­cic, and the Wooden Hut (03) by Naoto Fuka­sawa are sim­ple open-plan con­cept struc­tures that are ex­pected to in­form the com­pany’s launch of pre­fab­ri­cated com­pact homes in the fu­ture.

“There’s a new de­mo­graphic of peo­ple who’re as­set rich but cash poor, every­thing they earn goes into prop­ping it all up,” con­cludes Hal­ley. “A tiny house says that you are not re­ally into own­ing things but more into ex­pe­ri­ences.”




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