With his green mo­bile liv­ing space, com­plete with off-grid elec­tri­cal sys­tems, Andy Thom­son ful­fills his en­viro fan­tasy

NOW Magazine - Toronto Living - - Front Page - By MEAGHAN CLARK Pho­tos cour­tesy sus­tain de­sign

as a child, andy thom­son wanted to be a dif­fer­ent kind of space ex­plorer – not like Cap­tain Kirk with his dra­matic pauses or the sleek and re­fined, Earl Grey-sip­ping Jean-Luc Pi­card. He wanted to be an “eco­naut,” an ex­plorer who wan­dered the uni­verse in a tiny self-suf­fi­cient off-grid green space­ship.

Fast-for­ward to 2006 and Thom­son has ful­filled his childhood dream of build­ing a “lu­nar lan­der, but for Earth,” as he likes to de­scribe it. It’s re­ally a trailer made en­tirely of sus­tain­able, green ma­te­ri­als, with a sleek, colour­ful ex­te­rior, liv­ing green roof and self­con­tained, off-grid me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal sys­tems.

Vir­tu­ally no hookups are re­quired to run it. Yet the Trailer Park Boys ain’t lin­ing up to buy one of these suck­ers. Some folks don’t quite know what to make of Thom­son or his al­ter­na­tive liv­ing spa­ces.

A full-time ar­chi­tect, Thom­son started Sus­tain De­sign Stu­dio with part­ner Dan Hall not only to in­dulge an ob­ses­sion with small spa­ces, but also to pro­vide housing op­tions for those who can’t af­ford a mam­moth Muskoka cot­tage and want to do more than pitch a tent.

The Sus­tain­able Home of­fers an al­ter­na­tive that’s eco-friendly and self-con­tained. Oh, and af­ford­able, too. The price ranges from $100,000 to $135,000, de­pend­ing on var­i­ous op­tions. With a life ex­pectancy of 50 years (twice that of a con­ven­tional trailer or mod­u­lar home), a Solo unit can be a wise in­vest­ment for those who want to lead a more re­mote or no­madic life.

This com­pact unit with built-in fur­nish­ings, ap­pli­ances and well-planned stor­age has only 350 square feet, but it can ac­com­mo­date four peo­ple. It comes with a con­vert­ible dou­ble-size sofa-bed in the Dream Zone, or bed­room, and a queen-size fu­ton in the sleep­ing loft.

There are plenty of clever spa­ces over­head and un­der the floor to stow away your stuff, not to men­tion a bed­room closet and linen closet. My own home doesn’t boast both of those.

The Bathe Zone’s de­cent-size tub (full-size would be a stretch), com­post­ing toi­let and wood fin­ishes ac­tu­ally make it more lux­u­ri­ous than many a cot­tage john. The Cook Zone has good-sized cup­boards and sleek ap­pli­ances that look like they’d be at home in a down­town loft. The fi­nal zone, En­ter­tain, con­sists of a flip-up birch desk or ta­ble and a stor­age/seat­ing bench. It can func­tion as a desk, but there isn’t much room for eu­chre tour­na­ments.

When it de­buted at the April 2006 Na­tional Home Show, the de­sign got an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse, though some folks did balk at the size once they got in­side.

“Peo­ple ei­ther loved it or needed to get out right away,” Thom­son says quickly, as if wait­ing for me to get the punch line.

Since then, 350-plus peo­ple have ap­plied to Sus­tain De­sign Stu­dio for more in­for­ma­tion and/or sales ap­point­ments. Thom­son and Hall re­cently sold their pro­to­type, and a sales rep is ready to take more

or­ders. They’re also pre­par­ing to hit the road for the Dwell De­sign Show in San Fran­cisco later this fall.

Thom­son spoke at The Shape Of Space, held at CasaLife in Lib­erty Vil­lage, about his views on new ways to look at liv­ing. Bewil­der­ingly, Thom­son and Hall’s ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­hibit at this year’s Cot­tage Show was turned down.

Penny Cald­well, edi­tor of Cot­tage Life mag­a­zine, spends sum­mers in her own off-grid, so­lar-pow­ered cot­tage, and though she’s a great sup­porter of green power, she doesn’t quite get the Sus­tain­able Home.

“I don’t con­sider it a cot­tage or an al­ter­na­tive to a cot­tage,” says Cald­well, who goes on to ex­plain that cot­tag­ing is all about spend­ing time with friends and fam­ily and that Thom­son’s de­sign can’t ac­com­mo­date many peo­ple.

“This unit is more suited for use as a bunkie for guests,” she says. Nev­er­the­less, Cald­well says she’s done some ini­tial re­search on Sus­tain De­sign Stu­dio and ap­plauds its ef­forts.

With lit­tle to no mar­ket­ing bud­get, the cre­ative duo rely on edi­to­rial, word of mouth and on­line mar­ket­ing to spread the word. Their tar­get mar­ket is the ur­ban dweller who owns a piece of land in cot­tage coun­try or in a wilder­ness set­ting and wants an all-sea­son get­away.

Then again, the re­tired snow­bird is also a good can­di­date, since the Solo unit needs no po­lice es­cort for tran­sit on fed­eral and in­ter­na­tional road­ways.

Cal­i­for­nia, here we come!

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