Good things. Small packages.

When I was a kid, my favorite part about traveling was staying in a hotel room. It didn’t happen often (our “traveling” usually meant driving west to the ocean or east to the mountains, and camping for a week) and so the novelty of it was fun for me.  I liked pretending that the unfamiliar room was my house. And not just part of my house, but my whole house. I was intrigued by the idea of furniture from traditionally different parts of a home – the beds, the dining table, the television – all cohabiting in one room. I would spend my downtime imagining how I would arrange the furniture to accommodate all my needs; how I would organize things to keep from getting cluttered; what it would be like to come “home” to this space every evening. It’s probably odd that I was so interested in such things when I was 6, but we moved around a lot (and lived in some unusual spaces) and I always enjoyed trying on new places to see how they fit – the smaller and more unusual, the better.

It hasn’t worn off, this silly fascination. In fact, I’ve only become more intrigued as my desire to live a smaller footprint kind of life has grown. Lucky for me, the swelling “tiny house” trend provides lots of images for me to get lost in, imagining a very different sort of life from the one I’m currently living. Here are just of a few that have caught my attention recently.

Natural Home Magazine’s article “In Quietude: A Simple Healing Mountain Cottage” features a 280 square foot cottage in British Columbia. It was designed and built by architect Henry Yorke Man, whose homes are designed to “enhance the human soul.” According to the owner, Denise Franklin, the home does just that. It includes everything you’d expect in a larger home: kitchen, living and dining areas, bathroom, and even a separate sleeping area tucked into a loft space above the front door. There’s a 10’x10′ root cellar under the house where Denise stores the preserved bounty of her home garden, and other storage has been built creatively into the home’s frame (think boat and trailer storage techniques). Though Denise expected to outgrow the space within a couple of years, she’s now been a happy resident for over 11 (as of the article’s writing) and has no need to move on or expand. In the article, she’s quoted as saying “I still don’t want anymore space. I don’t need a bedroom. I just don’t need.” This is one of the things I like about the tiny house movement: it forces a reevaluation of what is actually needed to live a comfortable life. (See more photos of Diane’s little house.)

Photo by Stuart Bish

Another home designed by Mann is this 450 square foot cabin owned by Keith and Judy Scott (also in British Columbia). Originally commissioned to be a vacation retreat, the owners found it so comfortable that they moved in and made it their permanent residence. Their previous home was 5000 square feet. That’s some serious downsizing! (More photos.)

Photo by Stuart Bish

Another man who’s made quite a name for himself in micro houses is Jay Shafer, owner of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. The first home Jay built for himself was a petite 84 square feet – to small qualify as a house per building code. So he put it on wheels and called it a trailer. Way to stick it to the man, Jay! His company designs and sells plans to build your own tiny (65-140 square feet) or small (a bit larger in order to meet universal building codes) house. See more photos of the many available models at Tubleweed’s Flickr photostream.

Photo by Tumbleweed House Company

And then there’s the littlest house in Toronto, rumored to have inspired Disney-Pixar’s movie, “Up.” This home is 300 square feet. It’s single bedroom includes a built-in murphy bed, which must be put away in order to access the back door to the patio. (See interior photos at Angela Allen’s Wicked Blog.)

These 275 square foot homes are renovated railway sleeping quarters in Reno. Paul Haberman and Kelly Rae purchased the four buildings and completely refurbished them, building in sleeping lofts to leave the main floor open for living space. They used salvaged materials as much as possible and refurbished the buildings’ original 100-year-old fir floors, which had been buried under six layers of linoleum and carpet. (Additional photo.)

Photo by HabeRae.

Then there are the purely ingenious (or desperate?) creations of people forced into tiny homes in expensive cities. Take, for example, the incredible egg house built by a 24-year-old architect who couldn’t afford the rent required to live in Beijing. He parked his egg on the sidewalk and took up residence until he was eventually “evicted.” This is my favorite photo because I initially thought he had to scramble through that hole to get in and out of the egg. Turns out, one of the sides flips down to create a more user-friendly door. (See more photos on Flickr.)

Photo taken from

Or how about this transforming tenement in Hong Kong?

This is another from Hong Kong. Though I wouldn’t hold this out as an example to emulate, the photos are fascinating nonetheless. Photographer Michael Wolf took photos of  100 apartments in Hong Kong, each only 100 square feet, and called the project 100×100.  (See the entire photo essay.)

Photo by Michael Wolf

And of course, we can’t have a discussion about small homes without considering alternative building materials, like shipping containers. This “All Terrain Cabin” from Canada’s Bark Design Collective folds up when not in use, returning to its original shipping container visage.

Photo by Bark Design Collective

And, finally, check out this refurbished Airstream trailer, featured in Dwell Magazine. My mom and I lived in one of these for a year when I was growing up, and I loved it! Ours was smaller and not at all refurbished. But it was quaint and cozy, and there were always real pickles in the fridge from the real cucumbers grown outside in the real garden. This airstream is owned by Andreas Stavropoulos in Berkley, who refurbished the whole thing himself. (Take the photo tour.)

Photo by Mark Compton

The first home I owned was 690 square feet, and housed two adults, a baby, and a large dog. The current house Is either 1000 or 2000 square feet (depending on whether or not you consider the basement living space), houses two adults and two full-time kids, and will need to find a way to accommodate two additional kids when Mr. Legume’s daughters visit. According to many people’s standards, we’re already living in a small home. Could we get by with even less space? It would certainly require some adjustments and a different way of thinking about “stuff.” I think I could get rid of a fair amount of my current belongings without too much heartache. But what of my beloved books?

What do you think? Would you consider a drastic downsize for your family home? What belongings would you have the hardest time letting go?



Filed under Environment, Home

4 responses to “Good things. Small packages.

  1. Pingback: Melissa & Doug Wooden Family Doll Set | DIY Home Design

  2. I love this. I want a tiny house! I guess my 700 square foot apartment sort of qualifies, but even that’s large by these standards.

  3. I love this entry! I can relate to the desire to look at every room with the “how could I live in this tiny space” perspective.

    A week ago, I finished my lifelong dream of building a tiny house of my own in the “big woods” — and last night I posted a few photos. My space is just under 750 square feet and it houses my daughter and me with lots of space. I designed it myself and have built it with cash, by hand, over time. It took awhile, but it’s complete!

    I encourage, even URGE, anyone with this dream to remove the excess “stuff” from their lives and start looking at their living environment as a nurturing place to facilitate personal enjoyment… not a place to collect clutter and stuff which pushes out the opportunity for enjoyment, life and living itself.

    Construction just finished a few days ago, so I’m still settling in… but I’m having a blast feathering my nest and tossing everything that I don’t need to make this little cabin in the woods my perfect place to be!

  4. di

    I really like a one-room design where a minimal wardrobe, linens and kitchen items can be stored under a daybed or futon couch – as vertical storage creates a cluttered appearance. Use a daybed or couch to sleep, lounge, dine and entertain. Tables, shelving, cupboards and closets are not really needed. Try a computer for all media.

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