Tiny Houses Are Getting Really Big

A modern tiny house.

Tiny houses aren’t new. What’s new is how big houses have gotten over the past 50 years or so. From your suburban ranch style to your McMansion, they’re all taking up more space than they used to. Just take a walk through an original Victorian or old row house and you’ll see. So what’s with the tiny homes?

What started as a counter-culture reaction to over-building and over-consumption has captured the attention of the mainstream as more and more of us think about our impact on the world around us.

The History

Setting aside the ancient nature of the tiny house, the modern resurgence goes back to the hippy movement. Some of us are old enough to remember a select few who decided to set aside material things and live in a teepee or yurt or converted school bus. In those days it was all about a political statement – comfort and innovation were a small part of the picture, sacrificed in favor of simple, primordial living, and stickin’ it to the man.

The Resurgence

Back before the housing bubble burst some people looked at what was happening and weren’t happy. That boom was all about consumption. Houses got even bigger and were looked on as short turnaround, money-making investments rather than homes. Those hippy fringe-free spirits from the 60s never went away and the disillusioned few of a new generation picked up on their example.

This time around it wasn’t just about getting back to a natural state. There were still yurts and school buses, but the new breed was also interested in maximizing their use of space and maintaining their comfort level. Borrowing from modern European and Asian design, innovation began in the streamlining of multi-use spaces in a limited interior. Now they picked up the new moniker too – Tiny Houses.

The Housing boom went bust and many people lost their homes. Interest in tiny houses surged as people without a political statement to make suddenly needed a new way to live. Some of them found the tiny house people and followed suit. Others came to it independently - repurposing shipping containers into apartments for instance – and ended up on the same playing field. From the various backgrounds of ideology, need, design, invention, and experimentation these people looking to design, build and live small became a movement.

The Houses

We’re talking about houses less than 1000 square feet, and usually much smaller than that. They can look like storybook cottages, ramshackle shacks, airstream trailers, or sci-fi lifeboats. The designs are fun to look at, but what’s inside is much more important than what’s outside.

Tiny Houses Are Getting Really Big

Fitting sleeping, cooking, eating, living and bathroom space into a tiny floor plan is a puzzle. Foldaway tables, counters, and beds mean the same area can take on many uses. Small, efficient appliances like on-demand water heaters and composting toilets are a must. Many tiny houses are off the grid, so solar heat and power are built-in.

Of course, there are still sacrifices to be made. Libraries are limited to one shelf (or unlimited e-books) and wardrobes are paired down to as little as possible. It’s not about fitting everything into the tiny space, but about eliminating as much extra stuff as you can.

There are also limits on where your tiny house can be. There are parking and camping restrictions for those on wheels and there are height restrictions in motorhome parks. Those on foundations don’t meet most building codes, so it might be illegal to build one on your property.

The Way You Benefit

If you want to chuck most of your stuff and live in a tiny home, just solve some of the above challenges and you can do just that. If that’s not a step you want to make, you can still benefit from the movement. Without giving up your home, take a look at the lessons. Do you have too much stuff? Are you acquiring even more? Is that what’s important?

After you’ve assessed your lifestyle, you can also look at the practical solutions for low-impact living the tiny houses offer. Small and efficient appliances can do your house some good. Murphy beds were once a built-in fixture, but now cabinet units that become a dining table or home office are readily available.

These features and others like them are finding their way into the mainstream design as apartment dwellers, homeowners, architects, and designers come to appreciate what a commodity space really is and seek to make the greatest use of it, rather than use the greatest amount of it.