Wait, That's Really a House?
My dad and I used to talk about how he was going to make himself an office in his backyard shed. He’d made a good amount of money putting electricity in other people’s dutch barns and other iterations of storage sheds/backyard workshops. It was only a matter of time that he would slow down enough and put wires in his. Meanwhile, I’d use the shed as my play kitchen, with the nice wooden kindergarten furniture that we’d picked up at the local public school surplus auction.
Unfortunately, the shed never made it past my mud pie emporium to being dad’s full office. In fact, I’m sure he’d be tickled to see just how many people have decided to not only wire and keep some sort of office in backyard sheds, but actually live in the things and call them so nicely, tiny homes.
While the movement has origins as far back as 1960′s counterculture, the movement picked up steam during the recent major economic recession, as well as in the aftermath of several major devastating storms, namely Hurricane Katrina and the Katrina cottage. They’ve been touted as a solution to chronic homelessness. Many others are propelled by the ability to live life somewhat off the grid, somewhat simply and in some cases tax and mortgage free. It’s also a slightly more stable alternative than just living in a sedan or a van, but many van dwellers consider themselves members of the tiny home movement too.
So what makes a home “tiny” versus “small”? The common nomenclature (as listed by Wikipedia in their article on the movement), states that a tiny home is any house or non-self-propelled vehicular structure that is less than 1,000 square feet. As stated above, some van and RV dwellers count themselves in too, as well as those in traditional trailers. Yet, what makes these tiny homes different, at least in my opinion, is their resemblance to a normal, stick-built, bungalow or ranch home. If one took the wheels off of some of these homes, they could be confused for our friend above, the storage shed. They could also be right at home on Apartment Therapy.
Another question one may ask is that is this really new? No, not at all. What has happened is that much of the stigma of living in such a small quarter has dulled, seeing that many of these homes have many modern accouterments, and are remarkably space efficient, for far less money than some rental apartments.
Lastly, this has major implications for sprawl repair and even traditional new urbanism. Traditional new urbanism has always been a proponent of the accessory dwelling unit (ADU or more colloquially, the granny flat). Yet, with more and more people moving into already dense and raptly gentrifying metro areas, as well as fleeing to cheaper suburban areas, allowing for more units per acre and in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and financially prudent is vital. Plus, these have become showcases for homes in the 1,000-2,000 square foot range of how these homes can appear to be mansion-like, thanks to efficient uses of space. Especially in the case of the Katrina cottage, people can rebuild something that looks and may even be the same size as what they lost, in a short period and without incurring newer, higher expenses.
I can’t lie, the idea of a tiny house is very appealing for me for my next move. However, I have yet to see a community of them anchor what’s already in denser housing communities, at least in my area. I’m better to stick to a traditional sized ranch, bungalow or a townhome.
What about you? Would a “tiny” house be too tiny? Could you get over the feeling that you really live in a glorified shack?
Kristen Jeffers is The Black Urbanist. She holds an MPA with a concentration in community and economic development from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She writes to bring together the community members with its designers, planners, policy-makers and visionaries. She's been obsessed with cities since her childhood, when she started taking trips on the floor with maps, toy ...