Think Small - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal
Feb. 16th, 2007
02:27 am - Think Small
The New York Times
February 16, 2007
By BETHANY LYTTLE
WHEN John Friedman and Kristin Shepherd of Berkeley, Calif., purchased 160 acres in the mountains near Telluride, Colo., it was with the intent to build — just not right away. Before designing a small, ecologically sensitive second home they wanted to spend a year or two visiting the land to determine the most suitable building site. But at an elevation of 9,600 feet, living in tents was out.
So, early last summer, Mr. Friedman, 69, an industrial photographer, rented a truck and trailered a pre-built 65-square-foot Tumbleweed Tiny House up mountain roads, into a meadow and parked. To compensate for the lack of interior space, the couple cook, entertain and, for the most part, live outdoors. “We live in our view rather than look at it,” said Ms. Shepherd, 58, a retired youth counselor and an avid hiker. At night the two nestle in a sleeping loft with three feet of clearance, gazing at stars through a skylight. “It’s shelter, pure and simple,” Ms. Shepherd said.
A wave of interest in such small dwellings — some to serve, like the Shepherds’ home, as temporary housing, others to become space-saving dwellings of a more permanent nature — has prompted designers and manufacturers to offer building plans, kits and factory-built houses to the growing number of small-thinking second-home shoppers. Seldom measuring much more than 500 square feet, the buildings offer sharp contrasts to the rambling houses that are commonplace as second homes.
This reduction of scale makes sense for a lot of people. Second homes are often geared toward outdoor activities, so for several months of the year interior space is superfluous. Minimal square footage means reduced maintenance costs, less upkeep and reduced energy consumption. Prefabricated and pre-built models can require little or no site preparation, which means no anxious weekend drives to the country to make sure construction is moving along. Add to this an element of instant gratification (once the planning stage is over, most houses go up in days, even hours, and many are delivered, turn-key, to the site).
Choosing a house starts to resemble buying a car.
Hardly the slapped-together hunting camp that belonged to your uncle, these buildings even offer instant curb appeal. They are often equipped with airplane-size bathrooms and tiny kitchenettes. Styles include romantic, rustic and designer modern. Jeanette Andersen, an agent at Sotheby’s International Realty/Santa Monica, said that in theory this could contribute to an increase in sales of undeveloped land. “When the design is appealing,” she said, “buyers are more willing to buy one and spend the money they saved on land.”
This is the case for two retirees, Gail Conti and her husband, Tom, of Rockledge, Fla. Attracted to a charming porch, pastel hues and compact size, they hope to buy a 308-square-foot Katrina Cottage, originally designed for hurricane relief by Cusato Cottages, when Lowe’s stores begin selling them this year. “To me, they’re reminiscent of the bungalows I used to see in the 1940s,” Ms. Conti said.
With a 3,000-square-foot primary residence on the Intracoastal Waterway — with sailing just outside their door — the Contis don’t need a vacation house. Instead, they plan to put their Katrina on land they will buy in Virginia or Maryland, near Washington and close to their daughter, son-in-law and young grandson. “It would allow us to visit for stretches of time without intruding and without incurring great cost,” Ms. Conti said.
PRICES for tiny houses vary by region, but in general reflect degrees of finishing, who does the building, types of materials and design options. In general, count on spending anywhere from $35 a square foot for a very basic structure to more than $200 a square foot for designer models built with specialized or luxury materials.
Manufacturers’ prices do not always include delivery fees, and there can be other costs, including site preparation, foundation work and installation of electric, water and sewer services. “You have to go into this with open eyes,” said Jay Shafer, owner of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. “Zoning laws, land covenants, building permits, restrictions and codes vary within states and across the country, and these impact what has to be done at the site, and how.”
For $90,000 in 2004, Scott McGlasson, 40, owner of Woodsport, a custom furniture design studio in Minneapolis, and his wife, Lisa, a human resources coordinator, bought a 700-square-foot weeHouse by Alchemy Architects. It has plumbing, tall glass doors, Andersen windows, laminate flooring, recessed lighting and Ikea cabinets. It is comfortable and attractive. “But people confuse prefab with inexpensive,” Mr. McGlasson said. “On a middle-class budget, this was doable, but not easy.” They bought the land — a small lot on Lake Pequaywan in northern Minnesota — in 2002 for $80,000. It already had a septic system, a well and access to utilities.
One rectangular module serves as the main floor; above it is an additional square module that serves as a second bedroom, which must be entered from outdoors via a ship’s ladder. Guests love it because it’s separate from the rest of the house. “And because they can lock out our three kids,” Mr. McGlasson said.
Still, it’s hard to resist doing the math. Five people sharing about 700 square feet has to present challenges — especially when three of those people are still growing. To make the most efficient use of the space, Mr. McGlasson designed and built much of the furniture, some with birch from the surrounding forest. He also added a free-standing sauna and a deck for outdoor living. “But when friends come, we’re pretty packed in,” he said. The trade-off is that when the time comes to leave, they just sweep it out and go. “We’re here to swim, fish, hike and cook,” Mr. McGlasson said. “If we wanted all the conveniences of home, we’d be there.”
Living tiny, however, does not require deprivation, thanks to modern technology. Gregory Johnson, president of the Small House Society, who lives in a 140-square-foot house in Iowa, noted that people once needed “a stereo system, countless LPs or CDs, photo albums and a small library of books.” Now, everything can take up no more space than a laptop or an iPod.
Stephanie Arado, a Minnesota Orchestra violinist, said that it took living in a tiny house to learn how little space she really needed. For about $45,000, she bought a 392-square-foot weeHouse with no electricity and no bathroom as the solution to a siting problem on her 32 acres in western Wisconsin. Ms. Arado, who has two children, planned to use the tiny house as a springboard to building something bigger.
But four years have passed, and she now has no intention of supersizing. “Something happened,” Ms. Arado said. “I started to see the beauty in how it works.” There is a queen-size bed for her and a bunk for her two children. When friends visit, sleeping pads and cots are pulled out. “The glass walls make the house feel much bigger than it is,” she said. “People are surprised to hear it’s only 14 feet wide.”
The tiny-house movement complements another vacation-home trend: buying land with an eye to conservation. John Friedman and Kristin Shepherd will return to their Tumbleweed Tiny House in Telluride this spring, not only to hike, but also to observe wildlife patterns and work to ensure that the land, which they purchased with the express purpose of conservation, remains protected.
MATTHEW ADAMS, 30, a San Francisco lawyer, shares this approach. On Feb. 2, he watched as the four walls of his $24,000, very modern 120-square-foot house went up on a very small portion of his 160 acres near Red Bluff, Calif. From the beginning, Mr. Adams said, he had an ecological agenda and intended to serve as a steward of the former ranch property. “I was committed to finding a tiny house that would have no lasting impact on the land,” he said. “But truthfully, I wanted something with design value, too.”
Modern Cabana offered both. The structure rides on concrete piers, so there’s no need to pour a foundation. To minimize waste, the builder, Nick Damner, works exclusively with eight-foot units of plywood, glass and wallboard. Recycled denim is used as insulation.
“It feels acutely more sheltering to be in a tiny house rather than a big one,” Mr. Adams said of the glass-and-wood structure, which sits like a jewel box on the land. “Looking out at the vastness of the environment heightens your sense of containment.”
From a set of design options, Mr. Adams selected operable windows on four sides and sliding glass doors. “You won’t find any quilts or knickknacks here,” Mr. Adams said. There’s no kitchen or bathroom, either. He plans to put in a well, he says, then order a second cabana to use as a bath house. Cooking will continue to be outdoors.
* Real Estate
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
* Contact Us
* Work for Us
* Site Map