Tiny houses. Micro-homes. Itty-bitty travel trailers. The popularity of minuscule dwellings is an obvious backlash against the gluttonous McMansions that helped plunge the world into financial chaos just a few years ago.
Riding the crest of the no-downpayment mortgage and astronomical credit card rates, we insisted on no less than a thousand square feet per person (sometimes more), and a double-wide garage in which to park our SUV was non-negotiable. When the whole thing blew up, it was time to tighten our belts and remember how to live within our means.
For some, it became obvious that all of that extra house was just waste. It was unnecessary, kept us from acting like families, and cost us thousands of dollars in heating and cooling costs. Tiny houses, homes of just a couple hundred square feet, started popping up in design blogs and architectural sites. At first these miniature homes seemed like a joke, after all, where do you put all your stuff when there’s only room for the bare essentials?!
Ahh, then we figured out that the point was to eliminate all that stuff, seeking a simplified existence that costs less and makes us happier. That’s about the time tiny houses stopped being a novelty and started becoming a movement. For the past few years, talented designers and creative DIY’ers have playfully competed to create the smallest and most efficient homes in which life can truly be lived to the fullest. Here are some of our favorites. Which one could you see yourself living in?
1. New Haven, Conn.
Most kids are thrilled to move into their college dorm, but not grad student Elizabeth Turnbull. When she was accepted into Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, she decided to build her own 144-square-foot house. The small space was mounted on a trailer for easy relocation if necessary. Even though it’s smaller than some bathrooms, the house provided space for everything Turnbull needed. It was also made from FSC-certified wood, used recycled windows, and featured non-toxic paints and finishes.
2. Seattle, Wash.
The story of Chris and Malissa Tack’s tiny house begins as many do: With utter frustration at their high-cost, high-stress lives, and the desire to leave it all behind for something better. That something was an 140 square foot house that they designed and built themselves. Despite its tiny size, the home is gorgeous, sporting a kitchen, living and dining area, bathroom, storage area and sleeping loft.
By now you might be thinking, “OK these tiny houses are cool, but it only works if you’re an architect who can design things.” Well, Colorado couple Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller are here to prove you wrong. Though they had no previous building experience, in 2011 the pair set out to build a 124 sq ft. home. The resulting house contains a small galley kitchen, a bathroom and sleeping loft. There is also a small closet, two built-in bookshelves, one built-in desk and a dining table made from the scraps of the reclaimed hardwood flooring. The entire process was documented in a new film called “TINY: A Story About Living Small.”
4. United Kingdom
Designed by Dr. Mike Page at the University of Hertfordshire, the Eco Cube (or QB1) is a practical, modern microhome, in which one person or a couple can live a comfortable low-carbon life. At just about 100 feet cubed, it’s still sizeable enough to hold a small living room, dining area, kitchen, washer and dryer, a closet, full shower, toilet and full-sized bed.
Designer Robin Falck dreamed of a comfortable cabin in the woods. Thanks to Finland’s building permit laws (i.e., you don’t need one if the structure is small enough), he was inspired to build this tiny house which he lovingly calls ”Nido,” which means “bird’s nest” in Italian. With a total footprint of just 96 square feet, Falck’s house still features a lofted bedroom, cozy living room, plenty of storage space and a relaxing deck. And it only cost approximately $10,500 (plus time).
6. Olympia, Wash.
Dee Williams lived in a 1,500 square foot house. Then she went on a trip to Guatemala, and like so many of us, realized that kind of space simply wasn’t necessary for one person–especially when so many live with much less. So upon her return, she started planning a new house. Just $10,000 and 84 sq. feet later, Williams now happily resides in a friend’s back yard. Using propane tank for heat and solar panels for electricity, the tiny house costs her almost nothing to maintain.
Italian architect Renzo Piano is know for creating massive structures–like The New York Times Building in Manhattan and London’s The Shard. Even so, he was intrigued by the challenge of designing a tiny house for minimalist living. In 2013, Piano unveiled a tiny house prototype built for German furniture company Vitra. Called “Diogene,” the gorgeous, well-lit home sits at just about 79 sq. feet. The front part of the house serves as a living room with a pull-out sofa and folding table under the window. A shower, toilet and kitchen are behind a partition. The house efficiently collects, cleans and reuses water, and supplies its own power via solar panels.
8. Tumbleweed XS House
If you haven’t checked out the truly jaw-dropping designs by Tumbleweed Houses yet, you’re really missing out. Featuring a wide range of sizes and layouts, this company provides everything from DIY plans to turn-key delivery of their microhomes. Although the plans are no longer available for the XS we had to feature it in this list. At just 65 square feet, it’s one of the smallest ever, but it still sports all the comforts of home, including a living area, lofted bedroom and tiny kitchen.