Living Little: Take Inspiration from Tiny Homes

Because we get excellent reader feedback on them, we feature a “Tiny House” in every issue of Natural Home & Garden. Generally under 500 square feet, these tiny houses run the gamut from woodland cottages designed to fit in with their landscape to modern urban nests tucked into city neighborhoods. I believe the extreme interest in the “tiny house movement” has less to do with the idea that a majority of us are actually going to live in these teeny spaces (not that I’m not tempted by many of them!) but more to do with the inspiration we can take for living simply and living well in a smaller space. As many of you have likely heard, the American mantra of bigger is better is finally receding in the world of housing.

In 2009, for the first time, the average size of the American home went down, and real estate agents expect the housing market to stay level for a while because there are many huge homes no one is interested in. Aging baby boomers are moving out of the family home and into something more manageable; meanwhile, young families don’t want the burden of a huge house, with its obligatory huge utility bills and hours of cleaning and maintenance (read the top 10 reasons for living in a tiny home). If you’re among the many who want to live large in a small space, take inspiration from those living in tiny homes on a grand scale with three of my favorite petite homes. Oh, and if you’d like to learn how to build your own tiny house, take a workshop from tiny house pioneer Jay Shafer this year!

The interior of the L41 house

1. The L41 Home

Designed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based architect Michael Katz, the L41 was envisioned as an affordable, small-space, low-energy design that could help house our growing population moving into the future.

“The major objective of the L41 home is to play a part in mass-producing houses that are so affordable that, before the end of this century, all the people in the world can have proper shelter,” Katz says.

Built in factory assembly lines, these homes reduce waste and maximize efficiency, then are delivered to their final destinations. Katz emphasizes alternative energy and space-saving techniques, creating highly livable homes in small spaces.

Small-space living lessons from the L-41:

Multifunctionality: In the 220-square-foot studio version, the living room sofa converts into a double bed. A light-blocking window screen transforms into a projector screen for watching movies. A convection stovetop is topped with a pull-out fan, and the convection oven also functions as a microwave.

Convertibility: The L41 was designed to meet many needs, as well as to be able to grow or shrink with personal and family changes. A 220-square-foot studio version is perfect for one or two people. For a little more space, Katz offers a 290-square-foot one-bedroom model and a 360-square-foot two-bedroom model. Any of the models can be stacked orā combined into almost limitless combinations for multifamily living.

Smart Energy: It’s easy to power such a small structure responsibly. Every L41 comes equipped to create and store energy onsite via photovoltaic and solar thermal heating and cooling cells on a planted green roof. A heat-recovery ventilator keeps indoor air fresh and improves efficiency.

Indoor-Outdoor Connection: One of the keys to living well in a small space is having a connection with the outdoors. On the L41, the front porch connects to the home via a three-panel sliding glass wall that retracts into an outdoor storage closet, allowing an entire wall to be opened to the outdoors.

Read more about the L-41.

SoDo 4 exterior

2. SoDo 4

Tired of seeing their inner city crumble while suburban sprawl invaded the natural beauty surrounding their hometown, two Reno, Nevada, landlords decided to focus on urban infill, converting small abandoned structures throughout downtown Reno into smartly renovated urban nests perfect for the city’s large population of young students and professionals. In 2007, Pam Haberman and Kally Rae of HabeRae Investments bought four 100-year-old brick structures, formerly engineers’ sleeping quarters for the V&T Railroad, and focused on updating the dilapidated structures into modern 275-square-foot apartments. Focused on affordability for their young clientele, Haberman and Rae cut costs by using many salvaged materials in the renovation.

SoDo 4 interior

Small-space living lessons from SoDo 4:

Use what’s there: In the antique SoDo 4 structures, Haberman and Rae chipped away at the walls’ plaster to reveal sections of the walls’ original 100-year-old brick. They also dug through layers of linoleum and carpet to uncover beautiful Douglas fir floors.

Build in outdoor living: Every HabeRae home comes with gardening built in. In the SoDo 4 homes, landscaping materials were transplanted from a nearby soon-to-be construction site, and raised garden beds were built in. In many sites, the garden beds are constructed from waste materials found onsite or in the area, and HabeRae includes convenient resource-saving add-ons such as drip irrigation systems.

Simple space-saving: HabeRae makes use of compact sleeping lofts to help expand the tiny interiors’ livable space, and sliding pocket doors eliminate the space normally required for doors to swing open.

HabeRae is one of several home organizations using salvaged materials featured in my book, Housing Reclaimed.

Read more about SoDo 4 here; read about additional HabeRae houses here.

weeHouse exterior

3. weeHouses

Designed by Alchemy Architects principal Geoffrey Warner, weeHouses are small, energy-efficient, factory-built dwellings customized to each customer and site. Back in 2003, when a customer requested a small retreat built for under $50,000, Warner responded by designing the original weeHouses’ Arado design and erecting it on his client’s Wisconsin land. The results commanded big attention, and Warner received a deluge of calls asking for information, and replication, of the design. Thus launched his weeHouse endeavor, today with multiple plans that are customized to each situation.
weeHouse interior

Small-space living lessons from the weeHouse:

1. Customize: Every weeHouse has some custom element, whether it’s something as simple as tile selection or as complex as a completely new floor plan. “We like to make site visits, as it helps us relate more quickly and fully to our clients’ needs and dreams and helps us fully appreciate each site’s hidden potential,” Warner says. Along with their small size, affordability and customization, quick delivery is a weeHouse selling point. Depending on size and style, Alchemy can design, build and deliver a weeHouse in nine months to any location in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.

2. Great outdoors: Floor-to-ceiling low-emissivity windows allow weeHouses to be efficient while connecting with their natural surroundings. Designed for passive-solar gain, the large windows also allow the sun to help heat the small interior. Conversely, white rubber roofs reflect summertime heat, helping keep temperatures inside comfortable.

3. Cold comfort: It’s easy to heat a tiny space with a single element. In this case, a wood-burning stove efficiently and inexpensively heats the whole home. Other weeHouses in cold climates employ in-floor radiant heat.

4. Material matters:
High-quality materials become affordable when you’re talking about such a small space. weeHouse exteriors are offered in recyclable corrugated steel or corn crib siding from FSC-certified or local sources.

Read more about weeHouses.


John B.
John B5 years ago

Great ideas. Don't think I'd have a problem living in one.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe6 years ago

These are cute houses, but I would feel like I was being suffocated in them.

New G.
W. C6 years ago

Thank you.

AndyNoMail O.
Past Member 6 years ago

Love it!

Mario A.
Mario A6 years ago


Rosa mc
Lydia Mcintyre6 years ago

I love the house! Easy to clean too!!!!

Vicki P.
Victoria P6 years ago

Thanks for the interesting article....all things are relative.

Kristina C.
Kristina C6 years ago

I am all for downsizing and getting rid of what we don't need - but tiny to me is just tiny without comfort and 'room to grow and move'.
Thanks - I admire the ideas and efficiencies.

Please sign my petition:

Carole P.
Carole P6 years ago

I love this!! Thank you for getting this info out.

Natasha L.
Natasha L6 years ago

Thank you