Part 1 of a 2-part series.
Grab a green juice cocktail, take a seat and enjoy a virtual tourof alternative homes courtesy of Lloyd Kahn, who you can meet in this video:
The subtitle speaks volumes: “Scaling Back in the 21st Century.” The 224-page large-format (well, large by tiny-living standards) book conveys bountiful wisdom in a cheerily presented manner which warrants a two-part review. And its splendid photos of home exteriors, interiors and landscapes justify you buying the book as a coffee-table gift for yourself, green advocates or simple-life dreamers.
In the 1970s, the Northern California-based building visionary focused on geodesic domes before branching out to a broad spectrum of smart handbuilt shelters. His new book, sure to expand his longtime loyal fan-base, limits featured houses to less than 500 square feet – some small enough to make my own 560 square foot reclaimed cottage look cavernous by comparison.
Size matters, you see, in a world of shrinking resources and growing human populations. For Kahn, “scaling back” is no afterthought, and neither is it a negative. The builders and homeowners sharing their structures, strategies and ideas in these pages clearly embraced the challenge and now relish the results of going small.
For Kahn, “scaling back” is no afterthought, and neither is it a negative.
The motivations of tiny housers vary greatly from the purely ecological to the purely economic. There are those living green by using reclaimed materials, living micro-luxe by using high-tech materials and systems, releasing their inner architects, hand-building their full-time shelter or getaway cabin, designing an abode that vanishes into their chosen swaths of nature, living off the grid, and creating simply enough room with a view. Saving money mattered for some, while others, such as Jay Shafer – designer-builder of the trailblazing micro Tumbleweed Tiny Homes -notes that going small typically means higher costs per square foot. But maintenance over the years will be cheaper and simpler.
The author takes you to a vast ranges of structures, from high-end fantasy bungalows to a trick $2,000 off-the-grid cabin with solar composting toilet. Some feature advanced tech materials, others total salvage, pairing salvage materials with stones, wood, dirt and other natural materials. Resourcefulness is a recurring motif, whether the shelter is in an urban environment or way out on a mountainside.
On with the tour.
Live-in lab. Constructed in Terlingua Ranch, Texas, the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory bears a name that belies its footprint. The live-in lab is a rugged salute to self-sustainability where its owner lives a rich, simple life with his dog and rescued longhorn cow Benita (yes, a female bovine with horns…who has wandered off in recent weeks). “All my water comes from the sky,” says the owner.
Cross a chicken coop with a yacht…? A 97-square-foot chicken-coop combined with a yacht conversion serves as part-time home/office overlooking San Francisco. The storied structure was originally a pump house built over a well in 1900.
A muddy girlfriend getaway. There’s a very cool abode built by the Mudgirls Natural Building Collective of British Columbia, a nonprofit founded to provide affordable housing and empower women to build their own homes.
Rent a treehouse? An entrepreneur constructed a two-story treehouse of rot-proof wood supported by the tree’s limbs. The elevated Huntsville, Texas abode is rented to artists as live-work space.
Sleep in a capsule? The Tokyo Capsule Hotel provides lockers for luggage, communal washrooms and table space, and stacked sleeping capsules with lights, television, electronic console and wifi. The book notes that at $700 per month, it’s a reasonable option in this high-rent city.
Next week: More inspired residences on water, in trees, underground as the Tiny Homes Simple Shelter tour continues.