Thursday, March 31, 2005

The "right-sized" house: what does that mean? 

"You know you have reached perfection of design not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away." --Antoine de Saint Exupéry

This quotation sets the tone for Jay Shafer's discussion of the philosophy behind his own tiny (100 square foot) house, and the houses that he designs and builds. The smallest of these houses are smaller than the bathrooms found in some new houses, while the largest of Shafer's houses would fit, with room to spare, into the master bedroom of many a suburban McMansion.

These are the floor plans for the little house shown above, which is the same design as Shafer's own house. This small, self-contained dwelling is 12' x 8', but it contains a bathroom, a kitchenette, a woodstove (which would be quite sufficient to heat a building of its size) and a sleeping loft. Oh, and a little front porch, too... which is an additional 2' long, providing just enough shelter to protect its owner from the elements while unlocking the front door.

Look carefully at the bottom edge of the photo of this house. See the wheels? As this tiny building is only 8' wide, it fits within a standard traffic lane, and can be hauled behind a truck from one place to another.

Too small, you say? You need a closet? You don't want to climb a ladder to a sleeping loft?

How about this house? At 12' x 16' and 2 stories, this house has about 320 square feet. While everything in the house is scaled down, it has the essentials: kitchen, built-in eating nook, bathroom, a stair up to the bedroom, a couple of closets. From what I've seen on Shafer's website, the interiors are fitted out rather like those of a yacht, with many built-ins and dual-purpose furniture and spaces. So you won't be able to throw a large dinner party; maybe you can live with that.

Just to be clear, I don't know that I could live comfortably by myself in a house as small as either of these; certainly Paul and I and los tres gatitos would be bumping more than elbows were we to attempt such a thing. However, a couple of the questions on my mind are just how much space we really do need, and whether we are using fully the space that we do have. While Paul's and my 3-bedroom, 1800-square-foot house is certainly more than 2 adults and 3 cats require, we use most of it regularly. Could we be happy in a smaller house? Probably; it would depend very much on the design the house.

Here are some questions for you: Do you think you could live in this sort of tiny house, either alone or with those others (human or otherwise) with whom you currently live? Have you ever thought that you lived in a place that was too large for either your wants or your needs... or your bank account? What would be the "right-sized" house for you and yours?